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Business Lessons from Truss Building

(Photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

“Hey, can you come out and look at these trusses? We measured and they’re the same length, but something is off, and the one truss is shorter than the rest.”

The builder that was telling me this was not a newbie, so I figured something was up. The trusses in question had been built by one of the more experienced guys in the shop, so it seemed odd that he had made a mistake.

Either way, I got up to go check it out.

A little background for the rest of you shed builders out there: we currently cut and stomp our trusses by hand. Now before I get a whole line of truss press manufacturers calling me, let me add that we have a press on order. 

The job in question was a Studio Gable, which has a side dormer, so there are two styles of trusses coming together on one shed. Most typically, the dormer trusses aren’t lining up at some point.

When I got to the shed in question, sure enough, it was one of the dormer trusses. From the ground you could see the tail was about 1.5-inches shorter than the other trusses. 

Once I climbed the ladder and sighted down the row, I saw it was also sticking up about an inch above the others at the bottom. 

“We checked the measurements, and they all measure the same. Same rafter length and the heel is the same size. What do you want us to do?” 

Now some of you experienced guys probably already know what was wrong just by my description. The truss members in question were cut the same as the other nine. Nine trusses sat perfectly in place, same length and height, so the measurements were good. Why was this one wrong?

Somehow, during the stomping process, one of the members was not quite right before the plates were applied. The gap at the top angles was so slight, it was hardly perceptible. But that slight gap at the top had been magnified at the bottom of the truss, where it was making almost an inch of difference. Angles are funny like that.

I explained what was going on and that really there was no solution other than building another truss. The builders weren’t happy about the delay, but the truss builder stood good for it and gave them a tip, so it all worked out.

However, I got to thinking about that slight variation in the angles. If you have ever built trusses by hand, you have probably dealt with something similar. Just a tiny variation makes a large difference along the length of the truss.

Where are some places that slight variations in your business can make a large difference? I want to look at a few ideas and hopefully prompt you to have a few of your own.


In October of 2019, we had 10 customer testimonials on our website. They were all good, in fact, some were rather lengthy. These were customers who were so impressed, they took the time to look up the website and write out a review. It was great, but 10 is not very many.  

We implemented a process where weekly, based on the delivery report, an email was sent out asking for a review. If we send out 15 emails, we may get one or two responses. Nothing huge, just a small tweak. 

The first week put us to 11, then 12. The next week, none. All in all, in the first month we had only six respondents. 

Fast forward to today and we have 107 positive customer testimonials on our website and growing. 

We did not give up when the responses were few or none. We made a small tweak of sending out the weekly email request and over the length of a year, it made a large difference. 


2020 was a busy year for most of us. When you sat down in January and looked over the profit and loss for the year, you probably saw some lines that needed adjusting. The tendency is to look at the bottom line and to say, “We need to adjust this by 3, 5, 10 percent.” 

Those are large numbers. Take your revenue and look at what 5 percent of that is. Trying to adjust a large number like that looks overwhelming, and often you come to the end of the next year and it didn’t change as much as you wanted.

Instead of doing it that way, go down through your P&L statement, line by line, and look for small tweaks. Truck expense at 2.3 percent? Set a goal of making it 2 percent. Lumber costs at 51.5 percent? What can you do to make it 51 percent?

Go down the lines and make point percentage adjustments. Some of them may be a full percentage point, but most times you should target less than a percent. Add up what you’ve seen that you can adjust, and you should be able to find 3-5 percent in small tweaks. 

Just remember, there are only 100 percentage points. No amount of tweaking or spreadsheets will change that!

Monitor those small tweaks throughout the year and you are much more likely to have made large progress by the end of the year.


Going back to the truss story, remember that I said nine of the trusses looked the same? Only one stood out because of the angles being different. 

Too often, I see shed companies “looking the same.” Create your distinctions and talk about them. I had a wise sales manager tell me multiple times, “There’s no point in doing something different if you aren’t talking about it.”

Pro tip: “quality” is not a distinction. 

Most often, folks try to hang their hat on The One Thing that they do differently as their distinction when in reality, it’s a culmination of the small things that add up. 

Create a safe, consistent work environment for your employees, and they will relate to your customers in the same manner. If everyone the customer relates to is just slightly better than your competitor, that will add up to a large difference in their customer experience. The same is true in reverse!

Once you identify your differences, talk about them. This should not be bragging but rather think in terms of a sales sheet for a piece of equipment. It will list out options and features and power specs, etc. Sure, another piece of equipment may have the same features but if it is not listed prominently, you may not know that. 

Hopefully, these examples get your mind thinking about ways to make slight adjustments and experience a large difference. Small tweaks the whole way through the process will add up and those tweaks can be positive or negative.

Until next time, Be Excellent!

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