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Brendan Casey- Set the Standard: “It must be nice”

When we wrote the July/August 2023 article “Well, I’ll Be a Dirty Word,” we couldn’t fathom the outpouring of affirmation that would be received from contractors who had been made to feel the same way and never really had an opportunity to articulate it to anyone...

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When we wrote the July/August 2023 article “Well, I’ll Be a Dirty Word,” we couldn’t fathom the outpouring of affirmation that would be received from contractors who had been made to feel the same way and never really had an opportunity to articulate it to anyone outside of their own personal circles. 

A lot of us never realized blue-collar deck builders from all over the globe, regardless of their success, were being treated like second-class citizens to the point where when you show any sign of achievement, it tends to be followed by an accusatory “It must be nice.” 

You pull up to your appointment or to the job in an expensive new truck and you hear, “Is that what I’m paying for? Must be nice.” That hint of indignation from clients, vendors, suppliers, or peers always seems to seep into conversations whenever tell-tale signs of your success rears its so-called ugly head. How dare that dirty, calloused-handed, leather-skinned, sunburned, laborer enjoy the same lifestyle and luxuries of the white-collared clientele. 

Our clients reach out to us to enhance one of the greatest investments they will ever make — their homes, the protected domain of their families. Yet so many times, especially since the onset of COVID, the prospective contractor they intend to have build that lifestyle addition, isn’t even invited into the confines of their sanctuary. We aren’t good enough to come inside, yet their lives depend on the quality of the structure we create. It must be nice.

How many times have you heard in a semi-sarcastic way, “It must be nice” to own your own business? Little do they know how long it took to reach a comfortable level of success. Nor do they realize you get up at 4:30 – 5 a.m. every day, putting in your morning routine before work. Working all day, bathing under the client’s hose, tossing on a fresh shirt to go on appointments in the evening, coming home after the rest of the family has had dinner, squeezing in a quick bite of your own, a shower, and back to your desk until midnight so you can catch up on paperwork. Only to do it all over again tomorrow. 

It must be nice, but that is the daily routine so many of us employ, especially in the early years of our business. Working on Saturdays to catch up on projects or appointments while missing the rest of our family’s events because the 18-20 hours we worked each of the previous five days weren’t enough to complete our tasks. It must be nice. 

Let’s talk about that “mortgage-esque” payment we dropped on the new truck we had to buy because the last one was being held together with bubble gum and bailing wire. We pull up to the job and immediately hear no wonder you are so expensive. It must be nice. 

I love that one. I always respond with, “Would you have preferred I Uber my way over here or take the bus with all my tools, equipment and supplies?” Oddly enough, most prospective clients would prefer you show up in a nice clean, up-to-date rig and not look like “Bob in his Beater.”

Regardless of where we are in our careers, it’s safe to say we all have goals and a desire to succeed. The one trait that I have found while interviewing Deck Specialists from around the world is you need to seek balance with boundaries. It’s imperative you have a work/family balance while setting hard boundaries with work and clients. The same client that will say It must be nice to have your own business won’t hesitate to call, text, or email you at all hours of the night or expect you to be available on the weekend. 

One company I spoke with said they have stoppedanswering calls after dinner, they don’t offer appointments after 3 p.m. and no weekends between Memorial and Labor Day. It forces the clients who want their caliber of work to make them important. Now, that must be nice. 

Mike Mitchell from Mitchell Construction (co-author of the Deck Specialist TNT column) once shared with me that in order to achieve his balance, he always starts off by putting his family first. He does so by penciling in all of his family obligations and events prior to scheduling his appointments and work time. He begins by blocking out dinner every night to spend with his wife and children. That is nice. 

Like Mike, Andy Henley of Hen-House Decks (the other half of the TNT column duo), who actually came up with the name for this article, just finished a two-week trip abroad with his daughter — because he could. Andy has worked diligently as a NADRA award winning Deck Specialist to create a successful business that continued on as a well-oiled machine, allowing he and his daughter to enjoy an uninterrupted trip of a lifetime. That is nice. 

Another example, Bill Zinnert of Diamond Decks in Severn, MD., has worked 30 years on the night shift while maintaining a successful deck business by day. Bill had goals and a passion for building decks. He took the long way around, but has achieved most all of his goals, and when he pulled up to the lumberyard in his gorgeous new Corvette, what were the first words he heard? You guessed it — “It must be nice.” Personally, Bill is an inspiration. Not for his beautiful sports car and his place at the beach, but for the fact that he set lofty goals and had the fortitude to achieve them. That is nice

It must be nice to have that new boat, RV, ATV, UTV, car, truck, vacation home, or the ability to take grand vacations on an annual basis. It must be nice to live in the same neighborhoods as our clients, send our children to the same schools and participate on the same teams. 

You know what else was nice? Working 90 days straight one summer without a single day off to meet deadlines and stay on schedule. It must have been nice grinding yourself into the ground, working in the rain, snow, freezing and scalding hot temps to reach your goals. It must have been nice knowing that while you were out putting in extra hours, your children were looking up into the stands or the audience to see if you made it to their event. You couldn’t be there because you had bills to pay, a family to provide for, and a desire to make your business succeed. It must be nice.

The truth is, reaching each goal really is nice. Don’t ever let the jealousies of others tarnish the shine of your achievements. But as we do, we will continue to hear the battle cry of the insecure: “It must be nice,” as we forge on to the next plateau. It must be nice to know that we chose to make our living in an industry that truly rewards us for our efforts. 

By no means is it easy; it takes a special breed to make a go of being a Deck Specialist. Like any other business in any other industry, there is no guarantee. For every success story there are dozens of sad ones — companies that were not able to make it work. But the days of a blue-collar income maxing out far below where white collar starts are long gone, and that truly is nice. 

I know this may sound farfetched to some, but we Deck Specialists have a right to the American Dream just as much as any other profession. It must be nice to know that we also have the ability today to achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves. We all have our own unique stories. So next time someone says, “It must be nice,” just smile and reminisce about the road you traveled to get there. You earned it.