As you read this, we're wrapping up 2007 and bracing for the roller-coaster ride to continue in 2008. My travels took me across the country a couple of times this year, and I remain amazed at the varied initiatives I saw in your stores.

Mike Butts One particular client stands above the rest in one important area: customer resource management. Much has been written about this topic, but the story of this independent LBM dealer merits telling.

As is common across the country, this dealer's home territory has had a turbulent year. It's not a "pro dealer;" in fact, it has a sales mix of approximately 70% consumer and 30% contractor. Yep, a home center store at its finest.

Why am I writing about a "hardware store" in ProSales? Because these folks own their market, both consumer and builder. Pro-specialty LBM dealers in the market absolutely know this dealer is in town and constantly feel the pressure.

I don't know of another dealer that manages its individual customer files as well. During one early morning sales meeting, we reviewed the previous week's business. Each client was pulled up on a screen, the various stages of projects were discussed, sales made, and products delivered/ordered/awaiting order were hammered out. Then–and I love this–if there was anything that this client didn't have on the site, that particular product or category manager was handed the file to pursue.

The next week, the manager has to answer some hard questions: What became of this contractor or job? Did we get the order? If the dealer got the order, great. If not, it finds out who did, what product was bought, why, and for how much.

All this information is contained in a database. This dealer knows who sold what, for how much, when the order was placed, and when it was delivered. (On-time and complete deliveries are a very high priority.) If the dealer didn't get the business, that's shown on a graph or pie chart as well. These people know what sales they get and, just as importantly, what sales they miss–and why.

Does this dealer get them all? No, not all sales, but those customers they do serve buy everything from this store. From form and frame packs to lighting packages and everything in the middle, if these folks sell it, they have a product specialist that calls on a customer to get the business. This dealer lives and die by the adage "get all their money and business."

I'm so impressed by this because, in a down market, these folks are growing by executing at every level, delivering outstanding service, maintaining good margins, and meeting customer expectations.

At the same time, they serve retail consumers in their market with a mix of product and service that rivals any of the big boxes. And, oh yeah, they're also heavily involved in installed sales.

One size fits all? Nope. These folks just excel at knowing what they are good at and then delivering it in spades.