Can a Stereotype Make You Money?

I’d like to take a few moments to thank SC Johnson, the makers of Glade air freshener, for its recent TV commercial. You may have seen it. It starts with a contractor promising to remodel a homeowner’s kitchen in four weeks; however, the kitchen is finished eight weeks later. Luckily for the homeowner, the air freshener is still working. Implication: Contractors are not dependable or professional.

Glade’s commercial features the stereotypical contractor. We all know the type: overweight, suspender-wearing, donut-eating, crotch-scratching, blue-collar lug who can’t or won’t meet a completion date. Just like in the movie “The Money Pit,” the contractor’s standard answer to all questions pertaining to timeline for the completion of the job is two weeks. In the movie, it becomes a laugh line, but in real life it’ll cost you a customer and future work.

Some in our ranks are offended by such depictions of our industry and actually want to protest Glade. Lighten up! Personally, I love the lampooning, and I’ll go one step further: There’s truth in that ad.

I don’t need to see the Glade commercial to be reminded of the image we are tarred with. All I have to do is go to my local lumberyard. Let’s start with the Sanford and Son trucks or the contractors who use their pants as rags, leaving them spattered with dabs of dried caulk, paint, nose gunk and God knows what else. These contractors didn’t bother to shave or comb their hair before leaving their houses. These are the same guys who are scattered all over the place, putting in time on the job of the customer who is screaming the loudest. They never seemingly finish a job on time and are running back and forth to suppliers always needing something else. How do they make any money?

Homeowners have all heard the stories of workers going through their customers’ dresser drawers, lounging on the furniture and watching TV instead of working. Why do you think Angie’s List is a success?

This industry has come a long way since I started my business in 1975. Back then, contractors swung hammers and climbed ladders. They weren’t so much businessmen as they were tradesmen. Fast forward 35 plus years and the consumer expects reliability, a neat and clean appearance, honesty and a boatload of knowledge.

Frankly, these negative stereotypes make me money. I love it. Instead of complaining, I use these images as a tool to place myself above the pack. I make an issue of and point to the stereotypical contractors and tell my client how my workers and I are different. When I meet a new or potential client and he or she asks me how long a job will take, I typically say two weeks no matter how large or small the project. The customer quickly catches on, and we have a good laugh. Then I tell him or her the honest approximation of time. Let me tell you a little secret: If the job will take four weeks, tell the customer it will take between four and five weeks. Allow some time for potential glitches. If you finish within the projected time or earlier than you estimated, you look like a genius.

First impressions mean a lot. Pull up to the estimate in a clean vehicle. If you work on the job, allow time to change into a clean shirt and pair of khakis before meeting with the client. Always show up on time or have the courtesy to call the customer to let him or her know you are running late. Remember, clients set time aside from their schedule to meet with you. Treat the customer’s home better than your own. Leave the boom box with the morning zoo crew making sexist jokes in the truck. If the job is going to run long, make sure the customer understands the reason why, whether it’s bad weather, back-ordered materials, extras, etc. Never let the customer speculate. If you do, it’s your loss.

In our politically correct society, stereotyping is frowned upon. The Glade commercial should only offend you if you are the stereotypical contractor. In fact, the next time you see that suspender-wearing, paint-stained, crotch-scratching contractor in the local convenience store, pat him on the back, buy him a donut and tell him to keep up the good work. It’s like money in the bank.