Eleven states. Twenty-two cities. Twenty thousand air miles. Those are the tallies for the 2006 part of my pro dealer tour, and by the time you read this I expect to have visited at least three more states and met dozens more dealers. Taken as a whole, the industry picture that emerges is ... well, it's more of a mosaic, actually. Individual dealers differ so dramatically in terms of their target markets, business strategies, and local operating conditions that at times it can seem ludicrous to lump them together. But many dealers have at least a few traits in common, such as worries over staffing, lumber prices, and the mysteries of IT. And if there's any single challenge that I've found all of them share, it's this: adapting to change.
I saw that in New Braunfels, Texas, when Diana Eberhard of Eberhard Lumber described how her small town had turned into a booming bedroom community on the San Antonio–Austin corridor. I saw that in Michigan, where Zeeland Lumber's Herk Vanden Bosch responded to declining pro sales by instituting a “Ladies Night Sale” during the Christmas season as well as “cold-calling days” for his sales staff. And I saw that in Seattle, where executives at the newly formed Pro-Build Holdings wrestled with the question of how to construct a smooth national machine out of widely dispersed—and intensely proud—regional entities.
Smitty's already has had to face the future because it operates in some of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. But it soon will have company. Census forecasts indicate the nation's population will swell by a third over the next 35 years, creating the need for roughly 70 million more housing units. And if recent highway usage trends hold, by the time we hit 400 million people, around 2040, the number of miles we'll be traveling on the road will have doubled. LBM dealers have long judged a prospective site's desirability by whether it was located near a rail line. Smitty's story should remind us all that the location of our yards is going to take on even greater importance as the traffic jams increase.
As for me, I'm reminded of the benefits of adapting every time I see a bunch of pansies standing resolute against the cold. Have you ever wondered how pansies survive the winter in most parts of the U.S.? It's because they can sense when temperature drops. As the mercury goes down, they push water from the flower and stem underground, below the frost line. The sugars left up top form a kind of antifreeze. It sounds simple, but it's the kind of adaptation that most of the pansy's plant contemporaries never mastered.
Now that the pro sales business climate is cold, how will you adapt?
NOTE: Aside from visiting you, two of the best ways that we learn about your changes are through the PROSALES 100 Annual Survey of Leading Construction Suppliers and your entries in the PROSALES Excellence Awards. The PROSALES 100 survey was mailed recently to many of you, so please fill it out and return it right away. And be on the lookout for announcements requesting your entries in the Excellence Awards.