Jodi Wallace

Monarch Solid Surface

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeHave you ever met a nice customer who seems to go through a transformation and become an entirely different person once that contract is signed?

A couple days ago, Mark, one of my field install guys, called in from a jobsite. He was taking template measurements at a customer’s home and was getting more frustrated by the minute. Not only was the customer hanging over his shoulder trying to tell him how to make templates (and what he was doing wrong), but he also informed Mark that I obviously didn’t understand how things worked because I had miscalculated the number of slabs he needed.

Mark is a really laid back guy and for the most part keeps his cool.  He had stepped outside to call me and vent a bit.  I told him to (nicely) tell the customer he was only there to take templates and Jeff (the customer) would need to discuss material requirements and any other questions or issues he had with me.

Now, it’s not highly unusual for a customer to be difficult. But here’s the interesting part of the story.

Our first impression of Jeff was when he visited the showroom. He came across as a really nice guy. He was early to mid-thirty -something, professional, polite, and obviously intelligent as he asked a lot of good questions. I liked him and his wife, right off.

Back to our story: About an hour after my conversation with Mark, I called Jeff.  He informed me that he had done his own calculation and based on his experience as an engineer, he had determined I had incorrectly estimated the number of slabs needed – instead of the single slab I had indicated on our paperwork, the correct slab count should be two slabs. He had used this “correct” count to pick out and put two slabs on hold. I should have paid more attention to the red flag alert when he insisted on picking out slab(s) even after we had a conversation on why you don’t need to pick for a “repetitive” pattern.

I was then (nicely) informed I obviously did not quite understand stone and the fabrication process, which must be why I had under estimated how many slabs he needed!

After I picked both my jaw and myself up off the floor, I told him I would call him back after I looked over his drawing. 

I called him back a few minutes later.  I had looked over my original proposal and the final contract signed. I told him I thought the misunderstanding was that he originally asked for an option if they went for full height backsplash, which was not what they decided to do. The full height would have required its own slab, so based on going with a tile splash instead, he really only needed a single slab. I waited for a “wow, that’s great,” or “thank you!” or something. 

Instead, what I surprisingly received was another (nice) explanation going into detail that based on his job and his understanding of math, the correct count should be two slabs. One slab would simply not allow us to fit his countertops.  He continued to explain that obviously I did not understand the process involved and had underestimated the material required. 

To be honest, I was starting to get seriously irritated. Skip the fact customers were walking in, and waiting for service. I was having a disagreement with someone who had hired me for my expertise and was now telling me I didn’t know how to do my job!! I bit the inside of my cheeks as I tried to be polite and not come across as snarky.  

“Jeff,” I explained, “You don’t have a very big kitchen. It will be close, but we can keep everything on one slab unless you are trying to add another piece.” (Personally, I would have been thrilled if someone ever told me a major remodeling project was going to cost me less then I originally anticipated!)

But he wasn’t giving in that easily. He once again explained why I was still wrong He would be happy to walk me through his calculations so I would understand the process of how to correctly estimate stone usage! Seriously, I wanted to reach through the phone and grab him by the hair! But…. I am a professional, I reminded myself! 

“Look, Jeff,” I said. “You aren’t doing a full height backsplash, which would have consumed one entire slab of material by itself. You just don’t have that large a kitchen and I need you to trust me when I say one slab really is all you need.”

To my amazement he continued to (very nicely) argue with me. I honestly could not believe it! In retrospect, I should have washed my hands of the whole job on the spot, but it sort of throws you off your game having someone argue with you really politely!

“Look,” I said.  “I do this every day. How many businesses do you think would tell you that you need less material – which will cost you less money than what you originally planned?” There was a pause. 

“Wouldn’t you expect more places to try and charge you more money for material at a higher cost, than less material to, save you money?” 

Aha, I thought. The lightbulb is  flashing over Jeff’s head!

I waited for him to sound pleased or appreciative. No such luck!  By now I had several customers standing around listening to my side of the conversation. 

I seriously could not believe he wouldn’t give up. He wasn’t mean about it, he just reminded me of a teacher informing a student over and over why they had gone through all the work and still come up with the wrong answer. I was getting tired of this and enough was enough already.

“OK,” I said starting to seriously get ticked off. “I’m not going to argue with you. You need only one slab of material. If you want to buy two slabs you are welcome to. But you DON’T need two! You hired me because this is ALL I do. And you hired me because I have really good reviews that indicate I take really good care of my customers. Therefore, you are just going to have to believe me when I say I know my business and my job - and we ONLY need one slab!” (I think this last bit might have been spoken through clenched teeth!)

I didn’t give him a chance to interrupt. “I will make you a deal. If you need more material than I estimated I will pay for the additional slab. No questions, no arguing. Fair?” 

Honestly, I just wanted off the phone at this point.

“OK,” he said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, absolutely sure, and I will talk with you later!” 

Click! That had to be one of the most surreal conversations I had ever had. It isn’t everyday that someone calmly explains why, as a business owner, you have no idea what you’re talking about!

As it turned out, that conversation was actually the easy part of the job! There was his (unnecessary) layout, which unfortunately complicated matters when he pulled out his phone and informing me the serial and lot numbers on the slab did not match the slab he had chosen! (They actually did, but he was looking at the wrong set of numbers! (I hope you never have to deal with someone this stubborn and arrogant!)

I would like to say I had a great deal of satisfaction when (behold!) his templates fit on only one slab of stone. 

But sadly, no. After arguing with us about the sink set back and insisting we should be able to fit this huge sink in a small 45 degree angle, I had had it. I told him he needed to take his sink with him, talk to his contractor about cutting the cabinetry so the sink could fit, and to call me when they had it resolved. Just to be extra nice, I told him his fabrication time would not start until the sink issue was resolved, and my husband came by to give it his blessing.

This job is currently going through fabrication. The thought of the micro-managed installation nightmare we’re facing on this kitchen gives me a serious stomach ache. Jeff and I are going to have a serious heart-to-heart chat before my guys put one foot into this kitchen!!

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. She may be reached at