Archive | July 2013

Should I build a swimming pool in my backyard? Part I: Decision

It’s getting towards the dog days of summer and as it gets hotter people might be looking into their backyard, considering just how much better life might be if they had a pool back there.  We’re a rental company so when we get the initial phone call for an excavator for someone who wants to possibly work on (at least part of) a project like this, we ask the originating question: why do you want to build a pool in your backyard?

Reasons to build:

1.  It’s a cool, relaxing feature.  Yes, this isn’t really disputable, is it?  When you see a pool in a backyard you automatically reach for a cold beverage and wonder if there are any lawn chairs.  Whether you are single or have kids a pool is always an option for a day off and when you have one in your backyard it’s just that much easier to get to.  You can add waterfalls to get that zen feeling or to have an added feature to play with in the pool.

2.  I love swimming and the water.  If you want to swim for exercise you can configure your pool in such a way that you can do that well.  You can also build it for floating and relaxation.  And, as we said above, during the dog days of summer, something cool is the best remedy for the heat.  Whether you’re splashing around or just building your tan, a pool is a great answer to the question of “what to do on a free day?”

3.  It’s great for entertaining.  Who doesn’t love pools?  People can bring kids, people can swim themselves, you can add a cookout, and very often visiting a home that has a pool is a treat for those who don’t have one.  You get to be Santa!

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Things to consider:

1.  Owning a pool is not cheap to build or to maintain.  Should you get concrete or vinyl?  Aboveground or inground?  What kind of chemicals should you use?  Should you use a heater?  Yes, you can do the maintenance yourself if you make sure that you know everything about your pool – but make sure you do!  Add up the costs over a year and divide it up over 12 months so you can get an immediate sense of what it will add to your monthly bills.  Also keep in mind that depending on where you live, having a pool might make a home more difficult to sell.  On the flipside, if you live someplace like Florida (much warmer than Monticello, year-round) having a pool might be a “must” for homebuyers.

2.  The flipside of entertainment is liability.  Many people don’t know that having a pool immediately increases your homeowner’s insurance.  Want to add a diving board or a slide?  Get ready to increase it even more.  What happens if someone gets hurt?  What are the safeguards you are taking to protect your guests, in particular, small children?  Don’t let these questions scare you off: just make sure you have good answers for them.

3.  You will give up a portion of your yard that you cannot reclaim easily should you change your mind.  If you are going to go to the trouble of excavating, leveling, pouring concrete, landscaping, etc., keep in mind that this is a semi-permanent decision.  It’s going to cost you almost as much to get rid of a pool as it cost you to build one.  Keep in mind that you will also want to add landscaping, rock, etc. to make the pool “fit” the rest of your yard.

You’d be surprised, but we go through variation of these questions and answers with each of our potential clients who calls in to build a pool.  This week we wanted to stir these ideas through your mind so that next week (see what we did there – hooked you for our next blog article!) we can talk about the nitty-gritty of excavation and maintenance.

Stay cool as we head into July, whether it’s indoors or poolside!

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4.4 things to think about when planning your company picnic

Labor Day is 5 weeks away and if you don’t have a company picnic planned (either for the end of the season or the end of the quarter) for that weekend you still have time to plan – not just for that weekend, but for any time in September.

Planning for your company picnic is like planning for any regular picnic, but probably on a much larger scale than many are used to.  You also want to make sure you’re giving people the freedom to be themselves without feeling that they are “at work.”  Having a picnic is a form of employee appreciation and you want them to feel appreciated!

We are often called upon to provide rental equipment for company picnics and we wanted to give you some important considerations so that you can have a great event.

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1.  What’s your budget? 

It’s annoying, perhaps, but you have to start with this question.  Think about what the maximum number of people who could come to the event, take your budget for the event, and divide by the maximum number.  This is your “per person” budget.  Keep in mind that while everyone is not going to “consume” equal amounts of food, entertainment, giveaways, that this is often a helpful and *concrete* way to examine your spend.  Many small businesses say anywhere from $25-$50 a person is a reasonable figure.

1a.  Food

It’s a picnic so you want food that’s easy on the utensils – burgers, hot dogs, and bbq items are easy and expected.  Catering will drive up your cost but may please the employees.  On the other hand, don’t presume you don’t have a “grillmaster” among your staff – someone who lives to grill who might volunteer his/her skills in exchange for a door price or something fun.  Then your cost here will go down.

1b.  Equipment

How big of a tent will you need?  How many tables and chairs?  Do you need fans?  We can help you with the visualization and planning of this – we’re always just a phone call away: 845-794-0100.

1c.  Giveaways

Remember – you are with work people but it’s not work!  You wouldn’t believe the excitement and chatter that a giveaway generates, especially if you can tie it into work prior to the event.  For example, people could get “raffle entries” by being nominated by other employees for particular actions/activities at work.  The small prizes are easy: movie tickets, gift cards, gift baskets.  Have the big prize be substantial, but not overly so!

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1d.  Entertainment

A DJ?  A band?  Magicians?  Games?

The answer is yes – to whatever makes sense for your group.  Music of any kind in the background really adds to a relaxed atmosphere and can also lead to watching little kids dance, which is always a fun sight!

2.  Who’s going to help with this?

Not all your employees will want to help with this event, but make sure they have the opportunity to help!  Ask for volunteers for a planning committee, with perhaps paid lunches for the meetings as an incentive (pizza is easy and inexpensive).  They know who eats what (I didn’t know Jan was a vegetarian), whose secret hobbies might be a great part of the entertainment (Bob’s a ventriloquist?), and what kids will like for entertainment.

3.  Where do you want to be?

Crowds are bad.  You want to be able to manage your party and sometimes visitors (welcome and unwelcome) can mess with that.  You don’t need to go to someplace desolate, but you also shouldn’t be at a very crowded place.  It will make the event less special, and ultimately, less of an event, even.

4.  What kind of entertainment/games?

Make sure everyone is included!  Have physical games like volleyball, but also fun skill games like a bean bag toss.  Having children and grandparents at this event will be a given so make sure that they can participate in the festivities too!

In all of this planning don’t forget that this event is a chance for your company culture to shine.  Have fun, let your employees relax a bit, and reward them for their hard work throughout the year!  The more planning you do for this event, the more fun it will be and the more your employees will come back to work refreshed, with good memories, ready to get back to work!

3 reasons why Word of Mouth works best

Before the age of information (and the age of reliable worldwide shipping), one of the great things about a vacation in a far-off land would be bringing back some foodstuff or drink to share with friends that could not otherwise be bought here in America.  One of our staff here at the Rental Center of Monticello spent a semester abroad in Italy many years ago and he shared a recent ad campaign from Haagen-Daaz centered around “limoncello.”  For those who don’t know, limoncello is a drink that’s probably around 100 years old that is created by steeping lemon zest in grain alcohol until the lemon oil releases – that yellow liquid is then mixed with simple syrup.  It is amazing, and you should try it.

The ad focuses on people’s mouths pronouncing the word “limoncello” and closes with a shot on the ice cream from Haagen-Daaz flavored as limoncello.  Our employee showed this to us with two intents: 1) to reminisce about how great limoncello was and how he felt “cool” that you had to go to Italy to get it (not anymore – you can find it at some liquor stores) and 2) to wonder how silly an ad campaign would be for us to have people saying “Monticello” into the camera!

This led to a discussion about advertising and how people learn about our business.  Here, one of our staff had just shared a great story about a drink he had in his college days that the lemon producers in Southern Italy are grateful to have told.  And after two decades in this business (we haven’t been in business as long as the limoncello people) we know one irrefutable fact: word of mouth is advertising that you just can’t buy. It’s priceless.  It’s necessary. And without it, you don’t have a business.  So for today’s blog post I thought I would focus on the three reasons why word of mouth is very important to our business (and hopefully give you some perspective and reflection points as either customers or fellow business owners).

It starts in conversation and isn’t pushy

There are a couple ways someone can hear about our business in conversation: someone has just completed a project and wants to share about how our equipment really helped them get the job done, or someone is thinking about doing a project and doesn’t really know how to start, what to get, or where to go.

Both of those are positives for us.  In one case a happy customer shares a story about an experience with us.  In another, a potential customer, already in a sense a “warm lead,” is asking for help that should lead right to us.

This sort of interaction is every business owner’s dream, but it starts with delivering great service to your already-existing client.  Doing that pushes you to a greater spot of awareness in their mind, and hence an easier place for them to share with others.

It can’t be bought

Any business that wants to grow has to choose from many different channels of advertising.  And while we’re writing an article about word of mouth, we aren’t trying to say that you can’t or shouldn’t advertise.  But we are trying to say that you can’t buy word of mouth.

Over the years we’ve tried to incentivize some of our happiest and most loyal customers who were already sharing our brand with others but we found that many of them weren’t interested in the incentives.  They were happy with our company and wanted to share with others.

This also means that the stories being told about your business are authentic and legitimate.  Sure, you can “buy” fake reviews from people on various online forums, but after a while either Google will spot and remove those and/or people will become hip to what are “real” reviews and what are fake.

It allows us to continue a dialogue

Sometimes a current customer will say something about us to a potential customer like, “If only they had this one part” or “I definitely didn’t expect to pay as much as I did, but it was worth it.”  This gives us an opportunity to call that customer back, check in with them and make sure that they are happy and satisfied – and more importantly, to ask for feedback.  We never take happy customers for granted, and we never lull ourselves into thinking we can’t improve all the time.

Word of mouth – especially in the information age – means that we can have relationships with our customers across a much longer timespan – and this hopefully means not only a chance to help spur them to think about the next project they may want to do around their house – but also, as we said above – to stay in their mindspace so they think of us first when a friend is brainstorming about a project.  We’d like to think that our rent-by-the-day, not the hour, pricing is cool enough on its own, but it’s always much cooler to hear a customer say that to a potential client for us!

Have a great weekend!

Iconic Construction Projects: the Brooklyn Bridge

It’s the Fourth of July today and all week both our customers and employees have been restless.  It’s hard to focus when there’s a big holiday in the middle of the week, we understand!  As we thought about what made sense to write about during this week we celebrate America, I thought that we should celebrate a really important construction project right here in our great state of New York: the Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s iconic, it’s well-recognized, it often makes appearances in movies, and it has a great history.  There are plenty of places you can get a deep history of this monument but we thought we’d give you the Rental Center of Monticello version: short, sweet, and to the point!

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Don’t give up

John Augustus Roebling designed the Brooklyn Bridge.  He was a German immigrant who was well-known for other suspension bridges he had done in his new country.  However, while doing surveys for the bridge he sustained an injury which led to a tetanus infection (which in those days, could be fatal).  He did indeed end up dying from the tetanus, but not before he managed to pass on the entire project to his son Washington Roebling.

Washington Roebling worked down in the caissons – which you will recognize as the towers of the bridge – and before the US Navy had developed its diving tables which dealt with the problem of working at certain depths – and developed decompression sickness.  This was such a problem that Washington was unable to physically supervise the work.  His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, became the link between her recovering husband and the work site.  She spent the next 11 years supervising the construction, while learning higher mathematics and suspension bridge construction, among other things!

Crush rumors of your demise

The bridge opened on May 24, 1883 to much fanfare.  President Chester A. Arthur himself crossed the bridge with the first crowd of people to do so – but not before Emily.  You would figure all that hard work would count for something, and indeed, she was the first to cross it!

But just 6 days after the bridge opened there were rumors spread that it was about to collapse, which led to a stampede that got about a dozen people killed!  P.T. Barnum (yes, Barnum & Bailey’s Barnum) had enough of that and led 21 elephants across the bridge in a show of solidarity and to calm the citizens down.

Persevere

Why is the Brooklyn Bridge standing, 130 years after its construction, when so many other bridges built around that era are no longer with us?  Firstly, Washington Roebling planned ahead.  Aerodynamics of bridge building had not been discovered as a discipline (and indeed, wouldn’t really be known until the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse: the bridge used to be called “Galloping Gertie” because of the way the bridge moved!) until the 1940s.  Despite not knowing about the aerodynamics, since Washington wanted the bridge to endure he built the bridge 6 times stronger than it needed to be.  Well, at least he wanted to.  A man had sold him some inferior wiring that compromised that and since it was still 4 times stronger than it needed to be, even with the compromised wiring, Roebling proceeded.  When you aim higher than your target, even when you fall short you hit your mark!

The bridge today is an iconic part of New York and whenever we take friends into the city, most of them ask to at least see it, if not also cross it.  They are in the midst of a “strengthening” project now which should be done next year (the approaches onto the bridge were deemed to be “poor” and are being redone) so there is some construction work on there but you can still walk across.

Crossing the Bridge

Lessons we take with us as part of our everyday work here (and lessons we share with our customers when they call in, halfway through a project):

1.  Be bold with your projects.  Dream big!

2.  Don’t give up even when obstacles get in your way.  Be creative with how you solve your problems.

3.  Build with quality and thoughtfulness so your work will outlast you.

A very Happy Independence Day to you all from all of us here at the Rental Center of Monticello!