There's an old joke in the news business that describes a newspaper as a carefully crafted, multimillion-dollar product that is entrusted to a 12-year-old paperboy–who promptly tosses it into the bushes. Today, that joke might describe a manufacturer that spends millions on development and then gives the end product to bad salesmen and worse distributors.

The newspaper joke came to mind as we put together this issue, particularly our lead story on what buyers want from a product manufacturer and distributor. Judging by the new and updated products unveiled at the International Builders' Show and related events, manufacturers have kept research labs busy despite housing's downturn. Even products that sell in the millions have been redesigned: Arrow Fastener's T50 manual staple gun now delivers 40% more power with 50% less squeeze, Irwin claims its Universal Handsaw cuts three times faster than traditional tooth saws, and Hyde's ubiquitous 5-in-1 tool now is a 10-in-1. We feature lots of new products in our "Hot Finds from IBS" feature and our Product Monitor review of hidden fasteners.

Manufacturers deserve applause for all they've done, but those companies that believe building a better product is all that's required should pay special attention to other stories in this issue. Reporters Brendan Rimetz and Evelyn Royer say the LBM buyers they interviewed talked longest and most heatedly not about the products they liked to buy, but rather about the quality of the folks selling and delivering those products.

Why? Our survey of dealers regarding their favorite vendor programs contains clues. It found that while dealers regard a product's quality as vital to their decision to stock a product–half gave it 10 points out of a possible 10 in importance–service-related issues like timely and accurate deliveries scored just as high. Dealers also ascribed great importance to a sales rep's product knowledge as well as the rep's awareness of the dealer's needs and interests.

In other words, successfully selling a product in the LBM supply chain begins with producing a top-drawer product, but it by no means ends there. Unless–and sometimes even when–the product is flying off the shelves, dealers won't tolerate a vendor that can't keep promises and that hires sales reps who care more about commissions than customer service. Steve Jobs might have led the gang at Apple that invented the iPod and iPad and iPhone, but it was Timothy Cook, the chief operating officer, who created a production system capable of going from 60-day parts inventories to just-in-time manufacturing and that could churn out 15 million iPads in nine months. Apple wouldn't be where it is today if both sides hadn't been at the top of their game.

Unfortunately, I hear too many stories of manufacturers who don't understand why their improved mousetrap isn't selling. Perhaps it's because the goods didn't arrive by the time they're promised, or salespeople lacked skills needed for today's housing market. Often it's because the people making the products haven't learned the importance of the supply chain. This issue will give them a place to start.