When I travel the country speaking to dealers, I pay attention to how you respond to my words and slides. Robust laughs and heads nodding in agreement mean that particular bit will be kept for the next presentation. And over the past year and a half, one statement has consistently produced a strong reaction: What you know matters more than what you sell.

Craig Webb Photo: James Kegley This month's focus on green construction provides proof. We found one of the first moves builders make when they decide to go green is to ask their dealer what it takes to be green and what to buy. Builders also rely heavily on dealers to know the various green building standards.

But you also know this new green environment is only a new version of an old story, one still not as well-known as it ought to be, even among the manufacturers that create building products. That story has three parts.

Dealers Open the Conversation. Nearly 63% of the dealers who responded to a ProSales survey this spring said they get asked daily about the quality and performance of specific products. Another 27% said they're asked at least weekly. The builders and remodelers asking those questions might have heard about the product from another source, such as a trade magazine, but they don't begin to consider a product seriously until they check with their dealer. After all, it's the dealer who often has tested the product and thus can give a local, trusted opinion as to the product's worth. Then again, if a product is so new a dealer hasn't heard of it, the dealer's noncommittal response to a question could kill a potential sale.

Dealers Seal the Deal. Forty-four percent of the dealer survey respondents said that at more than three-quarters of their encounters with customers, they recommend particular brands of building products. Another 42% said they suggest products at half to three-quarters of all meetings. What the dealer suggests can either endorse a customer's intention or cause that customer to veer toward another product.

Dealers Finish the Job. Most manufacturers will tell you that the vast majority of callbacks aren't the result of product failures. Rather, they happen because of improper installation. Dealers can reduce callbacks by showing builders how to install products the right way. And with their installed sales operations, dealers are going even further in helping owners get the most out of the materials used to build their home.

In all three parts of the story, it's what dealers know about products that matter most. But that information doesn't flow as easily to dealers as manufacturers might think. Nearly three of four dealers tell us they don't see a manufacturer's rep from any company more often than once every other week. And manufacturers who rely on distributors aren't served that much better: three of every five dealers don't see a distributor any more often than twice a month.

Dealers play an enormous role in American home building, but that role is underappreciated and often unknown. So I'll say it again: What you know matters than what you sell, particularly in this age of environmentally sensitive products and new-age building techniques. People talk green, but the color that really matters these days is gray–as in the gray hair of experience. Press that advantage.

Craig Webb, editor 202.736.3307
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