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The Other Side of the Coin - October 2009 Newsletter

Part I - Too Good To Be True

About five months ago, I got a call from B.M, a restaurant owner in downtown Dallas. "Got a project for you, had some plumbing work done on the patio of my restaurant that I'm reopening and need to get it looking good again, let's meet." We got together and indeed, the patio was in bad shape. The plumbers had ripped open the concrete, fixed some pipes and slapped a layer of poorly finished concrete all over it as you can see. It was a fairly large area and B.M. was looking for something nice as it was a high end restaurant/bar.

He decided on an Ashlar Slate stamped overlay to cover up all the patchwork and make it look like new. As we were wrapping up, B.M. asks me if I would like to follow him to his other restaurant in Las Colinas and take a look at an issue he had there. Sure, why not?

Here he told me "Contractor screwed up, poured my pad and did a bad job, what can you do to fix it?" It was another large outside patio and was going to require pouring a two inch thick layer of concrete over the existing pad to fix it. Just as I finished measuring it out, B.M. threw me another one, "Can you go to my house and take a look at my front lawn?; there's nothing there right now and I want to install a new driveway leading from the street to the front of the house." "Ok", and off I went. This turned out be an even larger area, many thousands of square feet that would have to be dug up and new concrete poured. At this point I was starting to feel a little skeptical, just the driveway project was almost $25k, the other two projects were over $17k. Over $40k of work from just one customer; nice, but usually "too good to be true".

Part II - The Full Court Press

I sent over the quotes, made a few follow up calls and after not hearing anything for a week figured I was par for the course when B.M. calls asking "How soon can you start the projects?" I was a little surprised but replied, "We have a two week lead time, B.M., so it would be around the middle of the month before we could get to them." He wasn't happy with that, "No, that's not going to work, I need to open the restaurant ASAP, I'll pay extra if you guys can be done with it by the 5th and I need to get the other jobs going to." I thought about it for a minute, "All right, I'll talk to my guys, but there is no way we were can start three jobs at the same time, we'll start with the restaurant since you need that right away and work the others in after." "Sounds good, let's get moving" replied B.M. and the "full court press" was on. The top picture is how we found the entry to the restaurant.

Part III - The Tragic Conclusion

One thing you quickly learn in life is to "go with your gut". It's not always right, but it often leads us in the right direction. Few decisions, good or bad, are made in a complete void and it's usually when we ignore our "gut feeling" that things go wrong. Of course, that is exactly what I did.

The warning signs were obvious, large projects, a very tight timetable to complete them, and a guy who is hard to get a hold of; in my defense, I didn't just walk blindly into the jobs. I did get a small initial deposit, a signed contract, and a payment schedule for the jobs. As the restaurant had a hard deadline I brought in extra help to wrap it up and that's when things started to go wrong - not with the work, with the payments. As they were tied to our progress and we were moving fast, the next one came due and B.M. was nowhere to be found. After leaving repeated voicemails, I finally said "B.M., If I don't get the next payment, we're stopping." That lit a fire and by the next day I had a check in hand from his partner, M.C. We cranked it up and completed the floor on time, the same day I received a letter from my bank saying the check hadn't cleared! Adding insult to injury, did you know that on business accounts, if you receive a "hot check" you get charged $5 (on top of not receiving the funds of course). Below is a closeup of the Ashlar Slate pattern.

I think you can figure out the "tragic conclusion" to this story. We ended up doing a $10k job and only getting paid about $4k for it, not enough to cover materials and don't even talk about the labor costs (shudder). Oh sure, we've tried to collect, the restaurant never opened, it's website has vanished into the internet graveyard, the phone is disconnected and the certified letters are all returned unopened. To top it off, his other restaurant in Las Colinas also closed. Obviously we didn't even start the other jobs. Below is another view of the patio.

Funny thing is, after I decided to write it off, I googled B.M. and M.C., just out of curiosity. Oh My! It seems B.M. and his business partners have been involved in quite a few shenanigans. Write ups in "D" magazine, the Dallas Observer, the Dallas Morning News, with some articles dating back to 2004. They have multiple complaints regarding unpaid contractors, liquor taxes, property taxes, wages, state taxes, bounced checks, bankruptcies, even some arrest warrants, just on and on.

It does give one pause and as I shut down my laptop I thought "Many of our customers check us out on the Better Business Bureau to make sure we're reputable, wouldn't it be nice if we had someplace to look up our customers to make sure they are to?" Ultimately, the hard lesson I learned was, "Always go with your gut".

The patio does look beautiful though.