Maximizing Millennials

Q&A: Making New Hires More Profitable for You and Your Customers

When it comes to the topic of Millennials, there’s no shortage of outrageous commentary. From the death of home ownership due to avocado toast addictions, to the decline of the diamond industry, to the struggles of the paper napkin industry, you might have started thinking of this generation as the Grim Reaper of business. You may have even come to a grim conclusion of your own—that this generation has nothing to offer you or your customers, and you’d rather go on without them.

But according to “Millennials, Economics and the Profitable New Hire,” a recent LBM Journal article by Isaac Oswalt, dealers and lumberyards may be overlooking a unique chance to utilize this younger generation to better not only their own business, but their customers’ as well.

To learn more about the opportunities this generation could pose for dealers and lumberyards, Huttig® interviewed Oswalt about the Millennial mindset, employee retention and how to maximize their profitability for your business.

Huttig: The building industry is dominated largely by Boomers and Gen Xers. Why, in your mind, should they be open to the idea of hiring Millennials?

Oswalt: There will be people who feel like, “I don’t even want to deal with Millennial generation because of all the negative things said about them, and if we can operate without hiring them, so be it.” But that’s going to be near impossible. And the benefits of it are about relating to customers. By 2020, the Millennial generation will be the largest pool of home buyers. And it’s a trickle up effect if you’re in the supply channel in the building industry.

At the end of the day, no matter if there’s a computer there or not, this is all just human to human business, right? If a business struggles to communicate to their next workforce, or their next customers, that will become a fundamental issue.

Huttig: What can dealers, lumberyards or others in the building industry do to drive interest among Millennials?

Oswalt: As an industry, we often focus on what we don’t have and not on what we do have. Emphasize that you won’t be sitting behind a desk and staring at a computer looking at spreadsheets from 8-6. Emphasize how you’re an integral part in the supply chain for what is likely somebody’s most expensive purchase they’ll make.

Maybe working at your lumberyard is just a stepping stone for [Millennials] and that’s okay, but I think it’s up to us to tell a better story. Because there are a lot of good people, you can have a lot of fun, you can do a lot of good things, and you can be very meaningful to the community.

Huttig: Is there a potential benefit that dealers and lumberyards can leverage if it turns out that entry-level Millennial positions are truly a one to three year stepping stone for these employees?

Oswalt: Think of it this way. When I’m used to ordering something inside of five seconds with a couple of clicks, what makes you think I’m going to give you two or three years of my life? There’s nobody who is going to sign up for that anymore. And to tell you the truth, they don’t have to—it’s a free market.

That said, there are ways to improve retention. One big way is not to constrict them and say after 10 years you get to do this—they will be gone. If you have a talented, driven, younger employee, they don’t need 30 years to learn how to run your business. 

But if one to three years is really all you can get, make the best use of it, for you and your customers. And that’s the idea of “the documenter” that I talked about in my LBM Journal article.

“The Documenter”

  • The job is to document and market your business on behalf of your builder customers. 90 percent of the content they produce is your customers’. 10 percent of the content is directly for your business.
  • Have them take videos of the construction process and post it to customers’ social media on their behalf (tagging you, too, of course). Take pictures before and after, and post them to Instagram. Write blogs and articles about common questions builders get asked.

Huttig: How do you envision that role could evolve or grow—if at all? Is it a long-term position or more suited to entry-level employees?

Oswalt: The documenter gets to learn about your customers’ business and help them market and build a relationship with these customers. If done right, your top 10 or 20 customers will really appreciate this added service. You’re helping them with their social media presence, lead-gen efforts, etc. Building up such a strong customer relationship, you can see how this position could eventually morph into an outside sales position.

Right now, everyone is trying to fight over pennies, but who is out there actually helping builders grow their business, outside of a manufacturer-driven program? If you know as a builder that I helped you get the leads and I helped you sell a $40,000 window package that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, you’re probably not going to buy from somebody else. 

All that is even more valuable when you consider that knowing your customers better than most allows you to reverse engineer what your customers need from you. When you know your market, you can intelligently tweak your business to make sure it’s catered to that market. You might already say “we build the best relationships” based on what you currently do. But using the next generation’s skills, you can also say you build relationships through phones and computers just as well as you have in your face-to-face interactions for the past few decades.

Many lumberyards and dealers have written off Millennials, determined to continue doing things as they’ve always been. But by embracing new ways of thinking that utilize the Millennial generation to their best potential, you can make a huge impact not only for your business, but for your customers’ businesses as well. 

See More from the June 2017 Issue of Dealer Digest!