Business for a Better World: Great Lakes Building Products
Great Lakes Building Products
641 Barron Blvd., Grayslake, IL 60030
Industry: Construction materials supplier
Annual revenue: $2 million
Number of employees: 5
An interview with Camille Johnson, president of Great Lakes Building Products
Q: Describe your company.
A: Great Lakes Building Products is a 100% Black- and woman-owned supplier of interior, special order construction materials such as; cabinetry, plumbing fixtures, flooring, tile and countertops. My name is Camille Johnson and my husband, Marcus, and I started Great Lakes Building Products in 2017.
We service residential and commercial construction professionals within the Chicago area. We are a small business that is family owned and managed.
There are a few things that make us unlike other interior construction product suppliers. We offer contractor (and other trades professionals) pricing only. Homeowners are welcome and encouraged to come as well. If they come without having a designated remodeling contractor, installer or designer; we can refer them to one of our trusted network of professionals who has partnered with us.
Finding both the products and installation services is vital when completing such a crucially important, and expensive project like a kitchen or bathroom remodel. We have set ourselves up to be an advocate for both our small business trades professionals and the local homeowners who depend on them and companies like us for the products.
We have a local design center showroom, Lotus Home Improvement. Here they can bring or send their clients to see displays, touch and feel samples and work with our designers. After products are ordered, they are received at our Great Lakes Building Products distribution warehouse centrally located in Mundelein, and then transported by us to designated job site locations.
Larger contractors and builders not working with residential clients who don't require a showroom space and will work with a dedicated Great Lakes account manager.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: We are looking to add more Lotus showrooms throughout the suburbs to accommodate more of our local pros.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: We have always had the challenge of competing with the large regional and national players within the building supply industry. Being a small business among a community of large scale building suppliers definitely comes with the challenge of getting our name out there and of not having the capital to scale as rapidly as we would like.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Seeing the natural woods come into designs is the hottest trend at the moment. A few years ago it was all about gray. Gray cabinets, paint, flooring -- you name it. Now it's about natural elements, especially wood. Light wood cabinets and flooring is on trend for sure.
Q: Does climate change affect how your company does business? What does your company do to reduce the effects of climate change?
A: Climate change and construction/building supplies go hand in hand. The end user of the products has the ultimate buying power as to where they spend their money. Looking at alternatives for building supplies like bamboo/eucalyptus flooring and having them readily available for the customer is important.
As a construction industry, I feel we must also work together. Our practices of architecture and practical design must show how we can design, build and have products in an environmentally conscientious manner.
Q: Is your company minority-owned? Woman-owned? If so, what are the challenges of being minority-owned/woman-owned company?
A: Great Lakes Building Products is 100% Black- and woman-owned. What also makes us unique in our industry is our MBE (minority business enterprise) certification.
Our customer base is predominantly white male. Having this representation gap can present a challenge because we are such a new "face" so to speak within the industry. Marcus and I want to acknowledge these differences do exist, while also pointing out how statistics prove companies who have supplier diversity programs in place are exceedingly satisfied with results.
Q: What does your company do regarding DE&I (diversity, equity, & inclusion)
A: As a company, Great Lakes Building Products is fully represented, not just with our ownership. We have different ethnicities and genders within our staff and we're excited to continue to add locations and give equal opportunities to all. Since we all look different and come from different walks of life, it's time companies that make and distribute the products that are such a part of our lives offer similar representation too.
Q. Does your company donate time or money to any philanthropic causes? If so, what causes?
A: Great Lakes Building Products will be donating some interior building products and are proud to get behind a sustainable and environmentally friendly design to show how luxury residential building can be created in the Midwest. NEWLOOK Design + Build | Development is creating a one-of-a-kind, environmentally forward thinking residential design built intentionally in a floodplain.
It is 10,000 square feet of luxury living, with state of the art sustainable construction and products. Upon meeting with Principal Director Michael Freilburger, Marcus and I knew it would be something to be a part of.
Q. Does your company do anything else to make your community better?
A: We hope in the future to be one of several minority- and women-owned businesses within the building supply industry. I was honored to recently meet with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider about our business and talked about having us speak with area schools and share our story and how young people can pursue one of many paths within this construction industry.
Q. What do you do to make your business a good place to work for your employees?
A: We try to make everyone feel like they are a part of a team. Marcus and I don't want anyone to feel like they aren't heard. Every morning we have a quick open, Round Table discussion about how the week has been and what we want out of the day. We allow time for our employees to make suggestions without judgment.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: We do have a Mantra. "We Deliver, You Win."
We deliver on the knowledge, customer service, products and pricing. Our customers win where it counts, their reputation, which is always a win for us too.
Q. What is one interesting fact about your company that most people may not know?
A: Most people don't realize that we are the only MBE certified/Black-owned and woman-owned distributor of the building materials we offer; such as cabinets, plumbing fixtures, tile, etc. in the Chicago area. When we let folks know this they are often surprised. Representation within our industry is important to discuss regardless of our ownership make up. Our ethnicity/gender is just part of who we are.
Marcus and I have always set out to be an incredible business first and foremost.
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