There are times I've felt the judges of the 2010 ProSales Excellence Awards should give a prize to every LBM operation that survived this year. Considering the conditions we're in, one would think that simply being able to keep the doors open would be achievement enough. But once our panel of judges gathered, we found they needn't set their sights so low. Not only did the judges encounter the largest number of Excellence Awards entries ever, they saw achievements that would have distinguished the winning dealers from the crowd even in a robust market.
This year's winners and honorable mentions all have impressive stories to tell–so impressive that we have devoted pretty much this entire issue to their efforts. Such sterling work leads me to regard the LBM glass more as half-full than half-empty these days. Dealers remain on a starvation diet, but my travels this fall have turned up lots of dealers who have adapted. Most tell me sales have at least stopped plummeting, and many say they've had months in which revenues and/or profits topped year-earlier numbers. A few have even expanded.
Painful as this time has been, I dare say you're the better for it. You have learned how to run your businesses more efficiently and live off of cash flow rather than bank drafts. Your OSRs, as Mike Butts notes in his column, once again have morphed into a hard-working, multitalented sales force that doesn't just take orders but aggressively pursues–and gets–business. Your buying practices have gotten sharper, and your customers know you WILL call them if they get past due. They're good habits to make, and better ones to keep once construction recovers.
And that market will recover, you can be sure of that. Why? Because every day, babies are being born and couples are getting wed and new households are being formed. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University estimates that between 2010 and 2020, this country will create 14 million new households. Most experts believe there's sustainable demand for at least 1.5 million housing starts annually. That's double what we're doing now.
Those starts forecasts carry footnotes saying that the kinds of homes those families will want to live in, the materials put in them, and the places where those homes will be are likely to evolve markedly. But those dealers still around today who are willing to work hard and keep up with changing times stand a good chance of surviving.
That present and future reminds me of a recent trip to a distributor's show in Kansas. There, the license plates show the state seal and Kansas' motto: "Ad Astra per Aspera." That generally translates from the Latin as "To the Stars, Through Difficulties." What's said in Kansas applies to the rest of the LBM nation.