Why You Should Create a Contractor College

A good way to strengthen your relationship with some of your best customers is to help them train their own employees. That is one thing that we have done recently at The Deck Store, and I’d like to share with you how you can do the same at your lumberyard.

We started by working with one of my favorite builders. He and I had been talking for some time about putting something like a “Contractor College” together. His main goal in the process was to standardize operations among his decking crews. He found that he had different crews on different sites that were doing things a little differently. As he now has multiple building teams in the field, we thought now is a good opportunity as deck building season really picks up.

At The Deck Store, we always have done individualized training any time a customer asks for our advice on how something goes together or is installed. But for our Deck Basics class, we made it a little more official. We even created a syllabus for the class that you can use. Feel free to download it at www.lbmjournal.com/deckbasics.

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Toolbox Talk

We started by talking about what a crew should do when they arrive on a jobsite. We shared that crews should read all sales contracts for the job. There doesn’t need to be any secrets between sales and build crews. As an example, there was a salesman in attendance who interjected by saying “we just sell it. We worry about how it’s built later.” No builder wants to hear that, so we talked about why it’s important that a sales person have an understanding of what can and can’t be done so that he is not making promises that the builders can’t fulfill.

After reviewing the contract, we suggested that builders walk around the house with their cell phones and take pictures and video. Make note of where the gas meter is, where the sprinklers are, and where to turn off the sprinklers during the build. Make sure all underground utilities have been located and marked.

The next step at a job site is to count your materials and go through all the materials that have been delivered.

From the Ground Up

During the 2-1/2 hour session, we covered the basics of deck building from the ground up. After the Toolbox Talk, we went on to cover footing, including proper layout, triangulation, installation, corrections and challenges.

We covered what we called “The Most Important Part,” which is ledger installation. As local experts in deck building codes, we referred our class to the actual building codes and allowed for them to take that knowledge back to the jobsite.

The Ground Up philosophy is a good way to structure your deck building class because it walks builders through the entire deck building process, from site prep to cleanup. It also allows them to work with products that you have on hand for the class, which of course are products available at your lumberyard.

The Reward

I was wasn’t surprised when one of the attendees told me at the beginning of the class that he had been building decks for a number of years and that there wasn’t much I could teach him. I also was not surprised at the end when he thanked me for all that he learned in the class.

For me, that was almost reward enough, to know that I had helped a deck builder better his game and that I helped solidify our relationship in the process. But there are other benefits as well. The contractor who buys from us sees the benefits in his production. With his crews more productive, he’ll be buying more materials from us. The whole crew will see The Deck Store as a positive resource.

To make sure the participants took ownership, we made up a simple test for them to take at the end of the class. It was self-graded, and after the test we gave them a nice, personalized certificate. After the class, we provided a light lunch and attendees were able to gain more familiarity with our store and the products we carry.

We’ll continue to have more “Contractor College” sessions at The Deck Store. Deck building is seasonal and as we progress farther into the season, we’ll share more information with our customers. In all, it was 2-1/2 hours out of a Saturday and the benefit to my store and our local industry in general was well worth both my time and that of the attendees.

Be sure to download a copy of the official class syllabus at: lbmjournal.com/deckbasics

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