I began my career in this wonderful industry as a trainee on the purchasing side of our family business. The job provided me with the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture of the West Coast lumberman. During years of competing, socializing, and negotiating, I've learned that, despite the fact that many of us are competitors, networking as an industry—through roundtables, buying groups, and association participation—is essential to our survival.
Ingrained in this networking is a code of ethics I've carried with me since the beginning. It was understood that we joined forces not to spy on our competitors—learning when they had bought into the market or who their biggest customer was—but to use unity to put names with faces and to gain an understanding of the problems that faced all of us. Through the years I have seen time and time again that people who followed these simple ethics benefited from networking and prospered in the lumber business while those who didn't follow the rules vanished from the industry.
Yet despite the number of companies I've seen that understand this, I am taken aback by the fear many dealers still possess of having any contact whatsoever with those they compete with. They refuse to participate in our industry associations or allow their staff to participate out of fear that they will give away a secret or lose an employee to a competitor. This is the mentality that puts us as an industry at a disadvantage against the outside elements that threaten us, particularly in the political arena. In my political travels with the Lumber Association of California and Nevada, I have learned that government—or any exterior market force—will victimize those industries less likely to protect themselves.
I feel the one thing that all owners and managers need to understand is that the greatest threat to our pro dealer businesses is not our local competitors. It is not The Home Depot. It is not lawmakers. It is our own self-fear and isolationism.
If we lose a key employee to a competitor is it because he was stolen? Or is it because we lost touch with that employee and didn't bother to see he was dissatisfied? If our sales or margins are down, is it because of the Lowe's that just went up on the other side of town? Or is it because we failed to see the changes in our market and adjust accordingly? When we're hit with a large fine from the labor board, is it because big government is out to get us? Or is it because we didn't bother to keep up on our state's labor laws?
Solutions to all of these problems can be solved by first realizing that we cannot possibly know everything there is to know about our industry and that we all, in one way or another, still need help from like-minded people. Participating in roundtables and networking events can mean gaining valuable information that can help you protect your company against forces outside of the “competitors” sitting beside you. And believe it or not, we are all old enough to know what to discuss and what not to discuss in a group of peers.
The success of our industry over the past few years has provided us with more than just the opportunity to survive—it has given us a mandate to thrive. By joining forces through the political arms of our associations, we not only have the ability to protect ourselves from bad government policies, but for the first time in our industry's history, we have the group power to influence laws, policies, and economics for our benefit. We cannot do it, however, until the majority of us can quit fearing each other and work together as a united industry.
President, Moss Lumber, Redding, Calif. President, Lumber Association of California and Nevada