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Dr. Stephen Covey, in his famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, actually trademarked the phrase “Sharpen the Saw”. As he observed in Habit 7, highly effective people seek continuous improvement and renewal professionally and personally. He stated that “sharpen the saw” means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you.

The Wise Woodcutter. There are a number of versions of the original parable, but my favorite involves an old woodcutter who is able to fell many more trees in a day than a strong young lumberjack, because the wise old cutter rested frequently and sharpened his saw. Abraham Lincoln said “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” He grew up in a log cabin, so he should know!

Ecclesiastes 10:10, written almost 3,000 years ago, states “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.” So I’m not quite sure why Dr. Covey seems to get all the credit for this idea, but he’s got the trademark!

In our millwork shop, Michael and Darwin have always told me that they can tell how a saw (or moulder or CNC) is working by its sound, and that a dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp one. The force needed to feed wood through a dull blade can be disastrous if you lose balance or it decides to kick back. For safety in our mill, we invested in 2 Saw Stop Table Saws.

My Story. I was 34 and inexperienced when I started at Davis-Hawn in 1999. As I tried to figure out the lumberyard, hardware store and millwork shop I always felt I was missing something – like pieces to the puzzle had fallen off the table and gotten lost. I discovered that being self-taught in a new industry is a slow, expensive and painful way to grow. And after 7 years, I was burned out. I had to figure out some way to sharpen my saw.

Fortunately, Greg Brooks and his Executive Council took me under their wing in 2006. I still get to meet with this think tank annually to soak in and share ideas from 50 of the best lumberyards and suppliers in the country. Desperately needing more accountability, I joined Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) in 2012, meeting monthly with 8 strong business owners, and being encouraged, taught, and pushed to improve.

Roundtable. More recently, I joined a roundtable through our incredible buying group LMC (with over 1400 lumberyards selling over $15 billion a year). Our roundtable, called Stewards, includes 10 dealers from across the country, and we meet twice a year touring yards and freely sharing all financial information, operational strategies and best practices. After 20 years and one Great Recession, I may finally be finding some of those missing puzzle pieces buried in the shag carpet!

So How Do You Sharpen Your Saw? There are roundtable groups for builders (Barry Buford just mentioned one to me), and opportunities at Dallas Builders Association, NARI and other trade groups. Being a custom builder or remodeler can be a pretty lonely planet, so how do you mix it up with other builders? How does your profit margin and other important metrics compare? What benchmarks do you use, and how do you measure and push yourself to continually improve? How do you get ready for the next downturn?

Yes, its hard to commit time to these groups, and some of my friends kid me about what I could possibly learn at all these “nail conventions” – but I wouldn’t miss them! What a blessing they have been – renewing and energizing me in the business, developing wonderful friendships and resources in the industry, and helping me to see a more complete picture of what a vibrant lumberyard and millwork shop can be.

I hope that you are similarly blessed in your business, and I encourage you to take the time to sharpen your saw in 2019. ~Dave Reichert