A few months ago, we sent out a survey to all of our readers for whom we have e-mail addresses in order to learn what you think of BUILDER: what you like, what you don't like, what you'd like to see more of, how the format works for you, and what you think should be done differently. We received a large number of responses (many thanks to all of you who took the time to answer so many questions) and learned a lot about what's on your minds, not only in terms of what you think about the magazine, but also what you feel you need to make your businesses stronger and more profitable and what BUILDER can do to help you reach those goals.

OUR TAKEAWAYS From the survey we learned that, as is almost always the case for our readers, news about products, construction techniques, and design trends remains some of the most valuable information we can offer you. But we also learned that with material prices, labor issues, and current housing market conditions the most important economic issues facing your firm, easy access to industry reports and economic forecasts can help with the increasingly difficult business decisions you are forced to make each day.

And what did you tell us about how you'd like to learn about implementing those new construction techniques, as well as how to deal with steadily increasing material prices and challenging and troublesome labor issues? With info from the best source possible: other builders. Truly, what could be better than to draw from the well of the collective wisdom of your colleagues—insights earned through trial and error, painstaking analysis, and, just every once in a while, sheer luck?

As our luck would have it, this month's cover story offers all of the above. Our annual story featuring trade secrets, “It's Time to Take the Gloves Off” (see page 102), provides a collection of the best, field-tested ideas from builders for getting—and staying—in fighting shape for the tougher times that lie ahead.

With economic conditions for the housing industry looking grimmer and grimmer, the competition is upping the ante in a big way: The resale market is slashing prices; big builders are giving away cash, cars, and fully equipped home theater rooms; and local builders are trying every trick in the book in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

FIGHTING BACK Is it even possible to counter such tough-minded tactics? We think so. This month's cover story features tips on how to stay ahead of your competitors:

  • Be nimble—always watch for new technologies to help you build faster and better;
  • Don't rest on your laurels—keep track of your market and adapt your product as needed; and
  • Above all, deliver the one-two punch of quality and service.
  • The quality of your homes—their design, construction, and energy efficiency, along with a variety of other facets—is bound to resonate with buyers. Survey after survey of consumer trends indicates that buyers are becoming far more discriminating when it comes to the quality of the products they buy. And that includes homes. And when everything else is equal, when your biggest competitor offers beautifully designed homes, in a great location, at a competitive price, above-and-beyond customer service will provide the edge you need to win the buyers you want.

    So, whether you find yourself up against that charming historic neighborhood downtown, a company with the deepest pockets imaginable, or another builder in your own backyard, this month's issue offers (thanks to the wisdom—and generosity—of your fellow builders), lots of tips and tricks to help ensure the staying power of your business. Check them out and get your company in shape for the next round.


    e-mail: ddersin@hanleywood.com