Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mr. Deck’s Critiques

We finally have a feature on Mr. Deck’s Critique pages! Lesser builders would shudder at the thought but not this one!

It is always a thought, what do other builders think of our stuff.

What would Robert Hauck Jr. think of our work? “Probably not much”, since we do a lot of work for normal folks. We can make 2 choices in this business. We can make a very good living building things that appeal to the masses or we can sell a few pieces of art to a few people over the years.

I’ve been doing this dance between art and what people accept en masse for many years. Sure, we’ve done some art, but it is always a harder sell to make those happen. I've got a whole drawer full of designs that didn't sell but should have. Angel Wing Gates, Grand Fences, Big Pergolas, hundred thousand dollar decks. When it comes down to it I have likely spent about a year doing design work "On Spec", for upscale projects that didn't happen. The portfolio is deep enough that I don't have to do any more "Free" design work--and neither should any of our builders.

There was only 1 Silicon Valley, and I don’t imagine those magical budgets even exist there anymore. All we humble artisans can do is the best we can with an indicated budget from clients until we stumble upon a Shangri la project--that magical place where budgets are unlimited! It is kind of like winning a lottery, and many people are still waiting for the opportunity.

If you have never seen his critiques, poetry and insights you need to go there right now! Robert Hauck’s Critique Pages It would be loosely described as the first “Deck Business Blog”, though large scale Art Pergolas would better describe what he does. His insights and commentary are priceless, hilarious and honest.

Being 67 now he has certainly been an inspiration to this builder. I wish I had clientele in Silicon Valley in the 80’s with budgets like those to play with. $700,000 was the biggest outdoor budget I have ever had, and we had to do 300’ of gothic fencing and a curved pergola within it.

Robert was known for building outdoor art-sculpture in wood.

He would use brackets and bolts and create beautiful sculpted things. Take a ride around his website to see some.

So, yes, we got our critique. And it has to do with stairs—and the drag is that he assumed it was the southern states where they put steps on a concrete footing for stability. He didn’t understand or expect that we would have to place footings 4’ deep to support staircases that have handrails that may be damaged by the movement of frost.

The principal has to do with water freezing. As it freezes it expands… kind of like clay soaking up water in Texas and swelling…very similar thing, but the ice within the ground is solid and powerful. It will move anything within the expansion zone, which means if you run skirting down to ground level it could well, raise the deck out of the ground.

Factor 2… when I photographed it (a few years ago), the homeowner that was doing many things like stain, moving gravel and all the footings (under my direction), had not yet moved in the soil or grass seed to heal up the void between ground and the footing supported step.

All in all, if that is the major criticism from Robert Hauck Jr. I am doing ok! It is a grand thing to be noticed by one of your mentors.

Thanks Robert Cheers!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why can’t I get my contractor to call me back?

Contractors tend to be creative types so part of the artistic personality just doesn’t jive with a rigid schedule. Combined with the majority of clients making changes and adding to the job before it is finished and you find a few days of unscheduled work on a typical project.
Good contractors will call you back eventually if you have had past dealings with them. This being mid June—this is the busiest time of the year for outdoor specialists. Everyone wants their job done this summer, and if you were prudent in your planning you would have been shopping the job in December and January.

I heard another panicked announcement by a government think-tank the other day. They say we are heading for a trades shortage. I don’t know whether that is just hot air or whether that is actually a factor. I don’t see a shortage presently… our builders are booked about 2 months on average.

When it comes to small jobs like 3 sections of fence, or a 4x8 deck you will certainly have a rough time getting a contractor to commit.

Small jobs like these are the least efficient and least profitable. Think about it. When you build any fence you need to:

Travel to Visit the Site and chat with the potential client and return. (2 hours + Fuel)
Draw up the contract and sketch the job (1 Hour)
Do the Material Take off (15 mins)
Order materials (15 mins)
Organize your tools and go to the site (1 hour)
Mark the post locations (1 hour)
Have the posts dug and set (15 mins + Charge for post installation)
Drive to the site ( 30 mins)
Set up your tools (15 mins)
“Build” (3 hours)
Clean up your tools (15 mins)
Dispose of the garbage (1 hour+ Tip Fee)
Return to the shop (15 mins)

If the job is only 3 hours on site… that leaves a half-day inactive—because it is not very often two small jobs are close enough to do 2 in a day. The builder needs to be paid for the whole day to make the job happen. (+4 hours)

Now, if the job only takes 3 hours… what should the job be priced at to make it “Worth Doing”.

To do this 3 hour job the builder has spent 15 hours and likely $100 in fuel + materials
So, if you are wondering why that 3-hour job you are trying to get done has contractors asking for more than $1000 – You now understand why!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Illegal Labour in the Deck and Fence Business

Our last poll asked the question--what should be done. 55% said mass deportations. 25% said make them citizens. I am noticing a trend.
About 50% of our visitors are professional builders to this site. WE have all had to deal with it for many years now. Obviously in the US it has been a migration from the south. In Canada it has been from Eastern Europe. One of our largest competitors was here on a student's visa when he started his company.
Contractors are frustrated on both sides of the border.

If they are going to have to compete the competition should be on a level playing field. When people use indentured servants to get work done and charge less due to that advantage the legitimate builders get cheated.

In a Toronto Star article they stated that there was some 38,000 illegal workers in the construction trades in the Toronto Area in 2005 -- 125,000 illegal workers in total that year.

It is NOT their Fault.

They came here from a hostile economic circumstance. They will do anything to provide for their families.

Our governments and their communal inactivity are to blame--entirely.
I joined this trade in 1987 because there was a shortage in the trade. The government helped train folks to be carpenters--then threw them under the bus by not keeping the playing field level.
I guess that is why my game is so strong. I had to compete with all the new businesses--all the illegal labour and all the designers borrowing my details in the Toronto area.
Well, we now have about 8 builders in the Toronto Area that don't have to compete with illegals--(they aren't skilled enough to compete with us).

And there are also builders in Boston, Charleston, Virginia Beach, Tampa, Dallas and Los Angeles that are also setting themselves apart from the masses of builders just trying to make a living.

(get in touch with me for more info).

Just try to remember--in every economic season there are always people making money--the trick is to make sure they are your customers.