The seminar series sponsored by Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp. has reached a major milestone.

It gets harder and harder schlepping this old body through airports, along with the 50 pounds or so of handout materials and other luggage I typically bring with me. Only one thing keeps me going on the seminar circuit - the fabulous responses I've received from you, my beloved audience, and Gerber Plumbing Fixtures Corp., my equally beloved sponsor.

I have been in partnership with Gerber for four years now. We recently passed a notable milestone, that of reaching more than 1,000 contractors with my "Business of Contracting" message of professional service with pricing to match. The tally looks like this.

If you're wondering about the large boost in average attendance for 1999, it's a statistical artifact. In the early years of the program, we put on seminars for very sparse audiences, fewer than 10 persons in some cases. This naturally dragged down the average attendance. Lately, we have taken the more sensible route of canceling scheduled programs where registration lags.

Nonetheless, I am grateful to each and every one of you who have shown up - some of you more than once. I am especially grateful to those of you who have overcome your fears and "taken the medicine" to run your companies with pride and professionalism. I wish I could say this has been the case with all 1,078 attendees, but I know it's not. Probably no more than 10 percent of those attending my seminars have gone all out with the program I recommend, although larger numbers have adopted portions of my teaching.

More than a few have walked away shaking their heads saying, "This will never work in my market." Those who have had the courage to try, found out they were wrong. Others, I hope, will come around eventually. Some of those who repeat the course, I suspect, are searching less for knowledge than the courage to implement the program.

Kudos To Gerber

Special recognition is due to Gerber, and especially to Ila Lewis, Ron Grabski and Sue Beer for their tireless administrative work in support of my efforts. As you all know, part of my business message boils down to "support those who support you." No sense getting mad at all of the companies that sell direct to the home centers. The best way to get even with them is to give your business to the few remaining companies that sell solely through trade channels.

Gerber is one of those sticklers for industry tradition. This is a company that's been around since 1932, and has remained loyal to the plumbing contractor ever since. It is one of the few independent companies of any size left in the plumbing industry. Most important, it sells strictly through plumbing wholesalers.

Board chairperson Harriet Gerber-Lewis, daughter of founder Max Gerber, once said "Before my father passed away, I made a promise to him that I would continue to grow this company, and that I would do it in a fashion that he would support. Sticking by the trade has worked well for a long time, and we see no reason to believe it's any different now."

That attitude permeates through the entire company ranks, right down to the reps in the field. I respected Gerber as a company and was a loyal customer of theirs long before we teamed up on the seminar circuit. Now that I've gotten to know Gerber better as individuals and fellow plumbing professionals, it has grown even more in my eyes.

I should also make mention of my previous co-sponsors, Wolverine Brass and Bradford White, which co-sponsored me for several years in conjunction with Business News Publishing Co. (BNP) prior to my hooking up with Gerber. BNP eliminated its seminar division while Wolverine and Bradford White made business decisions to withdraw sponsorship, which I respect. These are other companies that have remained loyal to the trade, and employ many people whom I am happy to count among my friends.


Although the travel gets grueling, I love putting on my seminars. They energize me, and put me in touch with old friends and new ones from around the country. As enjoyable as this is, it is also a sad experience in some ways, because I see close up how behind the times many of the hard-working contractors in our field are.

As many of you know, I begin every seminar with a simple exercise in arithmetic asking the audience to calculate a correct selling price based on certain variables. I've been using the same problem ever since I began teaching in the mid-1980s, as follows:

    Material & Labor Direct Cost = $1,000

    Overhead Percentage = 15%

    Net Profit Desired = 10%

Go ahead and try to figure it out yourself. (Hint: if you come up with $1,250, the most common answer, you're wrong!)

Sadly, only about 10 percent of any given audience is able to come up with the correct answer - and some of them were at previous seminars. This despite the fact that I have solved this problem in print numerous times over the years. Too many contractors either fail to read this magazine, or fail to retain what they've read. That's a shame.

But I don't want to dwell on the negatives. On the whole, teaching has been one of the most positive experiences in my life. I am long past the point where I need to do it for the money. What motivates me is the chance to make a contribution to this wonderful profession of ours, but which has treated me better than it has most of you.

Between my Gerber seminars and the previous ones, I have taught the Blau methodology to upwards of 2,000 contractors in this industry. At least a few hundred of them have learned and implemented my techniques, enriching themselves, their families and employees along the way. I am proud to leave that as a legacy.

But I'm not done yet. As the poet Robert Frost once wrote, "I have miles to go before I sleep." Gerber and I will be going around the country with a new seminar series this fall. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements.