Contractor Profile: Ben’s Contractor Center of Michigan

Open a map of Michigan, which looks like a mitten. Look harder and, tucked into the thumb, you’ll spot 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 homes, additions to renovations – as it has done since 1964.

It was the year namesake Ben, a grocery store butcher, bought the nearby hardware store, which sold convenience firearms and lumber, says his grandson, Jimmy Zyrowski, the 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 that, so he [sporting goods] continues to be a big part of who we are today. We sell guns and ammunition and supplies for archery, hunting, fishing and camping. Clothes. Lots of outdoor stuff. And sporting goods. “It helps attract people, and also our contactor base.

Pleasing the pros is in the outfit’s DNA. “Our biggest challenge,” continues Jimmy, “is asking for what they want, then saying ‘yes’ and getting there: going from ‘yes’ to making things work out for them. It’s not easy,” he knows all too well, “but it’s good for them: to understand the problem of the day, to find different leads. Get off the beaten track.

Nevertheless, “the last two years were like nothing we had ever dreamed of – upheaval in every area, from picking up to buying. But, by being more creative than the others, you get there.

Due to our location, we take care of everyone. Business is fairly evenly split between walk-in customers and contractors, so we offer a diverse mix to make this sustainable.

Of course, Ben’s is the only supplier of building materials in town, but other nearby towns 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 every customer’s needs. In order to retain customers, “we can’t leave issues unresolved. In a small community, everyone knows everyone”—and everyone talks.

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

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

His job, ever since, has been to organize Ben’s extensions. “We bought the new location in 2012 when the owner of an existing yard was ready to retire. It was bigger, and strictly a lumber yard. It took us to the next level: more space, more trucks, more warehouses.

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

So it was time to grow again. Ben’s has 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 another 18,000 square feet to expand all our categories: hardware, wood, clothing.

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

Yet these employees continue to provide first-class service, including “the fast and efficient same-day delivery that we pride ourselves on,” says Jimmy. “We also hold an annual sporting goods event, with vendors showcasing products, demonstrations and special sales. Plus, a family-oriented spring event: rock face, sporting goods, etc.

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

“A bit of everything,” he says. “Our people and our inventory. Also, we have remained open during COVID. In the eyes of our customers, little has changed except that we have become bigger and better. It was definitely the toughest time we’ve ever seen, when it comes to finding products and people: lots of unknowns with COVID. How will it hold? We’re waiting for the rug to be pulled out,” he laughs (at least I think it was a laugh).

Finding supplies is the biggest headache this season. “It’s all about relationships, what product you get and how much. Now is NOT the time to switch providers! The margins, he admits, are top to bottom. “Some days really good, then the next day you’re looking at a price drop and you lose money.”

So what does the future hold for us? “In January, we are doing a hard reset. In our new building, we are incorporating a second entrance through the new parking lot. But overall, we all need to straighten out the manufacturing side. Customers burn out with long lead times, etc. That’s expensive. What used to take three days, now you call to see if they can make it. We’ve never had to work so hard: increase our purchasing department, keep orders, double-check everything, do everything we can.

To the right. So why are you hanging on, Jimmy? Why do you always 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 are comments: everyone brings a different perspective. It’s also important to hear from customers: get everyone involved. »

Conclusion: “Responsibility stops me. If there’s a problem, it ends up on my desk” – which ensures that boredom is a foreign concept here, and that’s how Jimmy likes it.

About Catherine Sturm

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