One of These Things is Not Like the Others

imageWhen you work for a small company, you wear many hats. One of the hats that I wear in our company is the office-admin hat. When my boss asked me to try this hat on for size, I figured it was safe. We had recently renewed our lease and renovated the office, so the really hard work had been done by my predecessor. I would be good at office renovations if my job was to cut a doorway in a wall and build a few walls to form offices from a file room. Unfortunately we hire contractors to do that stuff.

Picking out the paint, carpet, wallpaper and furniture for those offices, yeah, that’s not my strong suit. Negotiating with the landlord about who’s going to pay for what, wow that’s really taking me out of my comfort zone. But since all that stuff was already done, I figured that I’d just sit back, pay the rent, buy paper and pens and pass on the landlord’s instructions about where we are allowed to park.

I didn’t figure on having to buy a refrigerator

Recently, we had to buy some furniture: a table and some chairs for a small conference room and a couple of 4-drawer wooden file cabinets. Buying the table and chairs made sense, and since a woman in our office does the heavy lifting of finding a vendor, choosing the style and placing the order, it was also pretty easy. The file cabinets were harder for me and harder for her. Since my primary hat is technology, and since I’ve been working for years to move us away from paper, buying new file cabinets hurts a little. Choosing the cabinets was also hard, because they needed to match the existing furniture in the offices into which they were being added. I’m no good at matching colors. Seriously, I have some color blindness issues and I’m really no good at matching colors. No one in my family would ever ask me to help them pick something that needs to match something else.

The salesman came in with a selection of color/grain swatches which were compared to the existing furniture. I was not asked to participate in that process. Colors were chosen, the order was place and the delivery was scheduled. One cabinet matched nicely and one didn’t. Match. At. All.

The file looks horrible. We will probably have to pay a restocking fee because it was a “custom order” and we did pick the color. We may have to find a different office to put it in. I’ll probably argue about that, but I have a history that makes me understand the other side.

Back in the 80’s, I owned a cabinet shop. Given the challenges that I have with color, I always worked hard to get my customers to make good choices. One day, I was meeting with a couple trying to design a facelift for their existing cabinets and a few matching additional cabinets that I was going to build. This was good; everything visible would be new, so everything would match. Something about this couple seemed wrong. Something was telling me that this wasn’t going to go smoothly.

The first clue that I had was when I was sketching some design ideas at their kitchen table. Wham! A heavy Tonka truck slammed into the back of my ankle, followed by giggling. Nothing was said other than “Ow!” Wham! It happened again. I looked at the couple, the parents of this child, and the mother said “he loves that truck.” “Yeah, well he needs to stop slamming it into my ankle.” Still nothing was said to the child. Wham! I looked at the father and I said “if he does that again, I am going to stomp that truck into pieces” which prompted a “Bobby, the nice man doesn’t seem to like your game; you need to stop.” My father would have taken that truck away until I was 45.image

We agreed on a design, a price, and a delivery date and then I asked about color. The woman said “oh, I don’t really care, so long as it’s lighter than these.” I gave them the speech about my being color blind and how important it was for them to choose. “Really, any color will work” said the woman, to which I replied: “I’ll bring some samples over tomorrow.”image

The samples I used were large, about 10” by 12” so people could hold them up and get a good idea if the color would work. They agreed that Colonial Maple would look good. I made the cabinets. I finished the cabinets. I installed the cabinets. Everybody was happy. Then, the woman’s mother walked in and announced that:

Oh, that color just doesn’t work, it has to be changed!

I explained that changing the color at that point meant filling their house with sanding dust, stain and finish fumes and, since I couldn’t spray the finish on in their kitchen, I would have to use a brush on finish that wouldn’t look as good. My arguments fell on deaf ears, the mother had spoken.

If I had been in business for a longer period of time, if I had been more confident, I would have pulled out the contract that they had signed and said “no can do” but, I agreed to do the work. Of course, the only way to go was to use a darker color – oh well.

24 thoughts on “One of These Things is Not Like the Others

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  1. Pictures – The upper photo is midway through an office renovation to create some additional offices from what had been a file room. The lower one are what the cabinets looked like after delivery and installation but before sanding and re-staining. I didn’t even want a picture after that was done.


  2. The woman was nuts. I think the cabinets were great the way they were before sanding and that kid – well, let’s just say I agree with you and your father!


  3. colors are so hard to match…we have bought lots of used furniture over the years and refinished it … mostly in a cherry finish to try and keep a uniformed feel in the house… but now I have a problem. My mother is giving me here dinning room table and chairs… and they are pecan. I love the table and chairs and the hutch and they are great quality ( Ethan Allen) but will not match the rest of the furniture we have bought over the years. Not sure what to do… live with mixed colors, refinish into a darker color, who knows have any advice?


    1. Last year, my wife and I were watching a design show on PBS. A designer showed a room of mixed furniture and called it “an eclectic mix” – we agreed that that is us. I was once asked to build a cabinet to match a Civil War era unfinished maple table. I told the woman that there was no way to match. As long as it looks good, you like it and it works, I’d go with it. There’s something to be said off the value of “I like it” thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.


  4. Oh my goodness!! And this was before all the home reno/home makeover shows on tv that now give people ‘permission’ to just snap their fingers and request a re-do. It must take so much to be the craftsman/designer as well as the customer contact these days. :)


    1. You’re so right Jaime, I can’t imagine doing that work today. We took pride in the effort we made to work through a design (all free time) but there were so many less options back then (1980’s). Still, design was hard, visualization was very hard, but most people were very happy. We had a lot of repeat business (which told me we were doing good work) but I never wanted to hear from these guys again. Thanks for the comment.


  5. I don’t think I would’ve worked for people who showed no concern for metal Tonka trucks being plowed into me…
    I just repainted one section of cabinets and it took me three days to get it just right. Build, stain, attach hardware, install, adjust, RE-WHAT NOW?!? You are a better man than I!


    1. How I wished I had been successful enough to walk away from people like that, but sadly, we had to eat. It’s one of the reasons I’m not sad that we went out of business.


      1. Well that certainly is a valid point. I have only heard of such people — never actually met them…
        I HAVE heard of people needing to eat, several times a day for many years, in fact. Yes, quite the valid point!


  6. Once more you manage to keep the suspense until the end, which I admire considering the topic. I like our tie one current event to a past one.
    I especially love the second part of your post with your story from the 80s. The kid’s mother was something! But since her mother was even worst, she has, I suppose, some excuses.
    And don’t we all learn from our experiences and mistakes?


    1. Thanks for your comment. The husband had agreed to help me, and I helped him install the dishwasher. We had a short conversation that indicated that the mother-in-law ran the show. People who have to control things scare me.


          1. Normally they wanted it cheap and stupendous. And those who actually opted for quality(which is what we sold, even the lesser priced styles) wanted those glasses to sing, dance and last forever no matter what they did to them. Yep, it was difficult but we were both seasoned, good opticians.


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