What Too Many Builders Have In Common With an X-Hairdresser of Mine, and Rod Tidwell too.

Hair DresserI can tell you right now this blog isn’t going to go over very well with some builders.  Others will enjoy it; they’ll laugh and nod because they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  Others will also laugh, not realizing I’m talking about them.

Here goes….

I spend a lot of time thinking about builders, what makes a good builder and what makes a bad one.  After hearing so many “speak amongst themselves” in various meetings and networks, I’ve come to the conclusion that big builder, small builder, green builder, etc. doesn’t matter.  Accountability is what matters.  Sadly, listening to builders talk, I’ve also come to the conclusion that accountability is sorely lacking in the home building industry today.  When business was so good a few years ago it seemed accountability quietly crept out the door.  Buyers bought with abandon, certain they would sell at a nice profit long before anything in the house began to fail.  It was a recipe for disaster.

Pondering all of this recently, I was reminded of an experience from my young adulthood that bears a lesson for both buyers and builders….

Many years ago I had a hairdresser who worked in a quaint little shop close to where I worked at the time.  I went to her for years – still feeling a certain loyalty from the first time she worked feverishly to salvage a bad perm job I’d received at a beauty school.   She was at her best that day, bringing me tissue for my tears and completely focusing on my needs.  She was so attentive and so sweet.  She won a customer that day who would return to her again and again exclusively for many years.

Over the years, however, my hairdresser developed a bad habit.  She talked too much.  And as a consequence of talking too much, she also stopped listening.  I found myself going back to her more and more to fix things she hadn’t done right in the first place.

One of my hairdresser’s favorite topics to talk about was politics, a subject of which she knew little.  But that didn’t stop her from running her mouth about it the whole time I was held captive in her chair.  The fact that I didn’t share any of her opinions made this all the more excruciating.

For months I hoped she’d pick up on my stony silence or body language and stop subjecting me to her constant complaints about politicians.   But she never seemed to take the hint.

Finally, one day I said to her, while she was in the midst of one of her rants, “You know, I don’t share your political views.”

“Eh,” she shrugged casually, continuing to work on my hair, “I figured as much.”

I was dumbfounded.  All this time she suspected I didn’t agree with her and she still continued to run her mouth.  Her arrogance, her total disregard for me (a loyal, paying customer) was staggering.   Of course, I admit I was an idiot to suffer through it time and time again, but like most women, I hate switching hairdressers.  (Ladies, you know what I mean.)  At that point, however, I summoned the courage to grab those scissors and cut this opinionated, loud-mouthed hairdresser off for good.  (No – I didn’t stab her, I simply left and never returned.)

To put this in the context of the housing industry, you could say I stayed in the house long enough to realize I didn’t get my money’s worth.  And I had been most certainly taken for granted.

Nobody Likes a Whiner
What does any of this have to do with builders and contractors these days?  Well, let’s just say, there are a fair number out there who are so busy whining and complaining about how bad business is and who is to blame for all their woes, that they fail to realize how this could be alienating potential clients and losing them referrals.

Nobody likes a whiner–even if you like to whine about the same things.  People are less likely to work with or recommend a known complainer.  Besides, when a builder is constantly talking about ‘who done him wrong’ he sort of sounds like the kind of person that doesn’t like to accept any responsibility himself and I’ll tell you right now, that’s the last builder that any of us ever wants to work with.  It’s also the last builder we would recommend to a friend.

Shut up and play the game!
I love the movie Jerry McGuire.  Remember the scene when Jerry (Tom Cruise) is fed up with all of Rod Tidwell’s (Cuba Gooding) whining?  He gives him this speech:

“….when you get on the field it’s all about what you didn’t get. Who’s to blame. ….  Who’s got the contract you don’t. Who’s not giving you your love. You know what, that is not what inspires people. That is not what inspires people! Shut up! Play the game….!”

Face it, there’s a little Rod Tidwell in us all.  Probably more than any of us wants to admit.  But there is no denying that whining and finger pointing leaves a bad impression. And when you’re a prospective homebuyer about to embark on one of the scariest financial ventures of your life, you want to know that your builder is focused on you and not about who or what robbed him of his “kwan.”

Clearly, some builders would counter back, “What prospective buyers?  There aren’t any!”

Hear that? That’s the sound of a builder telling you that you don’t exist.  And for many builders, you don’t exist until you’re standing before them with check in hand ready to sign on the dotted line.  These are the builders so wrapped in self-pity that they’ve forgotten how many people had hoped (and still hope) to build a home one day.

So when your shopping for a builder, or even daydreaming about building a new house, and you happen to overhear a builder complaining about everything from Fannie Mae to Capitol Hill, remember my hairdresser story.

And if you are so inclined, tell him:  Just shut up.  Play the game.

24 Responses »

  1. As usual, a very insightful perspective, Trish. I agree that most of the builders who read this will not even finish the piece (another reflection on their character). I hope they all do, pay attention, and play the game.

  2. Trish, I completely agree on most of your article however I would say that I may turn it around just a bit from your focus on the Builders for a moment. I have definately seen and experienced first hand exactly what your talking about, being put into a position where either because of circumstance, issue or personality things are at odds. The truth is I am sure everyone has and it’s far less about the specifics of the situation and far more about what we or anyone does about it. Your absolutely correct about just whining not helping but isn’t that exactly what “silence” when faced directly with it is as well to some degree? The way I see it (when it comes to your hair dresser) you lost the opportunity to build a stronger relationship, maybe not, but you just sat there.., never saying something like, hey I understand your views and that’s ok but I don’t particularly agree, can we maybe agree to either discuss that or change the topic, etc..
    As far as Builders, customer or prospects go I would say there are too many of those that may “stay quiet” about an issue than face it directly! Let’s face it small things become very large problems when not addressed! Communication is difficult at best, the best we can do is to be honest, forthright and willing to humbly address what we can together. If more people did that then personally I think everything would be better.
    Thanks for the article.

    • Thanks for your comment Dan.

      I said, I think builders need to take care when and where they complain. Heaven knows, I’m the last person to advocate silence or inaction when you think something is wrong or unfair. But the builders I speak of are whining and moaning in inappropriate places — where it isn’t going to do them one bit of good. At best a few of their cronies will join their pity party. At worst, they’ll alienate people who are in a position to send them business one day. Either way, nothing they want to change is going to change.

      • In that respect, you are absolutely “Right On”! While others are pushing forward there will always be those that are unwilling to change and just complain. In my opinion those are the ones that will not last in the “Long Run”!
        Dan

    • You have hit the nail on the head,….(maybe you should be a builder). As a remodeler our relationship with a client is a little closer than a builder’s. We are working IN their homes rather than creating their NEW home. The relationship, which includes the crucial component of communication, HAS to be a two way street. A spat of silence can only fester a gripe, into a bigger complaint, that will be harder (more expensive) to correct or change later. My advice to the contractor or client is keep the communication open and flowing even when it involves a complaint. The end results will be better for all involved.

      • Ha! Not interested in becoming a builder AT ALL! But we do strive to make this a publication that prepares homeowners more completely for the building and renovating experience. Through our anecdotal articles we try to give homeowners the tools they need to work effectively with a contractor — as well as the tools to help pick out a good one!

  3. Excellent and thought provoking article. I have been attending so many networking events to drum up business I am about to scream. But your article has made me more inclined to watch what I am saying and how I am saying it at these events. We all have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and into new endeavors with the economic situation we are dealing with. So onto the next networking event with an attitude to watch more closely how I present myself. Thanks.

  4. Great, Wine occasionally is OK. Whining however is never OK.

  5. Trish,
    Interesting perspective, You got my thoughts churning! I don’t know that “builders” should have been singled out, but it IS your perspective… I personally feel that you could have plugged virtually anyone from x-industry In the blank. “What Too Many ________ Have In Common With an X-Hairdresser of Mine, and Rod Tidwell too.” Isn’t it ALL about capturing the customer; winning their hearts (establishing customer satisfaction, or even better, “Raving Fans”), and then… repeat business, or even winning the first opportunity to do business in the first place, so that we can move beyond the initial “courtship” into a functional business “relationship”?
    I absolutely love the Jerry McGuire analogy!!! Relative to that… that scene where Jerry and Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), call all of Jerry’s clients to try to convince them not to hire the services of the other. When Jerry speaks to Rod Tidwell, who is disgruntled with his contract, Rod tests Jerry’s resolve through that long phone conversation, which culminates in the famed “Show Me the Money!” scene… CLASSIC!!

    • I LOVE every scene it the movie that includes Cuba Gooding.

      I believe I could easily extend the analogy to any contractor in the residential construction industry. Their situation is a bit unique though because I believe many got “spoiled” by the bubble without necessarily having the real skills or the business savvy they need to weather the storm. The upside of the bad economy is that it may, in fact, help weed out the one’s that were weak in both areas. More business for the good guys, eh? I hope so.

  6. I thought this was excellent, especially about the moment the hairdresser proclaims, she knew all along about your views but chose to ignore them. Listening is so key and I am working very hard on this myself. As Darryl said it could apply to ANY industry. It is hard to keep ones chin up these days but as they say positive energy attracts positive energy. Negativity gets you nowhere. The hairdresser analogy is great, I had one who did great hair but it took him longer and longer to do mine and he subjected me to C-SPAN the entire time and took breaks to discuss what they were talking about(which I would not encourage at all), so my hair took 4 hours instead of 2!!! Needless to say I finally gave up. It was unbearable!

  7. Trish,

    Great piece Trish! You point to a number of topics about the home building industry that are in reality great opportunities for builders – if they decide to just play the game.

    1. Accessibility: I have noticed that almost all home builders – particularly the large stock exchange builders – keep themselves hidden from view. They are like doctors who hide behind their stethoscopes – unapproachable unless there is serious trouble (I know, I made this mistake myself without even really knowing it). This is not what someone wants to see when they are making one of the most important decisions of their life. Many builders have tremendous passion and love for what they do – let it show and be willing to communicate – passion is infectious

    2. Marketing: Just like in your story about the hairdresser. The old adage “selling is not telling” could not be more salient than today. The entire new home sales process is deeply flawed (not to mention an ineffective money pit) and finally being revealed for how ineffective it really is – now is the perfect time to try a new approach.

    3. Style: When builders are more accessible and involved in their markets they can begin to develop some sense of style. All too often new home communities are pretty boring and uninspired – when I do see a builder doing something that creates a cool look and feel I stop and take note – and so do the buyers. But developing great style is hard work, and weaving distinctive style within the land to create a great community is an art. People dont necessarily want to live in a house – they really want to live in homes that are a part of a great community or neighborhood. Make the shift from building houses to creating distinctive communities.

    If builders were to focus on just those three things they could make huge leaps sales, quality, and reputation. Most people dont want to buy foreclosures – they have more important things to do with their lives than deal with a problematic house – all builders need to do is give them a few good reasons.

    • I totally agree, Blaine. All great points. And I’m so glad you mentioned the “opportunities” aspect of this. Whenever there are so many doing it wrong, doing it RIGHT is always a fantastic opportunity.

  8. The builder’s relationship with the customer is crucial to the success of the job. When looking for a builder one should talk directly to past customers and ask specifically about their relationship with the builder.

  9. Thanks Trish. Very good reminder.
    We have to instill confidence in our potential customers and that can’t be done with negative talk, even if it is true.

  10. Trish, you could apply you story to just about every industry in existence. Not just builders. Accountability and quality is what builds reputations and builds a reliable client base.
    I love how you talk about the hairdresser shooting her mouth off. This to me is one of he biggest problems in the building industry. BIG BUILDER- BIG MOUTH. In good times they are bragging about all their jobs. In bad times they are crying. Just shut up and swing the hammer! And remember our industry is like a roller coaster, for every up swing there is an equal down swing. The steeper the climb, the faster the fall. Save your money, do top quality work and build a reliable and dedicated work force and the clientele will be there.

  11. Trish – you certainly summed it up. “Shut up – play the game”

    I too am guilty as charged, but needed the inspiration. Thank you!

  12. You had me at “too many builders have”
    Very funny comparison and true statement. It is hard for builders today not to be a bit crabby as the economy sputters, but so important for them to stay posative. Stay in the game, and be fully engaged in the client and there needs.

    I like the part in the movie Top Gun when Tom Cruze affraid to get back into the dog fight after he lost Goose and the Admiral grabs the michraphone and yells ” Dammit Maverick ENGAGE…ENGAGE NOW!

    One of my favorite ways to get out of a funk is to pop a cd in from Brian Tracey, Zig Zigler or Tony Robins.

    Its not about you its all about them and your ability to make the them feel good.

  13. Interesting Trish. The reduction of business kinda goes without saying, I see more questions asked by our customers, than bringing the subject up, from a contractor to customer relation. Always speaking positive with affirmations, building relationships before, during, and after work completed, tends to get those reviews on Google, Yahoo, & City Search much easier, which btw, is the main reason for our drive to paint perfection. From a builder to builder, topics abound from the fastest cars, and the hottest women, to those horror stories we’ve experienced, hoping to warn, learning lessons everyday.

    Causally speaking paint contractor to paint contractor, I have a very optimistic view of our industry, which I’ve been studying, and don’t mind sharing, getting some info. from U.S Census Bureau. Every home is painted outside on average say every 10 years. Taking the total number of homes currently being occupied, dividing by not 10, but 15 conservatively. Adding those numbers which did not get painted to following years, starting in 2007, compounding on 08′, 09′, 10′, 11′,?? and so on. Feel we are getting very close to the break-even point, if we are not already there.

    Example: 1.4 Million homes from Boulder to Colorado Springs. /15= 93,333 homes should be painted each year. Humm, maybe 1/3 is getting painted during off years. So, adding 62,222 on top of 31,111 each year, numbers are staggering, coming back 10 fold in the Best of Times once again, like 400+K homes 1st. recovered year ideally!

    Banks certainly not helping foreclosures getting new paint jobs, leaving to new buyers, but not even part of equation, remembering “Occupied”. Paint stores will not be able to keep up with demand, not enough painters, ladders, and pumps and equipment for surge. As the role of economics plays the same tune, prices will drastically increase in proportion to those 90′s prices, building same profits once again, for a Greener tomorrow.

  14. Hey Trish!
    I like this article and agree with many commenters that it could be applied to many industries. As the wife of a green builder, I hear my share of gripes but know that my man would never let anyone outside our family hear any of them. He remains the optimist and consummate professional, always. We have recently been fortunate enough to move into one of the homes he built as a spec house. We had dropped te price again and again, hoping someone would see the value in this SIPs construction, with an indoor garden. He far surpassed emerald with this house, which also included a detached two car garage, rain water catchment and ductless mini split hvac. I feel really blessed thAt we finally get to enjoy all of his hard work. Now we are green homeowners! As a realtor, people used to ask me if I lived in a green home, and i would say “once we can afford it”. We had retrofitted our little 900 square ft bungalow as best we could afford but were still using a lot of energy and sacrificing comfort. Now, I can talk about the integrity of his homes because I love living in one. He is playing the game like a champ and I couldn’t be prouder! It’s still tough to hear his competitors poo poo efficiency like it is some kind of fad but I have realized that eventually people will see where the value in a home really lies, quality construction, attention to detail and performance. Still a big fan of your blog and sure hope yu are right that the recession weeded out the chaff.

    • Well, Hailey, if you are now the homeowner of this green home, why don’t you pitch a story to me?!! I’d love to have an article from a homeowner that can give a knowledgeable, well-balanced article about their experience with applying and using this product in their home!

      • I would love to talk about our new home. It only costs around 61 cents a day to heat and cool and is so comfortable. It’s amazing how little dust accumulates too, great indoor air quality. I also have an indoor garden room with tons of herbs for cooking and strawberries going so far.

  15. Great article, Trish. One thing that hurts builders is not realizing that they control their reputation, which controls how much work they get. It is based upon their professionalism, quality of work the subs they pick, and coming back to fix problems.

    So yes, shut up and play the game the right way.

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