Patrick Goebel, President, Star Lumber
2 retail stores, 3 professional service centers, Kansas and Oklahoma
Star Lumber was founded in 1939 by Earl Goebel, a builder with an entrepreneurial spirit. Today, the company is led by the third generation, including president Patrick Goebel. Star Lumber’s focus is on building loyalty through the customer experience.
Read the conversation with Patrick below and click here to listen to an exclusive podcast episode on Hardware Retailing‘s brand new podcast series Editorially Speaking.
Hardware Retailing (HR): How did you get involved in the business?
Patrick Goebel (PG): After finishing 8th grade, my dad started having me report to work to do whatever odd jobs they could find and I continued to work at a variety of roles throughout high school. After college, I was a CPA for a few years before applying for a role that would allow me to return to Star. I found that working in the family business, building something was much more satisfying than offering opinions on financial statements.
HR: What unique challenges do you think independent retailers face in today’s market?
PG: Change continues to exponentially get faster. I believe there are a ton of opportunities for independents to carve out their niches and serve customers, but your team must constantly be looking for the next thing. Independents are nimble enough to change faster than some of the larger national retailers for their specific markets and customers. The distribution channel both on the purchasing side as well as customer delivery is a scary tightrope to walk.
HR: What are some key opportunities independent retailers have?
PG: Connecting with customers, building loyalty through constant contact and creating a different experience than they will find in the cookie-cutter national operators is a huge opportunity. We constantly look for ways to add value to our products, and so if we believe Amazon can do it as well as we can, we either need to figure out a way to add value to it or plan on not doing that in the future.
This realization hit me when a friend of mine left his corporate job to open a running shoe store. I told him he was crazy and that everyone was ordering running shoes online. However, he was extremely successful and even opened a second store. He did it by building an awesome running community that the entire city rallied around. I constantly try to think of how can we do that in our world.
Connecting with customers, building loyalty through constant contact and creating a different experience than they will find in the cookie-cutter national operators is a huge opportunity.
HR: How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
PG: I think those just selling on price alone will continue to gravitate toward online purchases. We don’t believe that is a battle we have the resources to win. We would like to create an online experience for our customers but have local interaction and service be an important component. I believe people will continue to look for professionals to help them get their projects done, so we are really focused on building strong relationships with remodelers and builders to deliver an outstanding experience to that homeowner.
HR: How will your business expand in five to 10 years?
PG: Ninety percent of what we sell is through a professional, however, we work very hard to be a part of that experience with the end user. We will continue to grow that opportunity. We will continue to try to refine our model to grow geographically. We are also very focused on lean processes and evaluating all the ways we add value to make sure we are doing so more efficiently than anyone else.
HR: What impact do you think the pandemic has had on the industry?
PG: The COVID-19 pandemic has helped people find value in investing in their home, so we should be prepared to help them do it. On the employee side, we are constantly communicating and we do temperature checks daily at all the locations to emphasize to employees we are serious about them not coming to work sick.
HR: What does being an “industry disrupter” mean to you?
PG: Industry disrupter is anything that renders your current way of doing business and adding value obsolete. In our lifetime, we have seen many things around us be rapidly disrupted. Our industry so far has been a little different, but no one is immune. As independents, we are most vulnerable in the area of efficiency, and it is important that we constantly invest in our enterprise resource planning systems as well as training for our teams. We are constantly looking for ways of adding service to the transaction without increasing costs.