A&H Turf & Specialities: The Nuts & Bolts of Growing a Business
In 1984 Dave Anderson and his dad, Al, founded A&H Turf & Specialties just a
stone's throw from where the main building stands today. As the name
implies, the business originally centered on irrigation supplies and
equipment. Along with sprinkler heads, fittings, and pipe, A&H sold a few
related hardware items, such as shovels, fasteners, and sandpaper.
By 1988, the business had expanded into power tools and hand tools. In the
years since, A&H has expanded to stock and supply full lines of tools,
hardware items and equipment representing at least 475 major manufacturing
firms around the world. But rather than concentrating on how many products
they can cram into the warehouse, showroom and surrounding acres, A&H has
always focused on supplying quality products from industry leaders.
A glance at the many shelves and displays in the main store says it all.
Respected names, like Blum, Festool, 3M, Accuride, Rain Bird, DeWalt, Freud,
Stanley, Amerock, Belwith Keeler, Schlage, Baldwin, Emtek, Schaub & Company
make up the A&H inventory line. What you won't see are the inferior quality
tools usually found at famous discount centers.
Dave Anderson explains why: "We're simply not interested in carrying the
low-end imported hardware or supplies. It doesn't last." Tools and hardware
that last and that get the job done has proven to be a good market, so far.
Blum hardware is a good example of the quality products A&H is proud to
carry. Made in Austria, Blum hardware is very high end, world famous for
its quality. Dave says that A&H Turf and Specialties has been seriously
involved with Blum since the beginning. In fact, A&H sold the first Blum
hardware and machinery available west of the Mississippi.
And it's not just about selling products. Today, A&H continues to provide
continuing education training from Blum to employees in contact with
hardware buyers and installers. They can readily assist contractors and
homeowners with the specs and tolerances required for proper hinge
applications and installation.
Hardware in the Blood
Dave and his dad both had a good deal of previous hardware experience before
starting A&H Turf & Specialties. Dave says, "I've been in the hardware
business all my life, since I was 12. I've got 37 years experience in
functional, building, and irrigation hardware." And he's not just blowing
Dave worked his way through college installing irrigation and sprinkler
systems, having learned the trade at a previous job with a Billings hardware
company. His dad, Al, was the general manager of Winter Hardware when Dave
got out of college. They worked there together for a while before deciding
to start A&H Turf & Specialties. The new company opened its doors in a
rented building just about a block from where the business now stands.
Survival in those early days was not without hard work. Dave says that the
product lines were developed one at a time, selling face to face, with many
miles spent on Montana and Wyoming roads. Within a few years though, A&H
was able to buy the land it sits on today. The first new building gave the
business 15,000 sqft to work with. Expansion continued as sales improved
and more products were added, until now A&H fills over 40,000 sqft inside
space, plus the uncovered storage outside.
Good Stuff, Low Prices
Part of the success has been the A&H policy of selling at genuine high
quality products at wholesale prices. American consumers are accustomed to
either getting one or the other: high quality at high prices or low quality
at low prices. Very rarely do you see exceptional high quality products at
low, wholesale prices. That means a narrower profit margin for A&H, but the
volume of sales makes it possible.
Lawn and turf supplies are still central to A&H Turf and Specialties. A&H
is a major distributor for Rain Bird and Master Turf products. Rain Bird is
the leading manufacturer and provider of irrigation products and services in
the world, and one out of every one hundred customers, globally, is now
buying from A&H Turf.
Cabinetry and home construction is also a big part of what A&H is all about.
For example, more than 125 species (well over $1 million worth) of hardwood
lumber is kept in inventory, including hard-to-find exotics from all over
the world. Dave is considering offering some of the wood products over the
Internet soon. In the mean time, you can always call for information on
wood species and moldings.
Woodworking equipment, tools, and supplies have long been a major part of
the picture. A&H has continually increased its inventory of large
woodworking tools and equipment in the last 15 years. Performax, Jet,
Powermatic, Porter-Cable, Festool, Bosch, DeWalt, and other quality brands
of tools are stocked, sold and supported at A&H Turf. And here again, not
only are the products made available, helpful information about proper
applications and use is also offered by knowledgeable staff.
Cabinetmakers' Computer Hotline
Also in the works is a special online "Cabinetmakers" program, where
professional cabinet builders can log on and receive additional discounts
and special offers over the Internet. Already, architects, construction
contractors, homebuilders, cabinet maker's and other professionals in the
region look to A&H as a major supplier for their hardware materials, tools
and equipment. The huge 1500-page A&H Catalog goes out to construction
professionals all over Montana and Wyoming.
Big Work of Big Business
Business is good and that creates its own set of challenges. Customer
response to the high level of quality and honest service offered by A&H has
been increasingly enthusiastic, adding to the company's rapid growth in
popularity and sales volume. This success forces Dave and his staff to work
hard to make sure that everything offered on the web, in the catalog and in
ads is available in stock. And that can be a big job in itself.
Decorative cabinet hardware is a good example. With approximately 115,000
individual hardware items in stock, customers are able choose from a wide
variety any day of the week. Currently, A&H offers about 20,000 products on
their website. And the rest of the inventory is just a phone call away.
These products move fast since they are very popular, high quality brands -
Amerock, Emtek, Belwith Keeler, Schaub & Company, Ashley Norton, Acorn, and
Sierra Lifestyles - and they're being offered at wholesale prices. A&H is
now one of the top ten sellers for Belwith Keeler, and among the top 3 U.S.
distributors for Amerock. The A&H website (www.ahturf.com) is the world's
largest online distributor of Accuride Precision Slides. Keeping these and
the many other product lines in stock and ready to ship is a full time job
for A&H employees.
The World Shops Here
A&H has a worldwide online customer base that includes homeowners,
remodelers, designers, developers, contractors, and property managers.
Sales have been made to every state (including Alaska and Hawaii) as well as
Central and South America, Africa, Lebanon, England, Germany, Switzerland,
and other nations around the world. Thousands of orders come in every
month, and the online business is still growing.
Quality products, fairness and honesty in business, and hard work have
helped to make A&H Turf & Specialties successful. But Dave says that it
takes more than happy customers to make a successful business. Wise
investments in people's lives are also important.
That philosophy begins with company employees. "For me it's a moral
commitment. If people work hard and make the business prosper, it's only
right that we should also take care of them." Dave says. "Good pay and
benefits, paid vacations and sick leave are all part of taking care of the
people who take care of our business,"
The policy seems to pay off for the business. Employee turn-over at A&H is
very low, and the quality of personnel is very high. "We have good,
intelligent and responsible people working here," Dave says of the 30-plus
A&H is also generous to the community. The business regularly contributes
to Billings Deaconess Foundation, a major healthcare organization in the
community. The company actively sponsors just about every local sports team
that asks them for help, and also participates in the Messiah Festival, an
annual local event that raises funds and awareness for cancer research.
What started out as an idea about 20 years ago has proven to be a very good
idea, indeed. Dave and Al have proven that selling the very best quality
hardware at unusually low prices, and treating everyone fairly really is
good business. It works for everyone.
Dave and Al still work every day to sell hardware to the people who need it.
Now they have a crew of good people who work with them to help see that the
job gets done. They also have a large and satisfied customer base that
shows their appreciation every day by doing business with A&H Turf, and by
telling their friends that they should do the same.
©2006 Jim Sutton
read this and more online at: www.ah-tips.com
Visit A&H Turf & Specialties online at: www.ahturf.com