Save a nickel on the job now, spend $500 later

Over the course of my career, I have worked for some truly cheap employers who redefined the word "thrifty." While I was traveling, one would pay only a flat $25 per diem (this was in the '80s) for my hotel room under the theory that I could get a double with one of the field guys at a fleabag local hotel. Cheap, but OK, fair enough. But then, he wouldn't reimburse me for any meals at all. He told

Over the course of my career, I have worked for some truly cheap employers who redefined the word "thrifty."

While I was traveling, one would pay only a flat $25 per diem (this was in the '80s) for my hotel room under the theory that I could get a double with one of the field guys at a fleabag local hotel. Cheap, but OK, fair enough.

But then, he wouldn't reimburse me for any meals at all. He told me, "If you were at home, you'd be paying for your own meals there, so why should I pay you for eating on the road when you'd have to eat at your own expense if you weren't?"

Another one wouldn't pay for any office supplies for my field job trailer. His thinking was that I was a "field executive" and should be out on the job for almost every minute of every day, not in the trailer filling out needed paperwork and doing the daily administrative duties required of a project manager. He encouraged his PMs to scrounge freebies such as pens and pencils from supply houses and salesmen, or else pay for what we thought we needed from our own pockets.

But the "King of Cheap" had to be someone who, except for a handful of peculiar management practices, was a decent and honorable man. I shall go to my grave remembering that he refused to buy toilet paper for either the

Only the crackiest
of crackheads would
steal fittings.

main office or for the job trailers. When new employees would gently confront him about this downright strange policy, he'd tell them bluntly — and I'm paraphrasing here — that the law required him to allow them the time necessary to use the restroom but not the time needed for the procedure that requires toilet paper.

Being cheap about personnel is one thing, but I would butt heads with a boss who would cut even the lean out of my budget by not letting me have the flexibility and authority to stock and man a job as I saw fit. He wouldn't let me do the job he had hired me to do.

Not having a basic supply of consumables on the job is so counter-productive that I shouldn't even have to be making the case. Yet, I know there are owners

reading this column who still think that by keeping a small inventory of consumables such as glues, mastics, cleaners, tape and gases on the job for the crews as needed that they're wasting money. They believe they're saving money by carefully rationing out every single nickel's worth of nothing from their central warehouse. They think that by giving the crews only what they think they need for that day that they're preventing theft and helping ensure "more productive and judicious use" of what little bits of nothing they give them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you have one or more crews sitting around the job because there isn't a single extra can of mastic, tube of fire caulk, roll of hanger strap or can of sheet metal screws in the job trailer, do you think you're saving money or spending money? If there's nothing else they can do that day because they don't have the barest of essential supplies to work with, then they should be sent home for the day. But what do you think that does to their morale and, more importantly, to the overall job productivity and job schedule? Shoots them to hell, that's what!

It's the same thing with not having a trailer full of cast-iron pipe fittings if you're doing the plumbing on a commercial job, or a job box or two just chock-full of every conceivable size of copper pipe fitting 1 in. and smaller. The initial cost is minimal and if you don't use them on this job, you'll use them on the next. What's actually cheaper: Having the copper tees that your crew needs to finish roughing in a

bath group that day or have them go back and set up all over again the next day to solder in that one single fitting before moving on to the next work area? Gimme a break!

"What about theft?" you might ask. C'mon, guys, get real. Worry about equipment and copper line sets and copper pipe being stolen from the job trailer. Only the crackiest of crackheads would steal fittings or consumables.

The cost of what little bit will walk off the job will be more than offset by productivity gains of the crews having what they need, when they need it.