Just about every day I listen to stories from homeowners puzzled by the behavior of a past or would-be handyman. Why did they never hear back from him? Why did he suddenly quit before the job was finished? When will he ever return to fix the thing that immediately broke again?
You know, I hate to be the one who has to stick-up for lawyers, but when it comes to those who maintain a good social distance from the truth, lawyers are mere amateurs. Generally speaking, a handyman is a better target for that old joke about you can always tell he’s lying “when his lips are moving.” But, what’s a homeowner to do these days, with handymen now wearing masks covering their mouths, when even THAT clue can’t help you?
So today, we at Fix St Louis are pleased to deliver this very short online class. The topic is how to translate the garbling coming from behind the mask of your handyman into the truth. Just to be clear, NONE of this applies to Fix St Louis. We’re the folks trying to professionalize the infamous handyman industry, remember?
Introduction: The First Principle of the Handyman Industry
“The value of your job to the handyman, and his associated willingness to achieve customer satisfaction, are directly proportional to how big your job is versus his other jobs.”
So, if you have a relatively small job, your “customer service” (geez, am I being kind here) will generally be worse than a customer with a bigger job. That means things like later start dates, longer times to finish, less competitive pricing, reluctance to return to fix subsequent quality issues, and lack of responsiveness to phone calls and emails.
Handyman: “Great! We’ll start your job in about 3 weeks, depending on how fast we finish our other jobs between now and then.”
Oh, that’s a good one, always makes me laugh like hearing it for the very first time! What this really means is we’ll start your job in about 3 weeks depending upon whether any BIGGER jobs pop-up between now and then. Now you may think, well that’s OK because he didn’t ask me for any money in advance. But as a result, you actually HAVE no agreement, and he may never call you back at all – while you Mr/Ms Honest Homeowner, have in effect made a commitment to not hiring anyone else. It may seem counterintuitive, but assuming the handyman is not a crook (beware: we believe ~25% are convicted felons), you are better off paying money in advance because then at least you do have some kind of legally enforceable commitment. Assuming you’re into that lawyer kind of thing. Or you can just call Fix St Louis – we provide firm start dates so you can just put us in your calendar, schedule around us, and stop thinking about it.
Handyman: “Sorry, I’m going to have to take a few days off to go to the out-of-town funeral of a Great Aunt.”
Let me start by apologizing for what I’m about to say to that infinitesimally small number of you out there who have large extended families where EVERYONE gets along and SOMEBODY in that family keeps meticulous family trees – these remarks are not meant for you. But for everyone else, this just means you are being bumped by a handyman’s customer who has a bigger job, and it’s possible you will NEVER see him again. I’ve got news for you. NOBODY knows what a Great Aunt is. Even if they did, NOBODY could figure out who she is. NOBODY would take a few days off and forgo their wages to mourn her. And NOBODY would travel out of town to attend her funeral. Nothing against Great Aunts, but how could they be THAT “great”?
Handyman: “Sure, we’d be glad to change that light bulb. That will cost you $500.”
Yeah, I made this one easy on purpose. Unless that light bulb is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and illuminates God’s finger reaching out to Adam, changing a light bulb should not cost that much. But some handymen think quoting outrageous prices on small jobs is a win-win situation for them. If their bid is rejected they didn’t have to explain the job was too small to interest them. But if the bid is accepted the money is worth it. Unfortunately, for most jobs you may not even KNOW what a reasonable price is. So either get additional bids, or call a company that cares about building up a portfolio of happy repeat customers and wants to keep its great reputation. Oh, coincidentally, have I mentioned Fix St Louis?
Geez, this online teaching is exhausting! I don’t know how the school teachers do it. So everyone, you can take off your masks now. Be sure to maintain appropriate distances from normal people and suspicious handymen.
As you may have heard, Michael Bloomberg once stated he “could teach anybody in this room to be a farmer.” “It’s a process,” he said. “You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.” On the other hand, he said he could not teach anybody to be a TECHNOLOGY worker because the “skill sets that you have to learn are to think and analyze, you have to have a lot more gray matter.”
Honestly, I am embarrassed to admit that Mr Bloomberg’s comments took your humble correspondent by surprise. For decades, I was actually under the delusion that being a successful farmer was one of the HARDEST things anybody could do, and would be a challenge for even the SMARTEST people I had ever met, like my wife’s late grandfather. Farmers’ skills seem to cover a wide range of so-called “gray matter” professions, including veterinarian, horticulturist, climatologist, animal behaviorist, geneticist, and businessperson.
So, I’m sitting here wondering. If this is what Bloomberg thinks of FARMERS, what must he think of us HANDYMEN?! Geez, being a HANDYMAN is one of the many things that even FARMERS can do! It’s not like we handymen NEVER deal with gray matter, but I can tell you, you wouldn’t want the gray matter WE work with stuffed into your head, either before or after it has hardened.
Now, I don’t know if Mr Bloomberg ever reads these newsletters and, even if he did, whether he’d think there’s anything Dr Steve can TEACH him. But I’m not going to take a chance, and miss this opportunity to teach Mr Bloomberg about Fix St Louis handymen, so he won’t embarrass himself if the subject ever comes up.
So, here is my list of things Mr Bloomberg probably would NOT be able to teach Fix St Louis handymen:
While Mr Bloomberg may have plenty of experience climbing onto boxes behind podiums, it seems unlikely he has the bravado to stand at the top of a 40′ ladder, which our technicians do routinely.
Fix St Louis technicians often carry TWO 80 lb. bags of concrete at the same time — one under each arm. If Mr Bloomberg could be cloned, I have no doubt they could also carry one Michael Bloomberg under each arm. Based upon his slight frame, I wouldn’t think he could teach anyone how to do this.
We at Fix St Louis are poking our heads into toilets every single day to get them working for you. But for all we know, Mr Bloomberg has people whose full-time job is to push his flush levers, and he would have trouble differentiating one end of a plunger from the other. Seems like Fix St Louis wouldn’t get much out of his toilet teaching seminars.
The magicians at Fix St Louis can make the seams between two drywall sheets disappear, using that gray matter I’ve been talking about (sometimes referred to as “joint compound”). Trust me, this is very hard to do and requires lots and lots of experience to get it right. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but Mr Bloomberg has willfully chosen not to invest his time on his drywall performance, but instead spends it on his Wall Street performance and, believe me, those are two different types of wall altogether.
So, what have we learned from Mr Bloomberg today? We’ve learned that while we handymen may never be invited to a Mensa party or that annual elite get-together in Davos, an awful lot of folks there and everywhere else CAN’T or WON’T do what we at Fix St Louis do everyday — even the most ardent do-it-yourselfers. You might say we just had a teachable moment.
Was it just me? Or did it seem like the week started with experts telling us to wash our hands, and ended with them telling us to GO home, STAY there, and DON’T COME OUT ’til we SAY SO. Maybe they should be pacing themselves, because after one week all that’s left is “go to your room without dinner” and “wait ’til your father gets home.”
Now, I’m not sure about this, but I don’t think these rules apply to those of us in essential service businesses, like Fix St Louis and the Amazon delivery guy. So don’t worry about us — we’ve got plenty of stuff to do.
But, what are YOU going to be doing with all that time at home, when you can’t go to work, school, sporting events, concerts, or flee markets? What are YOU going to do after you’ve watched every last cat video on the Internet? Stare at the walls?
I say, YES, stare at the walls — only don’t forget the ceilings. Folks always talk about taking time to smell the flowers, but that’s just in your garden beds. Take the time to stare at your walls and ceilings looking for cracks and leaks. Take the time to sniff under the kitchen sink for mildew. Not to get carried away, but take the time to open (and close) EVERY door that comes before you, to see if they properly latch.
I know, I know. These words may be inspirational to me, your humble handyman, but they aren’t the kind of words-of-wisdom stuff that make it onto your teens’ wall posters. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good advice.
So as a public service during these perilous times, let Fix St Louis offer for your consideration the following worthwhile activities for when you are self-quarantined and run out of things to do, And it’s just you and your house. And nobody else.
Maybe you’ve never noticed or cared about whether or not your door bell works. But, that was before the day-before-yesterday, when the aforementioned Amazon delivery guy became the lifeline for your basic human needs. To paraphrase (and butcher) an age-old question about a tree falling in a forest, if a package is delivered on your front porch and doesn’t make a sound, does it do you any good? What’s more, if you have Fix St Louis install one of those new VIDEO door bells, you can even watch Amazon-guy run back to his truck.
If a door doesn’t close all the way, what good is it? It’s there for a reason. To keep people out, or to keep water out, or to keep cold air out. Do they keep viruses out? I suppose. Maybe that’s why they sent us home in the first place.
Do you have windows that drop like a guillotine when you let go, like something out of the French Revolution? Now, I’m not thinking you’re going to have much use for a guillotine — that the experts predict this stay-at-home thing will last so long that your subdivision neighbors will be violently scavenging for dwindling supplies of water and toilet paper. So, you might as well get these windows fixed by Fix St Louis.
Do you have brown or black stuff on the caulk around the ledge of your bathtub or base of your shower? Now, I’m no CDC microbiologist, but that gunk can’t be doing your body any good. Let Fix St Louis replace that dirty caulk with white or clear stuff that at least LOOKS like it might be sterile.
OK, that should be enough to keep you busy for at least a couple of hours, while also doing good things for your house and family. So, here’s a suggestion for when that’s done, and you’re tired of watching YouTube cat videos. Have you ever Googled for videos of animals with unusual best friends? You’re welcome.
It’s FIXmas season again, when the reason for the season is getting your home repairs done before the guests arrive. So, let’s get in the mood by singing an old-time favorite. And this time, I wanna hear the voices of EVERYBODY, even those of you WAY BACK in the cul-de-sacs. On three — one, and a two, and a…
On the 12th day of FIXmas, my handyman fixed for me…
12 doors not latching
11 walls for patching
10 toilets running
9 sinks need plumbing
8 drains a-leaking
7 floors a-creaking
6 tiles a-laying
5 WAX TOI-LET RINGS…
4 falling shelves
3 French doors
2 lights above
and a door tra-ack on a pan-try…
Wow. That FIXmas classic never fails to bring a tear to this old handyman’s eyes. All those Fix St Louis memories. Repairing all those broken, rotted, dirty, and damp things in your homes. What joyous times we had.
But you know, many folks don’t realize the FIXmas season extends well past Christmas, and into the new year. FIXmas is also a time to make home improvement New Years resolutions, and take those first steps to guarantee you will keep them. What about that bathroom or basement you always wanted to upgrade, but it’s now too close to the holidays to get that started? Fix St Louis operators are now standing by, waiting to take your reservations for dates in January, to make sure these projects will actually get done, and you can enjoy them all year long.
Seems like you’re kinda busy, so we’ll put-off singing more FIXmas classics, like Little Plumber Boy and Chuck-ie the Handyman. Meanwhile, let us know if we can help this FIXmas season, either before or after the new year. From all of us at Fix St Louis, Merry Christmas and Many Happy Repairs!
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of praise for AA’s 12-step process for recovering alcoholics, often touted as one of the most successful self-improvement programs of all time. So, I was curious and looked it up on the web.
Now keep in mind that this old handyman doesn’t spend his days immersed in the world of big ideas. As they say, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when all you have is a plunger, everything looks like a toilet.
So, it’s not all that surprising that when I read AA’s 12 steps, I was astonished by how well they fit the situation our home-owning customers find themselves in. Not that there is a perfect analogy between homeowners and recovering alcoholics, but I ask you to indulge me for a moment.
Let’s have Fix St Louis make some minor modifications to AA’s 12 steps. Imagine you are giving a pledge, and watch what happens:
Not a bad fit, is it? Maybe Fix St Louis can help by making suggestions on that “searching and fearless inventory” of things that need to be fixed, especially before the holiday guests arrive. How about that bathroom door that doesn’t quite latch, so can never be locked for privacy? Or that folding pantry door that has fallen off its tracks? Or that ominous stain on your living room ceiling, just beneath an upstairs toilet? Or that mailbox that is leaning, or doorbell that hasn’t worked for years?
Now, let’s not take this translation of AA’s 12 steps TOO far. For instance, you probably don’t need to make a list of all the friends and family members you’ve hurt over the last few years by your lack of diligence in home repairs. Or apologize and make amends to each and every one of them. OK, so maybe it’s just an 11-step process.
But, however many steps there are, the last one ought to be “Contact Fix St Louis.” So, let’s get going. Let’s put your house in order.
Virtually everyone who visits Disney World goes on the “It’s a Small World” ride, featuring hundreds of animated dolls dancing and singing to that same ear worm song you all know, as a tribute to today’s international unity and global peace. So it’s understandable why they had to locate it in “Fantasyland,” not far from the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride.
But you need to go to “Tomorrowland” to see the favorite ride of Walt Disney himself. Originally launched as the “GE Carousel of Progress,” it’s a tribute to how electricity has made our lives better. The audience revolves around 4 stages, showing progressively more recent generations, as we follow the lives of a miraculously non-aging animatronic family. They sit amongst the newfangled electrical devices of their time, like horseless washing machines, sewing machines, and Victrolas, explaining how they can’t believe how good things are, and can’t imagine things ever being better.
The genius of Walt Disney was that he knew better than to locate that animatronic family OUTSIDE their house, where the so-called “Carousel of Progress” had pretty much stalled. Animatronic Granny would be complaining it’s too hot to sit outside during St Louis summers, and too cold during winters. Gramps would complain it was too dark to read the newspaper. Ma and Pa would be at each other’s throats fighting over whose turn it was to use that blasted weed whacker, with its unreliable 2-cycle engine, its stupid pull string, and that even stupider way to let out more trimming string by slamming its bottom on the driveway.
Yes, even the father of an imaginary mouse knew that opening such a ride might jeopardize his park’s credential as the “Happiest Place on Earth.” It would expose that lack of electrical progress has been confining homeowners to the small, small world of the inside of their houses.
It’s a shame that Walt did not live long enough to meet the folks here at Fix St Louis. Some might say we perform “magic” that brings outdoors the benefits of the electricity inside. That we are proverbial “Tinker Bells,” spreading pixie dust that allows homeowners’ outdoor life to take flight. OK, so nobody has ever said that. But still, here’s what we can do for you.
Installing a ceiling fan on a porch, or plugging a stand-up fan into an outdoor outlet, can make ALL the difference in being able to sit outside during our hot St Louis summers. Yeah, per the musical Cinderella, it may be impossible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage, and arguable that daft and dewey-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, but at Fix St Louis impossible things are happening everyday! We can install outdoor ceiling fans and outdoor electrical outlets where none existed before, no problem. And it doesn’t require magic – or cost as much as you think.
And once you have that additional outdoor electrical outlet discussed above, you can use it when it’s cold out, too. Just plug in one of those inexpensive portable electrical heaters that provides direct heat to your body, not the kind meant to heat up an entire room. You’ll still want to wear clothes when you’re sitting on your porch for reasons I should not have to explain, but that heater can make sitting outside in the winter bearable, if not comfortable.
Using an electric hedge trimmer can be a real pain. Is there an outlet nearby? Do you have an extension cord long enough? Does that cord keep getting tangled in the bushes? Have you ever accidentally cut the extension cord with a trimmer? How do you wind-up and store an extension cord that may be more than 50 feet long?
These kinds of problems have already been solved for watering lawns and gardens. You buy a hose reel, store it near an outside faucet, pull out the amount of hose you need, and reel it back in when you’re done. Geez, wouldn’t it be nice to have a system like that for electricity, providing power for hedge trimmers and similar outdoor electrical devices?
Good news! In fact, an extension cord equivalent of the garden hose reel HAS been invented and has been available for years! Ever see an auto mechanic with a caged light bulb hanging from the bottom of an open car hood by a hook? Those are often connected to a reel, that the wire retracts into. You can buy one like the pictured model below, which has a 50′ long extension, with both an outlet and very powerful LED light at the end. Now, let’s say you have an electrical outlet just inside your garage door. You could mount this unit near that outlet, plug it in, and you would have a retractable extension cord that would reach a distance of two garage depths. For many folks, that’s enough to reach all their hedges.
Whip Your Weeds
FINALLY, someone has invented a practical replacement for the 2-cycle gas engine on weed whippers. New, rechargeable battery units provide plenty of power to slice-off weeds. And, there’s a slick way to handle all this without dragging your weed whipper and battery all through the house. Just mount the recharging unit near an outlet in the garage. Put the battery in it when you’ve finished the weed whipping, and reinstall the battery in the weed whipper when you are ready to do it again. No solution yet for extending that stupid trimming string. Guess that’s for the next time they update that last station on the Carousel of Progress.
Forgot to mention, Disney’s Carousel of progress has its own ear worm song, played every time the audience is revolving to the next stage. For some of you, the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” may still be reverberating in your head after several decades. I don’t know about the “great big beautiful part,” but as for “tomorrow,” a call to Fix St Louis can make your life outdoors a whole lot better. Right, Gramps?