New focus and name for Pioneer Sand, which began in Colorado Springs

By Bill Radford Updated: November 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm • Published: November 11, 2017 0

Pioneer Sand, a company with nearly 50-year-old roots in Colorado Springs, has a new name and a new focus.

Gary Schnurr founded Pioneer Sand in the Springs in 1968. He and wife Judi, looking to retire, sold the business to JLL Partners Inc., a New York-based private equity investment firm, at the end of 2014; it has since moved its headquarters to Highlands Ranch but retains locations in the Pikes Peak region, including Colorado Springs, Black Forest and Monument.

Now Pioneer - which touts itself as "the leading landscape and hardscape materials supplier in the United States" - is rebranding itself as Pioneer Landscape Centers and going after DIYers with a new, homeowner-centric retail concept.

Before, Pioneer's approach was business to business, mainly selling to contractors and landscape companies. "We never really went aggressively after homeowners," said Sagi Cohen, who became CEO of Pioneer in June.

That has changed; Pioneer is in the midst of transforming its 31 retail locations in Colorado and Arizona into "luxury" landscape centers, each with a nearly 6,000-square-foot outdoor Pioneer Marketplace and Inspiration Center; the marketplace features neatly organized displays and samples of landscaping materials and outdoor living products, from pavers to pottery to fire pits. Homeowners can tour the facility with Pioneer staff in new electric carts.

"You came in here in the past, a lot of people might have been intimidated coming into a rock yard - big equipment, big trucks, it's scary," said Steve Herr, southern Colorado regional manager for Pioneer, as he showed off the Springs location on Northpark Drive. The new concept, he said, is designed to make homeowners feel safe and comfortable as they find inspiration - and materials - for their outdoor living and landscape projects.

"In this day and age, everyone wants to be a DIYer," Herr said. "I can't count how many TV shows are based on home improvement, yard improvement."

The Northpark location was the second to undergo the transformation, after the Littleton location; the Black Forest site, on Vollmer Road, unveiled its changes this weekend. By year's end, Cohen expects to have 10 stores completed. He declined to say how much the transformation costs, saying it depends on the size of the location, but said the overall project "is in the millions."

The idea, he said, is to create a niche "in between the Home Depots, the big boxes of the world, and just an open yard that sells to contractors." Pioneer stands out from those big box stores, he said, with its wealth of products - about 3,000 vs. 50 or 60 at the big boxes.

"When you come to us, you get the right product, any color you want, and usually at a more competitive price," Cohen said.

Cohen also noted Pioneer's equivalent of restaurants' farm-to-table approach. Pioneer has two production facilities, 23 quarries and a fleet of nearly 200 trucks.

"We mine the products," Cohen said. "We operate our own quarries, our own production lines."

Herr points to Pioneer's staff of experts who help the company live up to its new tagline of "your partner in outdoor living" and provide a more personalized approach than you'll find at most big boxes.

"We have a full-service sales staff and we can guide you through the process, how much material you'll need," Herr said. "We can do some design work for you."

And while Pioneer doesn't handle installation, it can recommend contractors to homeowners who aren't ready to tackle a project themselves. Herr said Pioneer has developed "countless relationships" with contractors, especially in Colorado Springs.

Pioneer has not forgotten those contractors, even with its new homeowner focus, Herr said.

One big change is the addition of a "Fast Lane" for contractors, a drive-through concept that slashes the time to order, pay for and load materials from about 25 minutes to 10 minutes or less.

"The feedback we are getting from contractors is unbelievable," Herr said.

Colorado Springs-based C&C Sand and Stone Co., which started business the same year as Pioneer, also works to serve contractors and homeowners, says owner and president Bill Johannsen. While C&C sells more to contractors "by a decent margin," he said, "we're always catering to the homeowners as far as our marketing, making sure they're aware of what products we have available."

Johannsen said he sees the wisdom in Pioneer's shift in focus, pointing to a rise in interest in outdoor living spaces. "We try to have displays and stuff similar to what Pioneer is doing," he said. (And C&C has long had golf carts to carry customers around, he noted.)

The past three years have been record ones for C&C, he said. "We're kind of just riding the wave of the economy in general."

Pioneer, Cohen said, has been profitable and was growing even before the rebranding, but he wants the company to be the market leader. Amid the relaunches, Pioneer is also focusing on expansion, looking to enter new states such as California and Texas.

"We have a full team dedicated to expansion, acquisition and organic growth," Cohen said.

The rebranding, he said, is similar to what he did during his decade as CEO of Caesarstone USA, a countertop business. "We branded it to the point where it was one of the most luxurious brands in the industry."

For the Northpark store, whose new look was unveiled in mid-October, the new focus is already yielding positive results, Herr said, with a 20 percent bump in average daily sales from the month before.

"Next year's going to be 50 years for us in the community,"he said. "It's a long time, and we're really excited to go another 50."

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