Ask LBM dealers about the green movement, and many will talk about it like they would distant thunder–something that might affect them eventually but doesn't now. When it comes to selling products, that analogy works for most of the country. Demand today for environmentally friendly building materials lies mostly on the coasts and in big cities.
The first concerns how you run your lumberyard. A $30 million LBM operation spends close to $450,000 a year on utilities, building maintenance, and vehicle expenses, according to the LBM Institute's Cost of Doing Business Report. Those expenses gobble up nearly 1.5% of revenue today, and given forecasts of ever-higher energy costs, you can expect they'll take an even bigger bite in the future. Thus, even if you never sell a stick of certified green lumber, you should examine green's energy-conservation tenets as a way to control your operational costs.
This special, single-topic issue of ProSales–a first for us–seeks to jump-start your efforts by showcasing green operations and thinking that dealers like you are employing across the country. We focused on the practical, often economical changes you should make. Our working title for this issue was "Be Cheap. Be Green. Be Both." We'll show you how.
ProSales also aims in coming issues to assist with the second challenge: becoming your community's expert on green construction. In many ways, this is just the latest chapter in the old story of what really makes your company valuable–your unique ability to find and deliver products from around the globe that will best meet local conditions and needs, and then tell builders how to use them to construct good homes.
Surveys show that a huge percentage of builders and remodelers rely on you to advise them on products and, increasingly, on building techniques. With groups like the NAHB adopting green standards, builders' interest is certain to rise. Unfortunately, so will vendors' hyperbole about their products' green credentials.
You're already leery about manufacturers' claims. I've met several dealers who told me about tossing a product into a bucket of water and leaving it there for several weeks to see if it's as waterproof as advertised. But vetting green products goes beyond the bucket test. Some of the best ones come from vendors you've never heard of, or they are based on relatively untested technologies or techniques. And there are just so darn many of them that executives at construction supply companies that specialize in green products say they routinely spend up to four hours a day researching products.
Their groundbreaking work might make it easier for you to sort through products, but if you want to reap the benefits that will come to dealers who know green, you should expect to ramp up considerably the time you spend on product education.
Expect, too, for the green movement to make you re-examine many of your notions about how to build a home. As the combination of economic and environmental factors (not to mention regulatory ones) shifts the relative costs and benefits of home ownership, what emerges from future jobsites is more and more likely to look like a green home, even if no one ever calls it that.
And that's what LBM dealers really should be about, after all: providing the materials and expertise that build the American dream. If a touch of green helps that dream come true in ways that both cut costs and are kind to Mother Earth, then so much the better.
Craig Webb, Editor 202.736.3307