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Apply Lessons from Hard Times to Coming Better Times

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is coming to end and a new year is fast approaching. The results for 2014 appear to be mixed, and much of how we perceive the economic rebound depends on with whom you happen to be speaking. Although some geographic regions are downright booming, others are struggling to show any significant gains.

In my home state of New Jersey, commercial construction has not recovered nearly as fast as some predicted. Although the two major cities adjacent to New Jersey, New York City to the north and Philadelphia to south, are growing fast and keeping many contractors busy, the suburban areas are struggling to show any signs of a rebound.

My sense is much of the country is in the same boat. There appear to be pockets of strong construction activity, but I don’t get a sense that a broad market recovery has taken hold. The age-old adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” may hold true when the tide is rising swiftly, but the tide would appear to be stagnant in many areas. I think that sentiment can best be supported by the gross margins some contractors are reporting and the general comments I’ve heard about revenues needing to fully rebound before contractors start to see any meaningful increase in margins.

So the big question on everyone’s mind is: What does 2015 have in store for us? By all accounts, there is still plenty of money sitting on the sidelines and, as that money gets invested, we should continue to see the economy expand. Contractors are some of the most optimistic people I know and definitely fall into the “glass is half full” group. Although there may be some bumps along the way, all signs point to continued growth for our industry.

To survive through the great recession, many contractors embraced lean practices, made adjustments to their overhead structure and learned how to do more with less. Now is not the time to take your eye off the ball. The lessons learned during the recession can and should be applied during prosperous times as well. There is little we can do to effect economic change and create demand for our services, but we can certainly be ready when opportunity knocks.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the “Most Interesting Man in World” character featured in the Dos Equis beer commercials. One of my favorite lines is: “If opportunity knocks and he’s not home, opportunity waits.” Opportunity may wait for him, but I doubt it will wait for you and me. Stay thirsty, my friends.

In addition to being 2014–2015 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Casabona is president of Sloan & Company, Inc. in West Caldwell, N.J.

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