‘Let’s go to the bar!’

Bill Walton is one of us. The legendary UCLA center stunned the room with his celebrity keynote address during the 11th Annual ProDealer Conference, by revealing that his first job was working the yard at Dixieline Lumber in Southern California.

That revelation immediately forced some of us to reconsider our lists of all-time great basketball players of the home channel.

Walton kicked off the San Diego conference with a presentation based loosely on the wisdom of UCLA coach John Wooden. “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” “Winning is a journey, not a destination.”

For the next three days, the industry players at the conference produced even more memorable quotes that apply even more directly to our business. They are captured below with the kind of color commentary Walton might have provided himself:

“It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’”—Joshua Rosenbaum, director of UBS global industrial group

Yes, the housing market is jittery. Yes, there’s a serious concern over the subprime mortgage industry and future foreclosures. But Rosenbaum expressed certainty that home spending will come back. He further reassured delegates with the observation that “smart money” is still very interested in the LBM sector.

“The relationship changed from two partners to one buyer and one seller.”—David Payne, vp of Payne & Payne Builders

Payne, an Ohio-based custom home builder, was explaining the decision to sever a long-term relationship with a significant LBM dealer. The quote serves as a caution and crystallizes what many dealers already believe: relationships drive this business.

“Green is here to stay”—Augie Venezia, president of Fairfax Lumber & Hardware

While accepting his 2007 Independent Pro Dealer of the Year award, Venezia described his small company’s recent success in upscale Marin County California with the new Fairfax Green program. Green was a recurring theme at several educational sessions, not always generating optimism, as the next quote illustrates.

“In this market, adding costs to a house is a scary proposition.”—Chase Kushak, national director of supply chain management for Pulte Homes

Kushack’s quote refers to the $64,000 green question: how much extra, if anything, is the customer willing to pay for a green house. For all the effort and goodwill behind the green movement, it’s still not clear. During Kushak’s builder keynote, he also described the need to improve efficiencies in the construction cycle and attack waste processes that naturally involve pro dealers.

“We need to do a better job at being positive, not only with our customers, but with each other.”—Mark Voetsch, vp-purchasing of K. Hovnanian

Voetsch put his own advice into practice by singing the praises of the recent Hovnanian house sale event in September.

And finally:

“Let’s go to the bar!”—Bill Walton, Dixieline Lumber

Celebrating with teammates and friends is an underrated reward to playing the game, he explained. That theory applies to conferences as well.