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Survival

September/October 2008 Issue of Michigan Builder

I pretty much gave up on TV years ago, so I have never seen the "Survivor" show. But I know what survival is. My mother-in-law talks about surviving the WW11 bombing in London, England. My father has talked about being capsized on a boat in a storm on Houghton Lake as a teenager. We have all heard other survival stories. And now we are hearing about "survival" in the building business. Is it about survival, or about maintaining the success we have become used to in the last roughly 25 boom years of our building business?

Webster's defines survival mostly in terms of living or continuing to exist, and finally in terms of "continuing to prosper". So in that mindset, no matter how tough the market is, no matter what financial constraints or hardships we endure through this downturn, we all will certainly continue to live and exist. However, many of us are no longer in the "prosper mode", but what we call our "survival mode". Cut payroll, sell off lots and homes (many times, at a loss), sell off equipment or offices, terminate leases, re-negotiate payment terms with suppliers and lenders, all of the things that will hopefully cause our business to continue to exist. So survival, really, is not about us, it is about our business.

Businesses come, businesses go. They start, they stop. They flourish, they fail. Meanwhile, the people behind the businesses continue to exist. So what we are really talking about is personal success. Again going to Webster's, we find success to be "to be the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence", or "achieving a favorable or desired object or end". So yes, one measure of success is the wealth we can build through our business. And many of us have done this in past years, just not currently. I hear many say "I wish I had all the money I wasted (pick your own euphemism) when times were good". But, especially in this economy, we need to remember that achievement of wealth is not the only measure of success. There are many other things in life that are more important than wealth. Respect, relationships, and peace of mind are a few that come to mind. Respect earned through involvement in the community or business associations. Respect earned through years of being known as an honest businessperson, always to be trusted and good for his or her word. Respect earned from donating time to local charitable causes. Respect earned from always trying to do the right thing for customers and community. Relationships within our family, taking time for the important things, supporting each other. Relationships with our employees, trades, and suppliers; treating each other fairly and honestly. Relationships with our customers, making sure they get the best from you within what they are paying for. Relationships with our friends and confidants, always taking time to listen. Peace of mind, gained from always trying to do the right thing, living honestly and fairly.

When asked the question, "how is your business?", or "how's it going?", many of us answer in negative terms, such as "terrible", "couldn't be worse", "it sucks", or most often "really slow". And yet we complain that the press is publishing bad news that holds business down, that we wish the press would present the positive side. And so we are guilty of the same thing. Starting tomorrow, why don't we all reflect on what true success is: earning respect, building relationships, and gaining peace of mind. Our answer to the question should be something like: "We are really busy with our customers, they continue to ask us back to do more work on their homes" (read "we are using this slow time to catch up on our warranty work") or "we are really enjoying our increased involvement in this years Habitat home project" (read "we have no paying work, so we are donating our time") or "my kids are at an important age, I'm really spending some time with them" (read "I don't have much work, I'm trying to make up for some of what I missed when we were so busy"), or "I'm excited, I've been studying and applying the Green Building guidelines for our business, we are really improving our homes and construction process" (read "I don't have much work, I'm catching up on all the stuff I've been putting off') You get the picture. Now that we have time, now is the time to build relationships, work on earning respect, and go to bed with peace of mind.

The good times will be back soon, and many of us will say "I wish I had all the time I wasted (pick your own euphemism) when we were slow!"

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