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When, during the recession, Anthony Cerami noticed that vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers were contacting him more often, he decided to use their interest to help train his staff.

“In the 1980s salespeople were out all the time and would come by just to say hello,” says the president of Anthony James Construction, in Westfield, N.J. “In the late ’90s we all started to get busy, and for a 10-year stretch you didn’t see many [salespeople].” Now reps are “coming out of the woodwork and are eager to talk to us,” Cerami says.

Instead of just providing him with product literature, Cerami encourages manufacturer reps to make presentations to his crew during the company’s weekly staff meetings. He says that these presentation are valuable because reps are knowledgeable about the product, and staff can ask questions. The reps bring product samples and literature, and if they can’t answer a question during the meeting, they call back later with an answer. In some cases Cerami even asks vendors for training on specific products, such as custom leaded windows.

Cerami’s project managers also attend educational programs hosted by local distributors at their showrooms. These programs usually have a broader scope and are more oriented toward establishing or reestablishing relationships with contractors.

In addition to training, Cerami and his staff are honing the company’s systems, such as improving the Anthony James Construction warranty, and are coming up with new ideas to work smarter and bring in business.

The group is currently planning a free one-year maintenance program that it will present to homeowners after the company completes a remodeling job. “We’re trying to figure out what services would be most beneficial for homeowners,” Cerami says, such as changing HVAC filters and cleaning gutters.

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.