"Hey Tad, nice to hear from you!" Dan screamed into his cell phone over the clatter of a jackhammer.

"How are things?" I asked.

Tad Troilo "Great, just great!" he answered. Then I heard a truck backfire and a car alarm go off, drowning out the jackhammer.

"I guess you're not in your office."

"Not right now," Dan confirmed. An angry voice barked in the background, then Dan asked, "Can I call you back? I have to speak to the police."

Dan was the manager of a window and door distributor. Normally our phone conversations were much more sedate, as was the case when he called me back a half hour later.

"Sorry about that," he said. "I got the truck stuck in the mud, and then when I was trying to pull it out, I bumped a parked car and all hell broke loose."

"What truck?" I asked. The last time I saw Dan he drove a Volvo station wagon.

"Hey, sorry man, the framers are here, they're going to give me a hand. I've got to jump off."

Now it was clear to me that Dan was on a jobsite, which was surprising. As a distributor, he sells his products into lumberyards. And as a manager, he had been spending as much of his time in the office as on the road.

Eventually we connected for lunch and he filled me in. Tough times resulted in layoffs. The delivery crew had been drastically cut. Dan said it wasn't uncommon for the sales and office staff to make the deliveries.

"I forgot how hard it is to drive a stick!" he said.

I began thinking about how, when business is strong, it's tough for companies in our industry to find good people. We are competing for new talent with dozens of other industries.

As a result, practices like promoting from within, hiring from client pools, and cross-training within the organization often become the best choice. In our lumberyards, one of our best floor managers had started with us as a cashier. One of our most successful lumber salesmen had been a customer.

Dan had been in the lumber and millwork business for years. Prior to his position in distribution, he had literally done everything you could do in a yard–from hanging a door to forecasting sales to operating a fork lift to designing an ad campaign.

So Dan and much of his staff were, while somewhat out of practice, already familiar with the delivery process. It seems that, in a constricting economy, those hiring practices borne of necessity may serve us well. Our project manager is wearing his tool belt again. Cutbacks in our drafting department mean we are all spending more time on our computers, preparing our own documents. And, like Dan, I've found myself unloading a truck or two.

Over lunch, we agreed that it's not all bad.

"I'm outdoors more," he said.

"We get a little more exercise," I added.

"And it's good to see the operation from a different perspective," Dan said.

"You're right," I agreed. "I have some ideas on upgrading our design software when things turn around."

The positives associated with filling in the holes we've been forced to create are real. But so are the holes themselves.

"I sure miss all the guys," Dan said. "And I hope they're doing okay."

Me too.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600
E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com