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Good, Better, Best

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Twenty years ago, my brother spent a summer with the National Guard on the Mississippi sandbagging to prevent the floodwaters from swamping riverside towns. It was hard work, and when I asked him about it, he said the biggest thing was to move fast and not try to be perfect. I was surprised by that and asked him why they weren't doing their best. His response?

We don't need to be perfect, just better than the other towns. They knew that once the barriers were breached somewhere, the water would flood in that direction and relieve all other towns of the pressure and danger.

We live in uncertain economic times. After a seemingly endless presidential campaign, which every four years brings its own type of uncertainty, we entered the "fiscal cliff" negotiations with all of their uncertainty.

But there's a message from the sandbaggers on the Mississippi that we can all take to heart. Even in downturns, economic opportunity occurs. We just need to be better than the others.

One example of this is what's happening with metal roofing in the residential market. As can be seen on page 26, metal roofing is gaining market share during the tough economic times. In other words, we're doing better than the rest. That's opportunity.

It's an old maxim in business that you gain market share during down times. Other companies take their eye off the ball, and those companies that are focused and prepared can increase their share of business. Yes, they may see slightly declining fortunes overall, but if you increase market share during that downturn, when the market comes back you are better positioned for growth than you had been prior to the downturn.

You don't need to be perfect. You just need to be better than the other guy. That's competition.

Our industry is also facing those battles against other building products. The tools we need to win are innovation and aggressiveness. Innovation will advance our arguments within the green industry so that metal is rightfully seen as a product of choice for sustainable projects. And aggressiveness means we need to sound our voice high and loud so that others know the strength of our position.

It is an odd thing for an industry to fulfill both of those promises. Certainly the aggregation of our message through trade associations helps sound our strengths. But it is also the innovation that burbles deep within the contractors and trades and manufacturers and distributors that can affect the most change.

A new idea, a new product or a new process can do as much to gain market share-of business and of mind-as any well-sounded marketing message.

During these times of uncertainty, it is as important as ever that we continue to innovate and invent. Those companies that maintain a steady financial position and continue to improve products and processes are the ones that will drive our industry forward.

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