By Ron Pestone
My friend Arty bought in this guy about 5’9” and every bid of 250 pounds with heavy thick eye glasses who was rapidly balding and introduced him as Ernie Sullivan. We shook hands and the very first thing Ernie said to me is that every Thursday him and his family go out for pizza and with the exception of spaghetti and meatballs pizza is his favorite food. If any of you haven’t guessed I am Italian and I look it.
I looked at Ernie and thought, well he doesn’t have many high cards in his deck but maybe it will be ok. I was he had enough brains to do the job. I smiled and took him over to the plan table to show him the job and he started going over the few drawings that comprised the sheet metal on the job. As he was looking at the drawings he started making a clucking noise with his mouth, clicking his tongue in some peculiar manner. All I could think about was now I had a broken down chicken on my hands who loved pizza and spaghetti and meatballs.
While he was looking at the plans he didn’t ask any of the normal questions a sheet metal guy would normally ask, like how high are the ceilings and how much room do I have in the mechanical room. In fact he didn’t ask anything. He just kept clucking.
It was obvious to me he was having a real hard time understanding the drawings in fact I was sure he didn’t know how to read them and if he didn’t know how to read them he wouldn’t be able to convert the sheet metal ductwork into pounds and price it. Now I don’t care what anybody tells you when you are buying or selling sheet metal ductwork you do it in pounds. You can add or take off the final number but it all starts with pounds. It’s like concrete, you figure it in yards.
Arty was standing behind us and started shuffling his feet. I knew Arty a long time and I knew when he started shuffling his feet he was getting uncomfortable. Meantime Ernie was clucking away a mile a minute.
Finally Ernie turned and faced me and asked, “when do you need this done?”
“You have to start in six weeks”, I answered.
He gave a big double cluck and his eyes bulged to the point that they almost touched his eye glasses. He cleared his throat and asked, “You got any idea what you want to buy the job for”
I looked at Arty and he cast a look that said, “Don’t low ball it.”
I’m a contractor and I just couldn’t help myself, I snapped, “30 grand.”
The job was worth every bit of 60 grand but buying is buying and if I could catch him, I was going to.
Arty looked disgusted.
Ernie asked if he could have the plans for a few days because he wanted to spend some time estimating the job; naturally I gave the plans to him.
The two left, one a happy chicken the other an unhappy witness to a massacre.
Ernie came back a few days later and told me he couldn’t do the job for the 30 grand but could do it for 37 grand. I told him I wasn’t pleased with the price but Arty had recommended him and if he promised to give a top installation I would give him the job.
We shook hands on the 37 grand and a couple of days later we signed the contract.
WHAT A MISTAKE!
Now I knew why he clucked, he ran around like a chicken without his head. He couldn’t do the drawings and he didn’t know how to do submittals. Worst of all his sheet metal work was terrible. The guy couldn’t get out of his own way. His entire company was himself and his two sons and he was the brains behind the organization.
From day one he cried for money and I had to continually spoon feed him to keep him on the job. He fought with everybody and everything was a problem. In a very short time he was way behind schedule with his installation. The guy was costing me a bottle of aspirins a week and the General Contractor was less than happy with me.
Ernie came to the office one day crying that he needed another advance and in the end I gave in to his crying and clucking and gave him a check for $3,000. As soon as it cleared Ernie vanished. He just disappeared. Even Arty couldn’t find him.
I had to bring in another sheet metal contractor to finish his job and it eventually cost me $70,000 plus one unhappy General Contractor.
It was a painful lesson for me but over the years it saved me considerable money. I could buy at a low, low number but if the number wasn’t in the ballpark it wasn’t going to be cheap in the long run. The price had to be real with a guy and a company that could not only start the job but just as importantly finish it. I learned that if there wasn’t enough in the number to produce and finish the job it wasn’t for me. It’s a good thing for everyone to remember when buying or selling.
It’s also a good thing to remember to stay away from cluckers.
Don’t Forget: We Build America