THE FINISH NAIL
AN OPEN LETTER TO MY VALUED CLIENTS
YOU ARE ALL CERTIFIABLY NUTS
By Paul Morin
When people tell you to stick to what you are good at; they are
just being polite. What they are really saying is that you are trying to
do something else at which you are lousy and that you should stop,
immediately. Based on my observations, builders should stop trying to
market their companies and leave it to someone else, anyone else. This
goes for me, too.
But why? I don’t understand you. You’re surgeons whose hands stay
steady as you cradle a patient’s spleen. You’re wealth managers buying
and selling millions in assets with the confidence of a poker champion.
You’re entrepreneurs who eat risk for breakfast. Yet you, who are so sure
of yourselves, so confident in such delicate matters, force me to wait a
month for you to pick out a bath faucet. This is your life’s biggest decision?
You can wipe out my entire investment portfolio with one bad market
bet, but is this what keeps you awake at night? No, you’re more worried
about the hardware on your kitchen drawers and that, my dear clients, is
why I think you are nuts.
An attorney for whom I have done a lot of work will tell you without
hesitation that he is the best trial lawyer in the state, and I believe he’s right.
Tell him your tale of woe and he instantly knows exactly what must be
done, who must pay and how much. Before you can say “Dewey, Stickum
and Howe,” he’s dictating to his secretary the solution to your problem.
There’s no hesitation, no second thought. He just flies into action. I used
to look up to him like no other when it came to decision-making.
Then he decided to build a house. Oh no.
He was frozen in his tracks as solidly as the concrete foundation that
sat for six months while he fretted about details of the home to be placed
on top of it. Truly scary.
Like all custom builders, I’ve worked with husbands and wives who
practically kill each other over a floor tile selection. Loving couples break
into heated arguments when deciding whether her closet gets bigger
while his garage gets smaller (the ladies are up 16 to nil on that one).
You fight about everything, and let me guess: you thought this process
would bring you closer together. Are you kidding? Folks, I’m your builder,
not your marriage counselor. Help yourself to the box of Kleenex on the
conference table, but I put it there for me after you leave.
I find it interesting that each of you knows an architect, otherwise
known as your mother (or mother-in-law). She points out every mistake
you make, tells you where to put windows and which walls to move –
and all this after I’ve already built them. The “architect” doesn’t have much
to say about the things she likes, but she clucks with disapproval over
every aesthetically meaningless detail. Your mothers are great decisionmakers,
and why shouldn’t they be? It’s not their home. It’s easy to tell
someone else what they should do. They don’t have to live with the
results. You, on the other hand, think of the results as something that will
haunt you to your dying day, so you dissolve into complete inertia, and
you take your mother’s advice every time. It’s actually a good strategy,
securing someone to blame when it goes horribly wrong. Hey, at least
there’s some method to your wishy-washy madness.
Gentlemen, let’s talk about the testosterone you could be bringing to
the table in this decision-making process, but choose not to. When you
watch football, you know exactly what play should be called in the critical
minutes of the 4th quarter. “Play fake to the running back then throw to
the tight end in the flank!” you might scream at the 60-inch flat screen in
your new family room. Recall, though, that we spent four hours over three
meetings and two change orders to simply decide the height of where
this one TV would eventually be installed. “Delay of game!”
“Hope we aren’t
driving you nuts
with all of this”
Ladies, you’re laughing right now, but rest assured: you too are nuts.
We spend a lot of time developing a project budget with allowances for
various items, and then you go shopping. No matter the allowance, you
will spend double. Your husbands don’t have the courage to keep you in
line, so they expect me to do it. We have meetings to cut costs, and you
trim $500 off of the refrigerator selection – only to spot a $2,000 built-in,
gotta-have-it coffee maker. Or you buy two dishwashers, hoping it will
save money on the cabinets. This is not rational.
You should also be prohibited from using email during these
construction projects. They all read the same. Opening paragraph: “Paul,
first, we want you to know how happy we are with the progress…”
Then the bad stuff comes.
We want to change this. We don’t like that. Can you get us a price on
this whozam-ajig, tell the carpenter to hold off on XYZ, and is it too late
to change this other thing, and blah, blah, blah. Then, finally, as it is every
time (are you all working from a single, secret template?): “Hope we aren’t
driving you nuts with all of this.” Nuts. Good word.
Perhaps you consider me unsympathetic to your choice-making
dilemmas – not true! I know you are smart, successful and upwardly
mobile, with good-looking children and fulfilling lives. This is why,
however, I find it so sad to see you struggle like this. You are choosing wall
colors, not a college for your gifted first born. I’ll repaint it if you don’t like
it. Yes, it’s a very nice color. No, it won’t clash with your labradoodle, Mr.
Snickers. Just breathe. Relax. Everything will be fine.
The bottom line is this: you’re nice and I love you all, but for God’s sake,
you make it tough to be a builder. Nothing makes me happier than to
see you smile and brag about your new home or addition or remodel.
It’s a joy to please you, even though you fought me every step of the
way. There may have been times when we both wondered if we would
ever get to the end, but we always get there. You return to life as normal
human beings. The project only addled you with a temporary insanity.
I’m the one left permanently nuts.
Paul Morin is president of Tarkka Homes inc. in Weare, NH and a partner in the Abacus group, a lobbying and consulting firm in
Manchester, NH. In 2009, he was the first residential builder to receive the New Hampshire Construction Industry Ethics Award.
His “Misadventures and Observations of a Residential Home Builder” have appeared in several builder publications. He was
asked to write a satirical article for The Finish Nail and directs all offended readers to the publisher for apologies.