November 8 2008

Big Builder Show 2008

The best building industry show ever? Check it out. The 2008 Big Builder Show was held Nov. 3-5 at the Gaylord National Resort in Washington, DC. The show was hosted and coordinated by John McManus, Editorial Director of Big Builder Magazine, Jerry Shrair of Boiling Point, and Sarah Yaussi, Executive Editor of Big Builder Magazine.

Personal Opinion Of The Show

As building industry show formats go, this was the most unique and provocative show I have ever attended.  The standard show format includes keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and a networking mixer of some type.  Not this show.

This show pretty much demanded that attendees participate and collaborate.  This was fantastic!  It was so easy to meet and speak with others after the sessions were over because of the session participation.  I personally made more great connections at this show in two days than I have in most 3-4 day shows.

To John McManus, Jerry Shrair, Sarah Yaussi, and anyone else influencing the format of this show, I say thank you.  I can only imagine it had to be quite gutsy (to say the least) to have this show format amid a conservative and historically non-transparent industry.  I applaud you with the utmost respect and admiration.

On a professional level, I felt the show had such a strong value that I will attend the Big Builder Show as long as I'm in the industry. The Show's quality was the best I've attended.  It was obvious that meticulous care went into the planning.  For those who don't know me, trust me when I say I'm not easily impressed.  Here's what I loved about the show's quality:

  1. Dan Ariely, Jerry Shrair, and the roundtable with Ara Hovnanian, Sheryl Palmer, and Jeffery Peterson were all speakers that positively affected my business in a significant way. I have not yet read Dan's book but plan to based on his demostrations to us. The book is called Predictability Irrational.
  2. Gaylord Resort. Awesome atrium, free Internet, and the National Pastime (restaurant) was one of the best places to watch football I've been. The pictures on the website don't do the place justice.
  3. The quality bags given out to attendees (I never keep these). I use this bag to tote around my laptop now instead of the roller I was using.
  4. The pre-show breakfasts.
  5. The cappuccino bar.
  6. The Wii game stations.
  7. All the open bars.
  8. The election party was off the hook.  Located in the Pose Ultra Nightclub in the Gaylord, this party had huge TVs everywhere for us to watch the election, fantastic hors d'oeuvres and dessert bar, a beer tasting bar, a rubik's cube demonstration bar hosted by the world record holder of the 14 sided rubik's cube, and a large ice sculpture the bar tender poured shots off (I won't go into detailed activities regarding this one – oh yeah).

Thank Yous
To Carol Ruiz, author of How To Write A Press Release and the PR company (RedRocketLA) for, thank you for urging my attendance (DC is along way from home) and thank you for the fantastic introductions.  You are exactly what our company needs.  Your level of professionalism and way of doing business is very rare in my experiences.

John McManus, thank you for pulling the trigger on something radically different. I can only imagine it wasn't easy for many different reasons.  The show you put together had a great influence on my business and for that I am grateful. I had a great time to boot.

Sarah Yaussi, you did a fantastic job moderating a very vocal and passionate group of sales and marketing professionals. You were polite, gracious, and professional in an emotional environment – not easy to do.

Show Details (The boring things you probably don't want to read)

The show began with a combination of a keynote speaker  and a Q&A roundtable; same as most shows. A major emphasis of the show was attendee participation and collaboration (very different) leading to discussing opportunities for improved profitability.

However, the second day, Jerry Shrair, CEO of Boiling Point, a leading international innovation and brand consultancy, began the morning by asking a series of questions on several topics.  Topics were divided into:

  1. Purchasing
  2. Operations
  3. Sales & Marketing
  4. Finance
  5. Land and Design

Just a quick comment on Jerry.  I thought Jerry was fantastic for the building industry and for this show. His blueprint for improved profitability was perfect for our industry - even more so in the current economy.  It was glaringly obvious Jerry is a subject matter expert in regards to brand development, team collaboration, and profitability.  Look at the client list. Hard to argue with results.

Jerry handed out 4 pieces of paper and asked everyone to write down opportunities for improved profitability in each of the areas above.  The catch is that you could not write down ideas for your area of expertise.  You had to write down ideas for each of the other areas.  The idea was to give fresh, outside ideas. Jerry then proceeded to troll through the crowd with a microphone and had attendees answer the questions.  This was uncomfortable because, again, the questions were not about topics we knew anything about.

Jerry asked a question about financing, (I know nothing about financing hundreds of millions of dollars), so I put my head down and made sure I made no eye contact.  As you can guess, he called on me.  The first thing I said was that this was not a good question for me.  He told me (over the microphone to 300 people) to give it a shot anyway.  So I did; ugh.  Now no one loves this, but it created an atmosphere of vulnerability, participation, and collaboration – which was a major emphasis of the conference.

As you might imagine, it was easy to make conversation after that because we all had one thing in common – speak to a group of 300 about an idea on a subject we have little to no expertise.

After that opening, we proceeded to our break-out sessions.  I went to the Sales & Marketing session led by Sarah Yaussi.  The session was the typical sit and listen to a speaker.  The format was similar to the opening keynote session.  Sarah directed us to come up with 3 of the best opportunities to increase profitability in sales and marketing.

If you have ever asked open ended questions to a group of people, you know that it can easily become chaotic.  And true to form, our group brought up many things, both on topic and off topic.  We did this about an hour before lunch and about 1.5 hours after lunch.  Attendees to the sales and marketing session were active and passionate participants.

All five groups then reconvened in the main session room and two representatives from each group presented the top three opportunities for profitability to everyone else.  Mike Disler, a former Division President for Ryland Homes presented the sales and marketing opportunities to the rest of the groups. Thank you Mike – whew.

The end of the day concluded with an election party.  Now I've been to lots of parties - they're fun, I buy a few drinks, and chat with a few folks.  This party was awesome (read what I loved about the party above).  Enough said.

Jim Adams – CEO
New Homes


Posted by: Jon Fogg | November 10 2008 10:12 AM

Your assessment of the Big Builder Show is spot on.  The Sales & Marketing breakout session was both controversial and stimulating.  You did a great job of covering the meeting, but wanted to add the topic introduced by Ira Hovnanian for the need for Congress to quickly act on housing during the upcoming Lame Duck session.
A group of Big Builders have put together a rescue plan and have been actively promoting it in Washington.  The details are at www.fixhousingfirst.  I urge you to visit the site and contact your members of Congress and encourage them to act on the bill.  It will help us all.

Posted by: Jerry Shrair | November 10 2008 12:52 PM

Thanks very much for taking the time to share your very gracious comments on Big Builder '08. You got just what we were hoping attendees would walk away with. I share your admiration of the vision John McManus demonstrated for the industry in putting together this conference. He, and his very able team, took a number of chances in the conference design and they paid off. One of the key ingredients to success at Hanley Wood is thought leadership and John and team certainly demonstrated that. Again, thanks for the great feedback. Jerry Shrair

Posted by: Sarah Yaussi | November 11 2008 1:04 PM

I can't tell you how much your post warms my heart! As a team, we at Big Builder spent a lot of time organizing--and admittedly, agonizing--over the conference. We recognized that--just like home builders--we needed to adapt to the market's changing dynamics; doing the same just wouldn't do. I'm just very glad all of our thinking--and re-thinking--paid off in an innovative and enjoyable experience for all. Stay tuned for what we come up with for Big Builder '09...

Posted by: Carol Ruiz | November 12 2008 6:57 PM


I'm really happy you got such great value out of the Big Builder conference.  I do believe it is one of the premier events in the building industry and is a rare opportunity to talk and network with peers in an intimate setting.  I share your respect for John McManus. Over the years, I have come to know him and Sarah Yaussi, exective editor of Big Builder, and think they are some of the best minds and contacts in our industry. Each year for the conference, they provide a great networking opportunity for high level executives.  This year, knowing that building industry professionals are immersed in survival, they provided not just great advice from some of the leading builders and financial experts in the country, but tangible tools to help make it through these tough times. I, like you, will be attending again next year.

Thanks, Jon Fogg, for the comment above about  I will be contacting my members of Congress and urging them to act on the bill, which is vital to our industry, especially in light of the fact that the bail out money will only be used to get credit flowing again and not toward solving the housing crisis.

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