Dealer Profile: Ben’s Contractor Center of Michigan

Open a map of Michigan, which looks like a mitten. Take a closer look and, nestled in the thumb, you’ll catch a glimpse of Marlette, pop. 8,000. It’s a farming community, where Ben’s Contractor Center serves as a one-stop-shop for everything – from pole barns to new housing, additions to renovations – as it has done since 1964.

It was the year that the namesake Ben, a butcher at a grocery store, bought the hardware store next door, which sold guns and lumber, says his grandson, Jimmy Zyrowski, l current owner. “We added building materials in the early 2000s, a big decision,” says Jimmy.

“It’s a small rural community and there was no local source. People needed it. When my grandfather bought the store, he was selling guns. The community and the culture supported this, so it [sporting goods] continues to be a big part of who we are today. We sell weapons, ammunition and supplies for archery, hunting, fishing and camping. Clothes. Lots of things in the open air. And sporting goods. “It helps attract people, as well as our contactor base.

Pleasing the pros is part of the outfit’s DNA. “Our big thing,” Jimmy continues, “is to ask them what they want, then say ‘yes’ and get there: go from ‘yes’ to making things work out for them. It’s not easy, ”he knows well,“ but it’s good for them: to understand the problem of the day, to find different avenues. Get off the beaten track.

Nonetheless, “the past two years have not been like everything we ever dreamed of – disrupted in everything from picking to buying. But, by being more creative than the next one, you get there.

Because of our location, we take care of everyone. Business is roughly evenly split between stakeholders and entrepreneurs, so we offer a diverse mix to make this sustainable. “

Of course, Ben’s is the sole player in the city’s building supply, but other neighboring cities provide stiff competition. “We are surrounded by big boxes; we all have them. It only forces us to work harder to make things happen, to support the needs of individual clients. In order to retain our customers, “we cannot leave problems unresolved. In a small community, everyone knows everyone ”—and everyone talks.

And it’s actually Ben’s best marketing tool; references are made by word of mouth. Of course, there is also a website, “which we will improve in the future: see which direction to go,” says Jimmy, who loves his job and ties his own future (and possibly that of his three children). to that of the company. continued success.

Jimmy started early. “Like anyone in a family business, you are hired before you are born,” he jokes. “My first job here was to mow the grass.

Since then, his job has been to organize Ben’s expansions. “We purchased the new location in 2012 when the owner of an existing yard was ready to retire. It was larger and strictly a lumber yard. It took us to the next level: more space, more trucks, more warehouses.

“But very quickly, we were pushing the walls again,” he recalls. “As we grew, we again needed more products, more trucks, more forklifts, more inventory. “

So it was time to grow up again. Ben’s expanded its robust sports department with a 13,000 square foot expansion in 2020, adding much needed retail space. “We finished it in the fall – just in time,” he laughs (or was that a whimper?), “To start all over again. This year, we added an additional 18,000 square feet to expand all of our categories: hardware, lumber, clothing.

Adding more square footage and more products to fill them also required more employees. Jimmy currently oversees a staff of 77. Turnover is low, but a number of retirements are looming. “Finding new staff is definitely a challenge. Many of our employees already travel long distances to work here, ”realizes Ben’s owner.

Yet these employees continue to provide first class service, including “the fast and efficient same day delivery that we are proud of,” says Jimmy. “We also host an annual sporting goods event, with vendors showcasing products, demonstrations and special sales. Plus a family-oriented spring event: stone wall, sporting goods, etc. “

Overall, these growth tactics have contributed to the success of Ben’s LBM category, which saw an enviable 543% increase last year. What drove him?

“A bit of everything,” he says. “Our people and our inventory. Additionally, we have remained open during COVID. In the eyes of our customers, not much has changed except that we have become bigger and better. It was certainly the most difficult time we have ever seen, when it comes to finding products and people: a lot of unknowns with COVID. How will it hold up? We’re waiting for the rug to be removed, ”he laughs (at least I think it was a laugh).

Finding supplies is the biggest puzzle this season. “It’s all about the relationships, what product you get and how much. Now is NOT the time to switch providers! The margins, he admits, go up and down. “Some really good days and then the next day you see the prices drop and lose money. “

So what does the future hold for us? “In January, we do a hard reset. In our new building, we are integrating a second entrance through the new parking lot. But overall, we all need to sort out the manufacturing problem. Customers run out with long lead times, etc. It is wreaking havoc. What used to take three days, now you call to see if they make it. We’ve never had to work so hard: increasing our purchasing department, keeping orders, rechecking everything, doing whatever is possible.

To the right. So why are you staying here, Jimmy? Why do you still love what you do? “It’s exciting when a team of people share an idea to make our customers successful. When they have ideas it’s like, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?” There is a contribution: everyone brings a different perspective. It’s also important to hear from customers: get everyone involved.

Bottom line: “The buck stops with me. If there’s a problem, it ends up on my desk” – which ensures that boredom is an alien concept here, and that’s how Jimmy has it. love.

About Elisa C. Peachey

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