I want to tell you a story. A story about our connections, networks and the assumptions we make about them. The moral of the story-Customer service is 24 -7-365, and assume EVERYONE you meet is a potential customer.
Back in the early 2000’s I was contacted by the project manager of a boutique hotel chain. Although they were owned by a large hotel conglomerate, I had never heard of them. The voice on the other end of the phone told me they were building a boutique hotel in Santa Monica and I had been highly recommended to them, but they didn’t tell me the name of my benefactor. They wanted to meet with me to discuss the parameters of their project. They were so anxious to get started they flew in from New York the next day on their private jet.
What they wanted was 80 rooms of craftsman style frame and panel headboard from knotty alder, entertainment center and side tables with desks. The drawings and renderings were impeccable-I realized very early I was dealing with a sophisticated and motivated client. They soon wanted to meet me at my shop-designers, architects, and the whole posse. My first thought as an artisan was, “oh my gosh–my shop its not CNC equipped, we don’t have the latest equipment and it’s in an old building on dusty railroad tracks. I will never get this contract!”
Much to my surprise, once they arrived, they didn’t bat an eye at the fact that my shop wasn’t in a brand new building and wasn’t pristine-they loved my work, and although I wasn’t the largest guy in the industry, they wanted me to bid. But the bidding process was a bit unusual-they were inviting a number of shops to build a set and install it in the hotel, so they could see it in site. Again, I thought “I’ll never beat the big shops in town!” But after that I immediately got busy–after all, the only way to be sure I didn’t win was not to compete in the first place.
We built the set and trucked it out to Santa Monica. During the trip I told my craftsman “Don’t worry about the outcome. Whatever happens, while we deliver and install we give hotel customers the same experience as if we owned the hotel ourselves.” The install was chaotic-the room we were assigned was on the third floor. We didn’t have access to the freight elevator, so we had to use the guest elevator. In the midst of all this, an older gentleman in grey sweats came jogging up to the elevator. There wasn’t room for him and us, so we we backed our pieces out of the small elevator and let the customer enter and be on his merry way. Next trip we managed to get our pieces–giant TV armoire, desks, night stands and headboard–squeezed onto the elevator.
That afternoon we were to meet with the executive team. I think about twenty suits were there in the main conference room. Main architect, 2 designers, project managers, financial people executive team etc. At the helm of the conference table was the older gentlemen in gray sweats-as it turned out, Mr. H. owned the entire franchise and when he looked at me he said, “give them boys the contract.”
So we won the contract! One of the reasons we were awarded the contract was our design of the TV armoire entertainment center. Elevators were small. So I designed a 80″ wide armoire with a center cabinet for the TV that was defined by the two outer smaller cabinets. Pocket doors worked spectacularly because they were mounted on the outer cabinets. But another reason is the fact that my team treated that man with respect and kindness, without expecting anything in return.
Oh, and my mysterious benefactor? Turned out it was a guy who had lived in my shop several years before. He lived under my stairs for 4 years, watched my shop and we had a friendship. During his time with me he learned how to fix furniture. He moved on and was in Alabama working on a hotel’s broken furniture when the director asked him who he knew that might be interested in bidding on the contract for a boutique hotel they were building in in Santa Monica. So my largest project came about because of a recommendation from a guy who lived under my stairs, and because I was courteous to a complete stranger.
At the end of the day, everyone you meet is a potential brand ambassador, even if you know it or not.
Gerry Lamanski is an internationally known professional woodworker, cabinetmaker, inventor holding numerous patents and artist. In his 30 years in the design community he has designed and built residential, commercial and hotel furniture and fixtures. His most unique projects included a secret, hidden room in a Southwest art collector’s office, professional magician’s props and the interior of Willie Nelson’s private tour bus. Renowned for his Arizona Ranch Style designs he was named one of Phoenix Home and Garden’s “Master of the Southwest” for 2014. Working from his studio in Tempe, Arizona, Gerry continues to delight and surprise the design community with his innovative and timeless designs. In his spare time he serves on an advisory committee for a non profit helping veterans and fosters for a local dog rescue group. Should you have a challenging project you can reach him through his website www.arizonaranch.com.