Case Studies

Hill-Motley Lumber

A Family-owned Independent Lumberyard in the Bluegrass State

Hill-Motley Lumber (HML) has been providing local service to contractors and do-it-yourselfers out of a single location in Bowling Green, Ky., since 1945. The business now employs 25 people, including three outside sales representatives, as well as in-house sales, administrators and yard staff.

Scott Hamilton, former president and now treasurer for HML, works closely with Catherine Vaughn, current president and part owner, to ensure operation runs smoothly. The two comprise HML’s small management staff and work diligently to maintain an atmosphere of customer service and professional know-how.

In a town of 100,000 people, HML competes with seven other lumberyards. “Two are big box businesses and the others are independent,” Hamilton explains. “We are able to stay competitive, because we bring experience and expertise to the business. Our team has developed a lot of knowledge about this industry over the years. We can help our clients in the ways that a big box store can’t. We seek out value-added products for our customers, instead of focusing just on commodities.”

Building a Niche

Contractor purchases account for a majority of HML’s yearly revenue, making up the company’s niche market. Most of the contractors are in the residential construction business, mainly custom homes.

“We really enjoy the challenge of providing high-end, custom materials and guiding our clients through the optimum product lines,” Hamilton elaborates. “It is also rewarding to see a starter home through the process. We can help our customers find the best products for their dollar so they leave satisfied and still within a budget.”

The team offers a wide range of building supplies to customers within a 60-mile radius of Bowling Green. Far beyond lumber, customers can find doors, windows, exterior fiber cement siding, roofing supplies, as well as the fasteners and tools to put it all together. While the components of building a home remain fairly constant, HML keeps its inventory up to date to meet the changing demands of the market.

“We are always finding developments in our existing products,” Hamilton explains. “Trends are moving toward more energy-efficient products, such as technical shielding for the roof and windows and doors. We are looking to work more with energy audit companies in order to educate our customers about the cost benefit of these kinds of upgrades.”

Following the Market

Despite the housing bust in recent years, HML has been able to maintain a strong, competitive position in the market. “Our largest hurdle has been vendor support,” Hamilton explains. “Because of a decline in demand and revenue, a lot of our suppliers were hesitant to do any hiring in recent years. Because they had been short on employees, the quality of some of these products has deteriorated and lead times have gotten longer.”

In order to be able to keep customers satisfied, HML had to shop around. “We did a lot of research and made sure that we are really on top of the ordering process,” he continues. “We have to get lead times in line with a general contractor’s schedule. We have gotten more involved in partnerships with our vendors and we have also taken on some quality sales staff who will help us stay ahead of the curve. Our training process is long, which makes retention very important.”

Instead of focusing on sales revenue, the business has also tightened up finances, placing a larger emphasis on the importance of customer satisfaction at affordable prices. HML seeks to soften the commodity end of the building industry.

“We meet the needs of our customers first,” Hamilton elaborates. “The commodity end takes care of itself. Our customers realize that we can take care of their specific needs for specific products. When they need something else down the road, they’ll think of us first.”

Looking Ahead

In the coming years, the HML team is looking ahead to steady growth. “Right now the focus is finding the new normal,” Hamilton explains. “We maintain confidence in the economy. I don’t think we’re heading for any major booms, just continued slow growth. Our goal is to continue to offer leading service to our customers. Our buying group helps us stay competitive, too.”

The crew is also working on a new marketing campaign. Hamilton hopes to tie in services with a social media presence to drive web traffic. HML has no immediate plans to upgrade facilities and instead will focus on increasing depth and breadth of products to customers. “We will be adding to, and upgrading, our fleet,” Hamilton adds. “In a few years we will be looking to upgrade our facilities, for now, the two- to three-year plan is to stay in front of our competition and continue to take care of our customers.”

Regardless of where the business goes, a few things remain constant at HML. Clients can rely on service first, with a strong and knowledgeable team working to meet their needs. The independent business works as a family unit, incorporating employees, customers and strategic partners alike into that environment. Value remains a driving factor as Hill-Motley Lumber continues to provide leading home construction products at reasonable cost to customers across the board.

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