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Rick Schwolsky, Editor-in-Chief

With all the important things you have to manage growing your contracting company, taking time to keep up with new products, tools, and equipment can easily seem like a luxury. And with changes coming so fast CNN would have trouble covering them, it's no wonder you might fall behind on your research. I'll even bet if you're a home builder or remodeler, your customers may know a lot more about some of the latest products than you do.

But product selection isn't simply a matter of keeping the customer satisfied. In fact, because of important changes in building systems and performance requirements, you could be making a decision that saves your business from costly callbacks or worse–lawsuits. Since many changes in materials and products are in response to new understandings of how buildings work, especially in terms of windloads, moisture, and mold, keeping up with new products will help you improve your performance and reliability, leading to higher quality in your construction and higher profits in your bank account.

And as materials and details change, so do the tools, accessories, fasteners, and hardware designed to work with them. So set your crews up for success with the equipment they need to work with building products like engineered lumber and composite materials, or to use new types of fasteners or install new hold-down systems. And, in case you've missed it, you can take a bigger step toward a totally cordless world by looking into the new lithium-ion battery technology that just about every major tool company rolled out during the past year.

Of course, you also have to pay attention to the items that "sell" a new home or remodeling project, like windows, doors, cabinets, flooring, and other finishes that mean the most to your customers. But like I said, with the Internet opening up a world of products to everyone, your clients probably come to you with specs and requests. Still, you should try to beat them to it by regularly reviewing important product categories for changes. Here's a healthy habit to get into: Assign yourself one category to review per week on the Internet. Set up Internet bookmarks on your computer so you can easily scroll and visit Web sites for each major product manufacturer, supplier, and tool company you want to follow. Prioritize the categories and brands that most impact your market and business, then track them like the stock market for change. I'd also recommend book-marking www.ebuild.com, our parent company's online product directory that includes hundreds of thousands of product listings and specifications.

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