Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2003
Ones to Count On
We’re All in This Industry Together
by Dez Farnady
We are all together in the construction business. It is not that we are in the all-together, but we are all together in it—for better or worse. All of the generals, subs, material suppliers, manufacturers and all sorts of vendors put forth a combined effort to come up with whatever kind of building the end result may turn out to be. It takes a lot of trades, people and effort, whether they’re building a White House or an outhouse. The more effective the cooperation, the more rapid and profitable the end result. And, on occasion, if there is real cooperation you may even get your fanny bailed out of unforeseen problems.
One time many years ago, when I had supplied a great deal of spandrel glass for a large San Francisco curtainwall project, I got a call from my customer’s superintendent. It seemed that one fairly large panel had to have a rectangular cutout on one side. It just so happened that the cutout we provided was all right but the ceramic frit had been paint ed on the front and not the back of the panel. Unfortunately, when they put the panel in the opening, the cutout ended up on the wrong side. So, to fix the problem, we had to cut a new piece of glass, drill the holes, cut the notch and we still had to wait for another spandrel run, because running the one piece by itself would be very expensive. What now?
The superintendent, my buddy Frank, was a resourceful man and had been in the business for a lot of years. He learned a long time ago that if he helped me out of what was my problem, my gratitude would come in handy one day when he had a problem of his own. So, while I was standing there in his office, he picked up the phone and called the jobsite. He told his lead man to find the electrician and put him on the phone. Here is how the conversation went:
“Hey, Mac, I got a problem. Can you move that electrical panel from the right side of the hole to the left?” I did not hear the electrician’s response but I figured out real fast it was not what Frank wanted to hear. The next thing I heard Frank saying was, “How do you plan to set all those soffit light fixtures? No, no, you won’t be able to use the scaffolding that is there because that is mine and it is coming down. It won’t be there tomorrow.” After a brief silence, Frank turned to tell me that the scaffolding stays and the piece of spandrel will be fine and he will have no trouble using it and, no, we did not have to re-make it.
He did not have to tell me that I owed him for the bail-out. He knew that I knew. And as the years went by we continued to do a lot of business and now and then we did each other little favors to keep jobs moving and keep the problems to a minimum whenever possible. There was never any question that we would support each other and no one was going to gloat over sticking someone with their mistake.
Everyone does not see it the way Frank did. I once had a conversation with a customer who always had problems, re-makes and back-charges. He had the nerve to tell me that his company policy was that if it received defective product, the company would install it as it was. If it were rejected they would demand a replacement from the supplier and charge them full labor rates for removing and replacing the defective product. I informed my customer politely that we had a company policy, too—it was not doing business with fools and he would have to get the next glass order from someone else. Besides, he was bad pay anyway. Figures!
We get older and we think smarter, but we still make mistakes. On a more recent occasion, I missed a color change on a large skylight and we sent it to the other end of the earth in the wrong color. It was a good thing for me that it was a good customer who must have gone to the same school, though much later, as Frank. He called to tell me the bad news and, lo and behold, my paperwork clearly indicated the color change and I just flat out missed it. To send a driver back to pickup and reload, return, unload, sand down, re-paint, re-load and re-ship that skylight would have cost us a fortune. We tried to make the wrong color fly but the general contractor was having none of that. So my customer bailed me out and had the skylight and all the parts delivered to his painter, the guy who paints his custom-colored storefront material, and had the whole thing painted the right color. I paid the price—with no questions asked—because, not only was it fair, but it also was a fraction of what it would have cost us to do the “bring it back and take it back” dance. We don’t have to put it in writing; he knows that I know I owe him. I take good care of my good customers and they take good care of me because, after all, we are all in this together.
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