Dealing With Contractors Teaches Valuable Lessons About Business

Earlier this year I was convinced by my loving wife and adoring kids that if I truly loved them I would have a swimming pool installed in our back yard. Now, I personally believe that if God had meant for humans to spend time in the water he would have given us gills instead of ears and fins instead of fingers and flippers instead of toes, but who am I to argue with the wishes of the water lusting women in my life? Hence the large cement pond that now exists in my backyard.

The experience did introduce me to an interesting class of entrepreneurs collectively called, “contractors.” I don’t mean to generalize, but the contractors I’ve been dealing with are a stereotypically bunch who drive really big pickup trucks and wear worn work boots and dirty jeans and torn t-shirts and sport three-day whiskers and go by names like Buddy, Bubba, Junior, Earl, and of course Tiny, who was the largest guy on the crew.

Side note: naming a fat guy Tiny is like naming a three-legged dog Lucky or a one-armed man Lefty or a bald guy Harry. Sure, it’s funny at first, but then the joke, like the seat of Tiny’s pants and the fuzz on Harry’s head, wears thin.

So I gave my wife the OK for the pool and the contractors started coming out of the woodwork. There was the pool contractor, the concrete contractor, the landscaping contractor, the fencing contractor, the dirt removal contractor, the pest control contractor, the electrical contractor, and the plumbing contractor and contractors whose specialty I’ve forgotten.

Then the fun began as the contractors started to disrupt our lives. And the one question that kept going through my mind throughout the entire ordeal was this: how do these guys manage to stay in business since they apparently don’t give much thought to the usual rules of business, ignoring little things like scheduling, punctuality, employee management, licensing, quality of work, etc.

Now I mean no disrespect to the contracting industry as a whole. I’m sure there are many upstanding, honest, hard-working contractors in this world who take great pride in their work and do business by the book and give more than a cup full of tobacco spit about their customer’s satisfaction. Then there was the crew that took up residence in my backyard for the better part of the summer.

From them I learned a few valuable lessons about the contracting business that I’d like to share with you now. If you’ve ever dealt with a contractor of any kind I’m sure these lessons will ring familiar to you.

When a contractor says, “Yes, sir, we’ll be out first thing in the morning,” he really means, “Well, sir, if you’re lucky we’ll be out here at some point over the next 6 to 12 months and we won’t bother calling to let you know that we’re not coming or to reschedule. We’ll just show up and act like everything is alright and work a few hours before we disappear on you again.”

When a contractor says, “Yes, sir, that’s probably gonna be about a thousand dollars,” he really means, “Well, sir, I have no idea how much that’s gonna cost, but I can guarantee you it’s gonna be way more than you expect to pay. We’ll start at a thousand dollars and work our way up, how’s that?”

When a contractor says, “Yes, sir, we can get ‘er done in about a week,” that really means, “Well, sir, I can’t predict the future. The thing will be done when it’s done, period.”

When a contractor says, “Of course I guarantee my work,” he neglects to add, “If you can find me…”

Contractors are like renegade entrepreneurs, they want to be in business for themselves, but on their terms. If you and I approached our businesses with the same lackadaisical attitude we wouldn’t be in business very long.

Here are the lessons learned. When you offer a bid on a job, honor its terms. When you promise a price, don’t go over it. When you set an appointment with a customer, be there on time. When you commit to a schedule, stick to it. When you get the job, finish it. When something goes wrong, fix it. Now how hard is that?

So, now that I’ve ticked off every contractor within firing distance, let me say this: according to my deeply-tanned wife and shriveled up kids the end result was worth the hassle.

Even I have to admit, the pool turned out great. My wife is happy. The kids are happy. The contractors are happy. And I’m told that I should be happy because my family is happy and that’s what counts.

I do feel better now. Venting to you always makes me happy.