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The greatest %&#$$ on earth

Fencing installers can generally get along pretty well. They’ve often learnt the trade via the same (steep) learning curve – with a whole lot of trial and error – and that forges a bond. When a manufacturer or industry association throws a party and fencing installers find themselves at the same table, they have a great time together. They get rounds for each other, tell some really good stories, and have a lot of laughs. We’ve attended plenty of these parties and have always needed a week to recover, because the fun doesn’t stop until the booze has run out, long after the sun has risen.

But there are a few conditions attached to that kind of enjoyment. Because installers only like each other if they live a really long distance apart or have a very different client base. When it comes to their direct competitors in the region, they give them a wide berth and call them unprintable names that you won’t find in any dictionary.

“You know Johnson Fencing? Complete amateur. He instals fences in fresh concrete and uses slats and boards to support them. What an idiot. You just can’t take him seriously. And Evans, that filthy %&#$, I don't want anything to do with him either. He used to work for me… so he let me spend my time teaching him how to do everything, and then all of a sudden went off to set up his own business. Now he tells all the customers that he’s better at it. As if! I’ve got 30 years more experience than he does. Oh and then there’s Singh. He really is the biggest %&#$ to ever walk this earth. You know what he did? He stole a job from me in MY town, which has absolutely nothing to do with him, right there on the main street in a fantastic high-visibility location, and he put an enormous nameplate on it. Oh, and I haven't even told you about McDonald. What a weirdo. If I ever spotted him in front of my car, I’d put my foot on the accelerator. He somehow managed to convince an architect – I reckon he must have bribed him – to use his own system from now on in the specifications for my biggest client.”

There’s always something. Fred’s marketing is too aggressive, and Harry's installers just ignore you when you say hello to them. Sometimes an installer will hold a grudge against some fellow installer, because 17 years ago (when the business was still owned by his father) he came over to borrow a roll of chain-link mesh and paid it back with a roll from a different manufacturer – whose mesh is of course of much lower quality than the mesh from the factory they buy their mesh from. The scumbag.

When you hear installers talking about their competitors like this, your first thought is: "Pfff, is this really such an unsporting industry?" But we do understand where all this envy – and sometimes pure hatred – comes from. The business world isn’t like having a casual Sunday afternoon kickabout in the park. The business world is cold-blooded and harsh, and when you’re trying to do business in a relatively primitive and unregulated industry like ours, that makes it even harder. If you’re on the football field and suffer a slightly-too-hard push on the shoulder, the worst that can happen is that you get a bit of a bruise, while in business a little push from a competitor can easily cost you a few thousand euros or pounds. And we haven't even started on big pushes or tackles. They’re not things you can sort out after the game with just a beer and a friendly slap on the shoulder.

At the same time, it’s a real shame. Every time we find ourselves at a table with fencing installers from different regions, sometimes even different countries, and see how much they're enjoying each other’s company, we wonder why this doesn't work regionally. Being able to get along well with the fencing professionals in your own region has all sorts of advantages.

You can recommend each other for the jobs that you can’t or don’t want to do yourself. You can hire out installation crews to each other if there’s a big job that needs to be finished quickly. You can purchase supplies together, buying bigger quantities and so getting better prices. If all those things go well and you build mutual trust, you could even sit down together to see (obviously without breaking cartel laws) whether you could help each other to increase the price level in your region a little, or protect each other's major customers. Or you could work with two or three others to start up an electrical services company, for which you’ve never quite had enough work on your own. And even if it’s just because it makes it much easier to borrow a box of bolts or some fixings from each other: you’re always stronger together than alone.

In order for that to happen, there needs to be tolerance and acceptance. Everyone is struggling. It's a slog for everyone. In hard times everyone has to slog to get orders; in good times everyone slogs to find staff and maintain acceptable delivery times. And hardly anyone in our industry has followed a special course of study for that; the vast majority of competitors have had to learn by trial and error the same way you have. And every competitor occasionally (or regularly) finds themselves in dire straits and then takes odd – and sometimes unsporting – steps to resolve it. But the moment you realise that the football match you thought you were playing is actually a rugby match, it’s easier to see the hard pushes and the tackles as part of the game, and fellow installers as fellow players, rather than %&#$$s.

Why not give a wave if you see that colleague driving past who (until yesterday) you thought was a %&#$$, thanks to those times he pushed you in the shoulder in the (possibly distant) past. And do the same again the next time. After three or so times, that installer will wave back. And if you happen to run into him at a petrol station, stop for a quick chat – he may well turn out not to be as much of a clown as you thought. Before you know it you’ll be sitting together after the match, having a beer. <

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Viller Mühle, Viller 32
47574 Goch, Germany


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