I'll bet your business is quite a bit different today than it was last year at this time. I'm not going to speculate on just how it's different–maybe down considerably, maybe holding steady, maybe up–but every month, every season, and every year bring changes to our industry that in many cases are beyond our control.

Over the past 12 months I've been in dozens of stores working with owners and management teams on various projects. Some were simple training assignments, some long-term consulting or strategic planning sessions, some installed sales start-ups. But in every case, the owners and managers had made a conscious decision to change their current way of doing business and move the company forward. None was willing to sit on the sidelines and watch the industry, read the press, and wait for the "big bust." These individuals were looking proactively to secure a place for their individual businesses in the future of the LBM industry. None expected to be a casualty of the downturn.

Illustration: Gordon Studer/ www.gordonstuder.com One striking revelation (at least to me) is that many of today's owners and management teams haven't ever been in the industry when it wasn't in an upswing. They came into ownership or executive positions after the bust of the '70s and haven't experienced a year when business was down. Now these same people are wondering what to do, how to protect their business, and how to keep employees. Some very aggressive companies have implemented education and training programs to arm their employees with the best skill sets possible, preparing to do battle with the competition. Some have elected to explore new business models–installed sales, for instance–while others have looked inward to increase operational efficiencies, decrease operational costs, and ensure they are providing the absolute highest customer service levels. They believe (rightly so) that customer service will help win the battle in a tight market. After all, your competitors can only cut price so many times until they put themselves out of business.

What's that got to do with "New Dimensions" and my regular column? Just this: Don't panic. Our industry has suffered much worse than this. Remember 17% mortgage rates in the early '80s? We survived that, and we'll get through this, too.

The same week I'm writing this, I conducted a contractor meeting for an installed sales client. He had mailed invitations to all of the contractors who had an account with his company, expecting maybe 20 or 30 respondents. We had 120 attend the dinner! His contractors were thrilled with the opportunity being presented to them, happy to see that this dealer–a very well-respected organization in New England–was taking steps necessary to secure its future and partnership with the local contractor community by offering installation services. The evening before our contractor meeting we held an employee meeting. The employees were more afraid of installed sales than the contractors were!

Mike Butts Your customers are looking to you for direction. They want to see positive attitudes, aggressive moves, and employees who are embracing the challenge of the future–not a company filled with doom and gloom and uncertainty about what's to come.

Take a new direction, assume new dimensions. Take an active and aggressive role and secure your place. You've worked hard for it, and you deserve it.

–Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.?based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.668.0585. E-mail: mike@lbmsolutions.biz