Some time ago, you may remember my mentioning the story of the car salesman who had something that set him apart from the pack. It was quite simply the action of taking a snapshot of his customers with their new cars. He had these pictures surrounding him on every inch of wall in his cubicle. It made all the difference in the world to customers, as he is ranked up there as being among the best in the country at selling cars.

I mention this again because the interesting part is that hardly any other car salesperson follows his winning strategy. Why not? Frankly, I couldn’t tell you. To me though, it’s the thing that separates great businesses from the “so-so” businesses. It’s that little extra that makes all the difference in the world. Why am I talking about car sales in a plastering column? Let’s talk about it and I’m sure you’ll see the connection. Here we go:


To make the point, let’s go to the pictures I’ve included here. Three pictures really tell the story. It’s your basic repair: Water damage occurred above a shower and caused a hole to open up in the corner against the wall. In addition, the joint compound and popcorn loosened and started falling off a section of the ceiling.

No big deal, but my point is this: Some years ago, I would have passed this type of project by. It was a “drywall job.” The minute I would hear those words, I’d tell them to get a drywaller. In my mind, there was always this clear separation between drywall and plaster – and never the two should meet. No longer is that the case.


Instead, if you look at the pictures, I solved the problem in the following steps:

1: The hole was filled with a piece of drywall.

2: The loose popcorn was shaved back and the area was coated with a latex bonder.

3: Patching plaster was used to fill over the new drywall and I embedded fiberglass mesh around the edge where it met the ceiling.

4: I spread the patching plaster over the entire area and feathered it in around the edge up to the popcorn that existed on the ceiling.

5: The last step was to spray it out with popcorn texture to match into the existing ceiling. So it’s the best of both worlds combined.


For so many years, I let maintenance on apartments and condominiums slip right through my hands by thinking that this was “drywall work.” Everything changed when I took the thing I did best – plaster – and combined it with more “high-tech” finishes, such as splatter and sprayed-on popcorn. Of course, this was a hurdle that had a lot to do with my outlook on the jobs themselves. I thought that somehow, these were finishes that I just should not get involved with because they were outside my zone and that I really should not cross over. But then I took the plunge. I started thinking from another angle: That I could use what I knew and just expand out – to use plaster as the foundation or base of the repair, and then finish it out with what was considered a more modern finish. The advantage, of course, is obvious: Plaster allowed me to complete the entire repair in under an hour – from start to finish. And that is without sanding. Plus, plaster expands so there was no shrinking issues involved to deal with.

In the past, I used to see repair work in different “stages” that drywallers were working on. One had paper tape embedded and it was waiting for a second coat; another area was awaiting sanding. The advantage now is that I have picked up several apartment complexes that have me do all the work that used to be a drywall finishers territory. Instead of doing the work in stages, I have the huge advantage of being able to finish work in someone’s bathroom in one step – within an hour or two – and get out of their way and their life back to normal. Less hassle. And it leaves everybody happy.


So where does this lead us? To one big point. We all need to become adaptable. We have to have not only the ability to change, but also the willingness to do so. All the salespeople around the one guy with the snapshots see his success, but yet fail to use his one secret weapon, the success tool that sets him apart from the crowd. Why? Maybe they feel it’s cheesy or hokey to copy his strategy. But maybe it’s much simpler – they don’t want to pay out the extra money to buy the camera that he takes the pictures with. I don’t know, but it’s a point to think about seriously.


Times are changing all around us. Sometimes, we don’t feel inclined to change ourselves. Some of us learned certain skills as an apprentice years and years ago and so we stick to that. We never cultivate or develop that one thing that makes all the difference in the world – creativity. And believe me, that’s what it takes in today’s world to survive – and to thrive.

I, for one, like to encourage everyone I come in contact with to expand their world out, especially when it comes to plastering and learning new things. There are a huge amount of new products out there, new techniques, waiting to be learned. Now I will say this: Many people have the impression that construction workers are a bunch of low-tech guys without a lot of brains. Sorry, but that’s just not the case. Ninety-nine percent of the communication I receive is sent to me via e-mail. If I had the time, I’m sure I’d also be receiving a ton of text messages.


So, I see this year as an opportunity. It is a year to start thinking in terms of using the high-tech tools out there, tools that go way beyond e-mail, to our advantage. One resource that is great is the Web sites of companies that show their products. It’s nice to see ads in this magazine with all the great finishes available, but going the next step to learn more about them is a wise move. I don’t spend a ton of time on the Web, but my time is focused when I do go there. I have a certain goal – to learn about a particular product or technique. It’s time well spent. Knowledge builds confidence and helps us take that next step to get on the ‘high tech’ train if you will.

So where do we go from here? My aim is for us to take advantage of another great tool out there – tele-conferencing or online seminars. For a long time, I have geared up each year for a workshop or some major event that brings people together. The aim, of course, is to learn new techniques, to hear what the latest trends are in the trade and to pass on some new ways to market and build profit into what we do. Well, it’s nice to be able to fly into an event and spend four or five days there. But times are changing. It’s a bigger challenge now to get away and so we need to change with the market.

This brings us to the topic of the teleconference. I’ve had more conferences lately with some fascinating people, all of whom it would have been impossible to meet with personally.

But there we are on the phone – with everyone benefiting greatly from the conversation and the exchange of information that was taking place. So why not us? Why not try out this great tool and see what comes of it. I know I’ve already talked with some manufacturers and they are all for it. Can you imagine a company being able to share the great features and benefits of their products, and for us also to hear “live” from the president, founder or top sales or marketing rep., all while we’re sitting at home with a cup of coffee and picking and choosing what will help us personally? I think it’s high time we do just that. Of course that’s just the start. Doing Web-seminars, wherein everyone goes to a certain Web site to check out a gallery of pictures of projects in the field and discussing them at length, is another idea that is gaining popularity.

So, buckle your seat belts and get ready for some exciting things in 2007. This year marks my 25th year in the trade, and I plan on making some big things happen.

If you’re ready to come along for the ride, we’ll benefit together. We’ll be announcing the first of these events soon, so stay tuned and check out Walls & Ceilings magazine and Web site frequently so you can get connected.