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Can installing fences make you rich?

If you ask a fencing installer why he got into the business, you’ll get all sorts of different answers. Usually it will be something like, “I wanted to work outdoors,” “I like working with heavy-duty tools,” or “I really like building things that everyone’s going to see for decades to come”. And sometimes we hear, “I was too stupid to do anything else,” and then we lose it immediately, because you really do need to be smart and skilled to install fences. Smarter than, for example, errr, umm… no, we’re not sure either.

Anyway, it’s not often that you hear an answer like: “Because I want to be rich.” And if you did get that answer, you’d probably laugh at the installer, because no one in their right mind associates installing fences with getting rich.

Coincidentally, the other day we came across a little chart on the big wide internet, showing how rich you have to be to make it into the top 1 per cent of any given country’s population. Then we thought: Could you actually get rich putting up fences, if you wanted to? 

The chart doesn’t list every European country, but in France, Germany and Great Britain the level is slightly above 3 million American dollars, so just for fun let's take 3 million euros and see how many metres you’d have to install for that.

To keep things simple, let's use the example of a self-employed installer who works for fencing installers as a subcontractor. Our installer has his own (paid-off) van and tools. He has no office, no secretary, and no additional expenses. He doesn’t need to worry about advertising and sales; the installers he works for take care of that. They also transport the materials to the project for him. 

Now, obviously it’s slightly dependent on the type of fencing, how much of it you can install in a day, and therefore what a reasonable installation price would be. In Germany or the UK, where the posts are set in concrete, you can’t install as many metres as in the Netherlands, where most fencing is rammed into the ground. And if you live in Belgium or France and have to bury concrete slabs in the ground for almost every fence, it’s going to take you even longer.

To consider all these differences would be taking things way too far, so let's just say that our installer only ever installs rigid mesh fencing – with all the posts set in concrete – and is paid 10 euros per metre for his work. So to earn 3 million euros, he would need to install 300,000 metres of fencing. 

Is that even possible? Let’s say that he started working at 20 and his back has had enough by the time he’s 60: that gives him 40 years to get rich putting up fences. 300,000 metres divided by 40 years then divided by 220 working days per year equals 34 metres per day.

That would be doable, wouldn't it? 34 metres a day? Digging 14 holes, installing 14 posts, and hanging 13 wire panels between them, that’s doable. Certainly with two men. On good days you might even manage to do more, but we’re calculating on the cautious side and also taking into account the days where you have to work on a slope or lug equipment for long distances, and days when the ground is full of stones.

It would mean that the customer is paying 20 euros per metre for labour. Add concrete, travel expenses, and a margin for the fencing contractor who sold the project, and you arrive at an installation price of somewhere between 25 and 30 euros per metre. That seems a bit on the expensive side to us, but we do know fencers whose customers pay them those sorts of prices.

Good, there we are then. It turns out it is possible to earn 3 million euros as a fencing installer. Or are we forgetting something?

Obviously our installer will need something to live on throughout those 40 years. We wanted to have that 3 million euros in the bank at the end of 40 years of hard work, so we can’t use it for rent and groceries. The average fencing installer eats three Big Macs a day and drinks six cans of Red Bull; those alone cost him 27 euros a day. 

That said, an installer who spends all day putting up fences isn’t spending much money apart from that. Let’s say he has a monthly salary of 3,000 euros gross; that’s enough to rent a little flat, pay his bills, and if our installer doesn't eat too many Big Macs he’ll still have money left over for a Brazzers subscription to him get through the hours when he can’t put up fences.

At 12 months times 40 years, we will need an extra 1.44 million euros for putting those 300,000 metres into the ground. That's 4 euros and 80 cents per metre. Times that by two installers and it really drives up the labour costs – we’re now at almost 30 euros per metre rather than 20.

And there was just one more little thing we’d forgotten: our installer can’t do all of those 300,000 metres on a Saturday and get the client to pay in cash (although we know of a fencing installer who tried that, and got away with it too); the tax man wants a cut as well. Or make that a thick slice, because even if we only count corporate and income tax (for the sake of convenience), in most countries that will mean you need to bring in (more than) twice as much.

That’s what ‘we’ all agreed on.


Taxes per country 

Country

Corporate Tax

Income Tax

Needed for € 3 million net

Austria

25%

55%

€ 8.89 million

Belgium

25%

50%

€ 8 million

France

30%

49%

€ 8.4 million

Germany

30%

48%

€ 8.16 million

Great Britain

19%

47%

€ 6.99 million

Ireland

25%

40%

€ 6.67 million

Luxembourg

25%

45%

€ 7.27 million

Netherlands

25%

50%

€ 8 million

Switzerland

17%

34%

€ 5.44 million

So where do we end up? If you’re able to install 34 metres in a day and want to make enough money from fencing to put you in the richest 1 per cent in your country, you need to be able to sell your skills for more than 25 euros per metre. Seeing as we know few companies that pay that type of money to subcontractors, we are forced to conclude that as a fencing installer, you’re never going to find yourself among the richest 1 per cent in the country. So it's a good thing you didn't become a fencing professional because you wanted to get rich; it would only have ended in disappointment.

While we had the calculator out, we made some reverse calculations. If you can sell your skills as a subcontractor for 10 euros per metre, while you need 4 euros and 80 cents of that to live on, you would need to install 66 metres a day for 40 years to end up with 3 million in the bank. That’s almost as big a challenge as selling your labour for 25 euros a metre. But if we make that same calculation at 7.50 a metre, the number of metres you would have to make in a day suddenly shoots up to 126. Twice as many, while the price is only 25 per cent less. But it would get you straight into the Guinness Book of Records as the installer who got the most metres in the ground, because after 40 years of that you will have installed 1.1 million metres of fencing.

How can such a small difference in the price per metre have such an enormous effect on the number of metres you’d need to install to live it up a bit? In this example, the high number of workdays (40 years times 220 working days per year = 8800) means a large multiplier. 

It demonstrates that, in metre price negotiations, it pays to fight for every penny – and to always try to squeeze in that extra metre at the end of the day. 

Because if you get an additional euro for every metre you install, then at 34 metres a day you’ll have almost 300,000 additional euros in the bank at the end of 40 years. If you install 40 metres a day, that amount will be 350,000 euros. So even though installing fences might not allow you to join the richest 1 per cent of your country, you certainly don’t have to be a pauper. 

How many metres have you installed in your life so far? <


The 1% Club

Individual net wealth needed to join the top 1% in selected countries and territories, Q4 2023

Country

Wealth needed (US Dollar)

Monaco

12,883,000

Luxembourg

10,832,000

Switzerland

8,509,000

United States

5,813,000

Singapore

5,227,000

Sweden

4,761,000

Australia

4,673,000

Germany

3,430,000

France

3,273,000

United Kingdom

3,070,000

Italy

2,548,000

Spain

2,468,000

Japan

1,971,000

Source: Knight Frank Research

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