In the Fall of 2005, during some industry association meetings in Reno, a builder from Alabama complained to me, "the worst thing that ever happened to the building business is the internet, because now my customers know more about my job than I do."
At the time, I was not sure how to respond, other than to suggest that he might want to find a computer and try it for himself, but the underlying lesson in his lament is the undeniable message that the traditional relationship between the building professional and the customer has, for better or worse, been forever changed.
I, for one, am not suggesting that this is a bad thing. When I started building custom homes for clients three decades ago, I realized very quickly that there were simply not enough hours in the day for me to even attempt to stay current on all the new products and systems that were continuously surfacing. Nor was I going to be able to keep up with evolving building science, cutting-edge technologies or the latest design innovations without a lot of help.
Somewhat to my surprise, much of that help came directly from my customers. I learned that they were not encumbered by the same conservative biases, legacy relationships and inherent resistance to change that held back so many of my subcontractors, tradesmen and suppliers. No, when they customer embraced an idea it was not with a "why" but with a "why not" attitude.
As a result, I had my mind opened to scores of possibilities that I could have never discovered on my own, and the results were obvious in our projects and in our success in our market. The beneficiaries were not only my customers, but also my company and me. The curiosity and desire for new ideas that came from our customers made it possible for me to continue to look forward to new projects and never tire of the challenges of the business.
That builder in Reno had one part of it right. The internet has had a huge impact on the business of building and the shelter industry overall. But I think he was way off in thinking of it as a bad thing. In the years since that conversation, I've seen a new confidence and assertiveness emerge as home buyers and remodeling clients become increasingly informed and involved in the process.
There are new specifiers in the mix. And no matter what professional role you and your company fill, it will serve you well to encourage and support them, because they are your business partners now.
Posted: 11/29/2012 11:28:17 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 2 comments
In a previous life, and in a younger man’s clothes, I had a chance to observe the world through a slightly different lens, one which frequently illuminated the simple truth that the value people place on something can vary greatly from one person to the next.
For example, my buddies and I would often buy deep fried vegetable slices and other goodies from the carts of Asian street vendors who prepared their offerings in pots of boiling oil over red hot chunks of charcoal. We figured that if nothing else, the process was going to kill anything that might pose an immediate threat to our health, and besides…all the locals ate it and the stuff was darned tasty.
What we also noticed at the time was that the treats were served up in sheets of paper rolled into cone shapes that made them easy to handle and soaked up the excess oil as a bonus. The other really interesting observation was that the paper came from unexpected sources, such as discarded maintenance manuals for U.S. fighter jets, mostly F-4’s. At the time we found it humorous and actually admired the resourcefulness of the street merchants.
If I were back there now, of course, I would not only concern myself with the source and freshness of the food stock but the serving containers as well, which were undoubtedly scrounged from a dumpster. I also wonder what kind of ink the Department of Defense specified for those manuals? Probably not soy based or lead free, that’s for sure. I suppose this is just more evidence that “youth is wasted on the young”, but a good learning experience.
A walk through the local countryside would usually turn up additional learning opportunities with regard to the perception of value. On one such occasion we curiously watched while a couple of farmers carefully washed long strips of once discarded plastic sheeting in a flowing stream. When we inquired about the activity they explained that the recycled plastic would be part of simple cold frames and that they were saving the used material for the next planting season.
When we stop to consider the materials and resources that go into construction, easily the most conspicuously consumptive activity of man, and acknowledge that fact that construction and demolition produce 30 to 40 per cent of the volume of waste going into landfills, it is hard to defend the common practices of our industry and perhaps even more difficult to understand our culture of indifference.
After all, one man’s trash can be many things to the next, maybe even shelter.
Posted: 11/15/2012 10:01:08 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 2 comments