Let's face it. Contractors, by and large, have a bad image. And that's a shame! Because there are a lot of good, honest, hard-working, conscientious, decent people out there in our business.
Why is it that almost anyone you would interview on the street wouldn't say good things about construction contractors? Here are a few possibilities:
They hired a contractor to do a project at their home or at their place of work and it turned into a nightmare. Home improvement contractors cause more problems for the Better Business Bureau than anyone else does. Fraud involving home improvement is at the top of the scam list. How many people have ever done a kitchen remodel that went smoothly or was completed on time? How many people can say that the house painters they hired showed up on time and didn't trash out anything in the course of doing their work? How many people could tell you that they had to call five plumbers just to get one to show up, or eight roofers just to get two of them to make a bid on the job? These stories are as common as a white Ford Taurus in the Hertz airport rental lot!
They watch TV, see movies and read fiction where the contractor characters are associated with the mob, stupid buffoons or crude sexist apes. "Payback" by Thomas Kelly published in 1997 is just such a story. The contractors are in league with the mob and hired killers in a novel about turf wars, labor unrest, family ties and tunnel building. It's just one of many, many examples. Or, the contractor character talks with a thick accent, has a huge potbelly, is prejudiced and speaks rudely to his wife and other family members, and never puts on a clean T-shirt!
They read the papers and watch the news, and every story involving a contractor is negative. Whether it's "38 people indicted in New York construction industry racketeering," a real headline from CNN, or charges of ineptitude and waste on Boston's Central Artery and tunnel project in The Boston Globe, it's always negative. Or maybe they see "20/20", and the focus of the program is on home improvement contractors who don't deliver. After a while, this kind of negative press takes its toll on public perceptions.
They are inexperienced with the building process. Because the average man on the street has so little experience in building anything, they don't understand that things go wrong. Suppliers don't bring the materials on time or run out of materials. When doing renovations, contractors and designers can't always anticipate what's there now until they tear into it. Building stuff is messy - you want an omelet, you gotta break some eggs! And when it comes to big public works jobs, they don't understand that you never know for sure about things like what the soil conditions are 300 feet under the ground until you get down there, or how difficult it is to keep traffic flowing on a busy highway that is undergoing widening.
How are we going to change this image? That's the subject of a future article!