This weeks Idea: Log home builder builds an engineering wonder at UBC

with Neil Godin

It all started innocently enough. Marketing Dangerously member John Boys (of Nicola Logworks in Merritt, BC) emailed to request a copy of my “Take Control in Selling” article. Great. But attached to the email was a photo. Always curious, I opened the attachment, and there it was. A photo of…  Well, I wasn’t sure.  Here, Take a look…

ultra high-tech, four storey wood staircase, at UBC’s new Earth Systems Sciences Building

From log homes to high tech institutional (and back) in three years.

Once I realized what I was looking at, I called John (a master log home builder), and asked, “how did you make that leap?” John was in the audience a few years ago, when I spoke to the BC Log and Timber Building Industry conference in Kamloops, BC. He said he knew at the time that he had to diversify. “The US was too crazy. BC’s Wood First initiative was coming. Commercial building cycles offset residential – and, you know what, I was getting bored with what we were doing.” So. He made the switch, in a very big way.

But how does a log home builder land a (literally) monumental contract at UBC? Several answers: 1) Positioning and “Personal Branding.” John is known throughout North America for his expertise in wood joinery – meaning joinery in any wood project – from lowest tech log home – to highest tech tread work at UBC. He even wrote a book for the International Log Building Association, titled, “A Boys Big Book of Jigs.”  2) John used education-based marketing to ease his way into commercial work. With the growing popularity of timber frame commercial construction has come a wave of products used as connectors, from Europe as well as North America. Problem: Lots of connectors were being used, but without much testing – putting projects (and people) at risk. Solution: John and his engineer at Nicola built a component testing machine they call “Buster.” Buster tests components and beams to see how much load they can bear before, well, busting.

Educating prospective customers positions you as “the expert.” Who else would they call?

Working with BC Wood, FPInnovations and now the Canadian Wood Council, John and company have become famous for their demonstration workshops across the country – with Buster taking 30 to 40 components to the breaking point each time – educating audiences of engineers and other professionals using “live action” – instead of just power point information.   3) Networking. John let it be known that he wanted to land commercial/industrial/institutional work – and soon got a call saying his expertise was needed at the Earth Systems Sciences Building. Consulting led to incredibly intricate and challenging stair construction, and the rest is history still in the making.

The bottom line: “We never want to stop building log homes,” John said. “But it sure is nice to know that we can stay as busy as we want – and never get bored – either way. It turns out that John’s timing was perfect. Since 2008, the North American log home industry has dropped by over 40%, and many operators have closed their doors. Proof, that in times like these, you “diversify or die.”

Buster in Action

Your call to action:

Imagine looking at your business from 30,000 feet. Can you see weak spots affected by the still-wobbly economy? Are there products or services you could add – or other businesses you could form strategic alliances with – in order to “bundle” a collection of complementary products or services – giving both of you an exciting new niche? You know the drill. Pull a brainstorm session together. And be sure to open the session by getting everyone to chant our mantra: “Folks, it’s diversify or…”

Jonathan will be back with your Social Media Challenge on Thursday. And I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

Meanwhile…keep on marketing dangerously!


Ps – You know that you need to know how to use social media for business. And George Moen, one of BC’s most successful entrepreneurs, will share the SM secrets he used to take Blenz Coffee from a local operation to an international franchise – with locations across Canada, and in Japan, China, UAE and Kuwait.  It all happens next Monday at 7 p.m. at the Trinity Western University auditorium, here in (beautiful) Langley, BC – at our next TOTALLY FREE Marketing Dangerously Social Media Challenge Meetup event. Go here to register now: George will also tell us how he’s using social media to ramp up his newest venture, Rapid Time Networks. See you there!!

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