A client asking, “Are you busy?” is the unavoidable question of our time. But what exactly are clients asking, and why? Are they asking because they care about your workload? Well, most of the time, yes. But they could be hoping for a discount. It is a curious concept, discounting remodeling jobs during a recession, but I can tell you, with conviction, that discounting is a pervasive cancer.

Not From My Pocket

Where do people get the idea that a difficult economy gives the right to take advantage of another’s services? A guy experiencing a slowdown is in need of more income not less. Yet that doesn’t deter opportunists from attempting to have their way. What are we expected to discount? Surely no one asks that you use inferior products or do sloppy work. So what they really want is in your pocket.

I don’t discount services based on the health of the economy.

I may offer a discount based on a client’s needs and his or her own “personal economy.” And this precarious territory must be navigated with deliberation because business decisions affect many — my family, my employees, my creditors, and my future contracts. Much is dependent on the stability of my company and the soundness of my resolve.

Usually when a call comes in for a remodeling project, it is understood that the caller desires a change and is prepared to go the cost of their indulgence. If someone calls and their wobbling toilet finally fell through the floor, immediate action is crucial. Consideration will be given to the stymied homeowner’s unfortunate situation and their ability to pay. In which case, arrangements can be made.

Bottom line: Improvements add to property value, and since my name isn’t on the deed, why should I be asked to pay out?

Who’s Discounting?

In a down economy, I have witnessed the emergence of my so-called “competition,” which is a misnomer since these “newbies” are not capable of competing squarely; they are the guys willing to “come in cheap.” Often they are people who may have been let go from one vocation and are now forced to seek another. For some reason, many believe that an unqualified person can easily transition to the time-honored building trades. Hang up the haggard old suit and don a stiff new toolbelt, swap the Camry for a pickup, print a few hundred business cards, and voila, you have Bud the Builder.

But this is where we true professionals hold the reins:

Reputation is paramount. For all the dollars I mete out each year for advertising, the largest percentage of my yearly number is due to my good standing. My customer base is word-of-mouth clients and those who refer me confidently. These are the folks who clearly know my ability to transform their spaces into their dreams. They trust my knowledge of products and procedure, my artistic eye, my conscientious craftsmanship. They trust that I will give them the best finished product possible because they know that their satisfaction is just as important to me as it is to them.

Preparedness and reliability are indispensable. Tools and equipment must be well-maintained and of the highest quality and newest technology. Employees must be well-trained and salaried accordingly. Insurance, taxes, and permits must all be up to date. The integrity of today is the stability of tomorrow.

To succeed, we must be optimistic. As the cost of doing business rises against a shrinking profit margin, we must be assured that expansion always follows recession. The survival of any business depends on many principles, but the foundation on which these ideals are laid is the budget. For this reason, it can never be undermined. It must not be compromised and will never be fooled.

Discount, you say? I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.

—Bill St. George is a general contractor located in Orange County, N.Y., serving the Lower Hudson Valley. Contact him at [email protected].