Labor Pains: How contractors should REALLY be categorized

It’s Labor Day weekend, when we all relax and turn our attention to “labor” — although I’ve never been sure what exactly that requires us to do. Just as I’ve never been sure who or what we should be reflecting upon on “President’s Day.” For some reason, Labor Day just seems to make me think of eating a hot dog.

Well, just in case we’re supposed to be reflecting on “labor”, let us here at Fix St Louis tell you about something you should understand, but probably never did – how to categorize the laborers who fix homes like yours.

“Chuck in a Truck”
This type of home operation usually consists of a handyman and a pickup truck, plus a helper who sometimes tags along. Even though these folks individually might have VERY small businesses, collectively they do more home repairs than anyone else.

While some of these handymen are quite good, the list of their problems is quite long. Hardly a day goes by when homeowners like you don’t tell me about them. The problems begin the moment you are given a word-of-mouth referral from that well-meaning neighbor, friend, or relative, who told you about that nice young man who fixed something in their house.

So how much does this well-meaning individual KNOW about the handyman you are about to let into your home, and expose to your personal possessions and family members? Did they run a criminal background check or drug test? Do they know whether he has insurance to cover damage he might do to your home? (BTW, the answer is almost always “no”). Do they know what skills he actually has, across which trades, and the relative quality of their work in each? Do they know whether this handyman would even WANT your small job, letting bigger jobs from others get in the way? Do they know how consistently this person shows-up on time or shows-up at all? What they don’t know could hurt you, and often does. ‘Nuf said.

“The Specialists”
This category consists of companies organized around a single trade or area, usually plumbing, electrical, and HVAC (heating & air conditioning).

In my opinion, the reason so many repair companies are specialists has more to do with workers’ desire for higher wages and job security than what consumers actually ever wanted. It all started with some reasonable government regulation to ensure safety in home repairs. But as a segment of the workforce became organized. they began to exert influence over lawmakers based on good intentions, but also understandably out of their own self-interests. As a result, the government mandated recognition of specific, segregated skill areas, and protection from competition for skilled workers through a series of credentials and regulations. So now, for instance, if you call a plumber for a leak that has damaged your ceiling or walls when the plumber leaves, you will still need to call someone else to fix that damage.

“General Sub-contractors”
You may have heard the term “General Contractors” used to describe companies that can handle an ENTIRE large project, including all trades needed – e.g. plumbing, electrical, carpentry, painting, etc. But if you peek behind the curtain, most of these companies are really General SUB-contractors because they consist of a small skeleton sales and administrative staff who subcontract-out the work to others.

There are real downsides to homeowners that are baked into this standard company structure. For instance, think about what might go wrong simply because these contractors do not personally hire the actual workers entering your home – they do not personally check-out workers’ backgrounds, or screen them for things like their skills, temperament, immigration status, or criminal record. Also, let’s say something goes wrong in your job. These contractors don’t have the power to make things right by commanding these workers to return immediately and handle the problem without generating additional costs for you.

“Fix St Louis”
The last category of contractors is called “Fix St Lou…”. Hey, wait a minute – THAT’S US! Geez, almost forgot. We’re in a category all by ourselves. One-stop shopping for all your home repairs. Technicians who are our OWN employees. So we know all about their non-existent criminal and drug histories, their skill levels, and their easy-to-work-with personalities.

Yup, you might say Fix St Louis has eliminated most of the labor of finding labor to fix your home. More good news – you have now met the minimum requirements for reflecting on labor on Labor Day. My apologies if your hot dog is no longer hot.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Handymen owe you more than ‘just a little bit’

We mourn the untimely passing of Aretha Franklin, one of the truly great voices of our time – someone who measured by today’s standards could even get Simon Cowell to stand up from his chair and hit the gold buzzer. Looking back, it seems like her 1967 hit “Respect” was perfectly timed, marking the end of an era in which Americans openly showed respect but didn’t talk about it, to our new era when Americans show a lot less respect, but can’t stop yapping about it.

So, we’re going to plead “guilty” to being dinosaurs, still following the pre-1967 rules for how to treat our customers. Sorry, but we at Fix St Louis just happen to think you deserve MORE than ‘just a little bit’ of respect:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Time

No waiting, no wondering. We schedule FIRM, SPECIFIC times for our visits, not a time window, so you don’t have to sit around all morning or all day waiting for us to arrive. We also take away the wondering whether we’ll EVER show-up by sending confirmation emails and calling you when we are on our way, before the appointment time has arrived. After work begins, our technicians will “check-in” and “check-out” with you if they need to run out to pick-up a part, so that you can squeeze-in errands like a trip to Walgreens, the vet, or anywhere else. In fact, the only time we insist that you be present is at the very beginning to make sure there are no misunderstandings about the work you want done.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Money

You will know EXACTLY what your job will cost in advance. FixSt Louis provides FREE estimates, and we provide FIRM prices. Since we don’t charge by the hour, you don’t have to take frequent nervous glances at your watch, worried about what it will all cost.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Home

We’re there to FIX your home, not make ourselves AT home. We will minimize the “footprint” of our workspace so that we intrude as little as possible. And, we will haul away all debris and clean-up after ourselves. Also, no need to worry about your possessions – our technicians have passed criminal background checks and drug tests, they are bonded, they are covered by workers comp, and we carry liability insurance.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Authority

So, here’s a throwback from an earlier era. We won’t call you by your first name unless you request it. To us, you are Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith. It’s a small way for us to express that we are honored you selected us, that we fully acknowledge you are the boss, and that you deserve more than just a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

There’s a line in the “Respect” lyrics that goes “Take care, TCB” which, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I now know is short for “Taking Care of Business”. So, maybe Fix St Louis should change its slogan from “One Stop Shopping for Professional Home Repairs” to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T…that’s our way of T-C-B”. Hmmmm. Maybe Aretha had a gift that I don’t have. What do YOU think, Simon?

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

‘Fake News’ from Handymen: A Homeowner’s Guide

If anyone in the national media is guilty of producing “fake news”, I swear they must have learned it from the handyman industry. Fact of the matter is, my industry is so good at spreading falsehoods, we don’t even show-up on those Internet lists of least trusted professionals – even though by speaking to all of you, I KNOW handymen must be ranked somewhere between Members of Congress and OJ Simpson.

So as a public service, let me shine the light of truth on some of the drivel and balderdash you may hear from handymen, so you are better prepared in the future, should you make the questionable decision to hire anybody other than Fix St Louis.

I need to take a few days off to attend an uncle’s funeral

This usually means one of two things. Either your handyman would rather spend his time at a job more important to him than yours, or you will never see him again. It NEVER means he had an uncle who, like, died, or that he even ever HAD an uncle. Best advice is to immediately put yourself in a position where you won’t feel ripped-off if he never returns, which you probably wouldn’t want him to do anyway.

I’ll need full payment in advance (alt. I need some more money to buy supplies)

No handyman should receive full payment, or excessive advance payments, until the job is completely done – it’s unnecessary and removes all incentives to complete the job fully, properly, and quickly. On the other hand, it is appropriate to make a partial, advance payment so that your handyman doesn’t need to go out-of-pocket on needed materials and to confirm your commitment so he can reserve the manpower needed. Be sure payment requirements are understood in advance, and don’t let yourself be talked out of them after work begins.

I broke into my ex-girlfriend’s apartment when she wouldn’t return my TV

You won’t hear this song-and-dance unless you ask a handyman why he has a felony conviction on his record, which is something we at Fix St Louis actually HAVE done. I couldn’t imagine why an ex-girlfriend’s revenge-of-choice would be to hold onto her ex-boyfriend’s TV, so I was skeptical the 1st time I heard this story, and a whole lot more skeptical when I heard this story REPEATED by 3 MORE candidates as a way to dance around their felony convictions. You start out by thinking, “sure, who WOULDN’T break into their ex-girlfriend’s apartment to retrieve their misappropriated TV” and end-up “hey, wait a minute! NO ONE would do this.” We spare our customers the trouble of handyman interrogation by running our own criminal background checks, and by not hiring convicted felons nor giving them access to your family and personal possessions. We wish these folks well, but we also know ourselves well – we’re in the handyman business, not the redemption business.

No job is too small

Unless you are talking to Fix St Louis, you can assume whenever a handyman tells you ‘no job is too small’ it is fake news. EVERYONE BUT US secretly wants BIG jobs, not small ones. So if you DO have a small job, you are likely to hear suggestions to make it bigger, though it will not be said exactly that way. Instead you will hear things like “That [blank] can’t be repaired, you need a new one” or “yeah, your [blank] is broken but you really need to replace all your [blanks]” or “the cost of doing that will be [3x what it should cost] in the hope that you would either be foolish enough to pay that amount or just reject it outright.

So, what is NOT fake news? You can start with our headline, “One Stop Shopping for Professional Home Repairs.” With Fix St Louis, at least there’s SOMEBODY in the handyman business who tells it like it is.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Our Bill of Rights was needed AT LEAST as much as America’s

“When in the course of handyman events it becomes necessary to dissolve the commercial bands that have connected you the homeowner with THAT handyman, whom you originally THOUGHT was great, but who now has your money, won’t return your calls and, now that you mention it, didn’t do such great work, either.”

OK, so maybe I can’t write like Thomas Jefferson. But based on the stories you tell us every day, the truth is self-evident that while all handymen may be CREATED equal, by the time they actually arrive at your house, they sure don’t turn out that way.

That’s why we the handy-persons of Fix St Louis hereby pledge our fortunes and sacred honor in offering this Handyman Bill of Rights:

  1. We shall make no policy prohibiting homeowners from exercising their right to FREE ESTIMATES, and their ability to schedule FIRM TIMES for appointments shall not be infringed.
  2. A well-regulated workforce being necessary to perform repairs properly, our technicians shall have at least 10 years of experience.
  3. Our work shall be GUARANTEED for one full year, and we shall provide a full-time CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE whom you may petition for a redress of grievances.
  4. The right of homeowners to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects shall not be violated, so we will conduct criminal background checks and random drug tests on our technicians, and their work shall be bonded and insured.
  5. Checks and Balances: Our customers may write CHECKS to pay their BALANCES (Oh, and may also submit payments by cash or any major credit card, offline or online).

Fix St Louis would never think to impinge upon your freedom of association with other handymen, in your search for a more perfect union. But when it comes to “E Pluribus Unum” (aka ‘One’)-Stop Shopping for professional home repairs, we try hard to be the shining city on a hill.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Free Air Conditioning with a LUNAR-Powered Unit: Something New Under the Sun

Lunar-powered unit

Some have said that “Solar Power is the energy of the future…and always will be.” OK, so nobody ever said that, until I just did in the last sentence. But may I respectfully suggest this so-called ‘miracle’ energy source hasn’t really caught on BECAUSE IT ONLY WORKS WHEN THE SUN’S OUT!!! Maybe it’s time to give the MOON a chance.

To that end, this handyman is thinking one of the true energy solutions might have been hiding in plain sight all along. Maybe it’s even hanging from your hallway ceiling right now – an appliance that promises to tap the awesome power of the MOON to give you FREE air conditioning, even on most summer nights.

The unit below is often mistakenly called an “attic fan,” even though real attic fans are found in, uh, attics, NOT on hallway ceilings. And its correct name, “Whole House Fan,” kinda misses the point. I like to think of them as ‘Lunar-Powered Night Time Air Conditioners.’

Here’s all you need to do to see how it works. On any summer night when the outside temperature dips below 72 degrees, open a couple of windows, turn it on, then turn OFF your air conditioning. Your house will immediately cool down to room temperature or less, your electric bills will dip, AND you’ll also be bringing in the FRESH smell of the outdoors (that is, if you don’t live in Sauget, Illinois).

As far as HOW it works, while I’m just your humble handyman and not a climate scientist like Al Gore, I think I get it. You know how the Moon shines because it reflects the light of the Sun? And, how the Moon does strange things that affect the tides? Well, good for you for paying attention in Middle School, but that has nothing to do with it. It’s the unique LACK of the power of the Moon to heat-up the Earth that makes cool nights possible.

So for those of you lucky enough to already have this Lunar-powered appliance on your hallway ceiling, start using it at night. And for the far greater number of you who: 1) have one; 2) never knew what the heck it was; 3) it hasn’t been used for the past 2 generations of prior owners of your house; and 4) so it doesn’t even work anymore, call Fix St Louis and we’ll fix or replace it. And for those of you who don’t even know what I’m talking about, call us for a free estimate for installing one.

As they sing in one of those old MUNY classics, “The Moon belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free.” And as they say on those old motel billboards, “Sleep well, sleep cheap.” Good advice, to which we can only add “Call Fix St Louis.”

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Hoping for Invite to Your House or White House

Unlike NFL players on the Philadelphia Eagles, handymen never seem to end-up on anyone’s A-List for invites to the White House, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s not that Donald Trump and I don’t have anything in common – after all, he builds buildings and we fix toilets in them. But even I would have to admit, it would be socially awkward to be chatting with Melania, while avoiding eye contact so I could stare at the White House’s magnificent hardwood floors and crown molding.

So, rather than wait to someday appear on your A-list for an invitation, let me just suggest you might actually want to invite Fix St Louis to your house now:

  • Don’t you have some small home repair needs that seem unusual or trivial, and you’re afraid no self-respecting handyman would want to be bothered?
  • How about those problems where you’re not even sure WHOM to call? Things like those cracks in your wall, that bad doorbell, that window pane that suddenly looks foggy, that hole in the wall your plumber left when he fixed your drain, that draft coming in around your front door, that closet door falling off its track, that door that won’t quite click shut?
  • And then there’s that list of needed repairs your well-meaning, live-in honey-doer never seems to get around to.

Not to sound desperate, but if you do invite us over, we will make it painless. Our estimates are free, we show-up at firm scheduled times so you don’t have to wait around, and they generally take no more than 10-15 minutes.

In fact, Fix St Louis regularly gives free estimates to possibly the most discriminating invitees in the country – NFL players, past and present. Please don’t make us beg. We hope to hear from you soon!

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100