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Archive for August 16th, 2007

A Moral Tale

Those of you who have visited my post on Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day are probably aware that I was pretty unhappy about the state of my yard.  

The whole thing started when we discovered the Miraculous Spring .  The main water line that serves the house had sprung a leak, and in the worst possible place, directly under our driveway.   After that water line runs under the drive, it passes through my main front flower bed, under the redbud tree that is in the bed, under the walk up to the front door, turns directly under my miniature rose bush and runs into the house by the front door.

Our house is not a young house by any stretch of the imagination, and the fact that one of the ancient water lines had finally bit the dust was not really a surprise.  Of course, you never expect these things to happen, you know they will, but hope they won’t any time soon.   If you are wise, you have an emergency cushion in your savings account or a good relationship with your banker.  We are fortunate to have both.   At present, the emergency cushion is gone, but we will rebuild it.   Hopefully, this will happen before the next emergency!  And we still have an excellent relationship with our banker.   Since we paid off our mortgage, I imagine that he would be extremely delighted to have us indebted to him once again so he can collect some interest from us.   But I digress.

 15aug-2007-plumbing-trench.jpg

So, as you can see, the plumber came and tore the heck out of the yard, in order to install beautiful modern flexible brand new water line.  He connected it to the garden, the house, and the spigot by the car port.   He had to put in a new faucet there; apparently the old one is an antique.   He advised me to save it, as he had never seen one like it before and I could probably get some money for it on EBay.  I guess people will buy anything.

So, when they had got the water line installed, they attempted to backfill the trench with the equipment they had, which by the way, is called a track hoe, since it is on tracks and has a back hoe attachment.   Unfortunately, the little blade in front was not designed for the sort of finish work that was necessary to complete the backfill and shaping of the trenches he had dug.   Additionally, it was bloody hot (105F/40.5C), they were tired and frustrated, and so they declared the job done and presented themselves at my door for payment.   This is how it looked.

15aug-2007-plumbing-trench1.jpg

Even though I had stated to him 45 minues previously that this mess in my yard was not exactly what I perceived as proper finish work, he reiterated that he felt he was done with the job.  He knocked a couple of hundred dollars off the price and suggested I hire a kid to clean it up.   I had a client waiting on my table for me to finish her massage, and I didn’t feel like arguing.   So I paid the gentleman, and (as it turns out) he went straight to the bank and cashed my check.

After I had finished the massage, my client and I looked at the mess in the yard and she opined that she didn’t think she would ever use those guys to do a job at her place.   I began to walk around, and it wasn’t long before I was steaming — and it wasn’t just from the heat either.

Then I thought that perhaps I was being too picky.  Perhaps this was the way I should expect my yard to look after such work, maybe I was expecting way too much and had been spoiled by my previous encounters with people on backhoes doing plumbing work.  (We had to have our sewer lines worked on a few years ago.)   So I got on the phone and called a contractor that I know.   Mr. Contractor has been working in this area for over 35 years, has an extremely good reputation, and has lots of contacts.  He also just happens to be one of my very contented massage clients, as is his wife.   He remodeled my kitchen, and we have been having him replace our windows one by one.   I explained what had happened, and what my concerns were, and asked him if he would come over and give me his professisonal opinion.

He was there within 5 minutes, and began walking around the yard and looking at the job.  “This job is not finished,” was the nicest part of his commentary.   His crew foreman was walking around with her cell phone taking pictures of the mess.    During the course of the conversation, I learned that Mr. C. saw my plumber around town quite regularly.   He told me he was going to speak to the young man at the earliest possible time.  He advised me to stop payment on the check and get the guy back over to finish the job right.  I tried to do this, but the check had already cleared.  Now I wasn’t just steaming, I was pretty irate.

I got on the phone and attempted to contact my plumber, to express my deep concerns.  He was not available, so I left a message.   After his cell phone cut me off in mid-stream, I called his office number.  No one was there, either, so I took the opportunity to speak to his voice mail and go into detail about the things that were making me upset.   I love voice mail, because it will let you talk as long as you like.   I explained to him that Mr. C. had come and looked at my yard as it presently stood and had advised me to stop payment on my check, but I was unable to do so because it was already cashed.   I went on to inform him that I found this fact unsettling because I really had no leverage over him because of it, but that I was willing to put an ad in the paper with a picture of his work.   I made him aware of the fact that I have lots of clients who drive into my driveway who were going to see what a beautiful job he had done.  I informed him that I wouldn’t even have to complain to them, all I would have to do is answer their questions when they asked what in the world had happened to my beautiful yard, to tell them I had to have a water line replaced and tell them who had done the work.  I informed him that without me ever badmouthing him,  they would most likely be sure not to call him if they ever needed work done.   I told him that as self-employed people we were both aware of the power of Word of Mouth Advertising, and that in my opinion, he should enjoy that $1900 because in not too many months his income was likely to dry up.  Then I hung up.  Gently, actually, for a wonder.

Guess what?  The plumber called me back.   Twice.   Within an hour, he was back over here with a little bobcat loader, which is the proper equipment for finishing off and cleaning up trench work.   He explained that he had to leave at 5:30 (it is Wednesday night, prayer meetin’ night), but that he would be back in the morning to finish cleaning up.  He told me several times that he wanted me to be happy.   I told him I wasn’t happy yet, but that I was happier than I was when I called him.

As he was getting ready to leave for church, he took me around to explain what he intended to do in the morning, to ask me how I felt about what had happened so far.

“Are you getting happy?” he asked me rather plaintively. 

“I’m not happy yet, but I am a lot happier now than I was when I called you,”  I told him.  Then I decided to put the fear of God into him, just a little.   “Has Mr. Contractor yelled at you yet?”  I asked.  I know it was mean of me, but I thought I ought to let him get prepared for the next time he saw Mr. C. at the lunch counter or plumbing supply store.

His faced actually blanched.   “Did you call him?”

“Why yes,” I answered pleasantly.   “I told you in my phone message that he had come and looked at the place and advised me to stop payment on my check, remember?”

He remembered.   As he left, he made me promise to tell Mr. C. that he was making things right.   He told me again that he wanted his customers to be happy.  I thought I had made the poor boy miserable enough for the day, and I assured him I would do make sure to tell Mr. C. that he was finishing the job right.

So I got back on the phone and called Mr. C.   “I just want to let you know that as we speak,  plumber boy is out there with his bobcat cleaning up my yard and making it right.”

“Well, good,” was Mr. C.’s reply.   “That just wasn’t right, to leave your place looking like that.  I went down to the City to see what could be done about this situation, and they said that since the check was already cashed there wasn’t much that could be done.   So I have visited a few of the plumbing supply stores and showed them the pictures we took in your yard, and told them about the situation.”  I could imagine the kind of grief my plumber boy was going to get for the next couple of weeks. 

“Now, Mr. C., you have to make sure those people know that the kid is making it right.”

“Oh, I will, I will.   But I’m still going to have a word with him when I see him.”

“Okay, Mr. C.  You can tell him he was a bad boy, but don’t be too mean.  He is making it right.”

“He shouldn’t be having to “make it right”.  He should have done the job right in the first place.   People talk.  Things like that can put a guy out of business pretty fast.”

Ayep.  They can.   Word of mouth advertising was the only advertising I used to build my massage business.   It worked very well, if slowly.   Negative word of mouth could destroy it just as well as it built it.  Not only that, but bad press gets around a heck of a lot faster than good press.  I guarantee it.

So the morals of the story are:  It pays to have friends.    It is good to know a general contractor with a lot of influence.   Do the job right the first time.  Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.   Don’t be afraid to rattle the cage if you are not happy.

To be totally fair, this is how the yard looks now.  And it will be even better after they are done in the morning.

15aug-2007trench-after.jpg

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