It’s not a magic wand for scarce materials. But it might keep you one step ahead of competitors.

Brought to you by 84 Lumber

After 37 years in the building supply business, Mitch Wagner thought he’d seen it all.

Then 2021 busted down the door.

“This is the strongest demand I’ve ever seen. Sure, there have been years with more housing starts. But this is demand from everywhere. Do-it-yourselfers. Single-family. Multifamily. Light commercial. You name it,” Wagner says. A perfect storm? Absolutely, but on a scale few imagined.

Wagner should know. As vice president of purchasing for 84 Lumber, the nation’s largest family-owned and operated building supply company, he’s seen his share of industry ups and downs. Just not this level of skyrocketing demand.

What words of advice and comfort does the industry leader have for home builders, specialty contractors, and home remodelers? Wagner offers these insights:

On Minimizing Lead Times

Like most businesses, 84 Lumber recognizes and rewards customer loyalty. “With supplies often stretched thin, our sales reps work hard to prioritize customers fairly,” Wagner says. “Having said that, I advise contractors to keep the lines of communication open. Don’t be shy. Over-communicate with your rep. Let him or her know exactly what you have under contract. What are the approximate start dates? What are your needs over the next 30 days? 60 days? 90 days? The more you’re an open book, the more we can work to meet your project needs and schedule.”

Josh Hutzler, vice president of corporate operations for Stanley Martin Homes, a long-standing customer of 84 Lumber, shares, “For instance, we’ve recently implemented longer-term forecasts to address product availability challenges, we regularly review supply chain disruptions, we conduct a weekly review of commodity pricing trends and strategy sessions on alternative building material solutions. A similar information sharing of starts/settles forecast is also standard practice.”

On Manufacturer Activity

“We visit suppliers as often as safety conditions allow,” Wagner explains. “I visited a building material plant last week in Boise, Idaho, for example. We have regular Zoom meetings with key suppliers once or twice a month. Suppliers are challenged, too. Their supply lines and staff have been disrupted like everyone else.

“Things are getting better at manufacturing plants. We’re not hearing as much about absenteeism at framing sawmills like we once did. There’s more production coming from the South. Lumber is getting a little easier to the source. Many of our contacts say the outlook should improve in the next 60 to 90 days.”

Again, Wagner’s biggest piece of advice? Maintain strong communication, and companies will do their best to keep you updated. 84 Lumber hopes that by Q3 and certainly Q4, the cycle times on homes should be better than it is today.

On Alternative Materials

“We’ve asked customers to be open to alternatives,” observes Wagner. “If they’re used to a certain OSB brand to think about another brand or a commodity product. Most contractors are open to workflow adjustments to keep project cycle times reasonable.”

Wagner reminds pros that “… there are no secrets today. Communication is key. Talk to your local store manager. Talk to your local rep. They’re there to help. We’re doing everything we can to keep you busy building.”