Myron Andersen established Builders lumberyard as a 27-year-old with three other employees and first-year sales of $150,000. That was more than 35 years ago. A lot has happened over the years, including recognition as the 2013 Tools of the Trade honoree — an award for a hardware and home improvement store that champions innovation and best practices across its operation to generate results and connect with customers.
Kearney, Neb.-based Builders, a Do it Best member, operates in the parallel universes of LBM and DIY, with a showroom and a truss plant thrown into the mix. It’s a business model that’s evolved over time. “We’re an opportunistic type of company,” Andersen said. “We are always looking at our market for areas where we can succeed.” He spoke to HCN from his office in Kearney.
HCN: How did it all begin?
Andersen: “Back in 1977, we didn’t have a lot of money and we didn’t have a lot of inventory. We had a World War II Army surplus forklift and a 1950 Chevy Farm truck with a hoist on it. We never shut the truck off because we were afraid it wouldn’t come back on again.”
HCN: How did you expand into DIY and home improvement?
Andersen: About 1982, Home Depot was just getting started down in Atlanta, and they were one of the real success stories in the industry. So we said: “You know, we could do something like that, only on a smaller scale, and do it right here in Central Nebraska.” So we built a 60,000-sq.-ft. warehouse store. The original design was about 75% retail and 25% pro.
HCN: Was it hard venturing into the retail side?
Andersen: We opened in 1985 right in the middle of the farm crisis and damn near went broke. But we struggled through it and continued to grow. And it’s been steady growth ever since. We had $72 million in sales this year.
HCN: What got you through the tough times?
Andersen: We probably succeeded despite ourselves. We weren’t sure that we were going to make it through the 1980s. It was a real team effort. We had employees say “I’ll hold my check.“ We had vendors who gave us extended dating. We had a bank that bent over backward to work with us. Mostly it was people internally who stepped up to the plate and worked hard for us to survive.
HCN: What’s your focus today?
Andersen: Our customers want a lot of things, but mostly they want their orders on time, in full, delivered to the job site. And a lot of other stuff comes after that. Many of our customers don’t know who I am, and don’t know who [general manager] Chris [Borrego] is, but they know the truck driver. And he’s the best representative we have for our company.
HCN: A lot of independents focus on one or the other — pro or homeowner. How do you do both?
Andersen: The diversification makes us a better company. I also think it’s a blessing and a curse, because we are a slave to many different masters. I’d like to tell you we do it well all the time, but we don’t. Our customers are constantly evolving, so the services we provide are constantly changing. He’s a totally different breed than 10 years ago, and he’ll be totally different five years from now. And if you think the industry has changed a lot in the last five years, you haven’t seen anything yet.