Five Questions With: Taelor Hodges
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THE REINVENTION OF HUMAN CAPITAL in the LUMBER & BUILDING MATERIALS INDUSTRY
A Q & A Series Conceived and Hosted by Matt Meyers of Yesler
Featuring Taelor Hodges of Mountain Lumber Co.
How did you get your start in this industry?
I began working part time at Mountain Lumber in November 2018 before my family purchased the business in August 2019. My degree is in Business Management/Hospitality and Tourism, so although there was a huge learning curve, my business education was beneficial. Currently, I handle all inventory (stock and special order) receiving as well as commodity purchasing and pricing. I also act as a sales coordinator for our outside sales. We are a very small business so we all wear many hats; my role technically does not stop there.
How has human capital evolved in LBM? At your company?
I have not been in the industry long enough to touch on how ‘human capital’ has evolved in LBM. However, I will talk about how it has and will affect our business.
Fortunately, Mountain Lumber has always taken great care of their employees. Turnover has, for the most part, been minimal. Obviously, during the recession the business was forced to downsize, and a lot of great employees were lost. The ones who have remained have been here for quite some time, which gave us great comfort when we were looking to purchase the business. The business practically ran itself like a beautifully well-oiled machine. Our employees are very good at their jobs, have wonderful long standing relationships with our customers, and need little to no management. This works very well, but we know we will need to hire replacements over the next few years as individuals retire. We have made some new hires since we bought the business, most of whom needed training since they came from outside the industry. We realize that we will need to focus our efforts in training new employees. While there are upsides to hiring a new generation of employees, we are also conscious of how it will affect our customer base. We will need to focus on cultivating those relationships with new hires and veteran customers.
What role has technology played in the changing value of human capital?
A co-worker and I were recently discussing a shift he has noticed. The role of technology has grown simultaneously as the older contractors/builders are phasing out. Additionally, customer needs have changed. This salesman had mentioned that the older contractors came in the store and ordered what they needed. Yet, the new/younger contractors use email and cell phones to place orders. This younger generation also leaves it to him to do their takeoffs/estimating and material lists. They seem to have little product knowledge unless they are using online estimating tools.
When we took over the company, we realized a lot of processes were very outdated and could use some re-evaluating. Over the last two years, we have brought a lot of what we do into the 21st century which has allowed us to do our jobs with greater efficiency. This is a huge advantage since, as a small team, we need cross-functionality in our roles. Thus, it has changed the landscape of our hiring requirements. The more we digitize and update, there is also the possibility of a greater learning curve and more specific training which we need to offer.
One of the biggest benefits I am seeing in LBM tech is data tracking. The capacity to chart, graph and monetize different aspects of the business can reveal ways to improve and track progress. We are working on making this a part of our daily routine, but doing so as a smooth and thoughtful transition.
While technology is gaining in our industry, we still are a business that requires and looks to personal relationships. We will continue to see technology implemented that allows us to do our jobs even faster and better, but advancements in technology will never replace the need for people. Automation technology (online ordering) may be on the horizon as well as a positive advancement for many markets, but given the critical nature of our business, contractors may still want to speak to someone they know and trust when they place orders.
How will changing demographics in the country change human capital within the industry?
A change in demographics can only make our industry better and more interesting. Whether it is diversity of age, background, education, experience, etc., this expansion will only provide more opportunities to be better at what we do, which first and foremost, is to service the customer.
What keeps you in this industry and why?
I never thought I would love the housing/building industry as much as I do. I love the idea of providing the material for homes where families will gather and make memories together whether it is for a few years, just a weekend vacation, or a lifetime. I enjoy the fast-paced working environment where there are lots of moving parts such as coordination of goods, services, and transportation, etc. all while providing excellent (we hope) customer service. It is not easy, and maybe it shouldn’t be…when the goal is to provide the best product and best service. The commodity market is a different animal and, at times, it seems we shoot in the dark at a target that may or may not be there. For the foreseeable future, I don’t plan on doing anything different!