The essential foundation for your business.

Honesty is such a lonely word (from the song, “Honesty” by Billy Joel). It never ceases to amaze me when folks we deal with are not honest.

As a new apprentice in 1972, Paul Strayer and I were doing demolition work in preparation for remodeling a customer’s bathroom. In the corner stood an old steel-walled shower with a terrazzo floor. There was a drywall gap above the top ledges of the corner shower. The rest of the walls were covered. The “lady” of the house gave us marching orders, saying she had lost her high school ring when she placed it on the metal ledge and accidentally bumped it, causing it to fall into the wall cavity: “I want that ring found! You’ll find it behind the left wall of the shower.”

When we removed the left sidewall of the metal shower, there was a thick layer of dust/debris accumulated on top of the base 2×4 of the wall. There did not appear to be any bump in the dust/dirt indicating a ring, so I called the lady to inspect the undisturbed areas between studs. After dragging her fingers through the dust/debris, she exclaimed, “You stole my ring!”  No amount of explaining how that wasn’t possible because it was obvious the layer of junk had not been disturbed satisfied her, and she stormed off like a dark storm cloud. We took the verbal lashing and got back to work.

When we removed the right wall panel and looked at the debris accumulation, there was an obvious bump revealing the shape of a ring. It was obvious her memory was wrong, and the ring had been on the other ledge. We called her back into the bathroom so she could plainly see the undisturbed layer of dust/debris to retrieve the cherished ring. Grateful? Nay, nay my friends, she accused us of having stolen the ring from the left wall and were trying to get out of trouble by placing it in the right wall’s debris field!

Honest facts

The son-in-law of an acquaintance, who was in hospice care, called to have his steam boiler inspected. It had dry fired and the fire department responded because the hard-wired smoke detectors had gone off and had turned off the gas. Sure enough, each section was cracked across the bottom. Price given and contract signed. The son-in-law turned in a claim to the homeowners’ insurance company. They, in turn, wanted to know if it was due to normal wear-and-tear or a mechanical failure.

Sure enough, the mechanical low water cut-off was full of mud because of a lack of maintenance, which was why the boiler dry fired, causing its failure. You already know what he suggested I do: Lie to the insurance company so his mother-in-law would be covered. The fastest way I know for you to trash your hard-earned reputation is to be caught lying and be charged with insurance fraud. I explained that we simply could not do what he wanted and told him that if the insurance company contacted me, they would be given the honest facts. They, of course, did and, as you can guess, he called me every name in the book. Honest folks must develop thick skin!

In the courtroom

Picture this scene: I’m in court and the judge asks me to describe the events.

“Your Honor, it was late on a Sunday evening. These folks called with no heat. The husband told me he had just brought his wife home from the hospital and said he was willing to pay overtime to have the heat restored. It was well below freezing outdoors and they lived in a three-story row home. His wife still had her hospital bracelet on her wrist and their teenage son was quite surly.”

“Can you describe the home?” the judge asks.

“Yes, the front door opened into the living room and they were watching TV. He was drinking a can of Yuengling Lager and they were sharing a large bowl of popcorn. They had a Honeywell T87 thermostat and a quick check revealed a spark when the mercury broke away from the contacts, which I showed the husband and explained that indicated the system transformer was on and working. The basement was a mess with clothes strewn about. The cellar steps were wobbly and in need of repairs. The boiler was an antique American Standard with standing pilot, which was not lit. It would not stay lit. I installed a new thermocouple, lit the pilot and their heat was restored.”

The Judge now turned to the husband and asked for their side of the story.

“He was never at our home.”

Say what? I’ll freely confess I was at a loss for words. How in the world was I going to defend against that blatant lie? The Judge then asked him if my description was correct. “Sure is, your Honor.”

It was all I could do to keep from laughing. The judge said he ordinarily takes 10- to 30-days to render judgment, but in this case did not need any time to weigh the facts. Judgment is in Mr. Yates behalf!

Kind of like the schoolteacher who said he’d never called us to clean and tune his oil boiler. The judge turned to me and asked if it was our policy to break into people’s homes to do work? We all shared a good belly-laugh over that one and we don’t break in to do work became our company internal motto! Judgment in our favor.

We were on another job where we replaced a tub and shower faucet. There was no access panel, so we installed one. The young lady decided she wasn’t going to pay the bill, so we ended up in court. When the judge asked her why, she replied that our secretary gave her a quote over the phone for 1/4-hour labor, saying that’s all these jobs take. The judge turns to me, and I asked permission to have our secretary come to the courtroom. He then asked our secretary if she gave a quote telling the young lady it only takes 15 minutes to replace a tub/shower faucet?

Mary then told the judge our standard fee, along with labor hours, for replacing a tub/shower faucet. Bang went the gavel!

Honesty and integrity are an essential foundation for your business if you value your reputation. So is thick skin. Fortunately, these types of bamboozlers are few and far between, but theirs is a slippery slope guaranteed to cause you injury. 

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