In a recent edition ofThe Globe and Mail, one of Toronto’s daily newspapers, there was a story concerning a homeowner couple who, citing the shortage of remodeling contractors, offered to house two workers from Montreal for a week — while they worked on home renovations.

Now that may sound a little drastic, but the crunch of renovation projects in Toronto have put a premium on contracting services — sometimes adding thousands of dollars to contracts in order to cover “rush fees.”

This homeowner, Barb McIntyre, was quoted in the story as saying, “They [contractors] were just picking numbers out of the air. Some never came through with a price. They just don’t even get back to you.”

I know the hvacr trade is also suffering from a shortage of qualified field technicians (note the word qualified), but can you imagine things getting so cutthroat that customers would be willing to go to such drastic measures as providing room and board for your techs? That may be a little drastic, but it really isn’t too far-fetched.

I’m sure there are examples of customers who have been willing to spend a little extra to get the job done now. (Speaking of which, I’d be happy to hear any stories from contractors whose customers have gone that “extra mile” for service.)


There are many examples of businesses that tack on an extra charge for quick service. The most familiar service is mail/package delivery. If a customer “absolutely and positively” has to ship his/her package overnight, it can be done — for a price that is several times more than for standard first-class delivery.

I’m sure many of you have ordered imprinted products for your business, such as golf shirts or baseball caps. Perhaps you’ve placed an order of imprinted goods for a special community event. If you needed them on a guaranteed “drop-dead date,” you would pay that extra rush charge. In other words, when it comes to service, everything has its price.

Or does it?

How far would you — or should you — go to satisfy a customer who needs the work done yesterday? Is it worth suggesting an extra fee if the customer wants to go to the top of the waiting list?

Adding on service charges is nothing new. When the price of gas skyrocketed, it wasn’t unusual to see a small “trip” fee — $5 or $10 added to the customer’s invoice. After all, there had to be some way to recoup the rising cost of gas. And don’t some contractors add a charge for “incidentals” — a charge for things such as clamps, screws, duct tape, etc.?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a fair and reasonable charge for materials. After all, cannot the little things nickel-and-dime you to death? But is it unreasonable to take the service charges one step further?

You may not want your service tech carrying a sleeping bag on the truck (unless they like to nap during lunch), but if you have an out-of-town customer who needs work covering more than one day, do you — or should you — pass on the cost of the room and board charges?

It may be an obvious “yes.” However, it may also involve a little bit more to you, the contractor, for the inconvenience of losing a tech (and money-maker) for an extended period of time.

My question: How are you compensated?

And what if the customer offers room and board in exchange for a discount on his/her bill? Are you willing to negotiate? And do you see anything “ethically” wrong with your tech sleeping under the same roof as your customer?

Just askin’.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 09/03/2001