Me (second from right) in Phoenix last month with wood flooring friends made through an online Facebook group for wood flooring pros.What does next week look like for you? Perhaps you have an installation with a new prefinished product to start on Monday; you’re thinking it may require gluing, but you’re not sure. And if it needs gluing, what glue should you use? Does your distributor even have it on hand? Maybe a customer wants to see samples of a penetrating oil, and they may want to add some cerusing effects you’ve never tried before. Or, you’ve just added your first employee and you’re worried you really don’t know how to manage, let alone do the accounting, for an employee. And on top of all that, you’ve just purchased a new rotary sander to bring your work to the next level, but now you’ve got to learn a new sanding process. You also don’t want to forget to learn what parts you need to keep on hand for the new machine so you can fix it in the field when it inevitably breaks down. It’s weeks like these that having easy access to a surplus of help is critical to your success, and three areas that you need to start looking to build your network are: local businesses and local competition, distributors/vendors and social media.

I think we can all agree there is way too much to learn in our industry for one person to know it all. But, you also don’t want to be left in the dark ages while your competition adapts to the new tools, products and technologies that are constantly being developed. So, how does a company continue to adapt and grow without spending too much time experimenting with trial and error and learning by making mistakes? We all know learning from our mistakes is critical to success, but mistakes on the job site can be expensive and damaging to your reputation. Eventually, you’ll find it’s much less expensive and much more efficient to be able to reach out to others for help. So, it’s time to start building your network, but where to start?

I would start with the low hanging fruit. How well do you know your local businesses, especially your competition?

I would start with the low hanging fruit. How well do you know your local businesses, especially your competition? How is your relationship with them? Do you look at your competition as the enemy? Perhaps looking at them as part of your network of help would be a better option. I have found having a dinner or lunch to discuss business every now and then is a great way to build a positive relationship with other local hardwood companies in my area. There are tremendous benefits to having a good relationship with these companies. First off, if you’re like me and the nearest distributor is four hours away, it’s nice to call on a friend when you need product in a pinch. And sometimes it’s just nice to be able to physically sit down with someone in the same industry to talk business with over a cold drink. Even if the other businesses aren’t in the same industry, they are in the same community. I know a couple colleagues who have had a lot of success from their involvement in their local Chamber. It’s a little tough to attend events during the day if you find yourself on the job sites frequently, but many Chambers have networking events after-hours that are worth checking out. Understanding your community and being active in it is a key to creating a positive identity.

Having a great relationship with one or more distributors is also a huge benefit. People often look down upon distributors because they think they’re just middlemen that add markup to already expensive materials, but if they’re doing their job right, they should be a one-stop shop of quality materials and knowledge. A few years ago, I stopped shopping around for most of my material and decided to just use a few quality distributors. Having built a solid relationship with them, I know I can call on them to get me what I need in a timely manner. If I were one of the many “price shoppers” who often called for quotes but bought from a cheaper source, they would soon tire of trying to assist me because I would be too high-cost to deal with, with little value in return. But, since I rarely even ask for a price on material, they treat me with respect and have become a valuable source of help in my network.

Industry-specific Facebook groups have become invaluable for creating an enormous network of help for my business.

The next step would be take full advantage of social media. Industry-specific Facebook groups have become invaluable for creating an enormous network of help for my business. The vast amount of highly specialized knowledge that can be called upon with the click of a mouse or tap of the finger is unprecedented. Even 10 years ago no one could imagine being able to ask a question (with pictures no less) one minute and receive a dozen excellent answers a few minutes later. Heck, sometimes only a few seconds later. And better yet, these groups will inevitably lead to personal relationships with people all over the country … people you can text and call at the drop of a hat. I have called on my Facebook friends dozens of times when I have been in a pinch and needed some quick help on the job site. So, if you are one of the many stubborn old-schoolers who refuses to utilize the full-potential of social media because you think it’s a toy for the new generation, you’re missing out on a priceless resource of help! (Thanks, Dan Portu!)

Of course there are many other areas to build your network of help, but these are the must-haves for your wood flooring business. If you haven’t taken advantage of them yet, start building your network with them ASAP. There is simply too much for you to know in our industry, and having easy access to a wealth of other people’s knowledge provides you with a tremendous advantage. In school we are taught it’s cheating to let others provide you with the answers to your problems, but in the real world, asking for answers to your problem isn’t cheating, its critical for success.

Jim Clarey is owner at Fargo, N.D.-based Natural Accent Hardwood Floors. He can be reached via email.