It's a Relationship Business

It's April, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the men in my life are making me nuts.

My sister thinks it's a full moon thing. My galpal swears it's a Venus-Mars thing. I'm hoping it's just an "I haven't slept in three weeks so I'm stressed out and crazy" thing, but after a particularly rough week of "He loves me, he rearranges his entire schedule to avoid me, he loves me again," I realize it's time to take action.

Routing through my desk for some Emergency Chocolate, I stumble instead on "Jan's Top 10 List of Rules to Love By" equally useful and happily non-fattening, as well.

I created the list some years back to help me evaluate a relationship that was stumbling along on life support. The man ultimately flunked, but the list stayed with me.

It's mostly made up of simple things that I believe both parties have to be committed to if a relationship is going to work. Things like: Don't make promises you can't keep. Be trustworthy. Treat each other with respect even when you're angry. Fight fair.

Get into the habit of communicating about the little things, so it's easier to talk about the big ones. Be willing to make compromises but recognize that not everything in life is compromisable. Get involved with people who are trustworthy then throw out the score card and give them your very best each day, trusting they'll do the same.

And, my personal favorite, if you can't put your partner's (or the relationship's) best interests and well being above your own at least 50% of the time, you're in the wrong relationship.
I'm still mulling over the list when the phone rings. It's a designer friend who is clearly suffering from the same full moon/Venus-Mars syndrome I am. After an exhaustive litany of complaints, she laments, "I'm in a relationship business so shouldn't I be better at relationships?"

We both laugh, assure each other things will get better. And, of course, they do. The full moon waxes, or wanes, or does whatever it is full moons do. The men in my life stop driving me crazy (at least temporarily). I put the list away.

But the ideas stay with me. We're in a relationship business. Shouldn't we be better at relationships?

Last month, when K&BDN surveyed kitchen and bath dealers about business practices and challenges they face, problems with installers topped the list of concerns. The response was so overwhelming, K&BDN addressed the topic in this month's issue.

But it isn't just problems with installers that make dealers' lives more difficult, we found.

Kitchen and bath dealers continue to struggle with absentee manufacturers' reps, clients with unrealistic expectations, architects and interior designers who demand control, yet leave us holding the bag when something goes wrong.

People problems. Relationship problems.

One of the best ways to solidify and improve relationships is to spend face-to-face time together. It's what makes events like this month's K/BIS so important.

But interestingly, the things that make relationships succeed are often more basic than we might think. And, it occurs to me that "Jan's Rules to Love By" work equally well for business.

For instance, we complain about sub-contractors but do we truly treat them as partners?

Do we listen to their concerns, treat them fairly, communicate regularly? Or do we forget about them until we need something, then expect them to show up, fully committed and giving us their all?

What about our reps? We can remember every instance where they haven't been there for us but how many times have we agreed to meetings, then been too busy to spend time with them?

And, of course, do we treat our clients as if their needs were equally important as our own? Or, do we play the blame game when things go wrong, ignore the phone calls when we know there will be a complaint on the other end, write them off once the check is signed, focus on protecting our own interests rather than treating the relationship as a true partnership, where both parties must "win" for either to be truly happy?

We're all trained to watch out for number one; it's so inculcated into our culture, we almost can't imagine any other way of doing business. Yet, how much stronger would our partnerships be if we actually made the other guy the priority 50% of the time?

We talk about being in a "relationship business," yet we still hesitate to invest too much in our business relationships, perhaps because we're afraid of being taken advantage of, perhaps because there's no quantitative way to measure the payoff. We can calculate the return on investment for a showroom display (see related story, Page 118), but how do we measure the ROI earned through strong partnerships forged on mutual trust and respect?
Like love, it may just be one of those things where all you can do is be careful to pick the right personand then take the rest on faith.

And, like love, it may occasionally make you nutsbut when you take that leap of faith, it still offers one of the biggest payoffs around.