Part XIV: Whole House Launched
Pacing nervously outside the truss office, our best software “brain” was physically sick. Another failed demo could end his career. He worried because, after 6 frustrating years, our $50 Million OptiFrame program may not be ready for primetime. And this conservative engineer wasn’t going to lie about its readiness, even at the risk of losing this Home Depot Supply (HDS)* facility. [*Note: Last month’s article incorrectly identified this company as ProBuild, but it didn’t buy the facility until the following year.]
Walking into the eerily quiet cavern-like plant for the demo was not reassuring. The tanking Atlanta economy had nearly idled this large location, one of three formerly owned by Williams Brothers. Permits were down 75% in the two years since HDS bought it, and company morale had slumped in tandem.
As we greeted the management team, we glimpsed a few rays of hope. Our main adversary, the tenured GM, had been driven out by the new ownership. And we were pleased to find one designer who had used our software, and another one who didn’t know the competitor’s software, working mainly with EWP. Both could help us, but we had to convince the rest of the design staff to disrupt their current practices, in already unsettling times.
Home Depot Supply was one of several behemoths upsetting our business. After buying Williams Brothers and prior to our demo, HDS spent another $4 Billion acquiring Cox Lumber and its 6 truss plants, Hughes Supply, Forest Products, and other businesses. And since CEO Robert Nardelli was aggressively driving further acquisitions, the pressure on this demo increased substantially.
We were up against the combined expertise of our three most successful rivals: Truswal, Alpine, and IntelliBuild, all having been acquired by Illinois Tool Works (ITW). And we came into this showdown with an unproven program with some real shortcomings, wall design being the most significant. Though we could demonstrate equality, or even superiority in truss design, our layout’s “Smart Move” wasn’t as versatile as ITW’s parametric capability. But our biggest challenge was sticking to our successful demo protocol: demonstrating only what was in widespread use by satisfied customers.
The demo began on a cold winter day but quickly warmed up for us. We didn’t get hit with an impossible design as we normally do. All went well until we played our trump card: our EWP partnership with TrusJoist. However, this failed to impress, since HDS used a competitive vendor. Nevertheless, all designers stressed the importance of our future development, as they described HDS’s intent on dominating the wholesale sector, just as Home Depot ruled the retail business. Fortunately, wall panels weren’t even brought up, since no one in Atlanta built them.
We left Atlanta feeling awkward selling future software that we couldn’t yet demonstrate. Our competitor might well christen OptiFrame with the deadly appellation, “vaporware,” and challenge HDS to ask us for referrals (we had none). And with their demo coming after ours, we were facing several anxious weeks before knowing the outcome, and perhaps the viability of our huge investment. Soon we would know if we achieved a successful launch, or were sent “back to the drawing board.”
Busted at Bahama Breeze