Communion Of Dreams


Taking the long view.

This framed item has been on the wall of my bindery (at various locations) since I started work in 1992:

pledge

Here’s the same text, taken from the Services Offered page of my business website:

I am dedicated to preserving the legacy of books and documents that we have inherited.  To the best of my knowledge and ability I use techniques and materials that will last for generations.  Whenever possible, the materials are of archival quality:  acid-free and buffered papers & board, inert and reversible adhesives, unbleached linen thread, et cetera.  The techniques I use for binding and conservation work are likewise archivally oriented, non-damaging, and reversible in the event the book or document requires additional attention in the future.  All work is, of course, unconditionally guaranteed.

 

That last line sometimes surprises people. But it is extremely important, and has stood me in very good stead over the years I have been in business.  As I told a client by email this morning, concerning work on a recently-completed project (a 1910 D.A.R. charter on natural vellum which had been poorly framed and stored):

Well, I’ve done all that can be done, I think. The document is flat, the remaining wrinkling is where it was once wet and then dried in contact with the glass.

But as it says on my website: my work is unconditionally guaranteed. I want to wait until you have a chance to see the condition of the charter, and if you’re not satisfied with the work, just don’t send me payment (or if payment has already been sent, I’ll hold onto the check until you have the charter and can judge for yourself). Seriously, it is much more important to me that you be satisfied with the work than the few hours of labor I have invested in this project. I have always operated by this policy, and it has been by far the best thing for my customers and reputation.

 

You might think that people would take advantage of such a policy to try and screw me out of deserved payment. And maybe a couple have in my 23+ years of business. But I think the vast majority of people are honest and well-intentioned; if I think that a client isn’t trustworthy, I just don’t take the job. That has probably filtered out a few potential problems. And the others I chalk up to being a cost of doing business. Because when I tell a client that if they are not satisfied with the work, and I will either do what is necessary to make them satisfied or there’s no charge, they see that I’m not trying to cheat them in any way. And having that reputation as a craftsman is priceless.

Recently I was helping out a local NFP arts organization, by getting information together for some renovation work they need to have done. I met with several contractors, walked them through the facility so they could see the scope of the work, and then asked them to provide estimates for what needed to be done and at what cost, so that the NFP Board and Executive could seek funding.

With the first two contractors, things went exactly as expected. However, when the third contractor went through the facility, he saw something which caught his attention  and he started reconsidering the whole project (one of the other contractors had noticed the same thing and remarked on it, but didn’t investigate further). By the time we were done, he turned to me, shook his head and said something along the lines of: “I’m going to talk myself out of a job, but I think that the problem you’re having isn’t the one you think you’re having. I think you should get a qualified structural engineer in to do a formal check, but I don’t think you need me to do the work you asked me to bid on. That’s just a symptom of what is really going on, and it’d be cheaper and easier to correct the actual source of the trouble.”

This was a construction job which was going to run into the low five-digits, so it wasn’t just some little thing. For a small contractor, walking away from that sort of job isn’t done lightly. Particularly when it would have been very easy for him to just bid, do the work, and then figure the repairs would hold up long enough that nothing would come back to haunt him in the future.

That, my friends, is integrity.

I reached out my hand to the contractor, thanked him for his honesty, and told him that from now on if I knew of anyone who needed the kind of work done that he did, that I would have no hesitation in recommending him as honest and trustworthy.

That’s why I have the policy I do for my conservation work. And yeah, I am convinced that it is far and away the best possible policy I could have.

 

Jim Downey

 

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