New year's resolutions can be stark and depressing things, ashes from the rosy warmth of the holiday season. Many prove so uncomfortable or unworkable they get tossed within the month. But here are some resolutions I hope you'll consider following throughout this year.
1. Forget 2004 through 2006. We now know the sky-high housing starts of those years were unrealistic and unsustainable. We'd have been better off if that bubble never occurred. Now that it has popped, it makes no sense to compare current numbers with those days.
2. Accept You're On a Roller Coaster. In 15 of the past 50 years, housing starts have risen or fallen at least 15%. From 1972 to 1975, starts sank 50.8%–only a hair behind the current slump–and then shot up 75% in the next four-year period. Remodeling and retail help smooth out the sales report, but they're not enough to quiet new-home construction's volatility.
3. Celebrate Frugality. I had a tightwad boss in whose office hung a sketch of a hiker marching toward the hills. The caption read: "A limited budget can take you to places you never imagined." Stop grumbling about what you can't afford, and search for inexpensive ways to reach your goals.
4. Count Your Cash. Last fall's credit crunch exposed a fault line in the LBM community. On one side, according to a recent ProSales survey, are the 12% of dealers that borrow from a bank at least monthly. On the other side are dealers that can live off their revenues. Given how another ProSales survey indicated there's almost a 50-50 split among dealers whose workplace recorded a profit or loss last year, the ranks of the needy could increase this year. That spells even more trouble than the torpid housing market. Microsoft's Bill Gates made it a point to have enough cash on hand to last an entire year without sales. Financial analysts laughed at him then. Some of those folks are out of a job now.
5. Remember: Nixon Went To China. Some dealers refuse to talk to their members of Congress because the representatives are Democrats. Don't let that stop you. A constituent who provides jobs, helps lead local causes, and is in position to make a campaign donation will always be welcome at a congressional office. Your story is more persuasive than you might think–even to a Democrat.
6. Anticipate the Next Play. More than ever, your success will come from spotting, importing, and promoting the products that your expertise has taught you will fit best into your community's future. As Susan Marvin of the Marvin Windows family put it recently, in her hockey-mad hometown of Warroad, Minn., the message is "You gotta play [Wayne] Gretzky-style: Anticipate where the puck is going."
7. Prove Your Value Daily. A lot of big corporate trees blew over last year. Like you, these businesses had been around for decades. But ultimately, as the financial warnings say, past performance is no indicator of future success. Gilded names and histories aren't enough to keep customers and overcome mistakes. Repeat business has to be earned with every sale.
These notions count just as much for us at ProSales as they do for you. They are resolutions we intend to keep in 2009.
Craig Webb, editor