With the summer building season behind us and end-of-the-year inventory and finances coming up next month, the “autumn pause” is here. As contractors go non-stop and fuel record sales year after year, however, the pause is getting shorter and shorter—blink and you've just missed this year's respite. In fact, most pro dealers are still cooking up plenty of 2005 business, which, if not incorporated with a little fun, can have a deleterious effect on the bottom line by burning out the team, lowering morale, and creating resentment among the ranks.
In a survey published Aug. 17 by Hudson North America, a New York City–based professional staffing and human capital firm, 39 percent of U.S. workers are clocking in more than 40 hours a week, with 15 percent pushing past the 50-hour mark. Although 70 percent of the 1,891 workers surveyed actually reported that they are having fun at work, 26 percent of employees surveyed who were more than likely to work overtime still do not think their employer encourages a healthy work-life balance. Thankfully, study authors suggest a quick breather also can be a quick morale fix. “Whether through flexible work schedules or accommodating time-off policies, employees are less likely to be resentful and burn out if their employer places a priority on balance,” said Hudson North America vice president of human resources Alicia Barker in the survey's executive summary.
While residential construction leaves little room for liberal time off or for working at home, there's no reason not to mix business with pleasure, and pro dealers have been doing just that for years with the timeless and successful contractor cookout. Beyond the obvious marketing, vendor product promotion, and casual sales opportunities, for some reason or another, nothing says “thank you” to employees and customers like burgers and hot dogs, a cold drink, and some Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring from a boom box in the yard.
I'd say this concept has been taken to a new level at the 84 Lumber Classic golf tournament, which I had the opportunity to experience firsthand Sept. 13–17. It's one of the grandest of all pro dealer customer events—where approximately 4,000 contractors join their sales reps and 84 Lumber managers and executives for five days and four nights of festivities and business appreciation. “Our industry is clearly all about relationships,” explains 84 Lumber COO Bill Myrick. “People want to do business with people they like. [The event] helps solidify that relationship with 84. It makes our people feel good about who they work for and our customers feel good about who they do business with, and it's also a lot of fun.” Contractors invited to the event this year hit Pittsburgh for two days of dinners, golf, and a trip to Dave & Busters restaurant and arcade before bussing up to the 84 Lumber Classic PGA tournament at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort on Thursday and Friday to watch the pros, get autographs, sit in on a Doobie Brothers concert, and tour vendor tents surrounding the 18th hole.
The upshot for 84 Lumber: All of the fun increases brand awareness, the street credibility of OSRs, and—ultimately—sales for the national dealer. According to Myrick, the company splits its contractor invitees 50/50 between current TLC customers and builders who are not yet buying from 84, and expects the collective new sales generated by both groups attending the event to top $100 million. That's not a bad way to cap off the year, and it's a best practice that any dealer large or small can emulate, even if on a smaller scale.
2006 will be here before you know it, so take a Friday afternoon out of the schedule, fire up the grill one last time, and tap the proverbial keg of customer and employee goodwill. It'll always be better to burn a couple of burgers than to burn everybody out. Even if you can't bring the PGA to your backyard, you can still make your customers feel like VIPs.
Chris Wood is senior editor for PROSALES. 415.552.4154 E-mail: email@example.com