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As a general contractor, I realized long ago that if I'm not "in a relationship" with my subs, I'm missing opportunities. So I made the decision to treat all my subs as I expect to be treated by them. That includes paying everyone in a timely manner. And by "in a relationship," I mean that I make the effort to know my subs and their families personally, and even socialize with them if the opportunity arises. The payoff is that I know what to expect from them on a jobsite: I know their strong suits, and their weak ones, and it has a measurable capital payoff.

Rules of Engagement: Fair Play, Do What You Say
I ask my subs to give me a fair price and do what they say they'll do when they say they'll do it. Do that, and you earn my business. I don't play the "shopping for price" game. I don't necessarily want the lowest price, either, because it usually comes with a penalty. I want a price that's fair to them and to my customers and me. And I insist on work performed to my standards. If subs are good, you want to work with them again and keep them in business.

If I Get the Job, You Get the Job
I see huge benefits using the same subs all the time. I tell them, "If I get the job, you get the job." This pays off in more ways than you can measure. For example, my subs always take my calls. Even at 4:59 p.m. on Friday.

I had a commercial client who had a situation come up at 5 p.m. We needed some plumbing and electrical moved immediately. I made two calls and both subs were there within the hour—no expedited fees, no after-hours rates. That is the benefit of loyalty and relationship. My subs showed up and charged me fair rates because we're all in this for the long haul.

Another benefit of always using the same subs is they get to know each other. How many times have you had an HVAC sub say "that's the electrician's problem" or a plumber say "that's the drywaller's problem"? That doesn't happen on my jobs because they all know each other and look out for each other. They take in the whole picture and think about the implications of who and what comes next. This is priceless.

When it comes down to it, relationships—of course, we need trade proficiency, but we need that from real, actual human beings who need to bolt early on Thursday for car line at school because their wife is sick—seal the deal for the bigger picture. Small problems are easy. It's the big ones that are hard. I'll trade small problems and fairness all day to avoid the catastrophes of jobs that don't work and are money drains. It saves you (and your client) money, time, and headaches.

Suppliers, Too
The same is true for suppliers. I generally use the same supply house. It has five different price levels and I get the lowest one. I never have any problem if I need to return something or need something on the next truck out. My supply house and my subs even give my number out to clients.

Building that loyalty and relationship takes time. The yard employees at my supply house all know me. I see them on the street and wave. Periodically, I have a bunch of pizzas delivered to them for lunch. I may not get a financial gain for that, but I do get a benefit.

Similarly, every year at Christmas, I give all my subs a gift of pecans. It costs me about $30 a sub. But they are truly grateful (and make the comment, "Awesome, I made the Nut List!"). I feel good—and it's worth it for my business.

It takes effort to build loyalty and relationships with subs and suppliers. But without them, I wouldn't be in business.

Cliff Woodman owns Woodman Builders, a building and remodeling firm based in Saint Simon's Island, Ga.