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
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
Clarence Brewer is a forklift operator at the Daphne, Ala., warehouse and storage facility.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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;
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.
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
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
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.
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.