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Make time for trade shows and industry events

By / September 17, 2018

Now is the time of the year that a lumber dealer can learn the most about his business. That’s because after a busy summer of sales, fall often brings about conference and trade show season. As summer winds down and fall event invites arrive in your inbox, I encourage you to take time out from your schedule and attend as many conferences and trade shows as you can. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

There are a number of reasons why I attend shows, but the biggest reason is because of the education I receive. I’m not talking about just education from a conference speaker or panel discussion, though those are infinitely valuable to me. I’m also talking about the education I receive from fellow LBM dealers, folks who are just like me—making a living out of selling lumber and building materials. I like to hear about how other dealers in different parts of the country do things. The people I encounter at conferences and tradeshows aren’t my local competitors, so we’re free to share information. I run into people from all over the country with different ideas and concepts, things that work or don’t work for them in their markets. We share advice with each other and since we’re not competitors, there is no threat that the information is going to cut into our bottom line.

You’ll find that at a lot of events, other professionals in the industry will share information on topics such as recruiting employees, building company culture, and other business and trade topics. There are so many very smart dealers in our industry, and I never turn down an opportunity to learn something from them.

Another reason why I attend as many trade shows and conferences as I can is because the events give me an opportunity to see new products that are coming out. Not only is this a great way to learn about what is coming from manufacturers, it’s also an excellent way to build vendor relationships.

I didn’t always attend so many shows, however. It took me a while in my career to get out of my comfort zone and to realize the benefit of meeting people I haven’t met before. Over the years, I’ve learned to introduce myself to as many other lumber dealers as I can. I guarantee that if you do, you’ll be surprised by what you can learn by sharing a conversation with someone who is in the same line of work as you, but in a different market.

Coming up, the LBM Strategies Conference and the International Builder’s Show are both events that I make sure to attend every year. While every event is different, I have found that these two offer the best opportunity for education and networking with fellow dealers as well as vendors and others in the industry.

I can’t stress enough how the things I have learned at conferences and trade shows have helped improve my business. Here’s just one example:

Many years ago, I saw deck builder Bobby Parks present at a trade show, and he talked about “the hallway effect” of deck design. It’s a concept that stresses the placement of stairs in areas of your deck that make the deck most useful to a homeowner. I had always kind of followed that concept, but I hadn’t put a name to it and didn’t communicate it as well as I could have to my customers. Ever since that presentation, I’ve talked about a deck’s hallway effect in my sales presentations. It has helped me drive more sales than any other single concept I’ve ever learned. If I had just stayed home and thought I knew enough already, I never would have been as successful at selling deck projects.

The same is true for organizations that I belong to. I’m an active member and supporter of the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA). This group holds events, shares email newsletters, and hosts other activities that are valuable to our industry. Being a member of NADRA and other trade and builder organizations has helped grow my business and myself as a professional. Local trade organizations are also important, but any group that involves members from other markets is definitely worth looking into.

Speaking of member involvement, it’s important to remember that, like most things in life, you only get back what you give. People ask why I belong to a group like NADRA, and what I get from belonging to a group like that. The truth is, you don’t get anything for just belonging. You get to call yourself a member, and receive some of the benefits, but if you don’t actively participate, if you don’t offer input and engage, then you won’t get as much back from it. If you choose to belong to a group, you need to be sure to participate and take advantage of all the things the group has to offer.

Again, I encourage you to attend conferences and events. Take the time to learn, to talk to people, and to get out of your comfort zone. You’ll never regret it, because your business knowledge will grow.

Bob Heidenreich

Bob Heidenreich, owner of The Deck Store, in Apple Valley, Minn., has been selling decking and home improvement projects for 30 years. Follow Bob on Twitter: @TheDeckStore.