I doubt F. Scott Fitzgerald was thinking of LBM dealers at the time, but he could have been describing them when he wrote that the sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still be able to function. Dealers have been doing this for years when it comes to whether they should be held accountable for what they sell.
On the one hand, you know that when you’re selling a product, you’re also selling confidence: Confidence in your knowledge of the product category and in your opinion on whether that product will fulfill the contractor’s need for goods that provide maximum performance with minimum risk. Your knowledge is a big reason why pros still ask you about products and buy from you rather than from know-nothings at the big-box store. And as “briefcase builders” became an ever-bigger part of the construction world, your role in recommending products has grown in importance.
When you sell a product, you implicitly endorse it. Otherwise, why would you even stock it?
Now, contrast the reputation you’ve built as a product expert with the years-long, dare I say Quixotic, campaign by LBM trade groups to win Congressional passage of the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act. This act, according to the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), would protect sellers from lawsuits “if they merely supplied the product and had no part in its manufacturing.”
Yes, nuisance lawsuits are painful, and yes, the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act would protect you from legal sharks. But the premise underlying the act is that you really don’t know what you’re selling and make no claims as to its performance. If that’s the case, builders might as well buy from China.
What’s particularly ironic about the Innocent Sellers campaign is that all signs point to demands for your staff to become even more expert about products than they are today. Increasingly, we’re told, builders and manufacturers need to view homes as a collection of systems in which the choice of one product can have a profound impact on the performance of another. As the chief conduit for those products, you’ll be asked your opinion on, say, how a choice of window might influence the size of air conditioning unit needed. What you know likely will decide if you make the sale.
Like it or not, you’re far from being an Innocent Seller.