Tom Hall, owner of Blake Builder's Supply, Griffin, Ga., is chairman this year of the Construction Suppliers Association (CSA), the LBM industry's trade group for Georgia and Alabama. He gave this address in July at the association's Summer Conference.

Tom Hall It is customary at this meeting for the chairman to give a state of the association address. Since many of us are board members or trustees, that seems redundant at this meeting. I can confidently say that the association is strong and moving in a positive direction under good leadership.

This gives me an opportunity to speak about another subject that probably has been on your mind more than once during the past 24 months. That subject is to ask the question, "Why am I in this business?"

My initial response is that I am in the business for the money, but since there has not been much of that in recent months, I must turn to some other reasons.

I like this industry. The industry has good people--customers, suppliers, employees, and business owners.

We are in an honest industry. Committing to an order from a lumber mill based on a phone call or handshake really does mean that you are going to take delivery. There is a lot of integrity in that type of arrangement, especially in today's litigation-oriented business environment.

Our success depends on the strength of our relationships. Our customers are typically multi-transaction and multi-year customers and, eventually, friends. The same is true for suppliers. I like to be in an environment where relationships matter.

I love the American Free Enterprise system, and while all industries operate within that system, our industry truly embodies the principles of free enterprise. There is risk and reward; lately we have been operating more on the risk component than the reward component. Success comes with hard work, learning from mistakes, creativity and innovation, and decisions that we make.

Competition is keen. It is possible to differentiate oneself from competitors. An owner in our industry can actually create a poor, mediocre, satisfactory, or outstanding business. The decisions we make and the way we lead our companies really do impact our outcomes.

Our business is pretty simple. You buy a product that is virtually indistinguishable from the product that your competitor down the street buys, you send it out of your store on a truck that looks just the same as the one down the street, to a jobsite that looks just the same as the one your competitor services. But within that simple framework there is a challenge to do it better, cheaper, faster, with more value to your customer than the next guy.

I like the fact that in our industry, we help people build an important necessity of life, and sometimes their dream home. In fac,t in our company we have adopted an advertising slogan that I picked up at an earlier summer conference : "Together we build the American Dream."

I like the smell of cut wood, especially cedar.

I like having an important role in providing a living for 40 or 50 people and families. In most communities, owning the local lumberyard affords an opportunity to have a positive impact and influence on the community:

  • Civic clubs, school boards, the city commission;
  • The U.S. Congress through the lobbying initiative of CSA and [the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association];
  • Community events;
  • Signage. Many of us have marquee signs in front of our stores on busy streets. You can have an impact on the community simply by the message that you put on the sign; and
  • Eagle Scouts: I think that Blake Builder's Supply is primary source for all of the local Eagle Scouts to obtain materials for their final projects.

I like the whole concept of being an entrepreneur--no corporate meetings, no shareholders, flexible to customer needs and marketplace changes, rapid feedback on decisions, the adrenaline rush of risk and reward.

Finally, I believe that God gave me the ability and opportunity to do what I do. I also believe that God has a plan for every life. So if I do my best to fulfill my opportunity and ability, that is a very good thing.

I hope that my reflections have struck a chord with you as you think about "Why am I in this business?"