You'll find an extra-large helping of product news in this issue of ProSales. It's our annual Editors' Choice list of the best products of the past year, plus our report on the most noteworthy products revealed in January at the International Builders' Show.

In past times, back when you struggled to keep up with orders, merely stocking products was all you needed to turn a profit. No longer: We've entered an age in which success hinges on your ability to solve your customers' problems and help them succeed. Keeping up with value engineering is one example, as is providing installed sales services. But more important than just about anything else is knowing–really knowing–your products.

You've long been aware, even if manufacturers didn't, that builders rely on your advice before making a final decision on what products to use in their homes. This disconnect is why ProSales promotes the slogan "Dealers Seal the Deal." Now, several trends are conspiring to put an even greater premium on dealers' expertise.

The first trend is legal. The furor over the damage to homes from Chinese drywall–a scourge whose victims include the New Orleans Saints' head coach–has delivered another setback to the already faltering efforts by lumber people to win passage of the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act, legislation protecting them from liability over product failures. In such a climate, the Innocent Sellers campaign sounds like an attempt to shirk responsibility.

The second trend involves the evolution of products. Keith Coleman, co-owner of Hamilton Building Supply near Trenton, N.J., noted in an interview published on our website that with regard to the composition of products today, "Often it's not wood, and it's certainly not your grandfather's wood. ...These are totally different materials that react differently to other materials, paints, fasteners, etc. You've got to be on your game or you'll likely install it improperly."

Those changes in how products are made portend even greater trouble given consumer calls for tighter, more varied and more architecturally complicated homes. I once heard it said that there's a correlation between the care a doctor prescribes and the year he graduated from medical school. If you have contractors who still build the same way they did as apprentices, don't be surprised if the products they buy from you fail to perform as advertised. For you and your community's sake, you should try to get these builders up to speed.

Finally, there's basic economics. Product makers had slowed the pace of introductions over the past couple of years. But as product editor Victoria Markovitz reports, the flurry of innovations unveiled at the builders' show is just the start.

If building material dealers were mere storage sites on a product's journey from manufacturer to jobsite, selling wouldn't require anything more from you than being able to scribble an order and dial the distributor. But you know the process is far more complicated. Success isn't just about stocking a product; it's about knowing that product. And these days, that knowledge is more valuable–and marketable–than ever.

Craig Webb, editor
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