Built on 140 years of expertise, Guardian Building Products is ready to serve.
Filled with more twists and turns than a rural logging road, the journey from humble lumberyard to a leading two-step distributor in the ultra-competitive domestic lumber and building material (LBM) industry drives Guardian Building Products’ (GBP) towards the future.
What is known as GBP today can trace at least part of it roots back to 1867, when William M. Cameron opened a retail lumberyard in Warrensburg, Missouri to support the building of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad.
Guardian Industries, GBP’s parent company, started as a glass supplier to the burgeoning Detroit auto industry. Guardian Fiberglass, which grew from this glass division, developed and manufactured its own line of fiberglass insulation.
Looking for a way to distribute more product, Guardian Fiberglass entered the distribution business by acquiring wholesaler Builder Marts of America, Ace Hardware’s LBM business, TruServ’s LBM business as well as Cameron-Ashley Building Products, the Dallas-based descendant of the original W.M. Cameron lumberyards. This varied background helped shape GBP into what it has become today.
Throughout the company’s history, and those of the distribution companies it has acquired, one thing has remained constant: the deep commitment to serving the independent lumber dealer channel. When acquisitions were made that included one-step distribution, those divisions were quickly divested to stay true to the foundation on which GBP has their roots—serving the independent lumber dealer.
In 2014, GBP returned to its past success as a standalone wholesale buying and distribution group in the LBM industry, selling off its fiberglass manufacturing division to focus solely on its strength as a two-step distributor of specialty building products.
Today, GBP services professional LBM dealers in 48 states offering innovative and high-quality building products in the following categories: building materials, decking, gypsum, hardlines, insulation, millwork, roofing, and siding.
GBP represents some of the industries’ top manufacturers, including some of the biggest, most recognizable names in the LBM industry such as TAMKO Building Products, CertainTeed Roofing, Knauf Insulation, National Gypsum, Continental Building Products, Rollex, USG, Royal Building Products, Fiberon, InterWrap, and American Gypsum.
The Joys—and Challenges—of Change
Appointed as President and COO in July 2016, Jim Becker sums up recent company history in a breezy, pithy style.
“We changed from a distribution company that was owned by a manufacturer back to a pure distribution company, and it’s been a big transformation,” he told BOSS.
Just before Becker took the reins, GBP was a manufacturer primarily focused on producing and distributing fiberglass insulation.
“Evolving into a distributor with a broad offering of building materials changed how we approached our customers,” he explained. “We had to change our mindset in how we deliver value to our customers. Although it’s been challenging, it has created opportunities that wouldn’t have been opened to us as a manufacturer.”
That value resides largely in the deep expertise of GBP’s employee base located in 30 branches and their South Carolina corporate office.
“A major component of our transition was pushing the decision rights back to the field,” he noted. “We don’t make the corporate office the sole decision maker; 80 to 90 percent of all of the decisions are made in the field where the sales activity happens. It’s where our people are talking to customers and building relationships.”
Specializing in exterior building products and wall systems manufactured by top-of-the-line companies gives GBP’s local teams an advantage that’s bolstered by the freedom to make decisions that impact their specific business units.
“Whether that’s a branch manager or territory sales manager making decisions about their product assortment, the best decisions are going to be made locally,” he added.
Two-Stepping: A Brief Primer
In a nutshell, a two-step distributor typically purchases products directly from the manufacturers, stores the products in their own warehouses, sells those products to dealers who, in turn, sell to the end users.
Benefits of this approach for their dealers include GBP’s agility and the critical ability to provide inventory on a just-in-time basis. Dealers can dramatically reduce their cost of investment while keeping orders filled without the need for warehousing, and can take advantage of merchandising support and programs to help build sales.
Innovative Service Platform
GBP gives their dealers the ability to order truckloads of products from the manufacturer with direct pricing. In addition, GBP’s platform can also offer out-of-warehouse, next-day deliveries to supplement the direct truckloads. This combination approach covers all the dealers’ needs and supports them whether they are expanding a category or an entire business.
“Customers can leverage GBP’s inventory to help grow their business with very little risk or investment on their part. We’ve already made the inventory investment, so if they want to take on a new product line, it can be immediately available. The dealer doesn’t have to worry about making a major investment into truckloads to get started,” said Becker.
GBP’s product assortment is market-specific; branch managers and local territory sales managers request their assortment based on the local needs of their dealers.
“With our industry experts in the field, our direct selling team, our local inside sales team, our branch managers, and our delivery fleet, I think we’ve built very good long-term service relationships with our dealers. Our service platform is built to meet the needs of our dealers by being a solution provider to help them grow their business.”
Top Talent and Mindful Management
GBP’s talent pool includes veterans with deep knowledge of the industry and the products that are continually changing the LBM sector. That talent, according to Becker, has a significant impact on GBP’s organizational leadership.
“We have a lot of high-talent individuals that have been in the LBM industry for a long time. They are, in their specific realms, very bright individuals and don’t need anyone to tell them what to do everyday—they are very good strategic thinkers,” he said.
Employees have the resources they need to create business-building strategies for their dealers and the knowledge to execute on the plans that offer the biggest benefits.
“Individually, these people have become experts in their own arena, and I truly believe I can best serve them and the organization by removing obstacles, finding opportunities, and certainly being a sounding board for them to develop their business.”
Becker’s inclusive management style of getting multiple sources of input on decisions and giving his staff the respect and confidence generated from seeking their counsel, has created a working environment that will continue to foster GBP’s new direction.
“Most importantly, this style works here because of the talented people we have,” he continues. “There’s no cash register at headquarters, so the GBP corporate office understands it is a support function to the field…we believe in a market-based management strategy, so the decisions made in the field daily are really best for our business.”
“We are a two-step distributor that is customer centric to the core of its business, it is literally the foundation of all these businesses that have combined to form GBP, “ he concluded. “We have built our business with high integrity people that have strong industry and product knowledge and have strong relationship building skills.
“Having these types of employees throughout the organization allows us to foster relationships with our customers— which gives us the opportunity to truly understand their business so that we can help them become successful. Our dealer’s success is priority one. If we can help provide solutions and be their best answer, then GBP will be successful.”
Guardian Building Products, a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian Industries, is a leading two-step distributor of exterior building products. Through its network of 30 stocking distribution centers strategically located throughout the United States, as well as an established direct from manufacturer business model, Guardian Building Products serves pro dealers in the lumber and building materials industry.
Guardian Industries, a global company headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, employs around 17,000 people and operates facilities throughout North America, Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Guardian’s diverse group of companies are involved in the manufacture of high-performance float, coated, and fabricated glass products; the manufacture of high-quality chrome-plated and painted plastic components for the automotive and commercial truck industries; and the distribution of specialty building products. Guardian’s vision is to create value for customers and society through constant innovation using fewer resources. Guardian is a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc.