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Blog art croppedBy Jim McCloskey

As I mentioned a couple months back, we’ve been remodeling, and the end is in sight. After a delay of some weeks caused by issues with kitchen cabinets (one tall unit came in the wrong color, two small ones were damaged in cross-country transit), we appear to be on the home stretch and could even be done within a few weeks – which may be enough time for me to internalize a valuable  lesson I’ll get to below.

When the cabinets arrived and the problems became clear, I let our general contractor know all the details for his scheduling purposes. He mentioned with no discernible edge in his voice that the delays could have been avoided by using his guy rather than the big commercial cabinetmaker we’d selected. “The hardware and features and construction are all pretty much the same,” he said. “And he’s way more responsive and would’ve dealt with these problems much faster.

“But when you mentioned that you’d visited [a brand-name franchise],” he continued, “I backed off because I knew my guy couldn’t compete. He can’t put on that kind of show. He does everything they do and just as well, but he doesn’t have the displays or catalogs to back it up.”

“Live and learn,” I said immediately – but I have to say I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot since then.

Fundamentally, of course, it’s all about trust. Going into our working relationship with the general contractor, we’d seen photographs and read testimonials and had a sense from our in-depth conversations that he was good and conscientious – but we had no way to project past him and gauge the skills of his subcontractors and hadn’t yet seen anyone in action.

And no matter how you go – commercial operation or skilled craftsperson – the trouble is that cabinets are line items of great cost and long lead times, so decisions must be made early to get the processes in motion so there’s hope the cabinets will be at hand when the walls and floors are ready for them to be installed.

Right here is what I’ve started calling “The Trust Dilemma”: Given the contractor’s guy’s lack of catalogs and a showroom, we went early on for the big company with the strong presentation – and only later were fully able to recognize not only that our contractor was trustworthy, but that all of his subs were, too. From the demolition crew to the framers, from the roofer to the electrician, from the drywall crew to the flooring guys, the whole crowd impressed us with their skill levels, dedication to quality and collective professionalism.

Looking back, I feel even more foolish about this core cabinet decision because the general contractor came at the strong recommendation of our architect, whose faith in him should’ve meant more to us than it did. We trusted her skills immediately and entirely: By adding the total of a scant 160 square feet to just two rooms – and widening a key archway between two others – she effectively doubled the size of our home in a visual sense by playing with spaces, angles, lines of sight and traffic patterns in just the right way.

And in point of fact, she’d tied her own reputation for skill, quality and professionalism to our general contractor with her recommendation. We should’ve done a better job of picking up on the significance of this fact and been more open to trusting the contractor as completely then as we do now. But honestly, that’s a grand chasm to bridge in the initial stages of a working relationship.

Add in the fact that we’ve all heard horror stories about misapplied faith, and the nature and extent of The Trust Dilemma both become even clearer.

For many years now, I’ve listened to watershapers explain how much effort they put into gaining prospective clients’ trust – and then how hard they have to work to make sure the bond is never broken and that nothing intrudes on anyone’s good time. My admiration for those who do this successfully has grown by leaps and bounds through our recent experience.

For myself, I’m just hoping I’ve learned the lesson well enough to be more open-minded when the time comes to redo our pool and spa!

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