Kim Mulder, President at Star, Inc. Cleveland/Akron, Ohio Area
We had worked together for 30 years. As a long-standing client of mine, he and I had gone through many projects together. The small ones, the big ones, the ones that ran smoothly, the ones that didn’t. We had history. And, once again, we were approaching another project, a $3 to $4 million project, and one that would, in the end, forever change how he viewed our working relationship.
At the beginning of the project, my customer and I sat down to talk about the project details, and that’s when he told me something that would stay with me for weeks.
“Kim, I’m going to have to get other bids on this just so I have peace of mind.”
I didn’t like it, but what could I do? How could I explain how our working relationship equated to far more than what he could see at his bottom line?
A few weeks later, after giving it some thought, I drove to his office. He had always had an open door policy with me so I walked in and sat down.
“Kim, what’s on your mind?” he asked.
“You said you had to go out for other bids,” I answered.
“Well, it’s a large project. I wanted to make sure your numbers were right,” he explained.
And that’s where the big misconception happens with many working relationships: thinking you are comparing apples to apples. What he had yet to realize was that the bottom line will never tell the whole story. So I decided to tell him the whole story.
“You know it isn’t all about my price,” I said.
“What do you mean?” He wanted to understand and so I outlined it.
“Why am I meeting with the civil engineers to discuss construction work I’m not even doing for you? Why am I meeting with the Ohio EPA on a different project of installing a septic system? And what about all this dirt work happening outside your office? Why am I meeting every morning with the construction worker moving all this dirt to tell him what to do everyday when you’re the one who hired him? Why are your people calling me to ask me advice about projects I’m not even involved in? It’s not about price; it’s about value added. It’s these intangible things that add value to your company that I never charge you for providing.”
My customer stayed quiet a few moments before he finally spoke. “Kim, every four or five years you need to remind me of the added value I may not see.” Then he gave me that focused look I’ve come to recognize. “Just get my building done for a fair price and let’s move on with it.”
And we did.
Choosing the right builder for you often means looking beyond the price. Who are they? What are they like? Do you even like them as a person?
Ten years ago a friend of mine moved from Ohio to Florida and decided to build a house. He called me up one day asking for advice on how to choose between the four contractors who had bid the job. So I asked him, “Which one of the four guys do you see you and your wife being friends with after the house is done?”
When he thought about that, the choice was simple. And today, ten years later, he is still friends with his builder.
Does that method always work? Not always. You may not necessarily click right away with one builder or another. In instances like that, your best bet is to work with a contractor who is honest.
How can you tell?
You choose the one who is authentic. Authenticity can’t be faked. You know it when you meet it. Pick the contractor who is upfront about any challenges, who doesn’t sugar coat or downplay the price, but who tells you the situation straight on. That’s how I always do business and why 60 to 70 percent of all my business is repeat customers, some who have been with me since 1976. I don’t tell them what they want to hear, I tell them what they need to know.
That’s who you want. And, who knows, once the project is completed you may become friends after all.
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