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Advertise on the Tentacle

August 13, 2002

Small Business Service? Who's Kidding Whom?

Mike Kuster

Have you tried to find a contractor lately? I believe in small businesses and am trying to support those men and women. I make an effort to shop at my local hardware store before going to Lowe's or Wal-Mart.

My search for contractors to do work around the house has left me completely disillusioned in the small businesses of Frederick County. As a small businessman myself, I am completely dumbfounded by the overwhelming lack of professionalism on the part of individuals and businesses in Frederick County.

As readers may remember, my wife and I moved to a 19th century home in Walkersville this year. The house needs some work, which lead me to make inquiries to local contractors.

The first order of business was air conditioning the house. With twins on the way, I knew the summer months would be intolerable. I spoke with three contractors for estimates. The first estimate arrived three weeks after the walk-through! The second arrived one month after that contractors inspection and only after I called and asked for it. The third never arrived. Needless to say, the first man got the contract.

Second on my list was some masonry work on my front steps and three chimneys. One of my clients is the Professional Masonry Association, a great organization that promotes masonry and pays their bills on time. They gave me a list of contractors who do residential work. After calling and leaving messages on five contractors machines (I never spoke to a person when calling), one man returned my call. He even made an appointment and kept the appointment to give me an estimate. Our conversation and tour of my projects went great. He even indicated he could do some other work for me. Upon his departure, I decided he'd get the job even if he gave a higher price. Unfortunately, he has never sent an estimate and never returned any of my subsequent phone calls.

Last on the list (and tops for my wife) was the remodeling of our kitchen. I called people advertising in the newspaper, in the phone book, and men recommended by friends. I probably made an even dozen phone calls. Not one person who spent money on an ad in the paper and phone book returned any of my calls! One of those individuals runs an ad in the paper everyday! Why bother?

I finally called a man doing work for a friend who was recommended by my sixth grade shop teacher. He was the only man to return my call and come to the house! He will be remodeling my kitchen.

Granted, people are busy. Also, I am probably not the most loved person in this county (some people really take politics too seriously). So, I can understand a few people not returning my calls. The numbers, however, suggest a larger problem.

In my business, I work with people with diverse political views. It never interferes with my business. We all get along wonderfully. I've never lost a customer due to my politics. There is little room for politics in business. It can destroy your business. Perhaps some of my fellow small business owners feel otherwise.

Business people need only worry about money. I'm not talking a few thousand dollars of work. This year, I'll spend tens of thousands of dollars on work on my house. These businesses that fail to return phone calls, fail to follow through on job estimates, or never show-up, lost a lot of money.

This is why giant stores and corporations replace Mom-and-Pop operations. It has nothing to do with the people preferring bigger stores. It has everything to do with competitive business practices. Wal-Mart, and the such, force their employees to be customer-service oriented. Too many people experience what I have with small businesses and Wal-Marts flourish.

I just hope my local hardware store and market never close!

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