StoneTalk Episode 19 – Dave Scott

Jun 28, 2015 | Business

In episode 19, Patrick speaks with Dave Scott, owner of Slabworks of Montana


Listen to this episode to learn

  • How to know when you’re really succeeding – and what to measure
  • How to succeed in smaller markets
  • How to find good employees in smaller markets
  • How – and why – to create a memorable leave-behind for your customers
  • Why this is such a great industry to be in

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes… and please let us know what you think! You can leave comments for this show on the StoneTalk Facebook page or on this site.

If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.


Patrick: Welcome to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators, brought to you by Moraware makers of job-tracking scheduling software and CounterGo Estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host Patrick Foley.

Today I’m chatting with Dave Scott, owner of Slabworks of Montana. Let’s give him a call.

Dave: This is Dave.

Patrick: Hey, Dave. This is Patrick. How are you?

Dave: I am well. Thank you. How are you doing today?

Patrick: Good. Is this still a good time?

Dave: Yeah, it is. I’ve been playing with trying to take care of all these bad people out there who have too much time on their hands and sit in dark spaces and hack things.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: Yeah, it’s been kind of a bummer. I’m kind of dumb guy, you see, so I’m learning about IT and email accounts and GoDaddy and secure pop servers.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s no fun. I keep hoping that someone will just take care of that for customers in our industry, just kind of put together an all-in-one package for all of those things you mentioned.

Dave: Right.

Patrick: So far nobody has. But I don’t think you’re alone there. I think a lot of people would love to have somebody just handle this for me.

Dave: Oh, yeah, that’s why we have IT people on retainer but they’re not here. Until the day comes we’re big enough to where we can afford having real people on staff we’re just going to have to be able to handle what I can and hopefully not screw things up so much while I’m trying to handle them. That’s really my biggest fear.

Patrick: Yeah, sometimes that can help.

Dave: Anyway, that’s my day.

Patrick: Yeah, did you actually get hacked? Are you actually dealing with some sort of problem?

Dave: Yeah, we have multiple email accounts under our domain, and, see I can actually speak somewhat coherently about this, and I think someone or other, because on our website it’s for information or to contact us, there’s just a standard and I think someone got there and perhaps we responded and gave some other addresses. My shop manager’s email address has been sending out reams and reams of just junk to everybody in his email mailbox.

Patrick: Oh, yeah.

Dave: Or his address box. So I finally got that… it’s funny because it took GoDaddy probably a better part of 45 minutes to stop it. They had generated some serious content while it was going out. Yeah, you just don’t know the depths and when it gets out there it’s just an unlimited black hole. I’m getting smarter. I’m getting learned.

Patrick: It’s odd to say but I’m sorry to hear that. It’s so much more pleasant to stay in the dark about such things.

Dave: Yeah, I wish I didn’t know. I wish I was as ignorant as I was just wondering what I got up right now.

Patrick: Oh, well.

Dave: No such luck.

Patrick: Thanks so much for giving some time. I really appreciate this.

Dave: Sure. Not a problem.

Patrick: Let’s just dive in and start chatting.

Dave: I was a little surprise when I hear you asked me to do this, but you’re asking a professional bullshitter to get interviewed. You don’t know what you might end up with, so I’m ready whenever you are.

Patrick: All right. Well, let’s get to the basics. You mentioned size. How big is Slabworks? Whatever way makes sense for you, dollars, square feet, kitchen stuff.

Dave: You know, it’s really odd because everyone wants to have… I remember back in the day when it was, “How many kitchens a week do you do?” And then it becomes, “How many square feet of finished materials are you installing?” And then you have the different people, “So how many dollars are you doing?” It’s kind of hard to really… Well, put it this way, I’ve been on a quest this last couple years to actually to be able to put my thumb on all those because, of course, kitchens per week is a nebulous term. Even Marble Institute of America and their questionnaires are going kitchens per week and then they ask about vanities. So I think probably the most concrete number would be square footage installed per week and/or dollar sales.

But the problem with square footage per week is a lot of folks, I think, don’t have a good handle on that, so they look at it, for instance, “Well, I cut 12 slabs this week so at 50 that should be 600 square feet,” and that’s not really the case. So one of the nice things about the Moraware product, it helps us to track hard numbers from a standpoint of how we’re quoting because the whole sales function, everything begins from the initial consultation and quoting, and then, of course, moves through all the processes, the template, the fabrication, the install. And so from our quotes we try to handle what we’re installing. Then there’s also we use Park Industries equipment and we are now getting really deep in what they call the ops system.

What that is, is it reads from our CNC equipment. It reads square footage and linear footage out of the G code, the actual code that’s telling the machines what to do. So to a certain extent it’s probably even a better number. It’s still a little bit off, it skews, especially the linear footage number, I’m not totally sure or confident with, but it’s definitely a better number. So from that standpoint, depending on… now they put the asterisk out there, years ago or I should say, we used to say hang our hats on the fact that we’re doing about 16, 17 kitchens a week. That now has morphed into where we’re somewhere in the neighborhood of about 900 to 1,000 square feet of installed material a week on average. And then morph again, we’re pushing 3 mil in sales.

And so we bounce back and forth between those numbers, we compare them and you keep on getting what an old English teacher of mine say, “The ‘Yeah, buts.'” “Yeah, but this doesn’t make sense if you multiply this by this. Yeah, but that doesn’t make sense if you look at it this way.” So I still have to say the only thing I can really, really hit on is how much money are we depositing every year. So a long-winded answer to your question, there you have it. We’re just coming back out of what everybody was coming out of the last few years. If you’re still alive right now you’re smiling and probably busier than you’ve been in quite some time, and I know we went from doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 to 12000 square feet of material installed a week to somewhere around 300 in a matter of a month back in the darker days.

I know if it wasn’t for the equipment that we’re running probably couldn’t have survived. Being totally digital and having the equipment in place allowed us to unfortunately remove people. You’re always going to have your fixed costs no matter what. So the question is how you’ve got to amortized, you have to cover all that, and it’s really whether you can control a certain number of the variables. I know that without the equipment we had we wouldn’t be still here today, and we wouldn’t be able to ramp up as quickly as we have coming out of the darkness as we have without the same equipment. And then, as is now, the biggest problem is finding good people. So once we get through to that. I didn’t think I had to grow a business twice in my lifetime. It’s been quite a learning experience.

Patrick: So employees definitely are the other part of that size question too. So it’s one thing to do $3 mil. It’s another to say, well, $3 mil with how many employees? So has your revenue per employee gone up since before that last recession hit?

Dave: Oh, absolutely.

Patrick: Cool.

Dave: Absolutely. And we have been tracking square footage per hour of labor and also labor dollars per square foot installed which is some of those key metrics that allow us to actually peg productivity for each job position. And getting a handle on these and thinking of the employee, the whole conundrum. Getting a handle on capacity and productivity and dollars per square foot and such, having those solid metrics that you feel comfortable with, gets the other part of the equation that where we’re really going to is to try to incent individuals based on performance.

And to have clearly-defined goals, just to be able to say, “We want the people that fulfill this particular function we need you to do X square feet in a week and that’s your goal. And this is what we have on the schedule, and these are the dollars we have to spend to get that done based on our cost per square foot. So whatever you produce above that will generate X dollars beyond budget, which then, based on the quality of your work, callbacks, rejects,” blah, blah, blah, it’s a lot things in there, “you and this group will get to split that excess money that you’ve earned.”

Patrick: Right, nice.

Dave: Yeah, it’s one of those things where I think if you have to be straight out there. I had someone tell me once, and I don’t know the source, but one of the largest growing demographics for NHL or NFL Football has been women. And the question was raised, “Why?” And there was a media individual of some sort said that, “Ever since they equipped that yellow line on the line, everybody quite knows exactly what the goal is.” Of course, you’ve got the end zone, but you have a goal to get to this place. So if you cross that line what happens? You’ve get another set of downs. And so it’s obvious, it’s obtainable, you can cheer as you get closer, and then once you’ve achieve the goal the team, or the individuals, in that group share in the benefits of achieving that goal. So that’s kind of our direction, and it makes a lot of sense.

You know I’m kind of an old guy and we were taught to basically work because that’s what you do. You go out, you work, and you work hard, and if you work hard, you do a good job, you’re going to be paid enough, and you come home then you get to be a family, or take care of other people. I think, I’m not saying that that’s really any different, but I think that the mindset of – I never thought I’d ever say this – young people, I think they still have a lot of the same desires, but they look at things differently and that’s just bound to be. You know I look at things differently than my father so it’s only fair to accept the fact that folks younger than me look at things differently than I do.

We still have the basic goals. We can get into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and all other good stuff, but we want to have some kind of fulfilling work. We need to enjoy what we’re doing. We need to make enough money to have the things that make us comfortable and we need to have a way to excel and to be recognized for doing a good job. I think those core needs, beliefs are there. It’s how do you get to them and how do you make people… to incent them and get them to buy into working as a team to overcome objectives, set reasonable goals, and then to celebrate when you do good things. That, I think, is the big key right now to anybody who’s in any kind of business.

One of my goals has been, in the last year anyways, is to try to achieve something to what gets people excited to do better here are in line with what gets me excited. They may be different things or different vocabulary. But to get everybody looking ahead, trying to excel and achieve excellence, and all have their eyes in the same direction, if that kind of makes sense for you.

Patrick: Absolutely. Let me ask you a follow-up to that. When was the last time you hired a new employee?

Dave: Oh, boy. It’s probably been four months.

Patrick: Okay. And so you have these incentives in place when you hired that employee, right?

Dave: No, not yet.

Patrick: Really? Okay. So you were in a process.

Dave: I was in the process of working them. We had a great deal of businesses going on, and I knew that we needed to have something else besides an hourly wage.

Patrick: Right.

Dave: Because we were asking a lot of some of our people and overtime and things like that, and they were enjoying, of course, the added money that they were getting, but that was kind of automatic. You work 40 hours, you go to time and a half. And I don’t think it solved the equation, or I didn’t feel really good with it. The fact that some people were really kicking it, and some other folks were just doing it, not that they weren’t doing a good job, but they weren’t excelling, or thinking outside of their blinders to try to take on more and get things done, to do a better job, to not have to come back, those types of things. I think anybody in the whole shop and all of your employees can turn and say, “This person and this person really do a good job.”

Other than just having employees realize that about each other and wanting, hopefully, to excel, I wanted to throw extra money at them too. Back to us, my generation, you didn’t tell people how much you made. That was between you and your boss. And now I think it’s common conversation over lunch or a soda somewhere of who makes what and how much I think everybody in our shop knows what everybody makes more or less. When you throw, someone gets above a couple, 300 bucks a paycheck I think that get telegraphed immediately throughout the whole ranks. And we noticed definitely a little spark in people’s step when they have been incented, and everyone of those people when they got that came in and said, “Thank you.”

Patrick: Nice.

Dave: Which I thought was, yeah, pretty cool. But the best part is to be able to turn around and say, “No, thank you. And thank you for this, this, and this.” I like to say, there was a day when I could come in and run any piece of equipment, and then move slabs around, and then go and install them, and then come back and write checks, there was a day I could do that. Now, heck, I can boot the computers, I can turn on the air compressor and the water system, and that’s about it. It just moved. And so I’m not rubbing elbows with them every day, every moment, and I think the added coolness or whatever that someone thinks about me is when you actually turn to them and say, “Hey, I heard, or I saw, or someone called me and said you did an exceptional job on this and went the extra mile.” I think that’s missing in everybody’s life.

Patrick: Definitely.

Dave: You know, that daily affirmation, or just that, “Hey, I saw that. I know that happened. Then, here, here’s a couple of pictures of dead presidents to throw around.”

Patrick: Well, you mentioned how – and other fabricators have certainly mentioned as well – that finding good employees is one of the hardest things. I was wondering if you could draw a connection between having good incentives in place is going to help you get new employees as well. It’s probably too early to tell, but I would think that over time, I would hypothesize that over time that will be a key factor that goes into a decision of someone choosing to work with you or not.

Dave: Of course, you want to believe that’s the case, or believe on a certain level that that is the truth. It is a bit of a small world especially in beautiful suburban Bozeman, Montana, population 30,000. It is a small world. People do talk. But to a certain extent I think more than anything else, to get someone to want to come on with you I think you have to have already developed an environment or culture where people are respected, they’re treated fairly, that you have fun, and that you do good work. That gets, I think, people’s attention. Of course, making someone… you get to the point where… we train probably 80% of our people from nothing to something.

Patrick: Okay.

Dave: It’s been kind of the nature for the business because we don’t have a huge metropolitan population to draw from. So if you’re looking for an employee who has some experience, or a great deal of experience, you are basically poaching them from somebody else. And that, more often than not, in that situation, if you’ve developed the culture that you’re a good place to work, and then all of a sudden you are offering competitive wage, I think you’re can attract those people. To a certain extent, 90% of the time I’d rather hire a shoe salesman and train him, because I don’t get all the bad habits that come along. I can show him exactly how I want it done.

Unfortunately, we’re skilled enough… it’s a skill enough trade that you do need to have experienced people at certain times. You do have to hire those people. And I think that, to a bit of an extent, has been really a challenge lately because it is a small pool. And what do you do? There were the days when everything was booming, and you’ve had people switching employers for 50 cents an hour. I want to believe that the employees have matured a bit and now are looking at it in a little bit broader view, but that still is the puzzle, that still is what we’re trying to crack as well.

Patrick: Is there anything else that’s unique or challenging about your specific geography that might not the same in other markets?

Dave: Oh, boy, yeah.

Patrick: A little bit?

Dave: Yeah, a little bit. You think of the vastness. Right now wherever you’re sitting within, I would imagine, 90% of anybody who might be hearing this, within 30 miles of where they’re sitting there are more people than there are within 200 miles from where I’m sitting.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: The State of Montana floats right around a million in population. And our land mass, I believe, we’re like the fourth largest state.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: You have Alaska, Texas, California and then Montana.

Patrick: So how do you get enough customers with that little population density?

Dave: You are a good salesperson. It’s kind of funny because years ago when we first started, I moved here in 1980 from Minnesota and when I moved here I didn’t get the business because I wasn’t from here. It’s kind of the good old boy network. Then a period, we started to see some kind of growth and an influx of people. It was kind of funny, I didn’t get the business because I was from here. Clients are, “What do you know? You’re from Montana. What do you know?” And then when everything fell off, it was funny, then I started to get the business because I was from here again. And it was the people that were still standing wanted to say, “Hey, you made it. You’ve been here. And now I also have the time to look at the options, the alternatives. And you know what? What we’ve heard about you, what we’ve seen about you, and why I’ve noticed personally about you, you’re the guys that we wanted to go and we want to do business with.” And that’s been incredible. I think that’s probably been the most heartening thing in my world in the last five years, where actually what a blessing it was to have the economic crash.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: Yeah. So that and we could very easily have two guys in a truck, two hours each direction to get to a job. Then you throw in the fact that it snows here almost all year round.

Patrick: That too, yeah.

Dave: I have seen snow on the fourth of July.

Patrick: Oh, my gosh.

Dave: I have seen snow on Labor Day weekend. I’ve seen snow on Memorial Day weekend.

Patrick: That’s awful.

Dave: And so you send somebody off, and chances are excellent they might go through one pass to get where they’re going, and it could be a totally different climate by the time they get there. So a lot of things were you need to makes sure that people, of course, are pretty adept in driving in snow, and we always try to put them in four-wheel drive trucks.

Patrick: True.

Dave: But we need those individuals to have a certain head on their shoulders, and say, “You know what? It’s crummy. I ain’t driving. I’m getting in a motel room.” And just flat out do it, but again safety is first for everything. It’s a different world here than it is on the upper East side in Manhattan.

Patrick: Yeah. So what is a smooth-running job look like in Montana? What’s a typical job that goes well?

Dave: I don’t know if I’ve ever had one.

Patrick: Okay. Well, I guess that…

Dave: No, no, you know a good one actually… my favorite jobs out here are for the couple that maybe almost empty nest that work hard all their life, that saved and saved and saved, and got their last kid in college right now and always wanted to fix that kitchen. And they dreamed about it on and on, and they come in the door, and you ask them what they’re looking for, and they don’t know. But they say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” And you bring them around and you show them stuff and you just watch their excitement. And it’s not a huge dollar job. It’s usually a moderate job, and you get it done, and the guys are there and they’re installing it, and they’ve been there for 45 minutes and the phone rings, and it’s the gal, and she going, “I’m so excited. This is going to be so cool.” And they go on and on and on, and then, “I’ll talk to you later.”

And then the guy are just about to leave, and they’re calling back, they say, “This is the best thing. This is great,” blah, blah, blah, “How much do we owe you?” And they said, “We’ll send you the bill.” And then rush, they almost beat my install crew back here at the shop to write us a check, and they’re on and on and on. And then Christmas comes and you get cookies.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: Yeah, how cool is that?

Patrick: That would be… that’s a nice perk, getting Christmas presents from your customers, Christmas cookies, that’s pretty awesome.

Dave: Yeah, and I think to a certain extent I’m sure there are people like that in the entire world. But back to where we are and the small population, and people here, knowing that we rely on each other a great deal. Even though I was not born here, and my wife who was born here, I keep asking her if I’m a Montanan, and she says, no, I’m not. And I always say, “Didn’t I get a green card when I married you? And I do have an anchor baby.”

Patrick: Nice. That’s kind of cumbersome.

Dave: Yeah, it’s kind of neat from that standpoint. I remember when I first came out here riding my motorcycle out, and I’m sitting on the top of a pass looking down in the valley at Bozeman and it was early May and it had snowed and there was like six to eight inches of snow on the ground, and the road is clear and it was a beautiful crystal blue sky day, and it was probably about 50 degrees, and I was just struck by the beauty. The whole other side of the road and and this old beat up pick-up truck rolled up next to me, and the guy stopped and said, “Are you okay?” And I said, “I’ve never been better.” And he looked around and kind of smiled and said, “Have a good day,” and rolled off. And it was just the fact that someone stopped to make sure that I was okay. And I was a long-haired hippie freak on a motorcycle.

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: Yeah, pretty cool. Those people are everywhere, but because we have so few people that it seems there’s more of them here.

Patrick: Yeah, I notice you do some really creative stuff as well. On your website you have some custom inlay work that was really quite beautiful. Do you do a lot of that type of work? Or how did that come about?

Dave: Well, we do it whenever we can, of course. It started probably eight years ago when we bought an abrasive water jet. We have a university here, Montana State University, and they have a very strong engineering department, and they have a number of different engineering degrees, but they also have the engineering technology and education, which is like teaching people to be teachers to a certain extent in the field. Not so much in academic situations but to be trainers or teachers in a business situation. So we would go and we would ask for people if they wanted to do internships here, and we’re actually flooded by folks, because we only had one position every six months.

And so the interns, or the prospective interns got pretty creative in trying to woo us, so to speak. And we had two gentlemen back to back, who were very creative and artistic. So they started to take the state-of-the-art in technology, and started doing some inlays and some medallions and things like that. And it just kind of came from creative minds and having a little spare time, and giving them the okay to do something fun. That since has expanded into a couple of people in the shop who are very creative have been making custom stone sinks, different designs and layouts. That has become pretty cool. We’re to the point where we’re doing probably 8%, 10% of the jobs that we do include a custom stone sink.

Patrick: Nice.

Dave: Yeah.

Patrick: It’s a nice little lift.

Dave: Yeah, you’re taking scrap basically and turning them into something that you can sell for a ridiculously higher margin, just with a little time and some creativeness. It’s been a good deal. But I think it’s always that comes back to creating that environment that people don’t have a fear of failure. That they’re willing to go give it a try, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it does work, you have to share the fruits of good work with the people. There’s a couple of, what I think are, great axioms that are true forever, that people smarter than me came up with, and one of which is, “A body in motion continues to… tends to remain in motion until acted upon by a superior force,” and “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

If you create value, being an action, value must flow to you. It just has to. You create a value vacuum that if it doesn’t flow to you directly, you, being the person creating value, will find, will move somewhere else to where that value flows to you. And if you are continually creating value, and creating, I like to think beauty, or create a utility, or creating or just showing creativity in general, you tend to foster more and more of it. So the trick is to get people into that positive spiral and to incent it, there we are again, to incent the creativity, to not stifle it, to not have fear of failure, and to know that they will share in the value that they create.

So on how many levels do you get a person to feel that they belong, that they’re valued, that they’re creative members of society even as a whole, and that they can… Here we are in the middle of nowhere where six-figured incomes are less than 1% of the population. How do you make a living wage here without a college degree, without a journeyed… you’re electrician or plumber or something like that. Someone who came off the ranch and has a high school diploma. How do you make $60-80K a year? That’s something that, I believe, this industry can do. How cool is that?

Patrick: That’s very true. That’s awesome. I have to say, it always makes me sad to hear that one of the problems that fabricators have is getting rid of scrap material. So any time people can find some solution to create less stuff to throw away, which costs you money to throw it away, so doing something creative, I’ve heard people making little fire pits, make benches, making stone sinks. Anything people can do with that makes me happy because it just seems sad to have to pay to throw away something that’s still quite beautiful.

Dave: Yeah, there’s a fellow in town who.. in years gone by I was a tile installer and met a lot of the tile installers, but there’s actually twin brothers here in town who, five-six years ago, came with the idea of how do we… “We’ve got these fabricators, let’s go pick up the stone and let’s do split-phase tile or stone. Let’s do benches. Let’s do fire pits. How do we become creative with that scrap?” And it was great to… of course, I was all excited about having them come and pick up the stuff I was paying to dump.

Patrick: Right.

Dave: But how to [inaudible 00:33:15] with them and to think through the development of their products and then to support them whenever we could, whether it’d be being involved in some network groups here. We have a USGBC, U.S. Green Building Consul, has a local chapter here in Bozeman, and has a chapter in Montana. And they have a thing called green drinks were different people sponsor the meeting and basically put out appetizers and beverages, And then you get to do your little song and dance. And we had the fellows from StoneTek, that’s their name here and got to present their product and get it in some people’s hands and that was pretty cool. It’s just fun to watch people with their own creativity, back to what you’re saying, creating something from nothing and to actually see it happen.

These guys are actually building their own tools and machines and making what they’re making. There’s companies out there that have it for sale, but they’re taking old broken down hydraulic pistons off of tractors and making with the welders, it’s kind of a mad scientist out behind the barn, and making their own presses to do what they were doing. And that’s just phenomenal. My gosh, I have enough trouble finding place to put oil and gas in my car. And to think these guys can take motors and stuff and put it together and make, that’s just phenomenal. Fascinating.

Patrick: One last but important question. Why is your logo a duck? How did that come about?

Dave: I love it. Well, way back when… how much tape you got left?

Patrick: Oh, it’s digital. I can go for hours.

Dave: Way back when… My brother makes his living putting names on stuff, the logos on hats, I think they call it marketing specialties. And years ago, I’m setting tiles, and he calls me up and he goes, “Dave, I picked up a greatest idea. A guy was here, a tile installer, or a tile contractor, and he had the greatest idea. How many do you want?” “What is it?” He goes, “Well, I can’t really tell you because it’s going to blow the fun but it’s a great idea. You’ve got to do it. How many jobs do you do a year, 200, 300, 500?” “Uh, 12.” He goes, “Oh, okay, well, a minimum purchase, a minimum run is 50, and you’ve got to buy setup fees or whatever 50 bucks and unit cost is a a buck .75.” “Okay, since I don’t know what I’m buying just send me the minimum run.”

Well, in comes a little, a box-full of little yellow rubber ducks. And on the bottom, if you look, flip it over where the squeaky hole is it says, “Dave Scott Tiles,” and a phone number. I go, “This is kind of cool.” At the time I didn’t quite all fit in my head, but I was working, I was setting a lot of tile for general contractors. And these were spec homes, I didn’t know the eventual home owner. So you’d get done and you do a shower surround, and I’d leave a duck in the corner shelf or in the niche, or on the tub deck, just cause. And days would go by and I’d get a phone call, like, “Hey, Dave, you don’t know me, but we own that house, we bought that house out on Wylie Creek. I got some cracking grout and I’m wondering if you could help me out.” So I go, “Heck, yeah. You bet.” We’d figure something out, I’d show on up about 5:00 or 5:30 and I bring some grout or some grout caulk and the guy would hand me a beer and we’d sit there and laugh and I would fix stuff and we’d have a good chat, and they’d say, “How much do I owe you?” “Oh, heck, nothing. Fine. Enjoy.” And we’d leave. I’d get a few of those phone calls. Then the day came I was setting some tiles and a general contractor was walking through and had this couple with him and he was showing the house that he was building, and these guys were prospective clients. And they walked by, and as he walks by he says, “This is Dave. We have the best tile guy in the area,” and he walks on by. I kind of looks at the tiles I was working with, “Did I just get stroked?”

So he comes walking back by and I said, “Dennis, why did you say that? Why did you say ‘the best tile guy’?” And he goes… and the clients or his prospective clients said, “Yeah, why did you say that?” The general contractor said, “Because we never get any callbacks on his work.” And the back of my head, I’m going, “He doesn’t get him because I’m getting them. Not that I’m that good, but the clients, if there’s a problem, ‘Hey, here’s the guy’s duck. Let’s call him.'” I’m going, “That’s pretty cool.”

Patrick: That’s brilliant.

Dave: Yeah, so a few days later, a number of weeks later, I get a phone call, “Hey, you don’t know me. I have this house over here on Sunset Ridge,” and I’m going, “Oh, yeah, and you’ve got some cracking grouts.” And he goes, “No, no, no, everything is fine. But I want to finish the basements and I need 400 feet of slate and I need a steam room and a bathroom and a wet bar.” I’m going making appointments, and the next phone call is, “Joe, I need more ducks.”

Patrick: Nice.

Dave: I guess the moral of the story is people throw your card away but they won’t throw away your duck.

Patrick: That is an awesome story.

Dave: Yeah, and we’ve been doing that for going on 25 years now. I know it’s pretty funny because this last time I ordered up another 50, and now they don’t say Dave Scott Tiles on the bottom. They say Slabworks of Montana. I called up my brother and said, “I need another 50,” and he goes, “Okay, how many?” and I said 50. He says, “How many ducks have you bought from me?” And I stopped and think, and go, “Okay, 25 years, oh maybe 500.” And he goes, “No, 2,200.”

Patrick: Wow.

Dave: And I’m going… I’m thinking, I was just kind of sitting back and thinking and I said, “Other than a few that are in stomachs of Golden Retrievers, there’s 2,200 of those things floating around this valley, population of maybe 40,000 or 50,000.” And that’s a pretty good market penetration, I think.

Patrick: That’s a really cool story. I love that. I love the fact that you found something that just resonated with your customers. As you said, it’s hard to throw away and it means you. That’s so cool.

Dave: I wish it was my idea. I can’t take credit for that.

Patrick: Who cares?

Dave: I only take credit for writing the checks.

Patrick: Very nice.

Dave: Yeah, it is a good deal and it’s funny because they used to take a lot of pictures of our work after we set the tile or do the countertop installation and we’d leave a duck. So I’ve got these pictures of the shower, or the kitchen, and here’s a duck in the corner. There’s even a couple of guys… I know who they are, they play dumb, but let’s just say they have a pretty substantial disposable income, and I’ll get this picture of this hand holding a duck up in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Patrick: Nice.

Dave: And their hand by the Cheops pyramid, or the Parthenon, or the Space Needle in Seattle, and it’s kind of like the Travelocity gnome.

Patrick: Yeah, very nice.

Dave: And it’s kind of a cool thing. It’s nice to have customers that are 10, 12, 15 years since they’ve been installed, still having fun with it.

Patrick: Absolutely.

Dave: Yeah, it’s a cool deal.

Patrick: Well, thank you so much, Dave. Any parting thoughts for your peers, your fellow fabricators out there? Get yourself a duck? Find your own duck?

Dave: Find your own duck, yeah. Be one with your inner duck. No, I think that really the best thing in the world is that we are in an incredible industry, and we get to work with our hands, and we get to be creative and we get to create beauty, we get to work with people, and if you do it right you get to make an honest living, and support the ones that we love. But more than anything else if we do what we do right it will outlive all of us, and I don’t know if really too many other businesses that give you all those things and who have a certain impact with your creativity and your skills on future generations. It’s an incredible industry. There’s some trolls out there but more often than not you’re running into pretty darn cool people. I thank everybody who came before me and I thank everybody who is coming after us will be hopefully we’re all brothers and sisters in this and what a cool business.

Patrick: I couldn’t agree more. Those are definitely things to be thankful for and I thank you. Thanks for giving us your time, and we might have to get you back on some time.

Dave: If you need a professional BS’er you’ve got my phone number.

Patrick: All right. I appreciate it, Dave. You know how to reach us too.

Dave: I’m very good. You have a great day.

Patrick: Thanks. You too, Dave.

Dave: You too, bye.

Patrick: Bye.

Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode be sure to visit or subscribe to StoneTalk on iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk Show Facebook page to join in the conversation and follow @stonetalkshow on Twitter.

StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of job tracker scheduling software and CounterGo Estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host Patrick Foley, and I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of StoneTalk.