When I first joined the LBM industry back in 1990, the major threat was the explosion of big box stores—and the prematurely projected demise of the independent lumber dealer. Later that decade, the big problem was wildly volatile lumber prices because of a cutback of harvesting from our national forests and our disagreement over imported lumber from Canada. Next came the Great Recession, which put many dealers out of business and chased many workers to other industries.
While there is no shortage of obstacles facing the LBM business today (ex., the latest chapter in the dispute over Canadian lumber), the key challenge facing the greatest number of dealers is the shortage of people interested in and qualified to work in our industry. Every month, as I read through the responses to our Real Issues survey, where dealers share their most serious business issues, a shortage of good people consistently ranks No. 1. Here’s just one example: “As I’ve stated many times before, laborers who are willing to learn, entertain apprenticeship, or even consider any trade that involves working with their hands, muscles, and brains are growing more scarce than ever…. Faculty at schools, colleges & universities don’t have enough common sense to explain that there’s a fine living to be earned in construction and remodeling.”
This isn’t a new problem, but with the housing/remodeling markets hotter than they’ve been in years, the exodus of people after the Great Recession has created something of a perfect storm for dealers as well as our pro customers. As dealer told me this morning, “if our builder customers were fully staffed, there’s no way we could keep up. Fortunately, they’re in the same boat that we are…looking for good people.”
As with most complex problems, there are no easy answers. The best we can do is to study the strategies and tactics that are other dealers are leveraging successfully, and learn from those who see things that we don’t. I recently looked through the lineup of topics covered in LBM Journal over the past year, and more articles would fall under the “attracting, hiring and retaining top people” than virtually any other category.
Articles in this month’s issue include a feature on “12 Best Practices for Employee Recruitment and Retention,” in which writer Katy Tomasulo interviews the leading recruiters in the LBM industry. If you’re one of the many LBM dealers trying to crack the code on millennials, I strongly encourage you to read Isaac Oswalt’s Next Generation column in this and every issue. You may not agree with everything he has to say (see the reader letter in this month’s LBM Mailbox on page 8), but as a millennial entrepreneur with hands-on industry experience, his insights are worth noting.
It’s no surprise that attendees at last year’s LBM Strategies Conference ranked the personnel-related topics the highest. That’s why the upcoming LBM Strategies 2017 includes two dealers discussing: “The Law of Attraction: How to Make Your Company a Best Place to Work.” If you’re looking to hear practical, proven solutions to some of today’s toughest challenges, I encourage you to register today for LBM Strategies 2017, September 7-8 in Frisco, Texas. Learn more at LBMStrategies.com.