Bradley Kimberlin, Columnists, V6I6

Unprecedented Times: Opportunity or Excuse?

(Photo courtesy of cottonbro from Pexels)

“Unprecedented times.”

This is a phrase that has been overused in my opinion. However, it is true that we are collectively going through experiences that are new in some way or another.

Increased demand for backyard living products, including storage sheds, has created a phenomenon of high lumber prices, lumber shortages, and extended lead times. The shed companies I have spoken with have seen anywhere from 40 to 100 percent growth in 2020 compared to prior years. 

How do you relate to all of this? And more importantly, do you see it as an opportunity or an excuse?

I would like to look at some of the key areas of concern that I see and provide some ideas for how to address them.


If you are like most shed companies, your lead times extended almost overnight. When you sell the number of sheds you can normally build in one week in one day, and the next day you sell more sheds, that extends your lead time rapidly. I see communication as being key to mitigate negative customer experiences. 

First, you should be communicating with your sales team about setting proper lead time expectations at the point of sale. This will help set the proper expectation upfront. 

Ask yourself which is better: a lost sale because you were honest about your lead times or a won sale with a dissatisfied customer later because they feel like they were misled on how long it would take for their shed?

Second, be proactive with customers as soon as you see you may not meet the original commitment. During one of the sales spikes, we had a key builder decide to leave to pursue another opportunity. While we blessed him in that, the reality was we were not going to be able to meet some commitments with customers. So, we proactively called customers several weeks ahead of when their expected delivery date was, informed them of the change, apologized, and offered a full refund if this new timeframe did not work for them. 

Not only was no one upset, but we also had only two customers ask for a refund, and one of them is planning to buy again next year. In fact, most people thanked us for communicating and said that they understand. This completely changed our customer experience even in the midst of disappointing news. 

By being proactive and communicating, it allows you to provide an overall positive experience for your customers.


This is challenging since it can feel like something that is outside of your control—but is it? Cash availability to buy raw materials can be key, and your standing with vendors makes a difference as well. 

As I discussed this with several different contacts in the industry, what I found is this is not a problem that is remedied overnight. How you related to your vendors prior to this set the tone for your position in the lineup. When there is more demand than available product, the vendors must choose who they will ship product to. For example: given the choice between a slow-paying account or someone who pays early, who do you think they will choose? 

Having relationships with multiple vendors is important as well. Because of the sudden shortages in items like 60-inch transom windows, vendor-hopping started happening. 

Almost across the board, vendors stopped accepting new customers. Why? Because they knew there was a high percentage chance that this was not really a new customer—it was a one-time deal until the former vendor had inventory again and then they would be gone. This would jeopardize existing clients and so the wise vendors chose not to play that game. 

You may have an opinion about whether this was wise or not but learn this from it: Have accounts at multiple vendors and treat them all fairly. Having options will benefit you in the long run. 

What if you were not able to get product, then what? Again, communication is key. Look at your options and present them to the client. Is another siding type available? Is there a similar product that you can substitute? Can you put in two 29-inch transoms instead of one 60 inches? 

When you are communicating this, be careful not to use excuses. Just present the facts and lay out the options. Something I have found that defuses the situation almost immediately is when you offer a full refund as one of the options. 

When the customer feels that you have their money and so they are stuck with you, it starts off the discussion wrong. When you take that away by presenting a full refund as one of their options, they feel less conflict, and very rarely have I seen that option exercised. Because unless your company is grossly mismanaged, they know everyone is experiencing similar circumstances. Once a decision is made, follow through and do your best to meet the new commitments.


I probably do not have to tell you that lumber prices exploded almost overnight. Were you caught by surprise or were you prepared? 

One way of preventing surprise is by having material on the ground for the jobs that are sold. So, if your backlog was two months of production, how much material was on the ground? If you had less than two months’ worth of product, then you were probably building sheds sold at a lower price with expensive material. Not fun!

When you see lumber prices increasing, adjust. Raise your sales price to what it needs to be, not what others around you are selling for. If your only sales point is price, you do not have a value proposition. 

You can be strategic with this, however. A lot of shed companies work off percentages for things such as sales, production, deliveries, and so on. While I typically think the standard annual price increase should trickle down to all, I am suggesting a temporary lumber surcharge that does not. 

Lumber prices should come down some and hopefully by the time you are reading this they have. A surcharge allows you to adjust as needed while protecting your bottom line. If material costs do not come down after a period of a few months, you can readjust and set your pricing to what it needs to be then. 

Also, if you know your actual costs you will probably find that your smaller sheds are where you are losing margin quicker than your large sheds. A surcharge based on size allows you to compensate for this while protecting your price point on larger projects. 


Through any period of strain, whether it is caused by backlog, high costs, lumber shortages, or something else, remember to treat your people well. 

You may be tempted to look at adjusting labor rates to compensate for lumber prices—DO NOT DO THIS! How short-term is that thinking? You are going to hurt your employees to make up for high material costs? Who wins in that scenario?

You may be tempted to have some choice words with a vendor when he cannot ship your material—DO NOT DO THIS! What is that going to help? If they cannot ship material, then it is one of two options: 1) they do not have material to ship, or 2) they have it but are prioritizing another customer for reasons detailed above. 

I have never seen a vendor who has material and just does not want to sell it. That is counterproductive for their business model. Choice words do not make either situation better and ruins your testimony.

In conclusion, what I have learned during these “unprecedented times” is that the way you ran your business before affects your experience in challenging times.

Honest work, treating people respectfully and paying your bills on time creates a strong platform from which you have a much better basis to weather the storms that come. 

By the time you are reading this, we should know the results of the election and there may be some new challenges that arise from that. But regardless of what happens or what comes your way, doing the right thing never goes out of season.

Until next time, Be Excellent!     

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