Incredible, simply incredible. That’s what I kept saying to myself as I sat in the theater room of the National Aquarium in Baltimore watching the video slideshow of the remarkable project photos entered into NADRA’s 2018 contest. Every single owner, salesperson, designer, carpenter and helper who was involved with each entry should be applauded for their wonderful projects. In my book they were all winners, top-notch work, and absolutely everyone there is to be commended for their effort. I for one picked up at least half a dozen or more new design and material ideas. I highly recommend anyone interested in levating their repertoire to take a few minutes to go on NADRA’s site and watch the video.
As I sat there in awe, typing notes into my phone as fast as I could, one thing I noticed was the number of decking brands being utilized by craftsmen from all over North America. There were colors and combinations many of us would never dream of using. I also noted an amazing number of new decking brands, styles, patterns, textures, materials and colors displayed at this year’s Expo. I could have spent a third day walking the floor and chatting with reps and still wouldn’t have finished meeting everyone. This was quite possibly the best best DeckExpo I have ever attended.
With all these decking options, my brain was on overload. Truth be told, many builders pick one or two specific brands to work with, gain a certain amount of familiarity, develop a comfort level, and stick with them throughout the year. Sometimes this is a result of what our local dealer stocks or is pushing; suppliers can dictate what becomes popular in a town, development or market area. Many guys I speak with pick products and brands that are “stock” items so there is relatively no lead time, returns are accepted, and we don’t hear those dreaded terms like “restocking fee,” “back order,” or—even worse—“special order,” which is code for “this is going to cost you a lot more.”
Another reason to stick with a specific brand or product is that for you, it has a great track record. Profitability is good, call backs are at a minimum (or, better yet, nonexistent), and the manufacturer has a great warranty policy. Personally, to me a warranty isn’t the deciding factor. I don’t want to know how good the warranty is; I want to know I’ll never need to take them up on it, because the product is a great performer (but it is nice to know that many of the manufacturers today have a labor warranty to back their product to help offset lost time).
A lot of deck specialists abhor the idea of being dictated to by others; we are alphas and want to create the options from which we make our own decisions. Therefore, one way we try to stay in control of our destiny is to meet with our local supplier every fall and discuss some of the options before they jump into their winter buys.” Our supplier likes to know what’s trending for us, what we’re interested in, what colors our clients are leaning towards, and the brands that are getting hot. Obviously, they know what they are currently moving, but it gives all of us a chance to set the stage for the following spring. They may tell me what they won’t be stocking or we might ask them to stock something we have been hesitant to push or sell because it wasn’t in stock.
We have cultivated a phenomenal relationship with Paul, the president of the yard we use; we have breakfast or lunch once a month and discuss the latest trends. Getting in step with the lumberyard during the winter can save you a barrel of money come spring time when you are putting in those 90-plus hour work weeks, ordering materials a couple days before the project starts and expecting them to have everything in stock. Avoid that migraine-inducing call informing you that your decking is on back order and they can’t meet your deadline.
Some products we use will never be items that our supplier will carry in bulk and we wouldn’t dream of asking them to sit on a huge inventory. Therefore, we have worked it out that they will keep a minimal amount on hand, and we guarantee to purchase the material. Right now we have about half a dozen products like that. This way it doesn’t become special order and we don’t have to constantly order supplies ahead of time. If suppliers can make our lives easier we are more likely to stay loyal. Not all lumberyards feel this way, but ours does, so we have a steadfast relationship with each other.
While we are in the winter months, we discuss winter buys with our suppliers so we’re ready to hit the spring season running.
Another aspect of of our decking that’s worth looking into is strengthening our relationships with our decking manufacturers’ sales reps. Most of the manufacturers offer a great deal more than just decking, railing and trim. These reps are usually more than happy to do whatever they can to develop your business, keep you well informed on new products, specials, trends, plant tour opportunities, and of course manufacturer rewards. Just about every major manufacturer has a contractor rewards program aimed at generating a certain level of brand loyalty. Most of these are really good, incentive- and tierbased opportunities, and they genuinely want you to take advantage of all you can. Some are lead generating, but more so they are financial rebates that reimburse the contractors for their allegiance to that particular brand. We are on first name basis with most of the major brand reps in our area—Lauren, Matt, Jimmy, Bryan and the one we deal with most, John Scarborough. He goes out of his way to meet with us at least once a month, coffee and a danish or a good bowl of jambalaya go a long way to putting a face, name and product together. John makes sure we have every sample and all the literature we need to properly represent his product. He and Hilary Bliss make sure all of our invoices are correctly entered and we receive the proper rewards for our efforts.
Once you generate these business contacts, the reps are also more than willing to work with you on co-marketing assistance, some cross-branding, and other opportunities that put both you and that product in front of the consumer. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your rep and ask for assistance. Occasionally, the manufacturers will even post photos of your work on their websites.
Take the time now to get set up with all of the decking manufacturers, make sure you are registered, follow up on all of last year’s rewards, and get educated on next year’s programs. Look into those early season co-marketing funds and get ready to greet 2019 like the spectacular year it’s shaping up to become.