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Jerry and his price book

His gross margin had slid all the way down to 15 per cent, just like that. Except in business, there IS no "just like that."


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May 4, 2018 by Steve Payne

As I write this, the world’s most famous guitar manufacturer, Gibson, is filing for bankruptcy.

And yesterday, I had a long talk with one of the most successful pro renovators in the country about his business woes. No, he’s not going to declare bankruptcy, but he just had to lend his firm a large sum of money. Money that he’d socked away for retirement and didn’t think he’d need to use to boost up his cash flow.

Gibson guitars got itself into trouble by diversifying too far away from its guitar business.

My friend (I’ll call him Jerry) got his business into trouble by losing track of his gross margin. Jerry’s problem was (and is) perfectionism. Contractors walk a fine line between production and perfection. Produce too fast and your quality slides; try to be too perfect and your gross margin crashes. Once enjoying a healthy 35 per cent gross margin, Jerry noticed that he’d slid all the way down to 15 per cent “just like that.”

It’s never “just like that,” of course, in business. In Jerry’s case, a number of errors compounded to put him in the position of working for free, once his overheads were factored in.

First of all, he decided to use his line of credit too liberally. Cushioned by this false sense of security, Jerry let his job costing run amok and didn’t notice that his subtrades had jacked their prices substantially, his guys were working way too slow and that he was doing change orders for free. And most embarrassing of all, he admitted that he hadn’t looked at his numbers in a detailed way in… two years. Oops.

Luckily, Jerry and his wife have the money to refloat his boat. The company is a good one, with a stellar reputation and loyal, repeat clients. But Jerry’s got religion. Of all of the changes that he is implementing, his Price Book is the one that he’s counting on the most. All of his subs will be asked to quote chapter and verse pricing for standard jobs for all work they do for Jerry – by the hour, board foot, square foot, by the piece, etc. There has to be a good reason to deviate from that pricing, and Jerry needs to know about it in advance.

Gibson guitars will likely rebound from Chapter 11; their brand is that good. Jerry will be fine, too. How about you? Do you need a Price Book?


Steve Payne

Steve Payne

Steve Payne is the editor of Canadian Contractor magazine
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1 Comment » for Jerry and his price book
  1. Doug Abbott says:

    Small custom builders beware of the risk you are taking being a Tarion Builder!
    If you think that Tarion is a province run insurance company to protect the homeowner , your building company and you for that matter, think again.
    You personally are taking all the risk. Remember when you signed the form on your annual renewal that states that you are “guarantor” for any costs that Tarion may have for a claim from one of your clients. This means that if Tarion has any expenses related to a warranty claim , you (guarantor) are liable . By signing this guarantor document , you are now not protected by having a incorporated company which most of us did so we could protect ourselves and family assets from the risks associated with being in business.
    I have learned so much the past 4 years where I had a ongoing battle with Tarion because of a client who used Tarion as a hammer to make my company do work outside the warranty. I fought a battle that was very costly to my health and my business with Tarion .
    Tarion is only interested in helping the homeowner. They will fine you, charge you for costly consultants that they will retain , send you threatening letters from their legal department to you personally as (Guarantor) and your business. A quote from my lawyer ” Tarion has a reputation for trampling on Builders ‘ legal rights”
    I did survive and prove them wrong, but it made me re think about being a custom home builder.