Passing the test of prosperity

The economy is showing strong signs of continued growth, business is moving at a fast pace, the backlog for next year is filling up and it’s fun to come to work every day. We all know that the economy is cyclical and it’s only a matter of time before the next downturn. But, for now it feels like the business environment is back to normal, and relationships and quality are once again more meaningful than low price. We are stretching and growing our teams to maximum capacity as we grow volume in manageable increments.

I truly hope this is describing your experience as we start the 4th quarter of 2018. For those of us who were in business back in the early 2000s this is a familiar feeling. So, you’re asking, what’s up with the title, “Passing the test of prosperity”? This all sounds like a bed of roses. 

Let me explain. I’m sure you feel as I do, but I hope we never see another economic period like the one from 2007 to 2012. Although business was better in 2012, the market was still very choppy and uncertain until 2016. That’s almost a nine year period of very tough times to be running a business.

I’m confident that we all learned many lessons during those very difficult years, suffering the adversity of hardship. We cut fat out of our companies until we couldn’t cut anymore. We got smaller and then we downsized; we squeezed and did everything we could to survive. We learned ways to work smarter; we established procedures that maximized efficiency. We found ways to reduce and manage risks and improved our skills at negotiating contracts. We figured out what our strengths are and how to improve on them, and decided to move away from our weak areas and stop losing money on them. It became clear who our best customers are and what they need and expect from us. 

Did you have a similar path through the recession? Congratulations! You have passed the test of adversity and come out on the other side.

All these lessons learned can be called “Best Practices.” This series of letters I’ve written for TileLetter were things I learned during multiple times of adversity, including this last one. That’s the disappointing part: some of these lessons I learned prior to 2008 unfortunately did not pass the test of prosperity in the time leading up to 2008. 

You see, prosperity can be an adversary to all the discipline and hard-learned lessons and battles won during times of adversity. Prosperity can make us lazy, unfocused and carelessly forgetful of our best practices and core values.

When times are good, and business is easy, the temptation is to take our eye off the goal and allow mediocrity and the tyranny of the urgent to creep in. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are too busy to stick to our proven best practices and we allow little slips here and there. The monthly P&L statements look strong and profit is coming in on every job. We are failing the test of prosperity. 

Once this happens, the chance that we will awaken in time to save our business in the next downturn is less likely. I urge all of us to keep our eye on the goal. Use the lessons that helped us survive and pass the test of adversity to now thrive and become “Best in Class” contractors during times of prosperity. Don’t settle for simply gliding along on the crest of a big wave thinking we have conquered the world, when the reality of the shore is approaching fast.

Success to you all!

Keep on tiling,

Martin Howard, NTCA President
Committee Member ANSI A108
[email protected]

Martin Howard
NTCA President, Executive Vice President of David Allen Company at |

Martin Howard is the 2017 - 2018 president of NTCA and the Executive Vice President of David Allen Company and is an owner of the company.

Martin oversees the Tile, Stone and Pre-Construction Divisions, including all branch operations. He has more than 36 years’ experience in the construction industry including 12 years in general contracting and 24 years in David Allen Company, where he has had management responsibilities in every area of the company’s tile and marble operation.