Big C Lumber goes beyond the usual checklist when the Granger, Ind.-based company reviews candidates for installed sales jobs. It also tests prospects' basic math skills. Here (right) are four of the questions it asks.

The test certainly does its job; Big C says some candidates crumple and toss out their applications when they come across this section.

1-How many 4x8 sheets of plywood does it take to cover a 960 square-foot roof?

2-If you have an area that is 60 feet long and 50 feet wide, how many square feet is this?

3-If a roll of drywall tape covers an average of 480 square feet of drywall, and if a 5-gallon bucket of mud covers 750 square feet, how many of each would it take to do a house that takes 250 sheets of 4x12 drywall?

4-If something costs $100 and you want to make a 25% margin on it, what should be the selling price to the customer?

Where to Spend the Ad Cash? Here's a Rough Guide

Rates for commercial insurance are declining as insurance companies aggressively try to increase business, the head of a Louisville, Ky.-based insurance operation told dealers Feb. 29 at the Installed Sales Summit. R.P. Wessel says rates have trended down for three years and now are on par with what insurers charged in early 2002. The reason: the relative paucity of disasters, Hurricane Katrina excepted, plus healthy investment incomes. As recently as 2001, he said, insurers paid out nearly $1.16 for every dollar they earned in premiums. (Investments cover the difference.) In 2006, dealers paid only 92.5 cents in claims for every dollar in premium revenue, the best result since 1949. As a result, "we've seen 5% and 10% rate decreases," says Wessel, a former broker who runs the Louisville office Central Insurance Services. Marketing can seem like a potential sinkhole for installed sales budgets, starting with how much one should expect to spend on promotions. Kevin Brown, vice president of client services at Baublitz Advertising in York, Pa., suggests this: If you're marketing to businesses, expect to spend 0.5% to 1.5% of your sales revenue on marketing and advertising. If you're reaching out to consumers, expect to spend 10% of sales.

Brown, a speaker at February's Installed Sales Summit in Dallas, says there is a lot of trial and error to figuring out what works and measuring results. He notes one dealer in a wealthy area just north of New York advertised four ways: on a bike trail heading into New York, with billboards along the commuter rail into Manhattan, via cable TV, and in the PennySaver classifieds. The PennySaver was the best source of good leads, the dealer found.

Tip #1: Prepare for the Expected

Tip #2: Expect the Unexpected

Gregg Speed, corporate safety general manager at Hancock Lumber Co., Casco, Maine, reminded attendees at the Installed Sales Summit that their companies need to produce a written safety and health program and keep it readily available at the jobsite. Writing down policies for programs, such as fall protection, hazards, tool safety, and scaffolding, helps not only the employees but also the company should a government official come visit, he notes.

"One of your goals is to remove the motivation of your safety inspector," Speed says. "You can do that, in part, by having an extensive written policy. Seeing you pull down and go through your safety binder [during the visit] shows you're trying to do the right thing."

But while written policies help, a dealer cannot anticipate and put in writing a response to every possible hazard, Speed says. "It's not what you underestimate that really gets you in trouble," he says. "It's the stuff that's not even on your radar screen."