Last December I wrote an article titled "A Dear John Letter," regarding a service technician who quit a PHC company after explaining he was fed up with the hard work, low pay and lack of customer appreciation. A contractor sent a copy of that article to a customer who had "fired" him for charging too much. The customer then wrote to me. Here are excerpts from that customer's letter, followed by my assessment:
- . . . I will say that Mr. (Contractor's Name) has done several plumbing and heating jobs in my home over the past several years, and I have found his work to be very good . . .
Let's see what this job consisted of.
- . . .It consisted of converting from well water to town water - a pretty straightforward job. The job took him 4.5 hours at a cost of $546.55. . .
Later I spoke by phone to this angry customer. Among other things, he was put off by being billed for the cost of an apprentice. Just who is supposed to pay to help train apprentices, if not the customer, I asked. People just don't get it.
Taken For GrantedThe job in question involved the basic issue of bringing potable water into the home. This is something everyone in the Western world takes for granted, but millions of people around the world die because they lack it. It's pretty much a once in a lifetime job, but not worth $546 in this customer's mind. (Blau Plumbing probably would have charged twice as much!)
- . . .I spoke to a neighbor who also had been connected to town water at the same time. To my astonishment, he told me he was charged $50 by his plumber. . .
- . . .I admit, I had a few minor adjustments done, such as installing a pressure valve, but definitely not $500 worth. Also, we were charged an additional $20 for a plumbing permit. A quick call to Town Hall and we were told the permit was $15. Mr. (Contractor's) explanation - his time and gas for his truck, even though he was picking up permits for other neighbors. . .
All of you time and material folks who think we flat raters are "rip-offs," what do you say about someone who marks up the permit fee by a third? Why is that OK, when reasonable profit markups on our true cost of labor is not?
By charging a reasonable markup on your labor, you can make money the old-fashioned way, by truly earning it. You don't have to chintz around trying to squeeze out five bucks on the permit fee.
The Materials Game
- . . .I priced the parts he used on the job and found I could have bought them for $78 less than what he charged me. By the way, of course I don't qualify for a plumber's discount. So, "just who is ripping off whom?"
- . . .A little background. I'm a retired engineer who worked 39 years for the same company, retired five years ago and never reached $50,000 a year! Your article certainly hit home with me regarding the inequities existing between technically educated professions and those with less skills and the salary gap it presents, but I doubt that Mr. (Contractor) had in mind when he handed me your article. . .
I'm sure he has to make a living, but to what extreme? Am I off base on this situation?
The ultimate irony is that the $50-an-hour contractor who did the job is typical of the forlorn souls who populate our industry. I talked to the man. He's 45 years old, has little to show for decades of hard work and his W-2 form for last year shows an annual income of about $19,500. Working for himself, he estimates that he put in upwards of 4,000 hours in the business. That means he's working for less than the minimum wage of $5.15 that you can legally pay any employee!
Yet, this customer thinks he charges too much!
My friends, is there a sorrier commentary about the state of our industry?