Of Bread and Barrels
The last two articles dealt with strategy that can keep work coming in even during slow times. There’s one more area I want to cover then I’ll wrap things up with a letter I received several months back.
I want to talk about calls that come in from people seeking our services. Let’s compare these calls to bakery bread. The call comes in and it’s fresh. The trouble is it doesn’t take long, like bread, to become a day old. Calls get old quick. It’s one of the most common complaints and I’m sure you’ve heard it from homeowners, as well: “I called so and so and he never returned my call.” “I called one person and he didn’t call back for two weeks.” Returning these calls is important. Why we don’t is intriguing.
Fresh breadI have given this heavy thought lately and come to some conclusions. From my angle at least, it seems that there are many different reasons for not returning a call. One is that we work all day and the last thing we want to do is chat the evening away on the phone. Some of us actually despise talking on the phone. Another theory is that there are so many things we don’t have control over in our busy lives, we take some comfort from the fact that we do have control over who we call back and when we are going to call back. We think to ourselves, “Hey, all in good time. I’ll get back to them when I get back to them.” And in the meantime, the bread gets stale and we lose out. There is one more thing that might come into our minds, as well. We’re busy at the moment with work, we’ve got a few jobs lined up for the next week or month, and things are going well. For the moment. We’ll wait till things slow down and then call them back.
The trouble is, the slower the economy becomes, the more people are out there looking at the work we would like to be doing. We’ve built a great reputation but in the end, when we return the call that comes in has a lot to do with if we are going to get that particular job. It’s a simple fact but one worth mentioning. People, under pressure, expect things to be done quickly, instantaneous. It’s amazing, but there have been times I’ve returned a call the next evening (“day-old” bread!) and they’ve already talked to three other people! Fair? Hardly. But from the homeowner’s standpoint, they have a problem and all they know is that they want it fixed. They have not been trained on business etiquette when it comes to calling a professional. They don’t realize that we work during the day and have other things going on in the evening (such as reading library books to three daughters). They have one thing on their minds: getting their problem fixed.
Two points on this subjectCall back right away. If you get a call that comes in to your home or office during the day, by all means try and set a goal this coming year to have whoever answers the phone get a work and home number. Do all in your power to call them back—within the hour. This makes a huge impression that will carry over and influence to a great extent whether you get the job or not. Now, this call doesn’t have to be an I’ll-be-right-over call. It’s a simple acknowledgement and interest in doing-something-about-it kind of call. Getting to them quickly sets up a great relationship right off the bat. You’re on the cutting edge in their minds. It’s a calming effect that comes over them because you’ve got things under control. They’ll most likely wait for you to come, even if it takes a week to get there. That first returned call has helped set the stage for success.
The second point is a word of caution: Look out for people who need the job done yesterday. They’re the type who often say, “This is a rush job!” I had about four of these calls come in close together, and I noticed a definite pattern develop: I’d get a call at work from my wife and she’d give me the person’s number and the panic-stricken message that it was urgent. I’d drop everything I was doing and race over to help them out—only to find someone else had already been lined up because they couldn’t wait. There is a balance we have to strike so that our lives are not a constant knee-jerk reaction to every emergency. If after you call them back promptly they just can’t wait, than it’s sometimes better to let that type of project pass by. You’ll sleep better in the long run.
A letter on barrels“Dear Mr. Raymer,
My name is Brian Wright and my company is Wright’s Plastering. I’ve been plastering for 20 years. I only do small plastering jobs, with rooms and additions that make 75 percent of my work repairs. I’ve spent many hours doing repair work and have perfected this process. I enjoy doing repair work. Repair work is in big demand since the larger companies don’t like the small stuff. I learned the trade from my uncle who was owner of J.W. Clay Plastering in the mid-’60s through the ’80s. I began working for him in 1982. J.W. Clay Jr. was one of the best plasterers of his time, in the Roanoke Valley.
Plastering has been handed down from generation to generation in our family. I worked for him about 10 years and he taught me tricks of the trade that you don’t share with anyone else. In the article titled “Basecoat Basics (Part 1),” Feb. W&C, they show a man mixing the plaster in a 20-gallon trash can and dumping it in a bucket. The way that we mix our plaster is in a 20-gallon grease barrel that can be picked up at any oil and lube station. The barrels are hard to find and the stations don’t like to give them up. But $20 will get you one. This is the way that Roanoke came about mixing plaster. Clay Jr. used to mix plaster in a 20-gallon trash can and the cans didn’t last long. One day he stopped by the filling station to talk to his father and they were throwing out some of the 20-gallon grease barrels. Clay Jr. got the idea to mix plaster in them. The barrels last a lot longer than the trash cans because they have the reinforcement rings in the center of the barrel and they are easier to handle. This spread quickly to other plastering crews in the Roanoke Valley and is still carried on today. This is one of the tricks of the trade that was handed down to me. The barrels do make it easier to mix the plaster. I’m writing to share this information with other plastering companies that read this magazine. I’ve enclosed some photos of this process (see photos 1 through 3).
We appreciate the letter and tip on the barrels, Brian! If you’ve got a plastering tip, and/or photo(s) of a project you’ve been working on, or just a picture of your plastering crew, with how long you’ve been in the trade, send it to me. I’ll do what I can to get it in the column. Write me in care of this magazine or reach me at www.plasterzone.com. This year kicks off my “Plaster—Ride the White Wave” Tour. Down to Florida this month, St. Louis in February and back to Florida in March. Until next time, may your overhead be low and your profits high! W&C