John Austin, president of Gulf Coast Shelter Inc., is standing in front of some laminate flooring his company sells.
GULF COAST SHELTER Sees Growth Despite Market Changes
By Wayne Miller
Daphne, Ala.—For the past four years, Gulf Coast Shelter Inc., with sales offices here and in Laurel, Miss., has succeeded by helping its customers get the most out of their money through purchasing surplus inventory or providing value added services to maximize their bottom line.
Gulf Coast Shelter, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Portland, Ore.-based Shelter Products Inc., sells a wide variety of building materials including OSB, plywood, paneling, roofing, flooring, doors, windows, moulding and plumbing. The firm also markets studs and lumber in such species as Southern Yellow Pine, Spruce and Spruce-Pine-Fir (treated 5/4, DE, LST, 4x4 and 2x4).
The company purchases most of its domestic lumber from sawmills across North America, but also buys from South America and also imports some products such as laminate flooring, ceramic tile and plywood from China and Mexico. Gulf Coast Shelter ships its orders via truck or rail throughout North America, and offers export capabilities for customers in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Turkey, Russia, China and Japan.
Clarence Brewer is a forklift operator at the Daphne, Ala., warehouse and storage facility.
John Austin, president of Gulf Coast Shelter, said his company has stayed profitable during these tough economic times by finding niche markets for its products that meet customers’ various needs.
“Sometimes, we have to completely change the model of what we’re selling, and go with a different product or different grade of that product,” he said. “But, in this market, you have to be willing to change and adapt to the products that customers are willing to buy. You can’t try to force feed a particular product to your customer base.”
In 2005, the Daphne location’s first full year, sales were $15.2 million. Sales have continued to almost double in 2006 ($23.6 million) and 2007 ($40.4 million). In 2008, which includes figures from the Laurel location, sales finished the year over $70 million. Projections in 2009 are in excess of $100 million for the Daphne and Laurel locations.
Gulf Coast Shelter is also unique in that the firm often purchases an entire inventory from manufacturers facing or going through bankruptcy. Austin said it’s his intention to help a negative situation into a positive for both those manufacturers and customers who receive the benefit of those reduced products.
Traders and sales support at the Laurel, Miss., crane mat facility include Larry Busby, Todd Rowell, Beth Taylor, Wayne Stevens, Jimmy Davis and Chad Savage. Not pictured is Jeff Jarman.
“Sometimes, a company comes to us with a surplus of products needing some cash flow to help stay solvent,” Austin said. “Fortunately, we’re in a position where we’re able to buy that surplus and sell it to an independent lumberyard, which in turn helps them compete against the big box stores. It not only takes hard work, but a willingness to be diversified and focus on the needs of those mills and our customers.”
Austin said that purchasing that surplus has helped his company establish relationships that it might not otherwise have. “If we can buy $3 million worth of excess invento-ry and it’s going to save 50 jobs at that plant, then that’s important,” he said. “That’s relationship building. If we help save those jobs now, the owner of that particular company will remember us when times are good, and we’ll be a preferred account for him.”
Gulf Coast Shelter Inc. was established in November 2003 when Austin moved to Fairhope, Ala. He later rented a small office in March 2004, from Joe Johnson. The first four lumber traders were hired that May for contractor/multifamily sales, and it wasn’t long before the company tripled its number of traders.
“We had to open a wall between the two offices because we’d grown so fast,” Austin said. “At that point, the guy we were renting from owned a business park in Daphne. We bought property here, as well as an option to buy more acreage. After we built the new building and moved in, we exercised our option for the additional acres. Now, we have room to expand our office, build another warehouse or a distribution yard, or whatever else we choose to do with the property.”
This is a picture of Gulf Coast Shelter’s Daphne sales office.
Of Gulf Coast Shelter’s owned and operated facilities, the Daphne location boasts an 8,000-square-foot trading floor, over 30,000 square feet of warehouse space and a 9-acre storage yard. Due to growth and expansion, the newly acquired Laurel location will have a 6,000 to 8,000-square-foot trading floor, 32,000-square-foot warehouse, 10,000-square-foot crane mat manufacturing plant and a 16 ½-acre storage yard.
Gulf Coast Shelter operates warehouses in these two cities, and leases storage space at a number of facilities throughout the United States including Dallas, Texas;
Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Birmingham and Mobile, Ala. The parent company in Portland, Ore., has its own office and warehouse space.
Between the Daphne and Laurel locations, the company has 21 traders and 11 support staff. Austin said a number of his employees handle contractor sales, specializing in selling products to multi-family homebuilders located throughout the Southeast.
Gulf Coast Shelter also has traders in backto- back sales with industrial manufacturers of box frames, upholstered furniture and other items, as well as independent lumberyards. The Laurel, Miss., facility sells crane mats to the natural gas pipeline industry, as well as imported building material products.
Pictured are the traders and sales support staff at the Daphne office.
Austin said, “Our traders not only work here from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but they all have a cell phone and can be reached after hours and weekends. I’ve had traders walk in on Monday morning talking about orders they sold over the weekend.”
Austin attributes some of his company’s success to the training his employees received through Jay Brandon (Training For Results). Austin has had a working relation-ship with Brandon that has been proven successful for over 15 years.
“One of the keys to our success is the energy on the trading floor when our team works together,” he said. “We actually ask our customers what their needs are, and then find a way to meet those needs whether that means sourcing goods in a larger volume or going overseas to find that product.”
Austin added that his sales team is having to work harder during these difficult times, and is putting in a lot of miles on the road. “We want to get out there and make sure that they know we’re still here, and that we’re willing to travel to meet their needs,” he said. “Like personal friend and the late former chief executive officer and president of Shelter Products Brad Mannelin said, ‘If you think you’re going to get that order just giving them lip service over the phone, it’s not going to work.’ You’ve got to get face-to-face with people, shake their hands and really look at their operations and be a part of their business.”
Austin has continued that success through his working relationship with Joe Beechler, current chief executive officer and president of Shelter Products, and Kurt Hutton, chief financial officer. Austin serves on the board of directors for the parent company with those two gentlemen and other outside board members.
In recent months, Gulf Coast Shelter has strived to further establish its international presence with an export department to help develop export sales into Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. “Our future plans are to try and open an office, and have an agent on staff in the Caribbean,” Austin said.
The newly acquired Laurel location will have a 6,000 to 8,000-squarefoot trading floor once expansion is complete.
Shelter Forest International, a newly acquired division of Shelter Products, will be marketing imported plywood under the brand name, Tigerply. Austin said, “My customers had voiced some concern over Chinese plywood, but with Tigerply, there are no surprises. When you get it, you know exactly what you’ve got.” Shelter Forest International has offices in Portland, Ore., and Xuzhou, China.