In the early 2000’s, Blair Budlong (center) had graduated from St. Thomas with a MBA and decided to embark on his own adventure, following in the footsteps of his father’s concrete business.
Budlong had identified one product to single-handedly launch his company with: a patented cinder block with integrated grooves used uniquely for deck footing.
After first attempting to sell it through retail chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, he decided to experiment with taking the product online, going direct to the consumer and working around the traditional channel distribution.
“We wanted to control the product experience — everything from the pricing to the customer service,” he reflects, “And see how we could springboard off that into other things.”
What he learned from that experience was that selling online was easy — but fulfilling promises was hard.
“Id say it was a failure for the first few years, to be honest with you. We were targeting the wrong customers, had inventory challenges, and were doing drop ship when we shouldn’t have. It almost sunk us. I knew that our product was in demand, but getting the right stuff in the right box to the right customer – that I didn’t know how to do very well.”
Budlong was forced to take a step back after two years of effort and re-examine his business premise. To fold the company up or to make fundamental change and carry on? he genuinely wondered together with his two employees at the time.
In 2009, Budlong had calculated they would have to make a million dollar investment into technology, customer service, and warehousing in order to carry on in the business with even a chance of becoming profitable some day. After weighing his options, he doubled down on the e-commerce model with a fresh approach.
“It was the best decision we made,” he says laughing, in retrospect.
Slowly, things started to turn around. One product became two, two became ten, and all of a sudden DecksDirect.com had become a full-blown destination for all things decking supplies online. In a world dominated by offline purchases, Budlong’s vision of offering customers better everything than they could get in store began to cement.
By 2011, the company had rebounded back to 5 employees and revenues started to grow considerably, to the tune of 40% on average for the years that would follow.
“We really became a niche of a niche inside the construction industry. Since starting with one product, we’ve grown into 35,000 SKUs with 4,000 stocked inventory at any point in time. And I think we compete with the big chain retailerts on maybe 1% of products? That’s how niche we’ve gotten in this space.”
He says their average online order is approaching $400 ($500 for phone order), a unique accomplishment in what is so often an in store purchasing decision made by DIYers and general contractors. 88% of orders ship same day from their warehouse now, with drop shipping now accounting for only 5% of sales — quite the opposite of their original intention.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that I’m running this company right now…I don’t even own a deck!” he says, “I just love solving problems and being in business for myself, it’s so much fun, especially now that things are working out.”
Budlong was hesitant to share current financial figures at this time, but assured me that projections continue to become reality with plenty of room to roam. And all keeps going to plan, Budlong’s next adventure will involve storefront footprints, closing the loop on his grand plan of owning the lions share of the domestic decking industry.