Sometimes, wisdom shows itself when you least expect it.
The first time I walked into my father-in-laws auto body shop, I could smell paint fumes and see his workers sanding away at a cars crumpled body. But thats not what jumped out at me. It was that sign.
You couldnt miss it dangling from the ceiling as you walked in through the big garage door. The large plastic banner didnt welcome customers or caution them about the garages hazards. It didnt even advertise the shop or products it used on customers cars. It simply hit customers over the head with this strange message: Good work is not cheap. Cheap work is not good.
There it was, Jacobs Auto Bodys seemingly blunt message for all to see. I stood aghast. Why would he want to tell potential customers that his services didnt come cheaply and that they should expect to pay? And pay. And pay some more. Boy, he had nerve, I thought.
What was he thinking? Why didnt he just hang a sign at the entrance that said, Pay or go away! How could he expect to attract customers with an attitude like that?
And yet, damaged cars always lined the garage.
Good work is not cheap. Cheap work is not good. As usual, I guess I missed the point. It wasnt until years later, when my father-in-law closed his shop and retired, that the signs real meaning hit me. As a business writer, I had begun to see how that ugly price game took its toll on small companies, which were unable to compete on price, but which lowered prices anyhow just to get the business as more and more consumers demand price over quality.
Roy Jacobs refused to play that game. Now I realize he had taken a stand in favor of quality over price. If customers wanted good quality auto body repair work, they should expect to pay for it. He couldnt make it any clearer or simpler than that. His big red sign said so. And those customers who didnt let the sign scare them away ultimately got what they paid for and kept coming back.
Now thats wisdom, as I see it.
The problem is, entrepreneurs in their independent stubbornness not only dont like to seek the wisdom of others, they dont even see it when it dangles before them. Yet there it is for all to see. And it comes in all shapes and sizes.
Maybe its something their customers suggest. Maybe an industry peer shares an experience. Maybe the lesson comes from a local competitor that made the wrong choices. Or maybe its a sign.
In celebration of our fifth anniversary, weve compiled a small tome of the lessons of wisdom weve collected since we launched in Pittsburgh in April of 1994. They all come from you, our readers, and the business leaders driving Pittsburghs economy. Some are lessons from success. Others come from the pain of failure, and still more emerge from the many challenges in between.
Like that sign, well put the lessons before you. But we certainly cant make you heed any of the advice or apply it to your business. That parts up to you. For they are merely lessons. The wisdom comes in what you do with it all. The wisest of you will read it, take it to heart, and make it yours to pass on. For the rest, perhaps others someday will learn from your mistakes.
As for Roy Jacobs, he posted his business credo for all to see. But it wasnt just a sign. It was and always will be his way of life. Thats wisdom. Reach Daniel Bates by phone at (412) 321-6050 or by e-mail at email@example.com.