If 2001 was any indication of the millennium to come, our heirs are in for one hell of a ride. Consider some of the lessons taught during this remarkable and tumultuous year:
What goes up must come down.
Following nearly 10 years of sometimes-explosive growth, the roofing industry experienced a lackluster year. Many of us had to tighten our belts for the first time in a long time, and many others experienced this feeling for the first time in their business lives. Depending on what part of the country you worked in during 2001, and depending on the type of roofing work you did, you probably worked with considerably less backlog and were possibly even a little tighter on the margins than might have otherwise been comfortable.
During the challenges of shrinking business, however, there have been segments of the market that have shown strength, and even growth in some areas, such as some types of metal roofing, some upscale shingle products, roof coatings and spray polyurethane foam systems.
We started the year with rapidly escalating fuel and asphalt costs. Manufacturers of roofing materials warned of impending price increases, and indeed asphalt roofing prices did rise during most of the year. Now it appears that by yearend we may see a universal decline in the cost of material corresponding with falling petroleum prices and product demand.
Long-range plans are great, but must be flexible.
Just as the economy was cooling to what looked like a bottom, the atrocities of September 11th turned the markets inside out. Consumer confidence hit the skids and what looked like a soft landing for the economy began to look more like the disaster that spurned it. Now we find ourselves in a state of war.
Those in the process of working long-range plans should know that these plans must be subject to change. I’ve long been a proponent of sound business planning, but must admit that these times call for planning with the flexibility to change quickly, moving timetables in and out according to emerging cycles not foreseen by anyone.
We are not going to live forever.
Those events of 9-11 taught many lessons about life, and should teach us some lessons about our business. We aren’t going to live forever. You know that and I know that, but there is nothing like a grim reminder to convince us of this basic truth.
Part of your planning should include succession planning. If your business has any net worth at all, you should have a plan that addresses the issue of what happens if the unthinkable happens. You should know what would happen if you or a partner or other key person died or became incapacitated. The lessons of 2001 say that the unthinkable can and does happen.
Tighten up your partnership agreements. Review life insurance policies for your corporate officers. Your loved ones will appreciate your consideration of such matters, and in some cases your employees and partners will draw comfort from it as well.
We will endure.
In spite of all the negatives of the personal and the economic disasters, we can learn and grow from the events of this year. It is important to remember that we are privileged to live in the greatest nation in the world. Our roofing industry will emerge from 2001 stronger in many ways because we enjoy the freedom as individuals to guide our businesses through these rough and murky economic waters.
The year 2001 may not have been a highly profitable year in the conventional sense. Sometimes, however, growth comes in ways we might not have expected.