Part 2 of a 3 Part Series – By Ron Pestone
Since I was working in the city it was agreed that Mike and Johnny would work out the details. After I called him Johnny gave Mike a couple of days he could do it and Mike called the redi-mix plant and got a delivery date. It turned out to be a Friday and I was going to be stuck in the city so I wouldn’t be there for the pour. If you’ve ever been involved in pouring a slab you know all the things that can go wrong and despite all the best intentions and hard work you could be looking at a moon scape when the job is finished. So I was a little nervous not being there, but I had faith in Mike and I had a good feeling about Johnny. To be truthful what was I going to do about it anyhow, I had to be at work, I just couldn’t be there.
Mike told me Johnny and his three man crew showed up at 7:00AM on the Friday of the pour and started to organize for the pour. He said the littlest one looked like a professional wrestler and none of them seemed overly social. The redi-mix truck showed up at 8:30 and from 8:30AM until 6:00PM that night Johnny and his men never stopped. Mike said they each knew what to do, did very little talking and when they wanted something more often than not pointed to it and grunted. One of them always seemed to know what was wanted. It was a kind of flawless communication, apparently one that was not open to the public.
I could not have been more pleased when I walked out to the barn with Mike that Saturday morning. The slab was as smooth as a baby’s behind and was as level as any sane man had a right to ask. It was a super professional job. I asked Mike if he had paid Johnny and he said he not only paid him, he bought his crew a case of beer when they were finished.
Johnny came back Sunday morning and with a helper saw cut the slab to prevent unseemly cracks. It took him almost three hours, but what a job. When he was finished I shook his iron hand and gave him an extra hundred dollars. He looked stunned, smiled and thanked me.
That was a couple of years ago. A little while ago when Mike and I were having coffee I asked, “What ever happened to Johnny?”
Mike answered, “Didn’t you hear what happened?”
“No, I didn’t hear anything.”
“Well Johnny and his crew did a pretty big job for a developer and the developer skinned him.”
“As I heard it, they got into a pretty big argument because the guy wasn’t going to pay him and Johnny lost his temper and hit him.”
“The guy pressed charges and Johnny wound up going to jail.”
“Just like that?”
“You know the story, you’ve heard it before. He took the job to cheap and the developer conned him into supplying the gravel and concrete. Johnny wound up owing the redi-mix plant and they closed him down and wouldn’t give him any more concrete until he cleaned up his bill. He straightens out with his guys using payroll taxes he had collected and then Uncle Sam started to hound him. In the end he owed everybody and the kicker was he didn’t have the money to pay his lawyer. He represented himself in court and got 90 days.”
“The damn developer should have gotten the 90 days. You tell me the difference between stealing money out of a cash register and stealing a man’s material and labor!”
Mike shook his head, and said, “If he had the money to pay his lawyer he probably wouldn’t not have gone to jail and he might have been able to collect some of the money the low life owed him.”
I am telling the story because it’s so common. How many guys do you know who work hard as hell and put long hours in and can’t make it? How many guys do you know who’ve been shut down by their suppliers because they couldn’t pay their bills because they had been screwed? And how many guys do you know who’ve used payroll tax money for payroll?
And it’s not just the little guys it’s every size contractor from the little guy all the way up to the big boys… So the question is, why? In contracting it can only be one of three things. One the estimate was wrong, meaning you took the job way to cheap. Two, the labor production was really bad, meaning you or your own guys dug your own grave. And three, someone was stealing you blind.
You could always add to it that you didn’t purchase the material and equipment right. But that shows up as soon as you purchased the material and equipment and that should immediately give your reason to pause. Or, who you contracted with skinned you at the end. No one cans save you from this disaster except trying to pace the installation with the payments. Years ago I was doing a sizable government job and before I manned the job the General Contractor had put the excavator out of business, the concrete guy was struggling and the steel guy was threatening to walk off the job. The General Contractor called me and told me they were ready for the underground. I thought about it and told him, “No problem.” I had my supplier deliver Thirty thousand dollars of underground and pipe and fittings to the job and called the General Contractor and and told him to pay the bill. He refused and we wound up in an argument. I walked off the job and after a brief legal fight he paid for the material and we exchanged releases. He found another mechanical contractor to do the job and succeeded in putting him out of business. Cost me a few grand for legal fees but if I guy is not willing to pay for material on the job without any mark up by me he isn’t worth his salt. And if you let him he’s only going to take you to the cleaners. For me it was the only business decision that made any sense.
End of Part 2
Remember: We Build America
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone