Customer loyalty is now, and has been for seemingly forever, a hot topic of conversation within our industry. We see a competitor's truck on a jobsite and immediately feel vulnerable and worry about the loss of a customer. But while we are always working to maintain customer faith, we sometimes forget about other important loyalties, such as that from and to our buying groups, trade associations, and employees.

During dinner on a recent trip, I overheard a startling conversation between a couple at the next table. They were discussing their new kitchen, which was being designed and installed by a large box store in town. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about this, except that the man was wearing a shirt with the logo of a large national buying group and his individual company name. His apparel clearly identified him as an employee of a local independent lumberyard.

Why is this discouraging? Well, we all worry about contractor loyalty. But what about employee loyalty? Having attended numerous trade shows held by this man's buying group, I can attest that they have a very aggressive kitchen program and also participate in installed sales. But even if they didn't, what would possess an employee of an independent lumberyard to shop and buy from a big box? Is it simply money? Convenience? Or is it just a case of “I don't care”?

Whatever the reason, I feel that we really need to shore up the loyalty within our own ranks before we become too overwhelmed with the seeming lack of customer loyalty. My personal philosophy is kind of an Old West idiom: “Ride for the brand.” You are loyal to the company/organization that you work for, and if you sell it, you'd better own it yourself. And that should include shopping within your own company for your remodeling and building products needs.

A similar infidelity occurs when an outside salesman starts shopping his talent to your competitors. There may be many reasons for this, but one underlying fact dominates—no loyalty to the company. During sales training classes, I ask the attendees: “Do you believe that your customer is better off buying product from you and your company than from a competitor?” In other words, do you really believe that your company is the best in your marketplace, do you sell a great product at a fair and reasonable cost, do you offer outstanding service to all of your customers, and do you believe in the business philosophy of your owner/manager?

If they answer “No,” then it's your job to sell them on the merits of your organization and its offerings before they hit the road.

On the other hand, if they truly believe in the company, then I think they will possess an ethical obligation to see that your customers buy everything that they possibly can from your company. And that includes showing their own loyalty by buying from the company as well.

Loyalty needs to flow both ways. If you expect it from your customers, you need to start by hiring and retaining employees who believe in what they're selling.

Mike Butts is director of installation services for United Building Centers. 507.457.8453. E-mail: