Canadian Contractor

A Thousand Decisions

Quality really boils down to a whole bunch of small decisions pointing in the direction of quality.

Print this page

March 21, 2012 by Steve Maxwell

I was talking to a drywaller friend of mine, and he’s leaving the building trades. He’s the go-to guy for fast, amazing, top-quality drywall at great prices, but he’s had enough. He’s hung and taped board for more than 20 years, and he’s quitting because he’s had enough of the downward slide in the quality of construction – even in multi-million dollar projects. “I used to complain about the messes I had to drywall over 10 years ago,” he told me yesterday afternoon, ‘but I should have been happy. Things were much better then than now.”

This guy works in rural areas and one big Canadian city, and his story got me thinking about something I’ve pointed out to my son as I helped him build his house. I call it “a thousand decisions”.

Everyday, on every project, each job is made up of a thousand little decisions about quality. And I mean little. Do I shift that stud slightly more in line with the plate before nailing it home, or go as-is? Do I pound the top of the partition wall one more time to get that level bubble just right, or go with what I’ve got? Do I take 2 minutes to shift that concrete form that’s an inch out of line, or ignore it? Each decision is small, but they all add up.

Quality really boils down to a whole bunch of small decisions pointing in the direction of quality. Why these decisions are being made more and more often in the direction of expedience instead of quality in the market where my friend is winding up his career, I don’t know. At least we should stop and notice if it’s happening, don’t you think?

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell is the tools editor for Canadian Contractor magazine. You can follow him on his website (, on Facebook or via Twitter.
All posts by

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

5 Comments » for A Thousand Decisions
  1. Everything sold competes on either price, quality, or service. You can’t offer BOTH lowest price AND Highest quality AND Fastest service…because those things all cost more.

    My observation of the renovation construction market is that Price is THE dominant factor…lowest price always wins in this pure commodity market.

    In fact, I am surprised the offshore labour ships ( housing thousands of foreign workers ) haven’t docked at Queens Quay Toronto yet. They pay their workers about $1/day – 5 times their rate in their own country. Can you imagine having your project done for $1/day by a team of dry-wallers with 20 yrs experience!

    “Quality” drywall – What is that? The website says “Benny’s Drywall – Call for a Free Quote”.

    Failure to market his “quality” drywall service, competing against the “Lowest Price Guarantee + 10%” offered by everyone else is at the root cause of this story.

    Everyone can sell on price, it’s easy, just lower the price until you win the # of jobs you can afford. But winning the job at a higher price for your “quality job” takes real brains and imagination.

    This is also why Eco-Energy retrofits are so difficult to sell compared to sexy upgrades like granite covered home Spas. Without knowing and selling the benefits of a tightly sealed and Passivhaus 3X code insulated house, you are just selling more insulation….so can’t compete on price with others that only meet code.

    Practice makes perfect in any endevor…get better at marketing your benefits of quality and service, stay away from race to the bottom of lowest price.


    P.S. Enjoy your articles, keep up the good work!

    • Steve Maxwell says:

      Good Morning David,

      Thanks for your insights. They’re all good, but one puzzling thing remains. My drywaller friend has 20 years of marketing experience and trade success. He’s a genius with the trowel and contractors come to him. The thing that’s changed is the downward spiral of the quality of buildings going up, and a decrease in concern among tradespeople to put up a decent structure before he gets here. This perception of declining quality comes from two decades of experience in a marketplace of about 200,000 people. Though I didn’t mention it in my earlier post, my friend is not a cash guy. He’s committed to do things legit, and the frequency of contractors and homeowners simply unwilling to pay HST is going way up. He’s had enough of getting stuck paying taxes out of his own pocket, after the job is done.

      Seems to me that people’s hearts are changing, and not for the better.

      Take care,


  2. Mike Aubrey says:

    Our company specializes in designing and building quality bathrooms in Ottawa. I have had a few thoughts of Steve’s concerns over the years (I have been in this industry 35 years). Firstly, I believe that the decline in quality is primarily due to the customers we serve. It is easy to berate the contractors and tradesmen about their poor work habits and incomplete skill sets, however today’s consumer would rather have a larger house then a better house. As said earlier you can’t expect high quality and a rock bottom price. When homes are appraised the value is pretty much based on location and size. Most of the people I know in this industry get excited talking about the quality work they have done and would relish the chance to do more.

    Also, many of the trades today are piece workers. We have always paid our crews by the hour as we believe they will take the time to adjust the stud to the line or bump the form to properly align it as required or generally take the time to make decisions that promote quality. Our company has won many consumer awards in our market and I believe that this is one of the main reasons.

  3. Mike Buwalda says:

    Most consumers today are like Wallmart looking for ways to roll back the prices.
    We are in the decking,railing,carpentry and building exterior business for the past 30 years.
    It never seems to amaze me that most consumers focus on volume and price and are not prepared to pay extra for quality products or experienced labour.
    Consumers have no problem spending money on cosmetic type of items in a home but refuse to understand that you need to start with a good foundation and all things structural to prevent break downs and premature failure of the cosmetic items in a home.Lowest price is the law just liking shopping at Zellers.

  4. Robert Cabral says:

    I think the real problem with delivering quality is in the hands of the guy banging in the nail. Like Steve Maxwell says, there is a thousand little decisions to make everyday to deliver the that standard of quality. I have to agree with him. I run a small renovation company delivering under $500K in sales a year and although my price keeps going up I find that I never have to market to find work. In fact i can proudly say that I get about 80% of the jobs I price. What does this mean? The scrupulous home owner WANTS the quality and is willing to pay a little more with it knowing that they have the trust and peace of mind in hiring the right team to deliver it.

    It is alot easier to control quality on smaller jobs. Where the problem lies is keeping the bar high on production jobs. That is where the responsibility lies directly in the hands of the subcontractor delivering the work and with the contractor willing to accept it. It takes a long time to find quality minded trades but it is well worth it. Only at this point, can your company grow with confidence. Growing too fast usually means that the quality may go unchecked. Perhaps a sign of a booming economy.