Up Front: This is Not Your Father's Business!
Today’s wall and ceiling industry hardly resembles what it was in the past. If you have been around the business for more than a few decades, you will relate to what I am saying. If you are new to the business, you may want to pay attention and heed some advice.
I am absolutely convinced that we have it more difficult today than our fathers could have imagined. I know family businesses that have been in existence for three and even four generations. I came from one such contracting family and the changes I have seen over the last 30 years are almost inconceivable.
The current generation has it more difficult than any previous generation in our business. This is not just for contractors, but also dealers, manufacturers and architects. Consider the product lines and options for all of us to review and compete with compared to what our forefathers had. Today, there are hundreds of more products, systems, codes and standards. Have you looked at the Underwriters Laboratory Fire Resistance Design Manual? In 1975 it was only one book; now, there are four. Our fathers might say, “Yeah, but we did not have e-mail, the Internet or even fax machines. You can get information so much quicker today.” That is correct. I remember when our family plastering company got a fax machine. It was like magic to see a printed document transmit across phone lines. It felt almost like a “Star Trek” episode. I could hardly believe how it sped up communication. Unfortunately, general contractors soon expected the same faster service and everything started to speed up. The same decisions our father would have had a little time to consider, we have to make quickly. Even manufacturers have to move fast before the business environment changes and an opportunity to market a timely product is lost. Our customers want it, and they want it now.
The biggest change in our world, however, may be litigation. This change in our business environment is more important than cell phones, digital pictures and live Web casting of our projects combined. The best defense is to be educated, alert, aware and prepared.
I had an older contractor tell me that if he did not attend any seminars about mold and moisture damage, he was sure he could not be held liable. He believed ignorance was bliss and a good defense. That defense is like telling the police officer the reason for traveling at 90 miles an hour in a 55 zone is “I choose not to read the signs, so I can’t be held liable for speeding.” When you drive a car, you are expected to be familiar with and obey the rules. When you apply for a business license or make a conscious decision to engage in a business, you are making a statement about your perceived qualifications and expertise.
Ignorance, willful or unintentional, is not a viable defense. Neither is the “that’s the way I have done it for 20 years” defense. Rules change, and you need to be aware of rules that affect your business.
This brings me to what I hope to contribute to Walls & Ceilings magazine as the editorial director. To keep you in the industry informed as to what changes, codes and standards you should be aware of and to hopefully keep you out of trouble. Walls & Ceilings plans to introduce a new section that will highlight a code or industry standard item that can have significant impact on the way you conduct business. I would suggest getting a three-ring binder and dividing it into sections: Gypsum Wallboard; Stucco; EIFS; Interior Plaster; Framing; Ceilings; Fire; Sound; Legal; Management; New Products; and Misc. Review all the articles every month in Walls & Ceilings, copy the ones that have good information and keep them in your W&C reference binder. I think you will find this binder may come in very handy down the road. It could be a lifesaver.
What is in store for the next generation in the wall and ceiling industry? Who knows? They may look at us in our rocking chair and say, “Boy, dad, you had it easy back then.”
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