Building Products Plus Inc.
At first glance, the wooden wares offered by Houston-based Building Products Plus (BPP) might not seem like the stuff of glossy magazine spreads.
Yet, you’ll see them on a golf course in Da Nang, Vietnam, supporting sand-trap embankments and water-retaining walls to the tune of 2,000 linear feet. They withstand the traffic of thousands of tourists disembarking their Norwegian Cruise Line on a pier in Belize. And at a high-end development in Saudi Arabia, in the form of walkways bridging canals.
“We’re often thought of as a project supply company, but that’s an oversimplification,” Benn says, “We work with engineers, architects and designers to help them understand the practical uses of timber products. So our portfolio is pretty dynamic.”
Lately, it’s become a global one as well.
If you build it
Founded by Benn and late business partner William Plant in 1993, BPP started as a lumber wholesaler, specializing in bulkhead and retaining wall materials—timbers, pilings, poles, posts and the like—for applications ranging from farms and ranches to industrial and shoreline construction.
But like many businesses, the 2008 economic crisis forced BPP to reimagine its business model, though the company managed to weather the tumult without laying off a single employee.
Ten years later, BPP has emerged as a bona fide leader in the custom timber space, with a catalog that includes custom corbels, wooden arches, bridge and barn components, fender systems, custom beams and more—often produced by their specialized milling equipment or experienced timber framers to meet the specifications required.
BPP’s command of the niche is so thorough, in fact, that when a historic San Francisco property put out a request for proposals to replace the site’s 70-foot timber trusses, it received exactly one bid: the one from BPP.
“We don’t mass-produce anything; most of the timber components coming out of our mill are made to order,” Benn says.
On the jobs
A cursory click-through of BPP’s online photo gallery sharpens this point. For a Houston-area restaurant, the company manufactured a series of 30-foot trusses, lending the dining room a cozy, craftsman feel.
At the Oklahoma Zoo elephant exhibit, gun barrel pilings—solid wooden poles milled to a specific diameter, and a BPP specialty—help give visitors a safari-like experience.
But Benn says the bevy of marine and shoreline applications provide another sweet spot. Beautiful boathouses with gun barrel columns and custom-treated southern pine; sturdy docks and walkways built to augment seaside restaurants; seawalls built to withstand extreme tides and storm surges. If it’s to be made of wood and near the ocean, chances are BPP can do it.
“Large timber has become very popular in these applications, in part because it’s so versatile and cost-effective,” Benn explains. “Our stock is one of the largest you’ll find, but if we don’t have what you need, we can make it.”
The same page
Still, Benn says customization can present challenges. Because many architects and designers aren’t as familiar with lumber as a building medium compared to steel or concrete, there’s a tendency to underestimate the sheer size and scope of the product—particularly when it comes to gun barrel piling—resulting in budget overruns and a massive, almost overwhelming product.
To prevent such surprises, Benn and his team have made client communication a pillar of BPP’s business, using preview photos and past projects to show what a structure will look like.
“Engineers have a lot of knowledge in terms of structural calculations and designs, but when it comes to heavy timber products, direct working experience is key,” Benn says. “There’s a tendency to overspecify things. So we help them understand what will work, not just structurally, but aesthetically, and can offer alternatives if they’re trying to save money.”
When it comes to project supply, delivery can be a key consideration. For that reason BPP uses a dedicated fleet with self-unloading capabilities. In an effort to keep delivery costs down they switched exclusively to trucks running on compressed natural gas (CNG).
“We’ve heard that replacing one diesel tractor trailer with a CNG fueled counterpart yields a carbon reduction equal to removing over 100 cars from the road,” Benn exclaims. “Our fleet of eight trucks is about as environmentally friendly as it gets.”
The real incentive, however, comes from savings of over $10,000 per month in fuel costs.
Building trusses—and trust
Ten years after their fateful pivot from wholesale to custom products, BPP’s output has never been greater—a testament, Benn says, to demand for timber components that can be a dynamic and affordable alternative to steel and other materials.
The company is hardly resting on its laurels, however. In an effort to boost internal collaboration and accountability, BPP recently implemented a monthly 360-degree interview conducted by the manager of each key employee.
The team member reports on his/her own the measurable results versus personal targets. These interviews are also designed to solicit suggestions and/or criticisms arising out of the last month’s activities.
“You hear the term ‘best practices’ thrown around a lot, but we’ve been working really hard on making sure our company culture is as strong as our portfolio,” Benn says. “If everyone is on the same page, you’re more productive. When you have that trust as a team, your client picks up on it. It’s infectious.”
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