Can I interest you in a platter of plankton?

November 3, 2015

ClownfishI can clearly remember when I first began running small construction jobs, how my boss and good friend Jim began teaching me the ins and outs of the whole construction management deal. I had been a carpenter for many years, and all the materials we used were always already on the job, as if they’d magically appeared for us. I knew they came from somewhere, but I don’t know that I ever gave it a second thought. Now that I was in charge of the whole thing, suddenly I had to know. The lessons I learned from him have stayed with me.

Where To Get “Stuff”

Jim taught me that one of the most important things in successful construction management is knowing where to find specific products and tools. I vividly remember him telling me which lumber yard carried the Number One 2x4s, suitable for formwork for concrete. He also told me where to go to get my tools. This was maybe not the cheapest place to buy tools, but he explained how the company could not afford to pay me to run around town trying to save five dollars shopping for a better deal on a screw gun, when there were 10 guys back on the job who needed something to do and were waiting for me. This place had the tools and hardware, and he knew they’d help me get out the door quickly. Getting a job done quickly, with the right materials and tools, was—and still is–the goal.

Valuable Lesson

This was when I began to realize that this is one of the most important things I would ever learn, actually my main “tool” to wield as a job superintendent or foreman. Whether it is a drill bit for Plexiglas, a particular concrete sealer or a special type of invisible hinge, it pays bigtime to know who has these items ready on the shelf. Quicker than Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery, you can pick up these products or tools to keep your guys working, even when the unforecast rain shower sneaks in and suddenly you’re forced indoors to begin framing that domed ceiling you were planning on starting next week.

A Relationship That Works

They taught us in elementary school about symbiotic relationships such as the clownfish and the anemone. I don’t think most contractors would hesitate in calling themselves clowns to fit into this illustration, (not implying any parallel to their character or demeanor), as they are happy to let the distributor play the role of the big supplier that covers them as they pursue their goals. What a deal, as they would both surely perish without each other.

It Really Works

This thing called supply and demand works really well–contractors need something and are willing to pay for it. Distributors learn of the need and fill that need, sometimes even anticipating it by bringing in new, innovative products and tools. And the clownfish are all too happy to consume this new tasty morsel of timesaving cuisine. If you carry the proper stock, your clown customers won’t have to swim up the street to the next anemone looking for their necessary sustenance. I know it’s a balancing act, keeping up with the latest gizmos and gadgets, while monitoring stocking levels, but if this were easy, any tadpole could do it, right? Trying to foretell the future certainly keeps us on our toes and makes life exciting.

Frank Wheeler

P.S. They say clownfish like to eat plankton, in case the title is still puzzling.


Jim Tooke said -

Interesting read and all true. What I find however is that Jim the boss and owner is wanting his employee to not only not waste time tripping over pennies but to pick them up on the way by. So he had better keep the long term goal of building the project on time and in budget and maybe add to the bottom line by finding the best suppliers as well as the least costly.

November 3, 2015 at 11:19 am • Reply

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