Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eoconomic Downturn Hits Home in the Valley

Have you ever heard a Realtor say, "I got a guy for that [insert household repair job here]."  I say it to my clients so often that I make a joke out of it, complete with a fake Brooklyn accent and sweeping hand gestures: Hey, no worries. I gottaguy!

Most of my Guys are small business owners (and obviously they're not all men). They don't do fancy TV advertising or make millions of dollars. Their businesses thrive through word of mouth because they're reliable, knowledgeable and professional. They don't overcharge and they don't perform services that aren't needed. Many of them still give free estimates and work weekends.

The Valley's economy was hard hit by the housing downturn as everyone knows. But amidst the headlines, it's easy to overlook one truth: small businesses suffer, and suffer deeply, when the economy slumps.

I wanted to take a moment to say a public Thank You to two of my Guys. They've both had to quit doing the work they loved, turn their back on the business they built from scratch, and find a more dependable paycheck by becoming someone else's employee.

Lowell Buchanan of Mustang Refrigeration was my go-to air conditioning Guy. He's got dozens of years' experience  climbing on roofs to service the Valley's A/C units. He'd go anywhere in the Valley and worked weekends when he found a homeowner sweating it out with a blown A/C unit. Mustang was a family business; his wife answered the phones and handled the back-office paperwork.

Once I called Lowell at around 3:30 in the afternoon while at a home inspection which had turned up evidence of a possible A/C problem. My problem was the buyer's inspection period ran out that day. The buyer fell in love with the house, but I couldn't let him buy it if there was an unknown A/C problem. Knowing it was a long shot, I called Lowell to see if he could squeeze us in. I caught him on the roof of another home, an hour away and nearly done working for the day.

You know what's coming: 55 minutes later, Lowell was propping his ladder against the side of my buyer's dream house, and stepping up to check out the A/C. He gave it a clean bill of health - after cleaning out the secondary drain line at no extra charge.

It's hard to find folks like that these days. But when I say, "I got a guy," I almost always mean they're men and women like Lowell. Or like Dwayne Nau of All Area Lock and Safe. He's another small businessman, paying the bills and raising a family doing the locksmith work he loved. I just found out today that Dwayne truly loves his job. He said he's proud of being able to help homeowners know for certain they're the only ones who have keys to get in their home.

Dwayne has been my regular locksmith Guy for 4+ years now. Remarkably, we've only met twice. Once he met me and knew he could trust that I wasn't calling him to change the locks on a house my clients didn't own yet, Dwayne and I operated solely by exchanging voicemails. I'd call and leave him a message including the home address, the number of locks, and a date and time the new homeowner would be there to let him in. I'd usually end my voicemail by reminding him to mail me the bill, or reading off my Visa card info so he could charge it to me.

Dwayne's lock changing service became my standard closing gift to new buyers. He always showed up on time, quietly did the job, and left a great impression behind. Just yesterday I called Dwayne to save my behind. I waited too long to call him and he came to the rescue anyway.

Very long story short I had a landlord who's home security alarm system continuously sounded the moment you turned on the circuit breaker for the kitchen. Landlord never used the alarm, didn't have a security keypad code, and the former tenant lost the key to access the main control panel. You could either have the electric on in the kitchen and a siren blaring in your ears, or quiet but no electric in the kitchen. Makes it a wee bit hard to find a tenant.

Somehow we did find a tenant though, and she scheduled her move-in for today. Eleven A.M. yesterday I finally got a spare minute to call Dwayne. I left him the standard voicemail with address, details and payment info.

He called me back to say he could help, but I should know he'd quit the biz. Another small business man with a family, Dwayne worried about sustaining his business in an uncertain economy. When Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant offered him a position as one of two locksmiths, he jumped.

Lucky me, Dwayne still does service calls on weekends. Not only did he help with the lock and rekey the control panel, he stuck around to help me disable the alarm system by disconnecting 4 of the approximately 9,347 teeny-tiny wires on the main circuit panel while the rep for the alarm manufacturer (another local company, Arcom) talked us through it by phone. Dwayne's charge? The standard lock-change fee of $79. Nothing extra for mileage, for a Saturday call, for a rush call, or for services above and beyond.

Like I said, it's hard to find folks like my Guys.  I have two big holes in my roster of Guys now, where "A/C" and "locksmith" belong. I'll find replacements, slowly. And if at all possible, I'll find two more folks who are small business people.

It's nice to deal with real, local people. People who take pride in their work, and do an honest day's work for an honest buck. People who answer the phone themselves, so you don't have to go through another infuriating round of "press 1 for service, 2 for sales, and 3 if you want to wait 40 minutes talk to a real person," (who happens to be in a Bangalapore, India).

If you need a Guy for a service job around your house, feel free to call or email me. My Guys aren't reserved for my clients alone. You need an honest job done, and I've got guys and gals who want to continue running their small business through these hard times. And if you know a good Guy in any field, leave a note in the comments.

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