Profiles, V4I2

Working Harmoniously Together, Part 2

Joseph Miller has been involved in construction most of his life.

His father was a brick and stone mason in Virginia Beach, training his four sons (there are also two daughters) in the masonry business.

As the sons got older and were ready to take on more responsibility, Miller, the oldest of the six children, says they expanded the family business into several crews.

“I’ve always been interested in building, and would pay close attention to the other trades that we were working alongside,” he says. “By the time I was ready to strike out on my own, I had acquired quite a lot of proficiency in nearly all the building trades. I’ve always been particularly interested in the shed business and collected as much knowledge as I could from everyone that I knew in the shed trades.”

In 2011, Miller says they moved to South Carolina, and he had the opportunity to work in a shed manufacturing shop. He spent several years working in a bay, learning how to build sheds neatly and efficiently.

“I began plans to open my own shop,” he shares. “In late 2014, I decided it was time to start and enlisted the help of my brother, Ben. By April 2015 we had signed a lease on a small facility and we were underway.”

And so, Willow Lake Buildings was born.

Retail as Easy as 1, 2, 3

At first, Willow Lake Buildings operated without a retail location, selling through dealers. Eventually, the company got into the retail side of the business, and recently took a big step by acquiring 123 Buildings.

Eli Beachy, sales and marketing manager for Willow Lake Buildings, worked as sales manager for 123 Buildings when the relationship between the two businesses began.

He says 123 Buildings operated strictly as a retail sales outlet that also delivered sheds. The sheds were placed on the sales lots on a consignment basis from Bennett Buildings.

The company got started in 2010 when Sam Byler was delivering sheds for Bennett Buildings. According to Beachy, the company needed a dealer in the area and offered to provide the sheds for any sales lots Byler wanted to open.

“The first sales lot was opened in Seneca, South Carolina, and eventually expanded to include the cities of Easley and Anderson as well,” Beachy says.

In 2013, Beachy says 123 Buildings was looking to add painted wooden sheds to its offerings, which was not an option Bennett offered at the time. This resulted in 123 Buildings bringing in a second manufacturer that could provide the painted sheds—Willow Lake Buildings, which agreed to manufacture a line of painted sheds exclusively for 123 Buildings.

Over the course of the next year, Beachy says 123 Buildings moved to exclusively carry Willow Lake Buildings.

“With a guarantee of increased production and several new product lines to fill several needs in the market, 123 Buildings in turn agreed to carry Willow Lake Buildings sheds exclusively,” he says.

While 123 Buildings had grown substantially over seven years, Beachy says Byler’s passion was delivering sheds.

As Byler began looking at options of downsizing or simply getting out of the business altogether, Miller was beginning to look at expanding Willow Lake Buildings into the retail space, in addition to manufacturing the sheds.

“With the existing relationship between 123 Buildings and Willow Lake Buildings, it was an obvious choice for Willow Lake to simply acquire 123 Buildings who had an established retail presence in the market,” says Beachy.

Entering the Market

Systemized marketing has been critical to Willow Lake’s success over the past year, Beachy says.

“While we had acquired three established locations, we had never been a public brand, and, when we entered 2017, Willow Lake Buildings was a complete unknown,” he shares. “We had to start from the ground up with brand awareness, and market presence.”

That started with a presence on search engines and social media, including a new website, new Facebook pages, and a new logo.

“But an online presence is useless without people knowing you are there, so we set a marketing budget for every sales office and committed to it,” Beachy says. “We created new strategies and tested them against each other. We changed the website … and changed it again.”

Suddenly, he says, the leads started coming in. The phone began ringing. People started showing up at the sales offices knowing exactly what they wanted to buy.

“Through continued experimenting, we have developed a very effective online strategy that consistently generates phone and web leads for the sales team every day,” shares Beachy.

Yet, he says that building a great brand is more than creating awareness or generating sales.

“It is in making the customer the hero of the story,” Beachy says. “It is built by creating a genuine customer-centric experience. It is found in the culture of the company from the builders to the sales team to the delivery crew. Every touch point along the way is a chance to reinforce to the client that their decision to trust you with their money was the right choice.”

Beachy notes that while happy customers are great, they tend to stay silent. The company’s goal is to leave every customer so “overwhelmed” by their experience that they become “radical evangelists” of the brand.

“Sometimes this means eating the cost on something that may not be entirely our fault,” he says. “Other times this means buying a customer a $60 gift card for their 60th wedding anniversary and scheduling a reservation for them at their favorite restaurant. Is it an unnecessary expense? Maybe. We see it as an investment in our future.”

While Willow Lake Buildings loves “huge sales” like other businesses, Beachy stresses that its sales staff is trained to sell the customer the building they need.

“Not bigger, not smaller. Not more expensive than they can afford. The customer is the hero of our story, and we train our sales team how to listen and ask questions to really understand their needs and find a solution that fits,” he shares.

Beachy says the company’s sales outlets are a mixture of company stores and retail partners. While company stores require more resources in capital and management, they enable Willow Lake to control and test new marketing strategies and sales processes. He says then the company can use those strategies to help drive sales for its retail partners.

“We are always looking for ways to provide them with the support they need to be successful, including services like free online marketing and access to our in-house inventory management software,” says Beachy.

Lastly, Beachy says delivery of the shed is the bookend of any sale and the last chance to dazzle a buyer.

“It’s the icing on the cake for the customer’s journey and experience with your company,” he shares. “It’s where you can leave your customer blown away and ecstatic about their experience or deflated and annoyed.”

Beachy says Willow Lake has implemented a highly systemized approach to scheduling and deliveries, feedback and referrals have been phenomenal.

The Future

“Acquiring 123 Buildings and rebranding as Willow Lake Buildings has been an exhausting experience,” Miller shares. “If we were to do it again, we could save a ton of headache and money, but the end result is working well.”

He says that the company’s sales have grown consistently month over month since July, and it is on track to double our sales this year.

“But we’re not in a hurry to build an empire,” adds Miller. “We think there’s enough business within a radius of about 150 miles to serve us well and we plan to serve this area as well as we can before expanding further out.”

Click here to read Part 1 about the history of Willow Lake Buildings.

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