CONTRACTOR CHRONICLES #2 THE LADY WHO LOST HER PAINT
Many of you will not believe this story, but it like most of my stories is true.
One day the phone rang and a very polite Southern lady said in a squeaky little voice, “Are you a painter?”
I am frequently asked this question. Usually, I am standing in the paint section at a home remodeling center, arms loaded down with painting supplies, dressed all in white with paint smeared here and there on my clothing when someone will come up to me and say, “Are you a painter?” My response quite often is, “No, I am a brain surgeon. Why do you ask?”
This reply gets me a blank stare. Then I will laugh and say something like, “Yeah, I am a painter.” Then both of us laugh.
That is not what I said to the lady on the phone. It is usually apparent when you can tease someone and when you cannot. This lady fell into the latter category. She was a no nonsense type of person. She may have been a Sunday school teacher or librarian.
She said, “I am getting 3 estimates to paint my house and someone said you would give a FREE estimate.” (Somewhere it is written that you should get 3 estimates for contract work, but I don’t know why. In the first place it is damn near impossible, but good luck trying.)
I replied, “Yes, I will give a FREE estimate and I will be there promptly tomorrow.”
Arriving at her home the next day I quickly determined that her job would not cost very much, because she had a small brick house.
I handed her a written estimate form that explained I had been in business 10 years, that my work was guaranteed, that I could supply references of successfully completed jobs, was fully licensed and insured and could begin work within a week.
She seemed unimpressed and asked, “Is this the cost of labor only?”
“No, madam,” I replied. “That is total cost—all materials and labor.”
“Well, I am going to buy the paint myself to save money. How much paint should I buy,” she asked?
“Only 4 gallons are needed. Your house is mostly brick—not much to paint here,” I said.
Customers are sometimes under the impression that contractors mark-up paint 300% or more. This is usually not the case as any homeowner can buy paint for the same price I can and paint is advertised constantly to the public at sale prices. It is very difficult to make money on paint mark-ups, so many contractors don’t even try. I don’t.
I added, “I will be happy to pick that paint up for you and save you the trouble.”
She looked like I had asked to marry her daughter. “OH NO, that will not be necessary,” she exclaimed! “I will provide the paint in order to save money.”
“That will be fine,” I sighed.
She called me several days later and said two very nice brothers had given her an estimate that was $25 less than mine and she was going to use their services instead. I said, “That is fine, $25 is a considerable sum and we all have a budget to keep. I understand completely.”
I quickly forgot about the lady and the estimate. A week or two went by. Then the Squeaky Lady called me again and asked a very unusual question. “Mr. Jackson did you take 40 gallons of paint from my carport?”
“No,” I said. “Why would you ask?” She said, “I was told by the Nice Brothers to buy 40 gallons of white paint for my house and have it delivered from the hardware store. Now it is gone and I think YOU may have taken it.”
Summoning all of my emotional control I said, “Madam I did not take your paint. Why did you buy so much anyway—it was only going to take 4 gallons to paint your house?”
“Well, the Nice Brothers said 40 gallons and they should know, they sometimes paint part-time for an apartment complex somewhere in the city and have been doing so for nearly a year”
“I see,” I said. “Do you think that the brothers might have taken your paint and used it somewhere else?”
“No,” she snapped. “They are very nice and would not treat me like that,” she added.
I told the Squeaky Lady that I did not take her paint, that I was sorry for her loss, but was very busy right then and there was nothing I could do. I then hung up the phone. A few days later she called again.
“I have been thinking about what you said,” she said. “The Nice Brothers have had their phone disconnected and I have not heard from them for some time. I am beginning to think you may be right—do you really think they may have taken my paint?”
I said, “Yes, that can happen and again I am very sorry.” I started to hang up the phone, but before I could return receiver to cradle she said another unusual thing, “Would you be willing to paint my house for free and provide the paint, since I have had this problem?”
I said, “What? I thought I heard you ask me to work for free and provide the paint.”
“Yes,” she said. “You see I just don’t see why I should have to spend any more of my money to pay someone to paint this house. After all, I have to pay for all of that paint that got lost. Some people will take advantage of other people, you know.”
I replied, “Yes, I have heard that.”
I felt sorry for the Squeaky Lady, but I could not believe she would ask me to work for free. So I asked her why?
“Well, you seem like a kind person and I thought it was worth a try,” she replied. “I need to hang up now so I can call the hardware store and see if they will just give me the paint that was stolen and call it even.” With that she was gone. Never to be heard from again.
I may be nice, but I am not that nice. When you are in business you meet all types of people.