When the ProSales staff came up with the "Steal This Idea" theme, it was, in fact, stealing an idea. Steve Cone's "Steal These Ideas! Marketing Secrets That Will Make You a Star," published in 2005, focuses on marketing techniques that translated into sales and profits for major corporations. The point is that you don't have to constantly reinvent the wheel to find success in business. There is a wealth of ideas and strategies that, when you look at them carefully, you can implement into your own works. The result can lead to happier customers and employees, as well as a boost to your business.

Try out this list of strategies that could work for your LBM business.

Keep Out the Indifferent

Zappos, the Internet shoe retailer, cares so much about hiring the right people that it continues to weed out folks even after they're hired. About a week into the training program for its headquarters staff, a company representative asks, "Is this living up to your expectations? Is this the right place for you?" Then the rep offers $1,500 plus the time spent so far to anyone who wants to quit right then. About 2% to 3% take the offer. "Zappos is so interested in the customer experience that they'll pay you to go away if all you care about is a quick buck. They don't want their employees to treat their customers with anything less than respect," Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research in Miami, told the Chicago Tribune.

Steal This: Don't assume your selection process has to end when a candidate accepts your employment offer.

Source: Chicago Tribune, June 16

Data Driven, Market Wise

America's Wal-Mart has a great reputation for data management, but Britain's Tesco has proven more successful at improving its business based on customer behavior. For example, if Tesco notices a jump in sales of pickled vegetables at one store, it might investigate and learn that Polish immigrants have moved in. That leads it to stock other Polish cuisine, and thus keep boosting sales. It also combines data with deals: When Tesco concluded that a competitor pharmacy chain was selling more diapers and other baby supplies because it had a trusted name for maternity goods, Tesco started a baby club that includes advice on parenting and discounts on baby wipes. It even gave bargains on beer, presumably to serve the new dads who couldn't slip off to the pub for a pint anymore.

Steal This: You may know your top 10 selling items by dollar or total unit sales, but do you know which 10 items appear most frequently on a sale slip? And which two items are most likely to be on the same ticket?

Source: The Economist, June 23, 2007

Ready To Go

California and Arizona are birthplaces to the hottest new trend in grocery stores: supermarkets that marry convenient locations with prepared meals. Last year, the British retailing giant Tesco opened neighborhood markets, called Fresh & Easy, that take up only one-fifth the space of a typical supermarket and offer less than a tenth of the items. Much of the store is given over to tasty, creative, prepared items, like shrimp dumplings, Indian samosas, artisan breads, and precut salads and fruit. And it offers free samples of the fare. The idea is to cater to busy families and noncooks by making it possible to buy the fixings for a dinner in less than five minutes and get it ready at home in even less time. Wal-Mart plans this fall to open four similar concept stores in the Phoenix area, and Safeway is testing its own version.

Steal This: Examine who comes to your stores today. Is your showroom organized to meet their needs, or yours?

Source: Fortune magazine, Nov. 26, 2007; The Economist, June 23, 2007; Fresh & Easy: www.freshandeasy.com

Hello, Clarice

Chris Webb is a screenwriter in Hollywood whose credits include Toy Story 2 (worldwide gross sales: $485 million). This spring, he and two other screenwriting teachers gathered in a classroom at UCLA to discuss their art. To at least one attendee–Webb's brother Craig, who's this magazine's editor–their advice on how to write a movie has a lot that applies to lumberyard sales. Among their comments:

"Movies are about what people are doing, not what they're talking about." Steal This: Your actions count more than your talk.

"Going in, know what the scene is about." Steal This: Have an objective when you visit a customer.

"A scene doesn't exist on its own. Make sure it builds. Get to the close." Steal This: Even your small talk should help you get to your objective.

"Be sure to spellcheck your scripts. If you don't respect your work enough to spell words right, why should I respect you as a writer?" Steal This: Sweat the little things as well as the big ones.

"The key to a movie is the hero's journey. It has four parts: situation, challenge, rescue, and resolution." Steal This: You're the hero. The challenge is making the sale. Your rescue comes when you make the proposal that clinches the deal and resolves the transaction.

"The villain knows what ticks in your hero–often better than the hero knows himself–and is trying to exploit that." Example: In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter punctures Clarice Starling's self-confidence while she tries to get him to help her find the bad guy. The conclusion comes not just when this hero triumphs over evil but also over her own inner demon. Steal This: The next time a builder plays upon your fear of losing a sale by suggesting you cut your price, ask yourself: What would Clarice do?

Source: Chris Webb, "Writing Your First Screenplay and the Habits You Need to Do It," UCLA Extension, Department of the Arts

Another Man's Treasure

Although it may be closer to a lumberyard than anything else, ReStore's unique qualities are something for dealers to envy in these green and financially tight times. Part of Habitat for Humanity, ReStore outlets sell only used and donated building products.

Not only do the stores help the environment by putting used building products back into the construction market, but customers can get products for a fraction of the conventional cost. For example, after some homeowners found out that their custom-made Marvin windows "didn't fit their needs" but they couldn't return the products, they donated the windows to their local ReStore. The windows would normally sell for at least $1,000 each; they sold at the ReStore for $200 apiece, according to an article in The Boston Globe.

"We get a lot of stuff that was bound for the crusher," says Douglas Raymond, manager of the Carver, Mass.-based ReStore, in the Globe article. "Most of it is brand new."

Steal This: Use your builders and remodelers as a network to stock used building products. Not only can builders gain points in green building standards by minimizing waste, but you will benefit from stocking environmentally friendly products and selling them for less.

Source: The Boston Globe, December 2007

God Is in the Details

Dial the number for Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, and you'll be told your call will be answered within three rings. It's a claim the company can make because it's staffed to handle 105% of the calls received on its busiest day. The Boston-based firm's chauffeurs get a week's worth of training on subjects like "holding the umbrella." Drivers aren't allowed to take off their jackets even when they've finished with the client. Commonwealth hires secret shoppers who judge the chauffeur on 25 parameters. It's a roughly $50 million, 190-car giant in a fiercely competitive business that bases its success on treating every customer like a king, starting by arriving at the job 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Steal This: Examine your customer service obsessively. Scrutinize every interaction with the customer, and develop best practices for each one to help assure your company is performing consistently at its best.

Source: Inc. magazine, June 2007

Break From Tradition

After Major League Baseball umpires blew several home-run calls this season, a buzz began to circulate that it might be time for instant replay in MLB. In one instance, a ball hit by New York Mets' Carlos Delgado clearly left a scuffmark on a foul poll at Yankee Stadium–a home run according to MLB rules, but it was deemed foul. In August, MLB agreed to use instant replay to review questionable home runs. On Sept. 3., at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., while playing the Tampa Bay Rays–and seven days after the rule went into effect–New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hit a towering shot over the left-field foul pole. The call on the field by the third-base umpire was upheld after a quick review.

Steal This: When there are kinks in your system, rethink your approach and try using new technology. Are orders arriving late? A tracking system might tell you why. Are your orders accurate? Consider the age of your system and think about a replacement.

Source: MLB.com

Enhance Your Radar

Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to get customer feedback? Liz Lange, CEO of Liz Lange Maternity, automatically receives all e-mails sent to customer service, she told Inc. magazine.

Steal This: Surveys by ProSales' corporate parent indicate there's sharp growth in e-mail use by builders and remodelers. Don't dismiss this important source of feedback.

Source: Inc. magazine, September 2007

Bloom Time

A lot of The Home Depots in the mid-Atlantic region don't stock their plant sections. That's the job of Bell Nursery USA in Burtonsville, Md. According to the Washington Post, Bell gets 75% of the sales revenue, but The Home Depot avoids a huge headache and ends up with customers who are happy buying flowers.

Steal This: If there's a specialized part of your business that's necessary to keep but a chore to manage, consider outsourcing the entire area.

Source: The Washington Post, June 3

Back to Basics

Even Starbucks Coffee has hit tough times in a rough economy, suffering a loss of market share to smaller competitors. Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, who has previously taken steps to bolster the chain's coffee offerings, said the company was committed to examining all aspects of its business that are not directly related to its core. The result is a back-to-basics approach. Starbucks has introduced its Pike Place Roast, named after the coffee seller's first store in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Focus has shifted to brewing the best cup of coffee possible, served in a recyclable paper cup featuring a vintage mermaid logo design, and no longer selling sandwiches. "In short, the scent of the warm sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma in our stores," says Schultz.

Steal This: Make sure you are blocking and tackling for your most essential core business in tough times and getting the small things right.

Source: New York Times, Jan. 31

Customer Service Is King

ProSales managing editor Evamarie Socha can't tell you how many purchases she's made from QVC, the nation's leading home-shopping channel, but she can tell you that among her first was a bed. She bought a Sealy mattress set over the phone, one of the 15,000 phone orders QVC averages in an hour. "Customer service took information like my address and phone number, then told me someone would call me back that day with a delivery date and time," says Socha. Someone did.

Socha was told the mattresses would arrive in a week, on this day, between 8 and 10 a.m. "On delivery day, at 8:05 a.m., two delivery men knocked on my door," she says. "I was told not to worry about ditching the old mattress set, the delivery men would remove it and set up the new bedframe and mattresses. This they did."

That evening, Socha got a follow-up phone call from a QVC representative, checking that the mattress set had arrived at the time stated, that she had no problems, and that QVC had met all her expectations. "I told her QVC exceeded my expectations, and if they sold cars, I'd buy my next car that way," Socha says. The rep laughed and reminded Socha that she had a 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy on the mattress set; just call and they'll make arrangements to take it away.

"We are not about selling items. We're about pleasing customers," said Darlene Daggett, QVC's president of U.S. commerce. This philosophy grants QVC an 85% return customer rate. Its 2007 sales were $7.4 billion.

Steal This: If pleasing hundreds of thousands of customers can do this for one business, imagine what it can do for yours. There just isn't anything like awesome customer service to make people come back for more–and spread the word to their friends.

Source: QVC.com

May Everyone Rest in Peace

"There are very few next frontiers in funeral service," says Ed Defort, publisher and editorial director for several publications that serve funeral homes and cemeteries. But that doesn't mean funeral homes have given up the ghost in seeking new business. One big trend Defort sees: pet memorials. The services are similar, the profits are good, and it's a way to generate new business. A family that has brought one or two deceased pets to a funeral home already has gotten to know the owners, and is that much more likely to think about the business when a human in the family passes on.

Steal This: Like lumberyards, funeral homes tend to be family owned, relatively small, and locally oriented. Get to know a local director to see how that person handles some of the same business challenges you face.

Source: Ed Defort, publisher, Kates-Boylston Publications

Pay Attention

Sal Alfano, editor of Remodeling magazine, a sister publication to ProSales, stayed at a hotel managed by the Kimpton chain, and he was struck by how Kimpton trains its employees to be close observers. "All staff–whether it's a housekeeper or the concierge, a bellhop or a desk clerk–pay attention to what guests say and do while staying at the hotel, and they add that information to the guest's profile," he wrote. "If a guest inquires about local wine bars, the next time he stays at any Kimpton property, he will find an assortment of materials on local wine-tasting opportunities. Depending on whether he qualifies for Kimpton's loyalty rewards, he may even find a complimentary bottle of wine in his room."

Steal This: It doesn't cost a penny to pay attention to what your customers say and how they work.

Source: Remodeling magazine, October 2007

Upscale the Ordinary

There's scarcely a more humble product in business today than the wooden pallet. For decades, it has been made of wood considered inferior for any other job. It's then sent around the world, abused until it breaks. Because it seems as if no one owns pallets, companies just accumulate them like dust balls; pallets have no value until a company realizes it's run out of them.

Enter the Australian company C

HEP to turn that unglamorous product into Cinderella. CHEP rents out 240 million pallets worldwide, and touts its ability to assure just-in-time access to as many pallets as a company needs. The result: roughly $3.9 billion in sales and $933 million for the fiscal year ended June 2007.

Steal This: There's money to be made in even the lowliest of products if you can find a way to add value.

Source: Forbes magazine, Oct. 29, 2007, www.chep.com