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Building client loyalty by knocking down walls

After years in the brick business, Pamela Cook makes sure that no walls build up between her company and its customers over price issues.
/ Source: Pittsburgh Business Times

After years in the brick business, Pamela Cook makes sure that no walls build up between her company and its customers over price issues.

That hasn't always been easy in recent years, as the traditionally stable price of brick has gone up as much as 20 percent. What previously were once-a-year price increases now often happen two or three times in the same year.

But Cook says she works hard to understand what her customers are going through and how to help them navigate higher product costs.

"I really feel bad for them, because they have to bid these jobs not knowing what prices are going to do," said Cook, who founded Cranberry-based PF Cook Brick Co. 11 years ago and serves as its president.

Her customer-friendly approach has helped PF Cook grow to roughly $5 million in annual revenue and eight employees.

"She's a client advocate," said Dan Cannon, a vice president for sales and marketing for Roswell, Ga.-based Boral Bricks Inc., Cook's largest supplier. "Every time I give her a price increase, her first question is how it's going to sit with her clients."

Cook helps her clients negotiate higher costs in a number of ways. Along with regular faxed updates, Cook helps clients plan and schedule the delivery and storage of new brick orders. She often offers to bring bricks to clients' job sites and allow their own staffs to unload them -- a simple tactic that can save roughly $25 to $40 per thousand bricks.

She also negotiates with suppliers on behalf of clients to get reduced prices for bricks that will be used for model homes. In exchange, the brick makers typically are given an opportunity to post marketing materials in the homes to better showcase their product.

Cook said she also sells bricks to clients at discounted prices, if they ordered the brick before a more recent price hike. It's a practice she's able to do because of the 3-million-brick capacity brickyard PF Cook moved to three years ago.

"When builders are doing a bid, often times it's a month or even a year before they actually build the house," said Cook. "They have to hold that bid for their customers no matter how much costs have increased."

Such measures send a clear message of loyalty to clients such as Angelo Spagnolo, a Wexford-based home builder and principal of Spagnolo Builders Inc.

Spagnolo said he didn't buy much brick from Cook until a few years ago, but he now buys close to 90 percent from her. For one, he knows PF Cook will hold orders at its brickyard until he needs it, making it easier to plan around price increases and control costs.

"Pam tells me she'd rather sit with the brick, rather than me waiting for them," Spagnolo said. He said Cook also will sometimes drive out-of-town customers around to show them houses built with bricks she supplies.

Strong demand has enabled Cook to manage her own growth, along with the growth of her clients, who have helped build such developments as The Waterfront and Summerset at Frick Park.

"We've established such a loyal network of customers that they've all had banner years themselves," she said.

PF Cook Brick Co.

Brick seller and distributor
Founded: 1995
Revenue: around $5 million
Based: Cranberry
Employees: eight
Contact (724) 538-8723