Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Pigs Get Fat, and Hogs Get Slaughtered!"

Come on now, we all know the economy is terrible! But really, is this the time for business owners to be getting greedy? Will people really resort to saying or doing anything just to grab that  next additional piece of business? Sadly, I'm afraid the answer is yes!

The Bible says, "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure!" (Psalm 16:5) I don't need anything else! That settles it for me! But that wisdom sure flies in the face of this world. Trading the "seen" for the "unseen" always seems to confuse us! I mean, you can "see" that next piece of business - but you have to trust what you can't see when God provides.

Since there is tangible evidence of in the flesh "buyers" out there, people who have something to sell take it upon themselves to "sell" as much as they can.  After all, that's how you grow your business. But what happens when your competitive exuberance sells more that you can produce? Does a weak economy mean that you grab all the sales you can - despite your inability to keep up with the production? "Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered!"

I've seen guys who have a natural knack for selling. To bad they don't have a natural knack for building (producing)! The secret seems to be to "let go, and let God." Since He produced all of what we see and experience anyway, don't you think He knows what we need? I'll bet on the fact that He does! 

Through the years our business' have been horribly busy from time to time. We also have been slow. But God always gets it right - I've yet to miss a meal or a mortgage payment! We've been blessed beyond measure! Our "portion and our cup" have always been full. Does this sound a little bit like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute? Sometimes it feels like it, but we serve a Mighty God who always make sure we experience a soft landing!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You Said You Wanted Air Conditioning...

Molly and I were contacted recently about taking on a new line of scented air fresheners for her store, Heart's Desire. Although HD already carries a line of scented air fresheners, this was being touted for it's patented platinum wick which has a smaller carbon footprint, and no open flame - significantly more "green" than the brand she already carries. Molly really knows retail, and experience tells her that the container and the fragrance trumps the "green" qualities of the platinum wick. Unless you are a granola eating hippie who is into saving the whales, "green" doesn't stir you. It's the container for beauty, and the fragrance for your senses.

Apparently I have never learned these lessons. We understand the container and fragrance thing (Architects speak reverently about this being "form"), but it's what's under the hood that really excites us! (That same creative group respectfully calls this "function") Case in point... I was called in the other day on a remodel that requires almost no interior cosmetic work. That's really unusual! My client's new home is seventeen years old and needs all new heat and air conditioning equipment. It also needs replacement of all of the wood windows, as well as repair of the exterior wood rot around the windows. It seems that the original builder didn't flash around the cast stone which surrounds several of the windows, and moisture has leaked back behind the simulated stucco. WHAT A MESS! 

Evidently the builder was focused a whole lot more on "form" (or the pretty stuff), than on "function" (what's under the hood). But who can blame him? We all live amongst the pretty stuff, not in some air conditioning duct! I guess I didn't learn that well because it has always seemed to me that homes not only ought to be beautiful, but also really well built and durable... Perhaps I have been delusional!

The "dreaded" Flexduct!
Without getting too technical I learned years ago that air moves through an air conditioning duct in a circular manner. Just like the blood that is coarsing through our veins, it works better with a smooth, solid wall that is not kinked or obstructed. (Have I lost you yet?) It makes sense that rigid tube duct would carry air more efficiently than a kinked slinky, with corrugated inner walls, covered with insulation (a/k/a "flexduct"). Pass the granola, but that just may be why we need a whole new air conditioning system after just seventeen years! You guessed it, the air conditioning units were trying to force air through rough walled, badly kinked flexduct and it caused enough back pressure to wear the unit out! Boy oh boy, am I sounding "green"...

Here's my point: you can buy scented air fresheners with fantastic scents, in beautiful reservoir containers, without noticing the platinum wick that has the "smaller carbon footprint." But you better not buy a Mercedes without checking to make sure that it doesn't have a four cylinder, sewing machine engine under the hood! If you don't check, you may be surprised - an engine is not just an engine!

Similarly, you can buy a beautiful home, finely appointed, that is cool and comfortable at the very moment you fall in love with it. But what's going on in the attic? Does it have properly sized equipment that has been well maintained, and distributes cool air efficiently through galvanized tube duct? Or do you open the attic door and see something that looks like spaghetti attached to a crouton? After all, to some people air conditioning is air conditioning, and "you said you wanted air conditioning..." Ouch!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Probably no one else in North America has returned both a Wi Playstation, and a TIVO. I have! I hate gadgets! How can something that is supposed to improve the quality of your life be so complicated that it takes endless hours to assemble and learn, and then either malfunctions or falls apart in your hands? WHAT AN ENORMOUS WASTE OF TIME!

My family and friends have learned the hard way that I have this character deficiency. Take the receipt scanner. On the surface it appears to be an amazing device for keeping track of your receipts. Some friends of ours got me one for Christmas. After endless hours of getting it set up and learning how to use it, I was finally ready to get organized. About a quarter of the way into a pile of invoices, it quite working! Horrified with the initial result my friends sent it back to the manufacturer. The manufacturers response? The operator (me) must have set it down too hard on the desk and jarred the scanner! They would be happy to sell us a new one! Who wants to spend more the time to potentially have the same result? I organized my receipts the old fashioned way - BY HAND!

There is a Steammatic BBQ Grill cleaner on the shelves of my garage if anyone wants it. My wife gave it to me. The theory is that you fill it with water and the heat of the grill provides steam to help you clean the surface. A friend of mine had one and he said it leaked like a sieve! My Steammatic most probably won't make it off the shelf!

When it became apparent that I needed to expose the hypocrisy of gadgets I hate, I asked my friends for some of their favorites. The one on my right may be the best I have come across - an electric bug zapper that you swing at the bug, hoping to fry it on the face of the racket! How many windows, lampshades and priceless heirlooms has this thing taken out? Did someone outlaw the old plastic bug swatter that was stuck on the end of something that looks like a coat hanger? Is capitalism so pervasive that we need to invent new way to kill a bug so we can make a buck?

What about a Roomba Robotic Vacuum Cleaner? Theoretically you turn this on before you go to the movies. When you come back the Roomba has completely vacuumed your home and parked itself back in it's charger station. My friend has had his dry docked in his office for the last two years - it constantly gets stuck under furniture with the brushes full of dust and lint, AND BURNS ITSELF OUT! Remember the blog on "Planned Obsolesence?"

How can you possibly dry your clothes without "dryer balls?" Forget the fact that not too many years ago even the dryer was considered a "gadget." You remember of course that our forefathers used to wash and scrub down by the river using rocks to help with the really tough stains. But a clothes line with clothes pins was all the dryer they used to have! How did we survive?

What's a "Slap Chop?" Was my life so incredibly difficult that chopping vegetables with a knife and cutting board absolutely beckoned someone to make a Slap Chop? If I order it on TV, for a limited time only they will send me not one, but two Slap Chops for the low, low price of $19.95!! Heart be still!

With two Slap Chops imagine the humongous amount of vegetables and fruits I can get chopped before that thing breaks! Most probably I will need to have a place to put all of the production of the Slap Chops so surely that will require the "EZ Sealer." Problem is, it's rumored to melt the plastic as opposed to sealing it, and it sometimes will catch the plastic on fire! Please sign me up for that wonderful convenience!

Those that have both the EZ Sealer  and the Wiz Toaster Bags just have a death wish! Let me make sure I understand - we are going to take the cheese and veggies we chopped in the Slap Chop (leaving the remainder to be sealed in the EZ Sealer), stick it between two pieces of bread, ease the whole ensemble into one of those Wiz Toaster Bags, and toast it all? Provided we don't burn the entire house down, that actually sounds good! Is life really this complicated or does it just seem that way?

What a mess! Never fear though - when you have cut your fingers on the Slap Chop; burned yourself on the EZ Seal; and charred your Kitchen with Wiz Toaster Bags, throw it all away in the motion activated trash receptical! That's right, now you don't have to physically lift the lid, or fool around trying to find the foot pedal - just wave your bloody, burned fingers over the top of this baby, and voila - trash is immediately dispensed! WOW - imagine what can break with this new toy!

And for me that is "kinda" the issue. That great, wise old proponent of the family, Insight for Living founder James Dobson said it this way, "...the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to fix!" I've never forgotten that! So when one of our clients who could have anything he wanted, listened politely to a dazzling presentation about low voltage lighting that was being suggested for his home, he opted for a regular old panel switch with dimmers. His reasoning? "...more reliable, breaks less!" AMEN! I get that...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Confidence Shattered!

OK, I admit it, I'm spoiled! For almost twenty-eight years now we have worked hard to build our business so that we have tradesmen that are consistent performers. Other blog entries will support my philosophy that you look for the very best in talent, and retain them so that they become our "team" of talented tradesmen available for every project. Sure everyone has a bad day, but the steady, consistent performance of talented people really does lull you into a false sense of security! Our guys can do anything!

What a shock last week when my brother-in-law asked me to help with an air conditioner that went out in his beach house. During the summer he rents it out. I thought we had the right service provider identified in that market - at least his previous performance suggested his capabilities. Three trips, frazzled renters, and a little over $2,000 later, I am realizing that my confidence in this guy is shattered! It makes me count my blessings for the consistently responsive talent I have right here in Dallas!

So spoiled am I that this episode reminds me of the lessons we learned years ago, before we saw the wisdom of building - and sticking with a great team of sub-contractors. Let me share several with you:

  • Once violated, confidence is difficult to regain. It's a lot like trust. Confidence seems to be given through consistent, exceptional performance. 
  • Zip the lip! Performance, or the lack thereof is one thing, but flippant remarks in defense of your poor efforts is like dousing your sub-standard offering with gasoline! My guys are sick of hearing me say "head down, feet moving, NO EXCUSES!!"
  • If customer service is not your passion, GET OUT OF IT!  'Nuff' said....
  • Understand expectations. Some have greater expectations than others, but all have expectations. Understanding your client minimizes the risk of loosing their confidence.
The bill for substandard services arrived yesterday. I find myself questioning everything on it! The old adage "fool me once - shame on you, fool me twice - shame on me!" has kicked in. If the serviceman hadn't gotten snippy with the renter we might be able to write this off to normal maintenance, and just a bad day (or two or three!). But his "lip" makes me want to "skip." I have lost confidence in this particular act and have already started rooting around for a competent firm that has lots of integrity!