Ed Roskowinski, co-owner and general manager of Vujovich Design/Build in Minneapolis, wants three things from a supplier. First, the products he needs but either doesn't know about or can't find. Second, a wide variety of products to choose from. Third, the ability to customize products -- a standard Marvin door, for example, but one with leaded glass.

The Remod Squad

Bob Mayer, construction supervisor and general manager of Williams/BUILDER, a remodeling company in Robbinsville, N.J., says "being able to talk to somebody immediately" probably counts more than anything else when it comes to a supplier. Every remodeling job differs, and the "vast amount of products, the color selections, the warranties, the applicability of those warranties to a certain installation," Mayer says, require knowledgeable answers. Right away.

Like remodeling companies that develop systems to manage growth, lumberyards and supply houses that target remodeling contractors have developed systems for delivering specialized products and information to their customers.

"The client needs are just so different. You have to specialize in it to do it well," says Keith Coleman, co-owner of Hamilton Supply, a one-store operation in Hamilton, N.J., that caters to remodelers and custom home builders.

Illustration: Greg Clarke

One of Coleman's customers, Tony Mangone, owner of Mangone Construction, likes the fact that Hamilton Supply can help in a bidding situation where a competitor comes in substantially lower. "They'll take the materials list from that other contractor and say, 'This is what they missed.'" Mangone says. That helps Mangone show clients that sometimes they're not comparing apples to apples.

Product, Not Price

Apart from commodity items like lumber or gypsum wallboard, remodelers' supply needs often focus on small quantities of items -- ones and twos -- plus special orders and hard-to-find items. Suppliers who can locate the products needed to finish the job or move it along get the business of remodeling contractors.

Remodelers and builders have different priorities when it comes to looking for a supplier. "In new construction, price is right at the top," says Bill Clemen, vice president/retail of Scherer Bros. Lumber, a five-yard independent dealer in the Twin Cities. "In remodeling, it's much more service driven. That has a lot to do with a lumber company being able to source whatever remodelers need. It's very time-consuming for remodelers to track down those items. In that context, price is secondary."

A second key issue for many remodelers is delivery. "Remodelers for the most part don't have the luxury of knowing exactly what they're going to need," Coleman says. "And their needs change hourly. They open a wall and what's back there is not what they expected."

Another thing Tony Mangone likes about Hamilton Supply, he says, is that the company stands behind what they sell. "Let's say we have a broken crank on a window. They'll say, 'Give us the name of the job and the address.' We don't have to lift a finger. Other places will tell you to bring the window back in."

Express pick-up is another service Hamilton Supply customers like. Instead of sending an employee to the supply yard for a list of project materials, carpenters, project managers, or company owners can fax or call in an order with a request for express pick up. Hamilton Supply makes note of the type of vehicle used to pick the order up and when it will arrive. The materials, banded if necessary, will be waiting at the yard entrance along with an invoice for signature. There's no need for the remodeling company employee even to enter the yard.

"If you're in a rush and you're coming in and you want to pick up a piece of material, the paperwork will already have been completed," says Bob Mayer of Williams/BUILDER, which buys 95% of its lumber from Hamilton Supply. "Let's say it's a lockset, for example. It'll be waiting by the guard gate. So it's an easy in, easy out."

Hey Big Spender

Independent supply yards readily concede that helping remodeling companies be more efficient makes those companies loyal customers. For many suppliers, remodeling companies -- once considered small potatoes -- are now big business.

"We've seen a dramatic change in the last five years," Clemen says. "Remodelers have matured. They've become effective small businesses rather than individuals doing projects." That change, he points out, is especially obvious when it comes to the types of projects Scherer Bros. customers undertake. "Five years ago, the typical remodeling projects might cost $20,000 or $30,000," Clemen says. "Now many of our customers focus on larger projects." In the past four years, the company has gradually restructured its sales force so that seven of its 25 salespeople now service remodeling accounts exclusively. That, says Clemen, was something remodeling customers repeatedly asked for.

Hamilton Supply plans to introduce a Web-based service that will allow clients to review any invoice charged to their account over the past year, print their current statement or balance, create purchase orders, check the company's inventory, obtain pricing, and view digital images of many products.