Heritage Restoration, Inc.

I Know A Guy

The “I know a guy” phraseology gets a lot of flak in Rhode Island. Being a small state knowing a guy can have its advantages, especially in contracting. People ask us a lot if we know a guy, asking for names of trusted individuals and companies. As a homeowner it’s hard to find good workers, and asking around can have a real benefit. But beware, this can be a double-edged sword.

I have spent the better part of my career building trust and resources. A buyer has a choice, rely on the spoken and written word to match expectations, or already having a vetted, trusted contractor who fits what they need. A general contractor cannot afford making the mistake of hiring the wrong subcontractor; it can cost them their reputation or impact their bottom line. They live and die by who they know.

Recently, a conversation came up about a general contractor who wanted to use a specialized sub without competitive bids. One argument was hiring who you know ensures a consistent quality of work, and that the price would be fair since that sub wants to keep working for that general contractor. The counter argument was that how would one know if it is the best price if only price is sought. Generally, there is a need to keep contractors to give an honest price, yet there are times when knowing a guy is the best place to start and end since they rely on repeat business, especially from someone who will give them work.

In an age where advertising is spread across digital and print markets, reaching potential clients is challenging. Word of mouth is essential for contracting services to get new and repeat business. One could argue that places like Houzz and Angie’s List are crowd based word of mouth systems. People use their experiences to rate contractors, where price, quality, and professionalism are rated and summarized, similar to the old days of word of mouth. While word of mouth should never be the sole marketing method, it is perhaps the most important. This is where “knowing a guy” becomes essential.

“Knowing a guy” in Rhode Island is critical. First is it fits the stereotype that contractors do not service the whole state, so you have to ask for the right region. Second, no one can afford bad work. Customers depend on general contractors to make sure a project goes off seamlessly, which is even more important when you are hiring someone directly. Third, and most important, knowing the contractor means they can relate to or already know your expectations. As a general contractor it is great not have to always spell out every step. In larger projects, the “every step” is covered by specifications and drawings, but for smaller projects it’s great for the reassurance you don’t have to say to clean up every day. The next reason is knowing how they work. Expecting high-level work can be as simple as saying it and they do it. In the end, getting three prices by unknown contractors tells you only price, not quality or matching expectations. Knowing how the contractor works is essential, since print or words mean little in actions.

“Knowing a guy” is an essential business tool and resource for homeowners.   Business relationships are key in getting a predictable, consistent, and quality product. And with the information age, contractors are only as good as their last project. Longevity is great but sometimes the crowd based word of mouth can sink someone quick. While “knowing a guy” is toxic in certain circles, there are clear advantages to the general contractor and homeowner in getting consistent, fair priced work. The question of the “best price” is disputable, since there are few projects that can test two contractors simultaneously. So in the contracting arena, trust the one’s you know rather than the one’s you don’t. Their reputation depends on it.