What kind of a marketing approach should a pro dealer take when its customers aren't building? Rather than follow the competition by slashing prices and giving away product, Concord Lumber Co. president Rick McCrobie decided to focus on being an information resource.

Marketing manager Kristen Koehler asked what kind of training programs would be helpful. They picked code changes, new laws, and regs. "The first thing we put together was lead paint training," she says. "We thought we'd have one class. We're having our 14th class next week."

From there, Concord expanded its seminars to cover topics such as contracts and legal issues, and effective use of websites. Then Concord added seminars for architects, who need continuing education credits for their state licenses. Vendors may back a lunch-and-learn program in an architect's office. In contrast, Concord offered three programs in a day, plus breakfast and lunch.

The seminars are held in Concord's millwork location. "Someone said, 'How about a shop tour?' Koehler said. "Every one of the architects went on the tour. I actually had to pull them back in for the presentation."

Concord also hosts seminars for homeowners planning a kitchen project. Each session has resulted in sales valued at more than $50,000.

Koehler also retooled the company's e-mail newsletter from a weekly ad circular to focus on code changes, new regulations, and business topics. Subscriptions increased nearly 63% in less than a year.

The judges praised the change. "If people are coming to you first to know something, there's a good chance they'll come to you first to buy something," one judge noted.