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July 31, 2014 12:25 PM CDT

What do we do now?

Contractor tip of the month


I hear from contractors daily about how bad the economy is. I got a call recently from Jim Serowski, a mason contractor from Denver, Colo., who said, “Damian, you need to write another contractor tip for these competitors out here. I don’t think the one about Picking Beans sank in.” So Jim, here it is: What do we do now?

Who wouldn’t want the same volume (or more) of work to do than in years past? However, forcing this volume by taking on work that is under cost, sooner or later, is not wise. Quoting a mason contractor from Vir- ginia, we could end up not only broke, but also “tired and broke.” The Picking Beans tip I wrote seemed to strike a cord with contactors. In it, I recommend that when things get this tight, you scale back to your best people until things pick up again. This theory is simple: Do half the work with less than half your best people, so the company makes at least a lit- tle profit, rather than taking work at a loss to keep everyone busy, mak- ing no profit at all.

I traveled throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey in early-June, touring mason contractors’ jobsites talking to them about the masonry economy. In doing so, I came upon Rick Nation with BW Dexter Mason Contractors, a project manager who answered as well as I’ve ever heard it the question, “What do we do now?” Rick explained to me how tight they had to go after the job he was working on. Managing around 100 people on this one job, he was wound up while proceeding to tell me that when things get this tight, you better hold your people accountable or you’ll go out of business.

Rick went on to say, “I made it clear to the masons and laborers work- ing here. Here are the rules on this project: Starting time is 7:30 a.m., and that doesn’t mean you’re sitting in your truck on the jobsite 7:30 a.m., it means you’re on scaffolding at 7:30 with a trowel in your hand. If you’re not on the scaffold at 7:30 a.m., I don’t need you here. You get a 10- minute break in the morning. The 10 minutes doesn’t start when you leave the scaffold until you get back to the scaffold to climb back up. It starts the time you lay your trowel down until you pick it up again. Lunch break is 30 minutes and works the same way. At the end of the day, don’t clean up your tools on my time, do it on your own time. I am paying you good money to do what you do, and if you don’t like the way things are done here, I’ll replace you with someone who does.”

Rick also told me about a couple of laborers who let the masons run out of mortar for three minutes. He let them know that if the masons did- n’t have mortar within seven more minutes, he’d find someone who’d make sure they did. Even three minutes without mortar is too long, so they better not run out of mortar again. I thought to myself that if I were still laying brick every day, I’d love to work for this guy. He may be tough, but he is very clear on what he expects and lets them know up front those expectations.

So, what do we do now? I say we keep only the best of the best and use a page from Rick’s playbook to hold our people accountable for the jobs they are hired to do. Some may call it unreasonable; I call it working smarter. And, in this economy, everyone has to work smarter, for there are many people out of work who’d jump at the chance to keep a mason stocked with mortar every minute of the day.

About the Author

Damian Lang is a mason contractor in southeast Ohio and inventor of many labor saving masonry systems and products. Lang has served as the Marketing Committee Chairman for the Mason Contractors Association of America. He is also author of the book Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry. To network with Damian on contractor tips or tips you have and would like published, contact him at or 740-749-3512.


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