None of us will forget what happened to the auto industry a few years back. We witnessed the deconstruction of American business icons. We watched the news wide-eyed and wondered, “Is this really happening?” Bet a lot of us felt similarly as we watched the housing market evaporate like puddles after a sun shower and the CII market swoon like teens at a Justin Bieber concert.

One of the poster children for failures in the automotive business was Delphi, the storied GM tier-one supplier of over 100 product lines of systems and parts for all manner of vehicles here in the U.S. and abroad.

Delphi spun off from GM in 1999 and filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Yet, in November of 2011, a smaller, more focused, reorganized Delphi raised $530 million in an IPO. In 2010, it posted over $13 billion in revenues and at this writing in Q4 of 2011, Delphi is running some 20 percent ahead of 2010. Not bad for a company that was headed in the wrong direction.

So what’s Delphi have to do with us who market products and services to contractors? To survive and succeed in clearly one of the toughest of times, Delphi had to change and focus. It cut its product lines from 119 to 33! And, focused development on higher-tech, higher-value products.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, CEO Rodney O’Neal said that the Delphi of today is more market relevant. He said, “…(Delphi’s products) are aimed directly at the hot spots of ‘green,’ ‘safe’ and ‘connected.’” Hmmm. Green, safe and connected. This sounds familiar.

Don’t those “hot spots” in the automotive industry remind you of important areas of opportunity in construction? Green products, technology and programs, like the incentives the Las Vegas Water Board provides to builders for using water-saving toilets, are hugely popular. Higher levels of safety and reduced injury on jobsites have become a primary benefit of popular new products like Southwire’s SIMpull THHN. And “connected”? Contractors of all kinds are becoming far more connected to each other, engineers, drawings and specs and distributors via smartphones and tablets, to name two such devices.

It’s not fantasy to think that with better focus and a willingness to not just accept change, but keep up with it (if not lead it), we can find our way out of tough times and on the road to more prosperous ones. Take a look at your product lines and how you’re positioning and promoting them. Are you tuned to the “hot spots?” How are you taking advantage of the drive toward a greener, safer, more connected jobsite? And a greener, safer, more connected industry? Or, are you still looking in the rearview?