One challenge most remodelers share is the ongoing search for qualified and dependable subcontractors and trade partners. Be it floors, concrete, or cabinets, you're probably always searching for a decent crew for at least one trade in your area.
For my business, it's concrete. In 20 years, I've used or lost more than a dozen concrete contractors. I don't know what it is, but the good ones never seem to migrate to my area. And if they do, they don't stay.
I recently found the perfect concrete contractor to use for my projects. He was dependable. His prices were fair. He was always available when I needed him. He didn't mind small jobs or fuss about large ones. I wish I could have cloned him and taught him other skills I needed.
He was the perfect trade partner, but just a couple of weeks ago he suddenly passed away, and his business dissolved.
SURPRISING DISCOVERY My concrete contractor's death was so unexpected that my crew had to go out and remove the forms and clean the site where just days before he had poured a slab for a new sunroom we were working on.
Within a few days, I found out more about what had happened to him and also discovered that I could have helped him and possibly even saved his life.
It turned out that several weeks before he died, he stopped buying his blood pressure medicine. He couldn't afford it, even though he had plenty of work. On the jobsite or in meetings, there was nothing to indicate that he was having problems with his health. His jobs progressed as usual.
But it was the combination of the stress of running a small business, high blood pressure, and no medication that caused him to have a stroke. It was all just too much for him.
He died before reaching his 50th birthday.
MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE But what could I have done to help? I run a successful family-owned remodeling business. Those of you who are also industry veterans know many of the ins and outs that a new business owner will face.
In a way, helping a rookie entrepreneur is like raising children. You share with them the mistakes you made along the way while, at the same time, showing them all that you did right. Like kids, they won't listen to everything you say. Don't expect them to, but be there to offer help. Your assistance can come in the form of business advice in areas such as taxes or insurance, help in navigating the Small Business Administration, or introductions to friends at your local chamber of commerce or builders association.
For my concrete contractor, cash flow was obviously a problem. Like many contractors who are new to business, he probably invested almost all his revenue back into the company and took only a measly salary. This is a rookie mistake that many people make. I could have helped him by looking at his books or offering assistance with a loan application.
For whatever reason, he never asked me for help, but by the same token, I never asked him if he needed any.
Make yourself available to everyone around you. Don't be so unapproachable that trade partners and employees are afraid to talk to you or come to you for advice. Even if they don't open up, you can take the initiative to get to know them better. When you do, it will be rewarding for both of you. —David W. Powers is a general contractor and the manager of Ocean Breeze Awnings & More, in Surfside Beach, S.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.