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Labor Pains: How contractors should REALLY be categorized

It’s Labor Day weekend, when we all relax and turn our attention to “labor” — although I’ve never been sure what exactly that requires us to do. Just as I’ve never been sure who or what we should be reflecting upon on “President’s Day.” For some reason, Labor Day just seems to make me think of eating a hot dog.

Well, just in case we’re supposed to be reflecting on “labor”, let us here at Fix St Louis tell you about something you should understand, but probably never did – how to categorize the laborers who fix homes like yours.

“Chuck in a Truck”

This type of home operation usually consists of a handyman and a pickup truck, plus a helper who sometimes tags along. Even though these folks individually might have VERY small businesses, collectively they do more home repairs than anyone else.

While some of these handymen are quite good, the list of their problems is quite long. Hardly a day goes by when homeowners like you don’t tell me about them. The problems begin the moment you are given a word-of-mouth referral from that well-meaning neighbor, friend, or relative, who told you about that nice young man who fixed something in their house.

So how much does this well-meaning individual KNOW about the handyman you are about to let into your home, and expose to your personal possessions and family members? Did they run a criminal background check or drug test? Do they know whether he has insurance to cover damage he might do to your home? (BTW, the answer is almost always “no”). Do they know what skills he actually has, across which trades, and the relative quality of their work in each? Do they know whether this handyman would even WANT your small job, letting bigger jobs from others get in the way? Do they know how consistently this person shows-up on time or shows-up at all? What they don’t know could hurt you, and often does. ‘Nuf said.

“The Specialists”

This category consists of companies organized around a single trade or area, usually plumbing, electrical, and HVAC (heating & air conditioning).

In my opinion, the reason so many repair companies are specialists has more to do with workers’ desire for higher wages and job security than what consumers actually ever wanted. It all started with some reasonable government regulation to ensure safety in home repairs. But as a segment of the workforce became organized. they began to exert influence over lawmakers based on good intentions, but also understandably out of their own self-interests. As a result, the government mandated recognition of specific, segregated skill areas, and protection from competition for skilled workers through a series of credentials and regulations. So now, for instance, if you call a plumber for a leak that has damaged your ceiling or walls when the plumber leaves, you will still need to call someone else to fix that damage.

“General Sub-contractors”

You may have heard the term “General Contractors” used to describe companies that can handle an ENTIRE large project, including all trades needed – e.g. plumbing, electrical, carpentry, painting, etc. But if you peek behind the curtain, most of these companies are really General SUB-contractors because they consist of a small skeleton sales and administrative staff who subcontract-out the work to others.

There are real downsides to homeowners that are baked into this standard company structure. For instance, think about what might go wrong simply because these contractors do not personally hire the actual workers entering your home – they do not personally check-out workers’ backgrounds, or screen them for things like their skills, temperament, immigration status, or criminal record. Also, let’s say something goes wrong in your job. These contractors don’t have the power to make things right by commanding these workers to return immediately and handle the problem without generating additional costs for you.

“Fix St Louis”

The last category of contractors is called “Fix St Lou…”. Hey, wait a minute – THAT’S US! Geez, almost forgot. We’re in a category all by ourselves. One-stop shopping for all your home repairs. Technicians who are our OWN employees. So we know all about their non-existent criminal and drug histories, their skill levels, and their easy-to-work-with personalities.

Yup, you might say Fix St Louis has eliminated most of the labor of finding labor to fix your home. More good news – you have now met the minimum requirements for reflecting on labor on Labor Day. My apologies if your hot dog is no longer hot.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis