Dixieline lumber’s value system of promoting from within keeps morale high, motivation charged, and turnover low

Growth opportunities: Dixieline lumber’s value system of promoting from within keeps morale high, motivation charged, and turnover low

If you’re looking for an example of dedicated employees, look no further than San Diego-based Dixieline Lumber, where employees bleed the company colors–literally. Ten years ago, outside salesman Mike Plutner, then still a load builder in the yard, went trader the needle to have Dixieline Lumber–along with a skeleton and barbed wire–tattooed on his ann. “I really enjoy working for Dixieline,” Plutner says about his motivation behind the ink job. “And I’m not just blowing smoke. I wouldn’t still have the tattoo and I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t a wonderful company to work for, because I have a lot to offer.”

Dixieline management agrees with Plutner’s self-assessment of his skills–since 1995 the company has promoted him five times under Dixieline’s “Promotion from Within” mantra. Codified in the Dixieline mission statement, Promotion from Within is a “concept and a value system that keeps the morale high and keeps people motivated to do their best because they know the opportunities are going to come to them first versus going outside of the organization,” says company vice president of human resources Steve Solomon. While most entry-level positions are filled by external applicants, Solomon estimates that approximately 75 to 80 percent of positions where experience and training are required–counter salesperson, department manager, contractor sales, and branch manger, for example–are filled by current Dixieline employees.

“Considering the tattoo, Mike’s case is a little extreme–but it is great to see the types of commitment we get to the organization when we promote from within,” says general manager Joe Lawrence, who once supervised Plutner as a yard foreman.

Lawrence himself thought Dixieline might just be a stepping stone when he landed a part-time position at the company 20 years ago. “I was sweeping a broom outside [president] Bill Cowling’s office, and now I can look at myself and see a part-time employee who has become general manager of a company. That carries a lot of weight in an employee’s mind: that there is a lot of hope here, that I’m not capped out as a cashier, I can become a salesperson, I can become a manager.”

Fostering long-term career growth as human resources retention and morale strategies has been so successful that Dixieline recently was forced to add a third career longevity award for employees who have hit the 30-year tenure mark with the pro dealer. No mere paperweight or wall certificate, the 30-year milestone award is an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Tahiti for a week, where Dixieline veterans can revive the tan they got when they took a similar week-long trip to Hawaii at 20 years of service. For 10-year anniversaries, employees receive an 18-karat-gold watch or ring.

Filling the Pipeline

Of course, tenured Dixieline employees don’t just walk in the door primed with experience and ready for promotion. Getting good, qualified candidates for entry-level positions not filled from the rank and file means a full targeted recruitment effort, which includes classified advertisements, Web postings, local job fairs, internship partnerships with San Diego State University and other local colleges, and a newly launched employee referral system.

“The newspaper is a shot in the dark, but it is something that we continue to do to reach a large number of people,” says Solomon. “Colleges and job fairs, on the other hand, help us find people that axe talented and skilled but don’t necessarily have the industry knowledge–but we believe that it is a lot easier to hire for attitude and train for skill than the other way around.”

Although the Dixieline Web site–which features real-time postings of available positions at any of the company’s 15 locations–is a growing area for recruitment, Solomon says an employee referral system launched last year has been “explosive” in terms of generating qualified job applicants for the pro dealer. Called “Talent Search,” the program awards $200 to any employee who recommends a candidate who is hired and completes 12 months of continuous service. “We have employees that want to see the company do well,” Lawrence says. “They recognize the corporate culture traits, and they can [marry the traits of] their friends and associates with the expectations of the company, and that’s a great way of getting new employees qualified with attitude and desire, which is ultimately what we are lilting for.”

Once on board, new hires visit Dixieline’s corporate headquarters for employee orientation, which covers the company’s policies and expectations and provides information on standard benefits, including medical, dental, vision, and chiropractic coverage; life insurance; long-term disability; vacation, paid holidays and personal days; an employee assistance program; and, of course, longevity awards.

Upon returning to their branch locations, new employees are partnered with mentors who guide their professional development and training for several weeks to several months, depending on the complexity of their job position. In addition to offering on-the-job tips and advice, mentors also continue to emphasize and exemplify longevity and career opportunities for new hires.

“I started with Dixieline in 1989 in the lumberyard as an 18-year-old load builder with mentors including Joe [Lawrence] as a yard foreman and Steve [Solomon] as a branch manager,” says Plutner. “So I watched those guys grow with the company. Now I’m 33 and have been promoted five times and have my own family, my own home–it’s definitely a company where you can have a career.”

With Dixieline joining the ranks of Redmond, Wash.-based Lanoga Corp. via merger in August 2003, the range of career opportunities and benefits at the pro dealer continues to grow. For example, Dixieline has added tuition reimbursement–a Lanoga benefit staple–to the company’s fist of employee-friendly benefits.

According to Solomon, Lanoga has been a perfect HR fit for Dixieline–which he describes as a quality company determined to offer the freedom and acknowledgment to each of its divisions, departments, and employees to benefit the sum of the whole. “I know it is just words, but if you try to build that culture–where employees feel more appreciated and where they feel more valued–that builds loyalty,” Solomon says. “We know money is important [to employees], but we know it is not at the top of the list–it is feeling appreciated, feeling that their decisions and their accomplishments mean something to the organization.”

For Plutner, the Lanoga merger offers another unique opportunity–to fly a second set of company colors in Lanoga’s logo of three pine trees within an offset square. However, he won’t comment on whether or not he’s booked the tattoo appointment yet.

Vital Statistics * Company: Dixieline Lumber * Year founded: 1913 * Headquarters: San Diego * Number of locations: 15 * Number of Employees: 1,100 * 2003 gross sales: $265 million * Pro sales percentage: 76 percent

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning