Some time ago I had a chance to hear football coach Dennis Erickson speak at a local school’s athletic fundraiser. I apologize if you have heard this story before, because it is worth repeating. At this time, Dennis had won several national championships in college football and was in transition to coach in the NFL. He was discussing how the game of football had advanced to the point that every play, both offensively and defensively, was filmed and broken down for improvement. Even practices were filmed and examined to cross efficiency and talent. Playbooks looked like phone books, and the sport had reached a level of complexity never seen before. He opened up Q and A at the end of his talk, and I asked what it takes to win at this level. His answer was nothing short of amazing. He said the team that tackles and blocks the best will usually win. Think about that for a second. As complex as the game is, the team that does what Knute Rockne coached years ago will still win with the same basics.
I apologize in advance to my editor, because the rest of this article is not about advances in stains or colors. No new techniques in countertops or polished floors here. We are going to talk about the Xs and Os of your business and what it will take for you to succeed, or should I say survive.
As I write this article, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has had its worst week since opening nearly 100 years ago. Rescue plans are being formulated in nearly every major country across the world in an attempt to shore up economies. Most of us in the construction industries are asking how this will affect us. I must be honest in saying that I’m not sure, but my gut tells me that as a response, the Dennis Erickson approach is best. This time and this economy will pass, and the home improvement and construction industry will continue to be a major part of this great country’s economy.
Our industry, like football, has seen advancements. One visit to the World of Concrete conference will confirm this. But think about this for a second. Every job, whether in Texas or Dubai, has at least one thing in common. Finishing the job still comes down to a human and a shovel. As complex as our industry is, it still comes down to a tool that sits in every work truck across the globe. Something simple like a shovel. I use this analogy only to prove to you that no matter how complex it seems in this age for you and your business to survive, it really is not. If you follow the same fundamentals in today’s market that built your business, you will come through the other side.
I’m not saying that some of us might not have to supplement our incomes with part-time work. We may very well have to stack boxes or load trucks to bring in extra income until the market improves.
What’s more, no longer can decorative concrete be simply an option. It must be the most affordable option. “Back to the basics” will make you look over every aspect of a decorative job to find ways to be more efficient and profitable. “Back to the basics” may require you to rent a piece of equipment instead of buying on credit. It may mean calling the contractor in the next town and asking to rent a set of stamp tools for a pattern you don’t own. The contractor in the next town will probably enjoy the extra income and you will enjoy the work. Every aspect of the job needs to be carefully examined to see what will create the most profit WITHOUT jeopardizing the quality of work. This is a completely different mindset from what we experienced just a short time ago. It’s not about hurrying to finish so you can get to the next job. It’s all about squeezing every ounce of profit from every aspect of the job. It’s about a man and a shovel. You must create an affordable option for whichever decorative type you specialize in.
I recommend a big move into the maintenance side of our business, because folks will want to protect their decorative investments. Maintenance is high in profit and low in material costs. Please don’t underestimate the situation here, fellas, because many areas of the country are forecasting a halt in the new construction industry over the next year. Preparing for this type of slowdown will not hurt and will only increase profit if your local economy stays strong.
These same principles apply not only to contractors but also to every facet of this industry. Manufacturers must help to make contractors aware of products or methods that will assist the bottom line. Suppliers need to move inventory to relieve swollen lines of credit and must pass products to contractors at a discount. They must let local contractors know about excess inventory and about discounts that are available. We are all in this industry together, and together we will continue to advance and prosper in it. It’s not gloom and doom, but duck and protect.
One last thing about your business: The fate of your business is not in the hands of a rescue plan or program. It is entirely in the hands of the hard work and dedication that you and your family used to build it to this point. Most contractors are struggling with the same things you are, and that has little to do with talent or quality of work. Remember, back to the basics.