So in case you hadn’t heard, besides being a pastor, I am also a kitchen contractor.
Being in business hasn’t made me or my business partner rich. It has taught us a lot about ourselves. Mostly, it’s taught us that part of keeping a business going is being willing to accept that you have a lot to learn – always. But more than that, it’s taught us that this acceptance needs to guide your actions.
(I started my business when it became clear to me that worker-ministry was going to be a likelihood in Quebec one day – perhaps sooner than later. These days, I manage it at a distance, making sure that things stay on track. I don’t work on the front lines any more.)
Anyway, I am a contractor – which basically means that a client comes to us with a need, an idea and a budget, and it’s our challenge to make that work. Like any business, the goal is to make a sale so we aim to please. A big part of working in the kitchen business is to not force your ideas on your clients. You have to put yourself in their mindset.
Our motto is Your Kitchen at Your Price and translated into English our company name, Les Armoires de Cuisines Chez Soi, means “Kitchens that are your home”.
This doesn’t mean that we will do business at any cost. This is not as easy at it sounds.
From the outset, my business partner and I vowed that we would try to choose our clients carefully. We knew that in order to do this, we would have to be wise, know our limitations, and take things one step at a time. Yes… we knew this… or so we thought.
We left out a key ingredient. Being humble.
Let me explain.
Since we started out, we have stopped doing business with two home builders who were giving us a fair bit of work.
Why did we do this?
They weren’t being honest — with themselves. They weren’t dishonest in the sense that they were crooked as much as they were passing themselves off as something they were not. They were taking on contracts where they lacked the resources to deliver effectively. There were always nagging problems with the projects we were a part of with them. We knew that if we were not careful, this was going to have a negative impact on us one day.
Service calls cost time, money and your reputation; a lot more time, money and reputation than refusing business. A bad reference gets repeated several more times than a good one – as many as 13 times more I was taught. Going with a client’s ideas that you know will not work as well as the client thinks they will and hoping for the best is never a good idea.
But that was only part of the lesson. The smaller part actually.
In our minds, we understood the principles at play. But we were a little full of ourselves. It was easy to blame someone else for the situation. The full lesson hadn’t really sunk into our souls – until we struggled to finish a job that would have really crippled us financially if we had not been able to complete it. In our market, the home builder doesn’t pay anything until their clients are completely satisfied. The home builder wasn’t delivering according to plan. So, in return, the client wasn’t paying him according to plan. That meant we weren’t getting paid according to plan either.
What we really had to come to grips with was that we were not being honest with ourselves either. So, in our second year of operation, we dropped the two home builders in question and stopped trying to make kitchens that carried a big price tag. We had the skill to make them, but those projects were stretching our time way too thin.
It was a hard pill to swallow and a harder lesson to learn.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled but all who humble themselves will be exalted”. I think that one of the reasons that these words from Jesus endure is because although he did great things, Jesus did not see himself as greater than the people who were following him. Instead, Jesus never lost sight of the fact that his calling from God to serve was what was greater.
Engaging in wishful thinking for the sake of making money is a bad plan. More than that, it’s prideful.
When we first started, my business partner and I wanted to be proud of our work and our company. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, except that we equated it with the sticker price of the kitchen. So when we were forced to readjust, our ego took a hit. Our misplaced pride went so far as to put a strain on our working relationship.
Thankfully, we were able to swallow it before it led us over the edge. We listened to our business consultant, our banker and our accountant. I prayed about it with a minister-colleague at the time.
My partner and I started to understand that our company was in fact in its infancy and we needed to treat it like we were it’s parent. The biggest shift we made was to stop worrying about what everybody else was doing and instead concentrated on making sure that we ourselves paid attention to bettering ourselves.
We are not perfect by any stretch, but after five years, we can say that we do know ourselves much better. Today, we focus on smaller kitchens and things by and large run more smoothly. Each of us knows better what skills we bring to the business and we are happy to play those roles – for the good of the business.
For sure, the decisions we made came with a cost. Saying “no” to those contracts put a big hole in our balance sheet. I am sure, though, that the cost of continuing to fool ourselves would have been greater.
Rev. Eric Lukacs