Playing by the Golden Rule

Thursday, October 8, 2015

You survive or die by your real life experiences...when things happen that are out of your control, you either let these experiences get the best of you, or you "learn fast," adapt, survive and move on ever stronger. I’ll never forget how that lesson came up for Kimal when we had been in business for less than a year. We had bid and were awarded all the material on an all-wood apartment complex. Our margin was low, but if "everything went right," we stood to make a little profit. It was one of our first "big" jobs, and we aimed to do it dead right...Anyway, we were in the second month of framing. All roofs were on and sheeted, and the framing was substantially done and we'd just delivered the T-1-11 SYP siding. Lots and lots of wood on the job. And our exposure was at its highest. Even though that job was thirty five years ago, I believe the month’s "tab" was seventy or so thousand dollars. So the tenth of the month came and went, and no check. I called "Bill" (not his real name) and asked about the check (which we desperately needed to pay bills, payroll, etc.) He kind of arrogantly stated, "I've walked around, counted studs, plywood, etc., and looks like you charged me for way more material than I got!" Before I could say anything, he added, "You know what the Golden Rule is--don't you?" Again, before I could answer, he said, "Well Al, here's the way it works...He who has the Gold...Rules!! And I hold the Gold!!” And he left me hanging, speechless...and no check.

What would you have done in this situation? I went to my partner Kim and we put our heads together on how to collect our money. Kim had a very proactive approach. That night (and I think the next night or two), he went into the jobsite apartments when everyone was gone, and literally started counting studs, plywood, etc. (I think some of this was by flashlight, in the dark.) Afterwards he showed me his notes, and we compared those to the invoices charged...although it wasn’t an exact science, it was pretty obvious that this builder was wrong, and we could prove that the charges on the statement were accurate. In hindsight, I think he believed that as a new company, and probably desperate to get our money, we'd eventually give him a big fat discount, accept much less and move on.

Now, knowing for dead sure we were right, I went back to "Bill." I assured him that he did get everything he was invoiced for...and I expected our check by the following day, or we would "Do whatever we had to, in order to collect our money." He listened, shrugged, wrote a check in full and that was that. We even continued doing business and supplied the rest of the material, with "Zero" problems. Through that experience and other negative situations I guess "We Found Our Spine" pretty early on. It also served as a forerunner to putting in place an accurate Load check--getting signatures at the jobsite, etc. We learned that "doting i's” and crossing "t's" was critical. And today, with some customers and situations where material is not that well secured where we deliver it, we've gotten very good at taking pictures. In the case of large window orders, we take numerous pictures of the windows in our racks, with sizes, info showing, etc...Once on the job and placed around we take more pictures.

It wasn't that long ago that a customer called us claiming "shortage" on some very expensive Andersen Windows and Doors. Judy Schell, our Window and Door Center manager, sent the builder a pdf file with all pictures. Didn't hear another word. I guess the lesson in all of this is--when these kind of very negative things happen, we can "React" and take some lumps, or "Pro-act" and deal with it in a way that we leave no doubt that we're doing it right. And we continue to learn and adjust to this day. Won't let the "Golden Rule" played by builders blindside us again.

And a short true story. "Hank," (not his real name) was a pretty good customer, building about twenty homes a year. However, often times when he paid his bill, he'd come in, check in hand, and then explain how he "took off" three sheets of plywood, six studs, etc. According to him they were “missing,” damaged or something, and the amounts were usually so small that we just rolled, readjusted the statement, and collected our money, albeit a bit short. Anyway, we realized that this had become a "habit" with "Hank." And we weren't having problems with anyone else. So one night, one of our folks (a yard foreman as I remember), on his own, kind of staked out some of "Hank’” jobs...from a distance, of course. Just before dark, "Hank" drove up in his pick-up truck, threw in a small amount of random material, went to another unfinished job, and did the same thing. He then drove to his house which had a large multi-car garage in the back. "Hank" raised the door, and guess what! The garage was slap full of stacks of studs, plywood, siding, etc. He was stealing from himself, and making us pay for the shortage!! When the next month’s Statement was due, sure enough he showed up, check in hand, and again explained some "shortages." We told him that he did in fact get all we billed him for...and furthermore, hinted that we knew what was going on! He wound up getting mightily "pissed!" (How dare we challenge his "Integrity?”!) Yet he paid in full, and soon, quit buying from us... End of that story.

Al E. Bavry, CEO, Kimal Lumber & Hardware 10/8/2015

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