Creating kitchens and baths for finicky customers since 1993

backsplash features inset metal tiles for accent and texture

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Three weeks later?!?

I'm looking here at my most recent post, and seeing a date now nearly THREE WEEKS old! How can that be? I simply cannot believe how time really does fly sometimes. The experts are absolutely right, too: changing jobs is stressfull! These are all great people to work with, and things are moving along just fine, but this is most assuredly mind-draining.

Mike and I finished our first big kitchen (see previous post), and it turned out very well. A picture would be worth 1,000 words here, but I haven't gotten that organized yet. Sorry. The customer is very happy: that's the most important result. Since then we've been racing around the county installing shower doors for Gary. Even better, we have a couple countertops for Pete to do these next few days. Plenty of other jobs on the horizon; but receiving special-order product and lining up the other assorted ducks takes time. I've even quoted a few jobs of our own, too. (Something I rarely had time to do with CP, so I'm a little rusty!)

All in all, the weather is improving, and the real remodelling season looms near. The bugs will be ironed out, the new names firmly remembered, and the newness of it all will fade. Then I'll be complaining about the lack of leisure time. Which is just fine. I'll have pic's in the future, so these posts will consist of more than words. Spring is in the air!

Thanks to all my great customers, for your kind words and encouragement. And here's to my as-yet-unmet future customers: can't wait to meet you! That's my update, for now.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Movin' On...

It's been a couple weeks since I posted here. They've been two weeks of new faces, new places, and a new "boss." Mike and I have been busy building a new kitchen for a very nice couple in Fairport, Doug and Jan B. The good part is that our work is still being done under the watchful eye of Pete S. That has certainly helped with the transition from Chase-Pitkin to T. McKenna Plumbing, Inc. This is a big job with a great deal of detail, plus the need to work in conjunction with a new electrical contractor and with an in-house plumber. Both of these have been a pleasure to work with. So has the customer, for that matter--even though he is almost always home. (Sometimes the "always-home" customer can be a royal...!)

We've now done three completely different shower doors, with another on the way. These are higher-end enclosures, compared to the typical CP sale. Two have been true-custom doors: measured and built specifically for one installation. Although I have plenty of experience with shower doors, they can present their own quirky challenges--and they don't pay so much that we can afford much lost time or error. So far, so good.

It's not all wine and roses, of course. Aside from Pete, we don't really know any of the "crew." (At CP, we knew dozens of long-timers from years of association.) There are new procedures and expectations, which we will simply have to get used to. Furthermore, there is still plenty of uncertainty for us regarding the future of this young relationship. We don't yet have a true feel for what volume of work we can expect, and of what general mix. Those things just take time. I've also had to shelve my lovely custom magnetic signs, and have nothing with which to replace them yet. I'd like to look a bit more "official," with something identifying us as authorized T-Mack contractors. A couple of presentable company shirts or hats would be a good move, too. Those are minor details, and just part of the move.

The hardest part of all this is leaving so many good people behind. The folks we knew are winding up their last weeks at CP, or are already long gone. Some have even contacted me via their new employers, sending out feelers regarding a continued work relationship. Others have moved on with no forwarding address; I may never hear from some of these people again. The stores will close soon, under liquidation rules. I have neither the time nor the ready cash to be too concerned with whatever bargains that might present. It's silly to say, but I'd feel like a human vulture if I were to scour the aisles for deals. I'll stick to the present, and make the adjustments that must be made. One of my very favorite songs from the group Boston is Don't Look Back: that sums things up quite well, I think. Until next time, then...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Out with the old - in with the new

Last week marked a milestone. We spent the first three days working on our final Chase-Pitkin kitchen, actually our final CP job--period. Mike and I decided to do this one together, just to be certain it didn't drag on. Good thing, too: two of the cabinets were big and heavy! On Thursday, we'll return to install the new countertop (measured and built to fit exactly). Nice kitchen, very decent customer, and no big headaches (knock on wood!). There will be no fanfare, or any other real way to mark it, but that will be the end of that. The stores' shelves are nearly empty; and the showroom's stock is being sold off this week, auction-style. The whole thing is still a tough pill to swallow, after thirteen good years. I can't dwell on it. Life always moves on, doesn't it?

Mike and I did a job for a new customer this morning. It was a tricky one, but all went well and we were "in and out" by lunchtime. This was one of those rare customers who likes to watch but doesn't like to interfere. He's a big NASCAR fan, and so is Mike, so there was quite a bit of friendly banter--just short of the "less talk and more action" point. This customer, Jack's his name, offered us coffee and food, even beer. We gratefully drank his coffee. Jack is also one of those exceedingly rare customers who smokes inside his own home. I'm so used to stepping outside to take a cigarette break, that it felt very strange to light up indoors. (I don't really miss it anymore, though it was annoying at first when the restaurants had to ban smoking.)

As I said, the job went very well. Mike and I work well together, and there were no glitches or product defects. This was our very first job for T. McKenna Plumbing, Inc.--so the fact that it went more than OK was wonderful. The real treat came while we were packing up. I noticed that Jack was on the phone. Then I realized he was calling our new employer. (This almost never happens, except in the case of unresolvable problems.) Jack made his call in front of us, without fanfare, but in such a way that we couldn't help but overhear. He was calling to say what a fine job we had done, and to compliment our employer and us. He also mentioned several times how nice the job turned out: it was a specialty, all-custom shower door in gleaming bright brass. Any tiny error would have been glaring.

I've had compliments before, even received some very nice tips. Every now and then, a customer will send a note to the office expressing his pleasure. Anyone in any service industry knows how much we treasure these beyond-price rewards. This was, however, the first time I'd ever actually been privy to a customer's "I'm so happy" telephone call. What a great feeling!

This got us talking. Jack was well aware of the effect his call had on Mike and me. We are all familiar with the opposite phenomenon. A displeased customer makes no bones about his feelings. You can be sure his displeasure will be aired, one way or another. It's all part of the squeaky wheel syndrome, and the fact that it's much easier to be negative than positive in life. How often have you seen signs planted in someone's yard protesting this or that, with the big red circle-slash over the disliked event? It takes someone with self-confidence, awareness, and empathy to offer up unsolicited positive feedback. Of course, the very rarity of compliments in everyday life also reinforces their value to us all. If everybody was thoughtful and nice, would we even notice?

Oh, yeah; I almost forgot: Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Getting back to work, seriously!

The end of Chase-Pitkin Installed Services is now in sight. I've spent the last week or so tidying up loose ends and assembling year-end info. The weather has been spectacular--gold weather, even! Alas, winter has returned, and with it a more regular work schedule.

This week begins the final CPit kitchen. Mike and I are tackling this one together, so we can gang-up on some windows for his end of the business next week. This is a very strange feeling, knowing we're working for my last CP customer. Nice-looking cabinets, too, by the way. The best part of this job is that we are indoors, working in a nice warm room, while the wind and snow whirls around outside. The next kitchen I write about here will be for my first T. McKenna Plumbing, Inc. customer. "One door closes, another door opens..." And spring is just around the corner, I think! More from me soon...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Winter week in Review

Some weeks are easier than others. Some are weirder than others. This one was a little of both. Most unusual for me, each day found me at a different location! After doing two large bathroom remodels, the daily change of scenery was refreshing, I suppose. As for weird, that award goes to the weather. What a strange winter this is so far! Last Friday was a true winter-golf day, with the thermometer pushing tantalizingly close to SEVENTY degrees. Today, one week later, we're back in the sixties again. Yesterday was okay, but typically cold. The day before saw rain, sleet, snow, wailing winds, and a plenitude of auto accidents. Tuesday, however, was only chilly with a dribble of midday rain. Monday was bitter winter straight from Central Casting. Bizarre, truly bizarre. That's the weather, then--here's the work week:

Monday Mike and I worked together to install an extraordinarily heavy exterior French door unit from Anderson. I've never seen this specific door unit before, and I hope to never have to lift one again. Fortunately, we had help. The homeowner and his varsity-football son each chipped in to help us move this monstrosity. With weight, though, comes quality. The actual installation, after the move, was a breeze. Everybody was happy, on both sides of that door!

Tuesday I finally found a way to schedule an old and loyal customer's new replacement windows. I'd hoped to have Mike's help with these originally, but our calendars never seemed to mesh. I'm not really a "window guy," although I've done enough of them over the years. But I don't have Mike's confidence or speed with them. It was only six windows, so even I was able to comfortably install them all in one day. They fed me lunch, too. Yum! The rain arrived by afternoon, so I deferred removing the old storm windows 'till another day.

Wednesday was the final day for the Rush (Town of, not speed of) bathroom job, which I've written about recently. In remodeling, there's no feeling quite so satisfying as finishing a job in style. All the painting was done while I was gone. Pete Zury put in the new floor on Monday, and it's perfect. When I got there that morning, my job was to install anything not yet in place, to do a bit of caulking, and to add the trim (which needed to follow the flooring). When I left a few hours later, everything was complete and ready for the owners' use. It's not often that a job works out that way, so I rarely see the finished product. One more, "everybody happy."

Thursday I covered a lot of territory. Back to the upper east side to pull of those pesky storm windows and caulk all around. Done. Back to outer east Mongolia (alright, Walworth) to finish my all-day-bathroom-floor. It didn't go well at first, because I had to reset the toilet (my fault) and fix the fill valve (just bad luck); but that one is done and ended up okay. From there I hustled off to my side of the city, upper west side, to meet a referral customer regarding new countertops. That's a "new" experience for me, after years of working from sold-leads with Chase-Pitkin. Nothing I haven't done a hundred times before, years past. It's like riding a bike, after all. Home in time for dinner, so that was a winner.

Today, of course, was Friday. Since I'm not working Saturday (yea!), it's the final workday of this week. All day long the temperature climbed, so I was able to set-up for cutting outside, and to work without a coat. What a nice change! The job was tricky enough: adding crown molding all the way around a new kitchen, in which some of the crown had already been installed. In addition, the customer had provided two different sizes of moldings, which had to meet in one spot. (Not a mistake, but rather a choice, based on different wall finishes.) Some of the existing crown had to come back out, be re-cut, then re-installed. All in all, challenging enough to keep me on my toes. But not so much that it was frustrating or discouraging. And when it was done, it sure looked fine! That's exactly the right way to end the week. Until Monday, then...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Thursday: wrapping up the new bath

Finally, I find myself finishing up a big job without staying until well past dark. It's always difficult to tell, sometimes weeks in advance, how long I think a large job might take to complete. This time I left enough time. I'm 100% ready for paint--oh, what a feeling! Even had enough time to wash the truck (it's been a month) and purchase a new date-minder on the way home. I forgot to eat lunch, though. Too many stops along the way; I lost track of the lunch idea!

This was a full-gut bath, except for the ceiling. I'm pleased to have been able to pull it off in about a week, giving credit to Palmeroni Electric (Mike, in particular) for taking care of the electrical stuff. Pete Zury will install the floor on Monday, then I'll reset any fixtures and baseboard as needed. So add one day to "finished." Still, it's been a physically demanding few days, with lots of trips to the dumpster and to the truck for tools, etc.

The last couple days have been almost exclusively devoted to finish work: skim-coating, plumbing trim-outs, setting the vanity and top. That sort of thing. Those are picky tasks, but not so exhausting. Plus the room really comes together near the end, with towel-bars and such; so it looks great and feels good. The weather has been exceptional, as well. Literally, golf weather! Today, for instance, was sunny and sixty! Amazing, and good for the overall attitude. I didn't have time or inclination for any golf, but it was nice to know I could have. The forecast says one more day like this, then back to winter. Can't complain, not at all. Until next time...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Just a regular old Monday again

The holidays are all gone by, and the depths of winter have yet to arrive. It's tough to get back into the swing of a regular work-week again, but I must. Many Mondays are the start of a new project, but not this one. Last week's bathroom in Rush was still there waiting for me when I returned this morning. I don't mind that at all: I know this customer and I know what awaits me for the day.

This was a fun day, as workdays go. Most of the heavy lifting is done, and things are starting to really take shape. I set up shop in the garage, hoping for at least a little sun to light my work zone. No such luck. I did some measuring, some figuring, some router-cutting on my three shower walls. These are solid-surface (like Corian®), and their one funny quirk is that you can't really tell the front from the back. Maybe there isn't any designated "good side." The directions don't even mention making the choice in the first place. I hate reading directions anyway, but I did, just to check. Installing these walls is all about preparation, and a bit of measure twice/cut once. It went fine.

I got a second coat of plaster (yup, it's real plaster on the seams) on my purple walls. So, with the shower looking nearly complete and the walls looking pretty spiffy (yes, that's a word), I'm feeling good about this job. There's plenty of finish and fixture work to do yet, but I'm on the downhill stretch. Talked to Pete S around midday. I was overdue to check-in with him to see what the/our future holds in store. The time when Chase-Pitkin is gone for good is fast approaching. One day at a time for now, though. Until tomorrow, then...

Friday, January 06, 2006

OK to exhale: the sun's out!

Yesterday I bemoaned the lack of sunshine here in Upstate NY; I noted that I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a glimpse. Today I saw that long-lost bright yellow ball for nearly an hour, twice! I had to stop what I was doing and point my face directly toward the sun, eyes closed to its brilliant glare (!). My batteries are hereby recharged. The day started out ominously, with fairly heavy snow. I despise driving in the dark when it's snowing. I drove out of it, though; it was only local lake-effect snow. We got about an inch or so. It sure looked pretty drifting earthward under a partly-sunny sky. So much for the weather.

Today's progress was solid. I told my wife that I amaze myself. She laughed. The important thing is that my customer is at least impressed, if not amazed. In three days her little bathroom has gone from bare studs to completed re-boarded with purple drywall. I'll be ready for some actual finishing touches on Monday. I have to admit, the new paper-color (replacing the old institutional-green) is quite festive. It might be a bit brighter, too, which is helpful in a small room. The stuff is expensive, though: nearly fifteen bucks a sheet with tax.

Saturday has been elected as catch-up day. I'll be visiting no less than three previous customers, each needing some small thing completed. None of these go-backs were emergencies, nor are any of them particularly difficult. I'll probably average about half an hour at each home. Unfortunately, these service calls are scattered all around Western NY. The gas tank is full now, but sure to be nearly empty by the time I get home tomorrow afternoon. The gas expense (up nearly twenty cents a gallon in the last two weeks) and the time spent driving are far more annoying than the work involved. The good news is that most of these calls will be paid, because they are product-related (versus my own warranty). Give me a spot or two of sunshine, and I'll be just fine. Regardless, TGIF!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

First week of '06 is nearly done!

It's already Thursday, feeling very much like Wednesday on this shortened workweek. I'm glad it's not, though. I'm bushed! Tuesday was nearly thirteen hours spent in Walworth (Boondocks East), installing a ceramic tile floor in a tiny half-bath. Because there was some outside work to finish there first, I didn't actually begin the tile floor until almost eleven a.m. The tear-out was not fun at all. Not only that, but I had to run to the store for plumbing supplies related to the re-use of a nearly fifty-year-old toilet. It almost would have been worth the price to buy that customer a new toilet instead.

Wednesday featured the start of a major bathroom project: full-gut down to the bare studs. This one is in Rush, just off the expressway (Boondocks South). The walls were one half ceramic tile, and the tub was cast iron. Oh, my achin' back! Fortunately, the customer is very nice and the job is on the first floor (no stairs!). I've spent these last two days doing the tear-out and prepping for the new shower plumbing. I also managed to install all the upper sheets of new drywall. This wallboard is purple-colored, which I've never seen before. There's much to do, and a long way to go on this one. I think the back-breaking part is nearly done, though.

Locally, the weather has been the story: we've not seen the sun since the day before Christmas Eve. It's reaching the point where people are emailing our TV weathercasters demanding to know "when??". For me, I feel as though whatever batteries run my body are just about drained. I need some sun! The forecast, however, calls for falling temp's and some snow or sleet. Extreme darkness is predicted for tomorrow morning, just like every morning for the next few weeks. It's so hard to wake up in the dark, leave home in the dark, and arrive on the jobsite without having even glimpsed a lightened sky. Maybe the coming snow will bring some sparkling sunlight in its wake. I'm not holding my breath...