Lumber prices soared during the pandemic, causing headaches for Daniel Lampron, CEO and Vice President of Quebec-based home improvement centers chain Patrick Morin – and frustration for customers.
The soaring prices also created erroneous perceptions of price gouging and greed. “I wasn’t making more money with the higher prices. I was just following the market because I was also buying lumber wholesale,” Daniel tells The CEO Magazine. “A challenge for all of us is to keep our businesses in good shape and to remain profitable. I think that’s key. But we will never abuse our customers. We want to find them the best products at the best prices.”
Soaring lumber prices came to symbolize the supply chain challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the disruptions in doing business in turbulent economic times.
The rocketing prices for building materials also revealed surprising changes in consumer preferences – as homebound populations, often flush with cash from COVID-19 relief packages and money saved from sheltering-in-place, pursued home renovations, do-it-yourself projects and bought new homes.
“People stopped traveling, they stopped going to restaurants, things like that. So they have money. And they’re renovating their homes or buying new things,” Daniel says. “However, this will eventually change.”
Daniel managed the ups and downs of the pandemic, and now he’s charting a course for Patrick Morin as health restrictions are relaxed and people spend their discretionary income differently.
The company is pioneering new supply chain policies, which involve sourcing nationally – to avoid disruptive import delays – and moving away from just-in-time logistics.
Daniel says his management priorities are building on the already solid customer service and retail experience at Patrick Morin’s 21 stores across the francophone Canadian province of Quebec. He also plans on expanding its online presence – but doing it right so it matches the in-store experience and doesn’t disappoint customers.
“What you see on the internet has to be in the stores, the exact same thing,” Daniel says. “People will look online and then come and see it in a store.”
We are a Quebec company owned by Quebeckers and we want to keep the focus on Quebeckers.
Mostly, though, he says it’s about building on the heritage of a local success story in an industry dominated by foreign competitors with deep pockets.
“We are a Quebec company owned by Quebeckers and we want to keep the focus on Quebeckers,” he says of the company, which was founded as a family firm in 1960 with two sawmills and a small hardware store in Sainte-Marcelline-de-Kildare. “We build a lot. We create a lot of value in Quebec.”
He first joined Patrick Morin as General Manager in 2011. He charted a plan for company growth and completed it within eight years with the company. “We doubled growth and added eight stores,” he says.
Daniel returned to Patrick Morin in February 2021 – this time as CEO. His hiring followed the purchase of Patrick Morin by Groupe Turcotte and Home Hardware Stores Limited, Canada’s largest dealer-owned hardware, lumber and home improvement retailer.
The ownership allows Patrick Morin to leverage buying power. It also allows the company to compete against big-box retailers.
I’m asking the contractors: ‘If you know what you want, we’ll do our best to have it in stock ahead of time.’
Still, Daniel has set expansion as a goal and aims to have sales doubling over the next three-to-five years. He also has his sights set on organic growth and mergers and acquisitions.
In the meantime, he’s implemented unique strategies to address challenges arising from the global pandemic, such as staffing and supply chain issues, which he expects will differentiate Patrick Morin from its competitors.
Staffing concerns at Patrick Morin prompted Daniel to forgo seasonal hiring and instead hire permanent employees who will stay with the company year round. “We train them during the low season, so when we start the spring season we’ll be very strong,” he explains.
When he returned to Patrick Morin, Daniel says it was down more than 400 employees, but by applying this innovative hiring strategy, that number has come down to just 75 vacancies.
The cost of imports is very high. Transportation is expensive. So we have to find other solutions and be aware that we can purchase supplies closer to our stores.
Daniel also took novel approaches to sourcing due to supply chain challenges. He implemented new customer relationship management practices with contractors – an important part of Patrick Morin’s customer base – to improve communications and ensure products are in stock.
“I’m asking the contractors, ‘If you know what you want, we’ll do our best to have it in stock ahead of time’,” he says.
The tardiness in shipping has Patrick Morin purchasing more in advance, with Daniel predicting that “it will take time before we go back to the just-in-time model”.
However, the company has found a patriotic and practical solution for its supply chain challenges – buying locally. Patrick Morin introduced the program ‘Well Made Here’, which encourages the production and purchase of Canadian-made hardware and building materials for the residential market.
“The cost of imports is very high. Transportation is expensive. So we have to find other solutions and be aware that we can purchase supplies closer to our stores,” Daniel says.
As a bonus, he says, Quebec customers prefer supporting local producers, “They want their products coming from here,” he says. And Patrick Morin gets to continue supporting the people and province that it loves.