Despermating on the Rise?
In ’09, despermating was more of a random occurrence – like a drive-by lowballer. Now it is more commonplace and compounded. Many contractors around the country who run respectable businesses, as opposed to trunk-slamming cash grabbers, have encountered competitive bidding situations on a more regular basis where another bidder will propose to complete the same scope of work for less money – sometimes even less than half the price of the legitimate business estimator.
Every consumer of every type of consumable good or service wants to believe in not just good prices but ridiculously screamin’ deals. All of our brains harbor that delusional little synaptic spark that allows us to hoodwink ourselves into believing, if only for a moment, that supply and demand or sheer desperation could drive the prices of ordinary, nonmega-volume big-box-type offerings to ridiculously low prices. This is complicated by the fact that certain types of stores and home TV shows have entirely skewed the perception of what painting is, completely blurring the line of which projects call for a homeowner to hire a pro. And no one, other than professional painting contractors themselves, is doing a thorough and steady job of making sure that consumers know what a professional paint contractor is – or at least the difference between a painter who is professional and a painter who is not.
“Every consumer of every type of consumable good or service wants to believe in not just good prices but ridiculously screamin’ deals.”
So, it is all this that has the consumers of our paint services searching for the deal. What used to be a simple “market check” is now a fascination…a quest. While in 2009, I (and probably you) would see the random 50 percent bidder, now it is more commonplace for me (and probably you) to have three or four of them stacked against me by a cagey builder, general contractor or homeowner in a competitive bidding situation.
Which leads the astute shopper to question you:
How is this possible?
How can you be twice as high as three other bidders estimating the exact same job?
Wouldn’t this make YOU the anomaly?
Don’t you need to get your pricing more in line with the current market condition?
Well, I generally don’t like to answer questions with questions, but this is one case where an exception is in order:
- Who are the other bidders?
- Do they have a demonstrated history in this type of work?
- Do they have payrolled, skilled professional employees?
- Do they carry workers’ compensation as well as liability insurance?
- Do they have any professional credentials, accreditations or proof of any formal training?
- Have they ever worked for you or anyone you know before?
- If so, what do you know about the experience of working with them?
I am not sure about you or anyone else (including the waxing naïve customer), but in the world I have been living in for the past five years, neither my cost of living nor my costs of doing business have gone down. I am pretty sure that for most of us this is the case. But then it must also be the case that the despermators have figured out how to live a thrifty lifestyle from meal to meal and conduct business very inexpensively. Now I am all for frugality, but I think most professionals know the deal.
In case you don’t, just keep your ears open when you are standing in line at the paint store waiting for your stuff to get mixed and shaken. I heard a despermator on a paint store soapbox recently. While he acknowledged that there were other local bidders accusing him of driving the value of paint contracting down, his justification for it was that he shouldn’t be blamed for being faster, more efficient and a better estimator than the higher-priced bidders. That’s quite a spin. The old adage seems to ring true: quality, budget, schedule…pick two. A professional delivers all three, and they have to be aligned.
Perceptions can be twisted but reality never budges. I am of the belief that when despermators are involved, it is no longer competitive bidding. It is fantasy. And when a builder, general contractor or homeowner offers you the opportunity to match the low bidder and secure the work, it is pure condescension bordering on manipulation. So where do you put your energy? Not on those customers or that competition.
Where then? The first place to look is within. Every one of us has to make a decision in the presentation and marketing of our companies. The questions that drive our actions form the perception we have of our own businesses, and therefore the image we project to our customers and potential customers.
I say service all day long. We don’t sell paint jobs. And if you do, you may be aligning yourself with the least qualified of our profession, which is where the despermators also live. Delivering a paint job is something that many homeowners can actually do themselves. Offering a convenient, clean, professional, courteous, friendly and desirable experience to customers on their own property in the least intrusive way possible is a service that cannot be faked. If your lowballing competition promises the same experience as you in order to appear more legitimate and more like you but then cannot deliver it, they only accelerate their own race to the bottom of the barrel. It takes a bit of time to earn a customer’s trust, and it can be lost so much faster.
“The key is not to engage in that race to the bottom.”
The key is not to engage in that race to the bottom. By pushing the bar for professionalism, the true pro paint contracting business only further exposes the inadequacies of anything less. It is not about paint jobs. It is about offering consumers something they can count on and believe in. This translates to something as simple as homeowners being comfortable with painters in their homes, whether they are at home or not. Our industry is not always recognized as the professional standard setter for home improvement trades, and that is unfortunate given that painting is one of the easiest and most popular home remodeling projects.
We can blame the big-box stores for making DIY projects so accessible to the masses, but paint has always been available for purchase by nonprofessionals. Big-box chains have only empowered those inclined to do projects. It is entirely possible that the pendulum swing in the past decade toward homeowner DIY projects has been driven more by the fact that consumers are confused by our industry.
Painting is a mature industry. It is not new or cutting edge. So, your job is to make it feel new and cutting edge. In a world where painters all pretty much look the same to consumers, this should not be all that difficult.
Good customers will pay more for better service and a more comfortable experience. Ironically, it does need to be pointed out that they are not actually paying “more.” The fact that your service costs more than that of a despermator does not lead to the conclusion that your pricing is high. If it is based on knowledge of your business costs and the goal of building a sustainable and profitable business, then they are just real numbers, not high. Losing projects to despermators is just part of the natural cycle of a service-based business. People will explore cheap alternatives, hoping to get lucky and find something just as good for half the money. Consider it a spectator sport.
The despermators will say just about anything in order to try to gain the confidence of the consumer. They will promise to deliver everything you deliver. Some even figure out that their low prices are not inspiring consumer confidence, so they swing it the other way and dabble in higher prices in order to win the “it’s expensive, so it must be good” vote. Even delusional consumers can see through that one. So, let the squirmy worm painters do their thing. Hold your professional line and keep raising the bar. Consumers have gotten quite a bit smarter over the past decade, and every time a despermator is hired to work for $0.50 on the dollar, it only means they have to hustle to get the next job even faster and cheaper until the nightmare is over.
There just aren’t enough Bob Seger tunes in the world to make that life feel good day after day.