This famous quote by Frank Lloyd Wright came after getting a commission, breaking a long dry spell. It took on new meaning for me last week when I closed a deal to provide a fairly large amount of woodwork for a local restaurant.
This has been, without question, the driest year I have had in as long as I can remember. The last big downturn in construction and all of the related trades was in the mid 1990's. But I got through that one without too much stress due to a massive fire that took out over 1,500 homes in the Oakland hills. I was able to pull enough work out of that to ride out the recession with relative ease.
In the past, I have resorted to what is known as "front loading" to get through tight times. Front loading means that you take money from your next project to pay your way through the end of the current one. It is usually the result of having to underbid jobs because people are much more concerned about getting the best price. With competition for jobs being more intense, everybody is trying to cut their prices to the bone just to get the work.
The big difference with this recession is simply that there have been no jobs to front load. I have kept my shop afloat by doing a lot of small projects and repair work that throw off a few hundred dollars each. It takes a lot of those to equal one good project and the associated hidden costs of picking up, delivering, estimating and bookkeeping is much greater than it is with one larger project. But still, it's work and it pays.
I also had a conversation with a contractor who has provided me with a lot of good projects in the past and he is in line to get a large high-end home to build. It's the first good prospect he has had in the last two years. If he gets that job, I will be in a good position to pick up a lot of work there.
Is this a light at the end of the tunnel? I hope so. I don't see the construction business ever getting back to the point it was at right before the "bubble" burst. Nor do I want to see that. I would much rather see a gradual and sustainable return to solvency. I am hoping that my restaurant project and my contractor friend's job are indications that this is occurring. If nothing else, they are going to at least keep me going for a while longer.