Notes and suggestions to residents and building owners from a contractor

by Tom Glendinning

Pittsboro, NC – Dear clients, homeowners, contractors, building owners, I have been a contractor, property manager, developer, and commercial property owner for over forty years. Contractor services and product delivery has changed in that time. Our population and community have also. I am compelled to note the changes and recommend some strategies for success in projects.

My apprenticeship began in the 1950’s. Not many will remember or relate. I started business in North Carolina in 1971. It was modest but grew as the economy grew, as the state attracted business and residents. I sat on the NC Landscape Contractors Association board as a founding member in 1974. I joined other professional groups also. The licensing act passed in 1976. My peers then were leaders who built industry credibility, proficiency and professionalism. I am honored to have known them and served with them.

Construction contractorBy the 1980’s, the market was cleanly divided. Either one did local work or regional and statewide commercial work. The maintenance companies had not formed a trade group. Bidding on commercial, state and federal projects meant putting ones company at the mercy of the market. Low bids won jobs. Performing them was challenging, especially with unknown general contractors. Growth demanded expansion of market. To young, hungry entrepreneurs, the risk was tolerable. My company worked at all university campuses, in the Triangle cities, at the Research Triangle, and locations nearby. The booms of the 1980’s and 1990’s were exciting and rewarding.

Then, changes began to occur. The population growth also meant the disintegration of old communities, as well the business networks and ties established over decades. The retail market was altered by the advent of big franchise stores, like Lowes and Home Depot, by cell phones and by the Internet.

The professional community expanded, allowing new faces and names. Older members aged out, went out of business, or new management took over. In essence, the trade changed its face and outgrew the old network. Population increased by newcomers creating a market unconnected to old resources. Those businesses that kept up prospered. Those which did not lost.

The new concept for large franchise stores was homeowner do-it-yourself marketing. “Big boxes,” as they were known, began to dominate to new residential marketplace. Old, local contractors, nurseries, and suppliers fell out of favor and went out of business. The new residents did not know dependable old timers whose reputations had been forged over decades. They went to the new, shiny big boxes, as they may have done where they came from. They grew to depend on the mobile phone technology to find everything.

In the Pittsboro, Lett’s Building Supply, formerly McNeil Roberts, Bouldin’s Cabinet Shop, Carey’s Hardware, Pittsboro Ice & Fuel supplied the contracting community for decades. The stores represented service. They stood for trust and reputation. These are out of business, replaced by Lowes Home Supply in the minds of the homeowner. The takeover was designed and successful. The ties of contractors to their market are destroyed by the big box with no allegiance to locals. Worse, newcomers have no idea on whom to depend. Some may not see any difference.

I see old timers, their sons, partners and former employees around town. I am glad that they survived. But the sense of community, of security, of reputation is gone. That loss to me is the greatest among all the cosmetic changes to our town and county. I can not find it on my iPhone or tablet.

The “big box” name and acres of store space promise low prices, but do not actually deliver them. In the landscape market, retail plant prices are equal to contractor installed prices for medium to large jobs. Contractors usually have a guarantee to back up their installation.

Suggestions to residents and building owners:
1. Attempt to find reputable contractors and service providers.
2. Asking long time residents for this information will open doors not in the Yellow Pages.
3. Ask contractors pricing before DIY costs to compare. You may be surprised.
4. Provide detailed specifications for the job if you actually wish to compare pricing.

Item number 4 is a hurdle in home contracting. Either the design and details are the same for all bidders or you are looking to be charmed by the chosen contractor. Almost any of them can change a $5000 job into a $10,000 or a $2000 job. Without detailed specifications, you could pass up a real deal or be getting more trouble than the savings were worth. Without describing a baseline, you can not see the line for increased quality.

While I patronize Lowes and profit from its convenience, I also mourn the society lost at its expense. I do miss the familiar faces, names, and the comfort offered in the daily trips to the downtown post office, McCrimmon’s, and DW Smith’s Exxon. Yet, in spite of that, I welcome the new community forming to our east. It will change our town beyond recognition. All for the better I am sure. For without someone welcoming me to Pittsboro, I would not be here either.