The veteran lumberman blushed as he practically whispered the news to me: At his company, business is great.

Craig Webb Photo: James Kegley That hush-hush conversation took place while I was in the Midwest a few weeks ago, but it's news that I hear more often than you might think. Yes, most LBM dealers have seen their sales slump. Some are close to collapse–"dead men walking," one consultant calls them. At the same time, however, you also can find dealers who are enjoying their best year ever, in sales volume, or profit margin, or both.

My red-faced dealer credits his good fortune to the high commodity prices and the hike in ethanol production in his service area. Others say they are in states where money is flowing because of this year's increase in energy exploration. A few note they never saw much of the housing boom, so there hasn't been that much of a slump to overcome.

These dealers often talk like farmers, uneasy about their good fortune. That's sad, because they usually omit one key factor in their success: themselves.

Keep talking with these successful dealers, and you'll hear so many examples of disciplined management, innovative thinking, and thirst for new ideas that it becomes clear these dealers are doing well largely because of what they're doing, not what has been handed to them.

This year's winners of the annual ProSales Excellence Awards exemplify that behavior. Detroit's economy is among the most woeful in America, but Bolyard Lumber in nearby Rochester Hills has created an award-winning showroom. The county that's home to Farmington, N.M., has fewer than 21 residents per square mile, but Construction Supply has a technological support system that beats what dealers have in the big city. As a result, they and the other Excellence Award winners typically are in much better shape than their competitors.

Rick Davis, one of our longtime Excellence Award judges, says the two days in July that he and the other judges spend reviewing entries marks a highlight of his year. That's understandable: ProSales' Excellence Awards program is the only one that calls for LBM dealers nationwide to reveal their achievements in such core disciplines as management, marketing, and technology. In no other place can one find so many examples of lumberyards' achievements.

Come to think of it, there is one other place where you can find great works by dealers nationwide–the pages of this month's ProSales. Check out our reports on the six winners and four honorable mentions, and we think you'll conclude that good ideas can flourish even in hard times.

We at ProSales are just as driven toward improvement as you are. A few months ago, ProSales won the first prize in original research from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) for magazines with less than 80,000 circulation. That was for Chris Wood's ProSales 100 report published in May 2007. In addition, Andy Carlo won regional gold for his original research on "Keep Your Promises," our survey of remodelers in the September 2007 issue. And Wood won another award–a regional bronze–for his staff commentaries. The awards are the biggest competition for business publications, receiving more than 2,600 entries this year. ProSales is the only publication serving lumber and building materials to have won an ASBPE editorial award of any type this year.

Since then, we've sought to make our free weekly e-mail newsletter, ProSales Business Update, just as valuable to you by including hot news and exclusive survey information that you won't find from any other LBM publication. And our Web site,, has been beefed up with special daily updates on the housing crisis and the widest range of LBM commentators anywhere. If you haven't already, we invite you to sign up for ProSales Business Update and visit ProSalesOnline.

Craig Webb, Editor