lessons on selling

There is much to learn as a builder and designer when building your own house. One good lesson is about being a consumer; being on the buying end of the transaction; wanting and needing various products and services.

I'm used to the role of provider. I and my co-workers provide a wide variety of services, like design, engineering, building and installing, for a myriad of products like timber frames, flooring, fine woodworking, even screen porches and wine cellars. 25 or so years of so many items, linked by their connection to shelter and to craft.

Now I'm the buyer, and the view from this side is fascinating. So far I know that 1) I am glad when sales people call me back. I'm even more so when they call me back again, and ask for the order. I need to work with people who have confidence and desire. 2) Sales people who aren't very bright, or who don't REALLY know their trade annoy the heck out of me. Last week I asked a foam insulation guy what the permeability rating on his product was, per inch installed and cured. He looked blank, thumbed through his literature, and said no one had asked him that before. To put this into perspective, it would be like your car mechanic not knowing how many cylinders your engine had. Or your hair dresser not caring whether your hair was full bodied or not.

3) It surprises me when a salesperson, or anyone, from the supplying company tries to put me on the defensive when asked questions of performance or quality.

4) And I like it a lot if the sales guy stays in touch after the project has started. This isn't easy, as there is typically a project manager now rocking with it. But he didin't make the deal. I hired the most expensive electrical contractors because Aaron the sales guy was good, thorough and yes, he's stayed right with it. Noel and Josh, the plasterers, certainly aren't inexpensive, and frankly, I didn't even bid them out, as I knew right away they were who I wanted to work with, and have not been disappointed. I actually paid Jonathan Cohen, the heating and solar guy as a consultant prior to them awarding him a large percentage of the work. Same with Gary Douglas, the lighting consultant. Both knew their trades, and I was willing to hire them by the hour first, to test my instincts and to feel like I wasn't taking unfair advantage.

Here's the confession: I have been guilty of not meeting my own standards on all of the above. at various times over the last 25 years. In particularly brutal exchanges with my mirror, I think that it's a wonder we're still in business. I have a twist on that old saying "the trouble with labor is management." I take it another important step: "...and the trouble with management is ownership." And one even further: "I have to own the place, otherwise I'd have gotten fired long ago!" No doubt, though, that this exercise has taught me much about sales and service.

The siding continues, with its mix of clear redwood reclaimed from wine vats and resawn barn boards in a reverse board and batten.