Hey there, smart guy. Waddya know?

I'm being both flip and serious here. Research affirms that your customers do view you as smart guys (and gals) when it comes to building products; 88% of remodelers and 76% of builders tell pollsters they rely on you for product recommendations. That advice is a vital but often overlooked value-added service that you provide.

Stephani Miller (left), Associate Editor; Katy Tomasulo (right), Managing Editor Photo: James Kegley And every day, the number of products that you need to know about grows. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies reported a few years back that the number of SKUs offered by pro dealers had risen 50% between 1997 and 2002, to 11,000 SKUs at pro dealers with annual sales topping $50 million and 2,600 SKUs at smaller shops. And that doesn't count the tens of thousands more products accessible through special order that you need to keep up to date in your mental database. From all indications, the pace of SKU growth isn't slowing one bit; just look at last month's issue for the article examining how the humble pry bar has morphed into an assortment of tools designed for specific tasks. With all these changes, how can you keep up?

More than any other month, March is when ProSales answers that call, with an edition devoted to reporting and reviewing notable products. More than 180 products get scrutinized here, including 10 that we felt merited inclusion in a new section devoted to green products.

We have highlighted 15 works of particular merit with the "Editors' Choice" status, but the truth is that it's an achievement for any product to get into this issue. Each year, our product maven, associate editor Stephani Miller, has to sort through more than 4,000 pieces of product news, and she's so popular with vendors at events like the International Builders' Show (IBS) that she has to schedule visits in 15-minute increments. For every one item that Stephani picks for this issue, 19 fail to make the cut.

Stephani does that job expertly because she has been ProSales' products editor for the past four and a half years. The person who reviews her selections has an equally good eye: managing editor Katy Tomasulo was ProSales' products editor for two years before Stephani arrived, and she continues to track the tools part of the business closely on behalf of our sister publication Tools of the Trade. They trade notes with several other Hanley Wood staffers who also watch the building products market.

Historically, ProSales' product news has been limited to print reports. But Stephani and Katy scored a breakthrough last month when they created Hanley Wood's first-ever podcasts–a series of brief, insightful reports on what they saw at IBS. You can hear them (as well as read back issues of print stories) at www.prosalesonline.com by clicking on the site's "Products" tab. And while you're online, check out our parent company's recently relaunched ebuild site at www.ebuild.com. Ebuild aims to become the search engine of choice for anyone interested in building products. The database features information on 320,000 products, and soon it will become even richer, with videos, press releases, and catalogs.

You already know from long experience that knowledge is power. Think of us as your power tool.

As we culminate our search for excellent products, we have begun seeking out examples of excellence in construction supply. The call for entries has been sounded for the sixth annual ProSales Excellence Awards. This year we plan to recognize dealers for achievements in six categories: showroom design, facility design, marketing program, best use of technology, best single ad or series of ads (print, radio, TV, etc.), and best Web site. See page 29 for more information or contact Katy Tomasulo at [email protected] or 202.736.3303. –Craig Webb, editor, [email protected].

Have you signed up for your weekly dose of ProSales news? Visit www.prosalesonline.com and look for the link to subscribe to ProSales Business Update.

Stephani Miller, Associate Editor 202.736.3403, [email protected]; Katy Tomasulo, Managing Editor 202.736.3303, [email protected]