Friedman's Home Improvement CEO reveals how 72-year-old Sonoma County construction supplier succeeds

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The Business Journal recently sat down with Barry Friedman, president and CEO of Friedman’s Home Improvement, to talk about the family business that began in 1946 and how it has evolved over the past 72 years. The company’s projected revenue for 2018 is approximately $190 million.

Next month, Friedman’s will open a distribution yard at the Pruitt Industrial Park in Windsor to serve its contractor customers with job site direct deliveries. Friedman’s is leasing the 3.5-acre site with a 30,000-square-foot warehouse.

What made you decide to open a separate distribution yard away from Friedman’s Home Improvement’s stores?

BARRY FREIDMAN: We had been brewing on a concept since we came out of the recession, and our contractor business has been growing. When and where we would open the yard had not been established, but the need was there, and that was, how do we separate some of the tasks from the service? And one of the things we wanted to really do was relieve the jobsite direct deliveries out of our existing yards and do it in a central location. So that way, our yards and our stores are more convenient for the pick-up customers — the people that just want to pick up material and want to get in and get out and get onto their job. By pulling out the jobsite direct deliveries, it will make those yards in our existing stores even more convenient.

It’s going to be game-changing for us in terms of our ability to better serve our professional contractor customer.

What was the project cost?

FRIEDMAN: It’s less about the project cost and more about what we’re putting there. We didn’t have to build anything. The only thing we had to do was put up a perimeter fence around our yard and we made some other slight improvements, but this is pretty much an existing space. It’s more about the additional inventory that we’re placing there, and that is approximately $1 million worth of inventory in lumber and building materials.

How did the October 2017 wildfires affect your plans for the distribution yard?

FRIEDMAN: Once it became clear that now is the time, we became pretty focused on finding that additional space and how we can do that more quickly.

So the urgency in getting something up and running quicker became the focus versus an ideal situation that we create and build. That was probably our mindset before, was finding this ideal thing, how does it fit and where does it go? Is it adjacent to this or that? Then it became about urgency.

How does Friedman’s fit into the post-fires rebuilding effort, along with the already-existing housing shortage?

FRIEDMAN: I think what Friedman’s is trying to figure out, is how do we help our community build? How do we help our contractor customers go further faster? Because the need is today.

We’re figuring out how to be part of the solution. The distribution yard is one element of that, but as we have in the past, we’re continuously looking at how we can improve our business. We definitely see that the building efforts are massive, and we feel a sense of duty to be part of that and help our community every which way we can.

Will you be adding jobs?

FRIEDMAN: Yes. We are doing more of an internal transfer to the distribution yard, approximately up to 13 people, and we’ll be backfilling those positions.

And we’ve been hiring.

It’s November, not the time that we’d usually hire people, but we are. We also have some major technology initiatives underway that have created more positions and needs within our organization.

And we’ve actually doubled our headcount over the last seven years, so we’re up to 620 team members, which is a considerable amount of jobs — not just in the stores, but also in this (Petaluma headquarters) building. It’s a blend of a professional organization with our roots of that small mom-and-pop.

What are your thoughts about the history of Friedman’s?

FRIEDMAN: We look at ourselves as a 72-year-old company but we’re not resting. We’ve actually talked about ourselves as a 72-year-old startup because, like I said, we’ve doubled our headcount … and the expectations of our customers are constantly evolving, and we have to evolve as well.

But the one thing about our history that I think is really important is that we hold onto those values that (my family) stood for and that they cultivated and created over their time, and the generations of team members along the way. They helped build this reputation. And so the history is really this reputation of serving others, and our care and commitment to both our customers and our team. That is paramount.

Do your contractor customers mostly do residential building? And what about the rest of your customer base?

FRIEDMAN: The contractor customers are mostly residential but we have people who use our stores in many different ways. Some people just like to shop and come into our stores because of the breadth of products we have: lumber, building materials, plumbing, electrical, tools, hardware, lighting, clothing. We feel like we cover everything from the foundation to the finish.

Why did Friedman’s venture outside of Sonoma County and open a store in Ukiah?

FRIEDMAN: It was my dad’s vision. He really saw Ukiah as the potential for future growth. It made sense. As housing increased from the Bay Area, it moved north. He looked at Ukiah as an opportunity to expand and that there’d be needs in the future. I think that community is going through its own changes. ... They have a new Costco there now, and there is a Home Depot up there as well that came in the mid-2000s.

Does that make it more competitive up there for Friedman’s?

FRIEDMAN: It’s been a competitive market. There’s local competition there and with Home Depot coming in, that definitely made it more competitive for sure.

Do you plan to keep that store?

FRIEDMAN: Yes. I think Ukiah still has potential. And it’s a great community. There’s a strong sense of community and you actually really feel it in our store. We have a local gourmet-deli bakery in the store called Schat’s, and when you walk in, there’s this very warm, welcoming sense of community.

So I think Ukiah has so much potential and I think it’s kind of like (you have to have) patience. Because for part of this housing deficiency that we have, building is going to need to go on more than just in Sonoma County.

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