How North Carolina’s Bladen Builders Supply brings a personal touch to their business

It’s becoming increasingly rare in today’s world to find a business that puts its operational emphasis on the personal touch. In Elizabethtown, NC, that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bladen Builders Supply. Founded in 1946 by A.H. and C.W. Greene, Bladen Builders Supply is located in the heart of Elizabethtown, a small community in Bladen County with a population of just 3,265 as of 2022. Bladen Builders Supply is the epitome of a small town, one-stop service center for most residential, home, and agriculture needs. Today, Lane Greene, who has worked there full-time since 2017, has taken on leadership and ownership.

A humble man, Greene isn’t big on comparisons with other LBM dealers, but he attributes the company’s growth over the last few years to personal touch. “I have noticed that where we’ve grown so significantly, a lot of it is because the competition didn’t have anybody [that customers] could call directly, a good steady resource to be able to get help when they need it. And that’s our bread and butter. Everything is really personal,” he points out.

The personal touch

Greene credits a lot of that personal feeling to the staff, some of whom have been with the company for as long as 47 years. “It’s really, really crazy, but we have no turnovers, zero attrition rate whatsoever, unless somebody dies. Once you have an opportunity to start working with somebody here, they can help you throughout the whole process. It doesn’t matter what it is, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from—we have general contractors we work with from Louisiana, Texas, and Philadelphia who are doing commercial work around here. They’re all super smart, and in tune with what’s going on. It’s just an awesome, awesome team.”

That team member longevity Greene speaks of has spared him the staffing headaches many other dealers face. “I haven’t had to hire anyone new yet, but I do think about it and have heard about the process from other owners. And I see the turnover of other companies every day. It’s a shame, and I don’t know if it boils down to the money, but the leadership aspect of it is bigger. I see guys that have a lot of potential and seem eager to learn, but they’re gun-shy because some guy with a title is treating them like crap.
But 99% of the time, with these circumstances I’m seeing, these are just generally good people that aren’t given the right opportunity from the higher-ups to make a mistake or two and learn along the way. They’re just reprimanded, and this is not good. It’s just not a good way of approaching things in a workforce that seems to be super fragile.”

Greene points out, however, that the personal touch is a bit of a two-edged sword. While it has boosted growth, maintaining the same level of customers expectations and core values can be challenging. “Right now, with exponential growth in business, trying to maintain it can sometimes feel like we’ve created a monster. We always try to stay proficient and stay on top of everything, like we did when we weren’t doing as much business as we’re doing now. But that’s something that I think about more than anything else—at what point is enough, enough? Really, at the end of the day, monetary gain is cool, but you only get to live once. So my main priority is to make sure that everybody’s happy and not worried about all the overhead and everything else that can come with growth. Just dealing with that growth factor—it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, really.”

An eye on the future

In looking back at the success Bladen Builders Supply has experienced, Greene’s humbleness shines through again, especially when identifying any specific changes that have led to the company’s success. “I’m really just kind of following the same plan,” Greene says. “I guess I’m a little bit more aggressive, but not nearly as smart as the people before me. So maybe I’ve taken a couple steps that may have seemed a little too risky to my dad or my granddad, but those steps wound up paying dividends for us. It’s just worked out. I mean, I’m not comparing myself to the people who came before me at all. I just think it was kind of lucky that I just happened to meet the right people.”

When it comes to attracting future customers, Bladen Builders Supply is in an enviable state, but one that requires special attention. Because of the nature of his small community, Greene hasn’t needed to invest in much advertising or special events. “It’s funny where we are with our clientele,” Greene explains. “It’s super personal. I mean, it’s like you’re either in church with them or your kids go to school together. So in terms of marketing, outside of customer appreciation days and stuff like that, we haven’t needed much beyond a couple of billboards. It’s kind of like Mayberry,” he jokes, referencing the classic, “The Andy Griffith Show” television program. “It’s, uh … it’s interesting. It’s something that I looked at when I was just getting out of college, thinking how can I get the hell out of this place? It seems like there’s no privacy. But now, that’s the best about it.”

Community, employee support

Part of that personal touch that seems to infuse everything Bladen Builders Supply does extends beyond the company’s doors and out into the community. They work with organizations that build ramps for those with limited
mobility, and they help fix homes that otherwise would be condemned so people have housing until they can transfer into other options. “And we help different church organizations that really kind of fall in the same line,” Greene explains. “Essentially, with all the groups we support, this is such a poverty-stricken area, and there are so many people that need help that it’s unbelievable.”

While Greene acknowledges that Bladen Builders Supply may operate in different circumstances than many other LBM dealers, there’s a common lesson that he believes is important for everyone to keep in mind. “It’s something I always think to myself. In terms of my biggest recommendation to other LBM dealers, it’s empathy and forgiveness. That’s retention. You can get a lot of people who would work for free if they felt you cared about them. I mean, genuinely care about them. That’s big, that’s huge.”

Get to know
Bladen Builders Supply

Founded: 1946
Ownership: Family
Locations: One
Employees: 20
Buyer’s Group / Co-op: Do it Best
Top product category: Treated lumber
Customer mix: 75% pro / 25% DIY

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