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The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

16 December 2020
Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. Tel: 0207 502 6353. Mob: 07771 997621. [email protected]

Being late is never a good thing. Being late with a Christmas order… now there’s pressure. 

Why do we do it to ourselves? 

Customer: “Can you deliver before Christmas?”

Its September, they haven’t chosen the material, there are no drawings, and they are hoping – not expecting – the area to be ready for you to template sometime early in November.

Looking at the order book, the ability of the factory and the size of the job, it’s an easy decision in September.

“Yes, of course... providing it is going to be ready to template by November and you have selected and agreed the stone.”

Customer: “Great – how does it work then?”

You explain. You quote. The customer visits and makes some sort of selection, though it’s not a final decision because there might be some more material arriving soon. Not to worry, there’s plenty of time... isn’t there?

The deposit is paid and a contract is entered into. Emails from the client stipulate that delivery before Christmas is essential, promised and expected.

All goes quiet for a month. There are other demands from other customers, who similarly have a pre-Christmas deadline.

Sometime towards the end of October you call the client, say the new stone has arrived if they would like to look at it and make their choice. You enquire about the progress of the build – all on schedule, they say. You should be able to template in a couple of weeks.

There is a feeling of foreboding:  the client is going to be ready and you will have to deliver as you said you would – the deposit is in the bank and all that, keep your promises, good customer service, reputation. But it’s only October, so not to worry.

They come and make a bit of a fuss but decide on the stone. The stone is in plentiful stock and it’s relatively easy to work.

“So,” you ask, “when can we template?”. They’ll call.

There’s a surge of orders, all too good to turn down. It’s been a difficult year and you need the turnover. They all make noises about deadlines and the Christmas turkey and you say: “It should be OK.”

You wake up in a cold sweat thinking how the hell are you going to make all this happen?

Then, of course, people go off sick / leave for a better offer / want some attention for something that seems minor to you but is important to them – like that car allowance you promised them but forgot to tell accounts about.

And then there is machinery. Just when you need it most...

1.         It needs servicing to meet the manufacturer’s warranty

2.         It’s not cutting straight, the blade needs changing

3.         The polishing heads go on the blink

4.         The forklift hydraulics fail, narrowly missing an employee’s fingers.

In addition...

5.         A van driver gets stopped by the police, is breathalysed and is over the limit

6.         The Proliner is stolen from the back of the van.

(All of the above have happened to me at some point).

When you arrive to template, it’s not really ready. The plumber hasn’t finished the first fix; the joinery is late and half installed; the plaster on the walls isn’t dry.

You could at this point say “I can’t measure this and so we can’t fabricate because you’re not ready”. And I expect some of us do say that. But most of us say: ”Well, it’s going to be tight but I can call round next week and take the final dimensions then.”

After all, it would be good for cashflow and nice to have the money in the bank before the break. In the rush you forget to send an email but call them the following week to arrange the last – and you mean the last! – chance to measure up.

December arrives. The days speed by. You fabricate, deliver it yourself, help the installers on the last weekend before Christmas and get paid in time to clear the bank before wages and bonuses are due.

I hope you make it through your pre-Christmas madness to reach the one day in the calendar when you can focus on something other than work. A few brief hours to cherish. No business phone calls or texts and the only emails are from family, friends and China.

I wish you all the very best for your few days off work among the goodness of the friends and family you get to see this year. Hold on to all that goodness for the year ahead.

Comments

Submitted by Acacio Balagueiras on
Very good insight Robert. Only that you were lucky on this one, you got paid before Christmas. It doesn't always happen.

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