If a local builder is looking for a new supplier and he stops by your yard, he's bound to receive a dossier on brands, information on deliveries and logistics, and an overview of operations. He also might get a pitch on installation programs or perhaps a presentation on component manufacturing capabilities.
These are all important facets of any LBM business, but there is something very important missing from my list, and unfortunately it's also something that's missing from the services offered by many dealers. It's customer education. I'm not implying that every dealer needs to offer seminar programs, hire speakers, or develop expensive contractor training programs. But at the very least, what you should be doing is identifying knowledge gaps in your customer base, finding ways to fill them that are in line with your company's resources, and then making sure that your entire staff is promoting your educational opportunities as a valuable business asset.
For example, it could be as simple as researching, gathering, and disseminating information on important, timely industry topics such as the phase-out of CCA-treated lumber and the required fastener changes the transition has brought about. I've been in the big boxes lately and I have seen few materials on ACQ, copper azole, and borate treated wood prominently displayed and promoted. That's an opportunity to garner more business from local builders who need product knowledge on CCA alternatives and their use. Why not do a mailing—especially to smaller pros—that promotes your yard as an information resource on the topic? Collect trade articles, manufacturer information, and other materials on the subject, and compile it for customers.
One resource that you could include is the “Advisory on Fasteners and Connectors for Treated Wood.” Released last month by the Southern Pine Council, this tip sheet provides basic information on the selection of appropriate fasteners and connectors for the new pressure treated woods. It comes packaged in 50-sheet tear-off pads that dealers can obtain for free through the group's Web site (www.southernpine.com).
If you do have the resources and ambition to develop a more formal education program, you should be benchmarking dealers like Gaithersburg, Md.-based TW Perry and Seattle-based Dunn Lumber. TW Perry, for instance, has developed its own Contractor College, biannual one-day seminars that help smaller remodelers and builders improve their business skills. I had the opportunity to attend one of the company's most recent events. It was an impressive, well-organized day that covered topics including digital jobsite documentation, estimating, and project management. An executive atmosphere and a great lineup of professional speakers definitely had a “wow” factor, and it conveyed a message to the attendees that TW Perry takes education and its customers' success seriously.
Dunn Lumber, a dealer with a long history of successful contractor events, ramped up its live training this year by partnering with Windsor, Calif.–based molding manufacturer Windsor Mill to host one of the manufacturer's clinics with master carpenter Gary Katz. Called the Gary Katz Road Show, the full-day, on-site program, which includes sessions on carpentry skills and period reproductions, was a resounding success. “We physically had to kick the contractors out of here because Katz had a plane to catch,” Dunn supervisor of contractor sales, Gary LaChance, tells Chris Wood in “Main Event”.
No doubt, educational programs for your clients may come in many shapes and sizes, but they do all have one thing in common: They are precious customer resources that should be mined continually.
Lisa Clift, Editor