Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Business Mentors

Business Mentors

Whether involved in a similar business or not—A mentor will keep us grounded, cause us to question things we assume and offer advice that will save us potential losses later.

A couple of my mentors early on (most important time);

Steven (an entrepreneur I built a restaurant for when I was 19. We both lived about an hour away at the time—so we had 2 hours a day to talk business. He was Greek businessman who started with $5000 of borrowed money in 1971 and by the time I met up with him he had a couple of hundred houses and 2-70 unit apartment buildings and 5 restaurants. The guy was self made and trained in the Greek hard fought business academy.

Bill White was the president of the Amex Bank of Canada for a few years in the 80’s. Started his business having to do with setting up large retail chains with credit cards. He was the one who imparted to me the need to market constantly. He was actually a client in the early days—Very generous for sharing his knowledge.

Any company—large or small needs mentors and friendly folks to help steer and make decisions for your company. One guy making all the decisions is bound to make errors that the collective would catch early. In corporations it is the Board of Directors and or the Steering Committee.

Time must be taken to consider the important questions having to do with strategy and direction. Skip this portion of planning at your peril.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Decks and Fences for Cash?

Decks and Fences for Cash?

The first thing you have to ask yourself—Are you building your business for the future or for short term gain?

If you are serious about building your business or are you just augmenting your income at your regular job?

If your business loses money year upon year you will not be able to borrow money for expansion or a mortgage or to buy equipment.

When you are fudging the books the government knows. If you think you are smarter than the auditors you should re-examine your perceptions. Many people think that audits are doled out by lottery. This is a serious misnomer. What the government auditors don’t advertise is that they have a brilliant system for discerning who is cheating and who is not.

When people make up numbers they tend to (always) choose larger numbers than naturally occur. Look at the price of everything you buy. Large numbers. $19.99, $299.95, $27,999. Now… look at the number of 9’s. Multiply the first number x 2 , second number by 3, third number by 4… 39.98 , 899.85, 111 996, total it up
112,935.83. Use any made up numbers you like… in the end there should be a certain percentage of 1’s, 2’s, 3’s etc in your numbers. When cheaters get caught again and again they think it is a conspiracy--

There exists a formula in the main computer—when your numbers are inputted, they are compared to natural numbers. + Or - a certain percent and they know you have fudged the numbers. When you fudge the numbers you get audited so it simply is not worth the risk.

Secondly—Cash price is a method used by some people to get a better price—trimming your profit margin. If you were satisfied with a lower profit margin why not lower your prices and market your lower prices. You may be able to start another couple of crews who work for a smaller profit.

The third and most compelling reason not to do cash work is the fact that you are doing damage to your reputation. The majority of people see cash work as shady and underhanded. If you want your company to be seen this way—go right ahead.

We recently had a campaign manager for a prominent politician ask one of our licensees to do work for cash—You can bet I voted against his political party in this recent election.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

PVC -Vinyl or Composite Pergolas?

PVC -Vinyl or Composite Pergolas?

People are writing and calling wanting Vinyl and Composite Pergolas. People see the beautiful photos on GardenStructure.com and for some reason assume that they are made of Maintenance Free Materials. This is because our pergolas are often solid color stain on wood finishes. We use an upgraded (good cut) of materials and normally it is red cedar which cracks little and the knots don’t bleed through the finish.
When we pre-finish the materials the first application on pergolas can last between 5-7 years. At which time you can re-finish and it will look new again.

Vinyl Materials= Poly Vinyl Chloride—plumbing materials.
They made eves trough out of it… (Didn’t work), fencing (photo)-early designs didn’t work-but later versions look much better. I suspect there is some metal inside the vinyl shell to prevent sagging. The PVC arbor’s I see look fine—but they are likely a bit wobbly when tested.

One thing to remember is that PVC gets brittle over time when exposed to UV. It’s not a product that was originally designed for exterior use. When it gets elderly it will begin to get weak and eventually shatter when tested.

Vinyl and composites will also discolor where it comes in contact with grass, dirt splash, rust or hard water and pollution in general. It will not remain the original color and look new forever. It will need a chemical wash to alleviate these stains every year or two. After the chemical wash it won’t quite look like the original-there will be a bit of a milky looking residue and the finish will appear a bit washed out.

Due to numerous law suits which proved that the materials being marketed as maintenance free materials were not in fact Maintenance free—most companies are now calling their materials “Low Maintenance” and advising people that it will need yearly cleaning. These materials are also not known or recognized to be structurally suitable materials.

These PVC—Vinyl—and Composite Materials are still in the development stage. They seem to have some promise, however GardenStructure.com is only recommending and supplying products we know you will be happy with for a 10 year duration.

Our opinion is that Vinyl, PVC and Composite Pergolas are not ready for our endorsement yet.

If your company offers any type of warranty and you are considering carrying these composite, vinyl or pvc products-consider carefully.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Design Insights—Pergolas and Pools

Every month I get people asking for 20’ plus spans incorporated in pergolas.

Here’s an email from yesterday.

My question is that I want to build a pergola on part of my pool, my pool, the pergola would cover only ¼ of the pool, the problem is that the width of the pergola would have to be about 20 feet long across the pool and therefore we cannot place a column in the pool, would it be possible to not have a column in the middle on one side (the side that goes over the pool) of the pergola and still have the structure be safe? I would like to have the pergola made out of a non maintenance free material.

Thank you


People are constantly insisting that they want a pergola—but they don’t want to have posts obstructing the view. I am sure you will all agree that this kind of pergola structure and support for climbing vines is just messy and horrible. If I had to wake up every day and see this wood obstructing my view every day I don’t know if I would want to go on.
I am sure you will agree that this frames the pool, accents the view and just plain looks fabulous.

Pergolas get their strength from support posts and diagonal bracing. The more braces, the more wind it will resist and the longer the pergola will last. More posts, more braces, more strength, more durability.

Clustering posts in areas can create a feature as well as hide unsightly structures and elements in your neighbor’s yard.

By the way—the pergola project above is based on details included in this plan at GardenStructure.com. Here's the link "Pergola Plans" $17.99 + ($3.00 S&H) It is Pergola Plan T005 pro.

So, in conclusion Parul,

No, you don’t want to leave posts out—celebrate your posts… make them beautiful and plentiful. Give them recessed panels and decorative braces, frame your view and create more points of interest with your pergolas.

Secondly, why do you want a pergola over your pool? Is it for avoiding a sun tan while using your floatation devices in your pool? Frame the pool, keep the space functional, traditional and build something gorgeous rather than a perched pergola that will blow over the first windy day.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dealing with Clients--Politics, Religion and Decks

Building decks is in fact a popularity contest.

Say nothing, express no strong opinions about anything but construction techniques, materials, design and non-inflammatory subjects.

Disagreements and ill perceptions must be avoided at all costs.

Politics and religion are not subjects that you want to get into unless you are prepared to only work within your chosen groups. If you want to be a large and successful company you must work for all ethnic groups, religions and political persuasions.

People’s beliefs are core to them. It is who they are. What they respect. If they are republican and you have democratic bumper stickers—you don’t get the job. Do not get lulled into political or religious discussions. Figure out a casual way of worming out of that prickly situation.

So, in summary here’s a list of words not to use in the presence of clients.

Regime Change (if you happen to be Canadian),
Religion, Religious, Church, Bible, Allah, Koran,
Liberal, Conservative, Neo Con, Republican, Democrat, Communists
Sweeping generalizations against politicians, tax collectors, lawyers and mechanics.

No Incendiary Subjects!!!

Keep everything positive; keep it moving in the direction of the sale. Don’t give an excuse not to deal with you.

By all means—be involved politically. Any associations or groups will be the source of additional business and many of us do have strong beliefs and views. I think it is part of the entrepreneurial personality. Exercise your need for association—just don’t use your business as a soapbox.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Where do people look to find a Deck Builder.

Where do people look to find a Deck Builder?

Yellow pages—is often the first stop. Talking to Scott Stevens of Outdoor Style (A deck builder currently being set up with us in Newmarket Ontario), these leads are mostly price based. They are looking for competitive quotes. They want quality too, however they seem to assume that everyone building decks were trained at the same school and that decks are a commodity—rather than art.

Adding a website to a yellow pages ad can go a long way to qualifying your prospects—and even convincing them that you are the guy to deal with.

The Internet is quickly becoming the choice of more educated buyers. People want to see a bit of what the contractors do. A site that shows up where the people expect to find you and then wows the people with high quality and creative work tends to develop quality prospects

Sites that promise top quality—lowest price—free estimates and we’ll even water your plants and take out your garbage tend to develop more leads—that rarely end up translating to profit for the contractor.

Direct Mail is often a waste of time since normally they consist of a black and white sheet of paper with Best Deckbuilder in Kansas—and a phone number. Most subdivisions will get 20 deck company flyers delivered to their door every spring. This is a great opportunity for a company to upstage the competition. Show them far better work on a better brochure and you will demand a better price and walk away with the job whenever the people have a budget. Further directing them to a great website will also improve response.

Referrals are fabulous—but remember they don’t happen nearly enough. These leads must be cultivated. Keep in touch and become friends with all your clients—they will remember you whenever the occasion to plug your services arrives.

Lawn Signs tell people that your current customer is happy—and since you are already working in their area you are the company for them. Again—website displayed on the sign to offer more information and you are pre-selling for the future.
I can remember my first sign guy saying—“A good Sign is a Sign of Good Business”


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What do Deck Builders do in Winter Months?

Do Deck Builders Work in the Winter?

We have actually dispensed dozens of leads in the last 3 weeks so this warm weather has people in the mood to build. I think we are also seeing people planning further ahead due to the building skilled trade shortage all across North America.

We are building—planning—selling—and designing already for spring work. Our spring magazine ads are getting booked in the next 2 weeks and flyers are already printed for the spring season. They are being boxed and distributed this week.

The web site is being updated in the next month to show off all our best work in the last year.

Time to get Busy!


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Marketing your Deck and Fence Business

Beyond the whole "Make Every Customer Happy" and "Build it like it's your own" analogies there is something different known as Marketing.

Marketing is everything beyond doing your job well. It is necessary for survival and will ensure there is profit and sustainability. No Marketing--eventually No Business.

I hear it every day--"I don't have to do any marketing, I work on Word of Mouth Advertising".

I don't say it--but here's what I think when I hear that. :

"Who taught him to wing it? Why do people believe that the economy will not change? Where do they all come from? I have heard it from many energetic youngsters to the business world--and they rarely survive more than a couple of years. Often I fantasize about meeting up a few years later and seeing a nice bold sign on their truck and telling me that their profit has increased dramatically since they started marketing their business.

Here's what I'd like to say:

"If you are a sub contractor--or an indentured servant you don't need to market yourself. You are willing to work for the base rate--you are willing to work hard and do what you are told forever. You are not really in "Business" anyway--so don't worry about marketing".

"Now--If you are serious about business you want to cast a nice targeted net to bring you more leads than you need so that you can select only the best clients from the leads. More leads means more profit--more profit and you have money for expansion--to pay and retain your employees better--to have better tools--better location--better marketing--and retire early."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Welcome to the Decks Blog

I want to help people build their deck business and simply do better.

Who am I?

I own a company called GardenStructure.com

This is where the decks fences and pergolas portfolio site is located.

I've been in the deck business for nearly 20 years now and am well known as an expert in the field. My designs and finished products have been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers in Canada and the US.

I intend to share general ideas about this kind of business and what your typical deck company does wrong as well as ideas about how to make your company thrive and endure whatever the economy is doing.

If you are planning to get into the deck and fence business or are already involved in the business please enjoy this resource.

Best Wishes for the new year!