Julie Davis didn’t enter roofing distribution expecting that she’d eventually help Dealers Choice secure orders worth tens of thousands of dollars. But after 35 years in the business, it’s become one of her favorite accomplishments as a building materials specialist.
“When you know that you've worked hard on getting a quote to a customer and you've gotten them all the information, and then you get the order, that is very satisfying because you worked hard and now they've trusted you to follow through and get everything that they need for them,” Davis said.
Davis’ journey into the roofing world began when she joined Dealers Choice in 1987, providing data entry for the accounting department. She then shifted to working in accounts receivable for two years. But she wasn’t done climbing the ladder. She approached the leadership team to ask if she could work more on the credit side than with accounting. In a surprise twist, the chief financial officer countered with a different offer: move her to inside sales.
“I'd never really thought about it, but the personality test … I took came back and said that I might sit well with that, so I said, ‘Well, I'll try it and see what happens,’” Davis said.
What happened was a great match. The person she replaced moved to outside sales but helped train and mentor Davis, smoothing out the transition from accounting to sales, and Davis has since thrived. Now, her typical day includes handling inbound calls, making outbound calls, and ensuring the branch’s four dedicated trucks are dispatched full of supplies.
It’s a career that has led Davis to witness many changes in the industry. For instance, she remained on board even through the acquisition of Dealers Choice. Formed in 1993, Dealers Choice is a two-step distributor, delivering everything from residential roofing to siding, insulation, gypsum, and windows to building supplies, lumber yards and home centers throughout the country. The company belonged to JGA Corp., which Beacon Building Products acquired in 2005.
Davis said one of the most significant changes throughout her 35-year career has been the increased number of women joining the industry, both on the distribution and contractor sides. The evolution of technology has also been one of the topmost factors affecting distribution.
“When I first started, we didn't even have voicemails,” Davis said. “As you return calls, people left messages with the administrative assistant or whatever. Then we finally got voicemail and then things just evolved from there. A lot of the work I do right now, a lot of the orders that I get from customers, most of that now comes through electronically.”
The supply shortages spurred by the global pandemic hurt businesses everywhere, especially the roofing industry. Delayed jobs and limited availability of materials posed real challenges to suppliers. However, Davis said Dealers Choice weathered the storm thanks to its network of one-step branches.
“If we didn't have the product on the floor, one of our other branches may have had it where we could just transfer it over,” she said. “But we did lose some business based on vendor allocation that we couldn't get … we're in a highly competitive market, so with some of our competitors, it's whoever's got it and can get it.”
However, something as important as having the product was having a team in place that could get the work done. Davis credits her inside and outside sales colleagues for maintaining consistent customer communication.
“We've really got a good team out there, and that that really does help when everybody's trying to help each other instead of just thinking of themselves,” she said. “That's exciting when you know that everybody's working for the same thing.”
The other challenge is handling slowdowns. Even in a market like Georgia, where snow and cold weather are rare, the winter can slow down production for contractors. When that happens, Dealers Choice works hard on “winter buys” so clients can stock up for the spring.
“It’s staying on top of those people, and when they need something, you get it for’em because it may be another month or two before they need more,” she said.
For distribution businesses looking to replicate this success, Davis has two critical pieces of advice: Communicate and never be afraid to ask questions.
“When you're in training, take good notes, ask questions. There’s no such thing as a stupid question. It's better to ask the question than to not, and then have something go wrong,” Davis said. “And just follow through. Even if it's something small with emails, let the customer know that you've got it and you'll get the information to them when you can.”