The parish priest wanted to construct a building beside the church. The new building would be a venue to host church gatherings and organisational meetings. He asked his parishioners for help.
A construction contractor approached the priest and offered to build the church at what he said would be half his standard price. The 50% discount would be the contractor’s donation to the parish church community. The priest and the parish laity leadership accepted the contractor’s offer.
The contractor finished the building in six (6) months.
But it wasn’t well built. The contractor used cheap pipes for plumbing which began to leak as soon as they were used. Because the pipes were embedded in the concrete floor, cracks and water seeped from the building’s second floor to the ground floor.
The concrete flooring of the building was plain as in no tiles or quality finishing. The building looked more like it was suited for a warehouse than a venue for gatherings.
The doors were made of cheap lumber and poorly installed such that some fell apart in a short time.
The building was also dark. The contractor installed few lights and for those rooms which had lights, he bought the cheapest light bulbs and fixtures. Windows were also few and small so that even during the day, it was hard to see where one was going without the lights turned on.
And because there were not many windows, ventilation was poor. Air-conditioning equipment bought and installed were the cheapest models and they conked out within months. Groups who used the new venue complained about the heat.
Even though the building had only two floors, climbing the stairs felt like climbing a mountain. Steps were built so steep that senior parish lay people would have difficulties going to the second floor. There was no elevator.
The contractor billed the parish priest for the construction and collected his so-called half-price fee. It was obvious that the contractor cut back on so much to keep costs down such that he would eke out a profit from his 50% discounted price. The contractor never really donated “half of his fee”; he simply snagged a contract from an unsuspecting parish priest to earn some money.
Suppliers, vendors, and contractors are in business to make money. They may offer discounts and even position low prices as donations. Whatever they may say, their true intent will always be to earn a profit. No enterprise does business for charity.
When we deal with private enterprises, the name of the game is not to ask for donations or ask other parties to discount for our benefit only. It’s about knowing what we want and getting what we pay for, at the same time seeking mutual benefit with the ones we are engaging with.
Many of us don’t seek mutual benefit. Most of the time, we push for prices and terms that benefit only ourselves without thinking how the lower prices and better terms we weasel from suppliers, vendors, and contractors will boomerang back in the forms of poor quality and shoddy service. In other words, we get what we pay for.
Mutual benefit does not mean giving up our interests. It is about pursuing a win-win arrangement with those we deal with.
Some people criticise me for example when I charge a lower rent for a warehouse I lease. “Why am I so nice?,” the critics will ask. I could have raked in quite a bit more money, the critics would argue.
The reply I give is that I don’t just look at price. I also look at how long a period a potential tenant wants to lease. I also consider the tenant’s profile. I would, for example, offer discounts for entrepreneurs or start-ups but ask for escalations in rent prices as the tenant’s business grows. I also would discount to tenants who pay in advance or agree to give post-dated checks. I, however, would argue for higher prices if the tenant is an established firm that requires me to undergo a complicated process of collecting the rent every month.
Mutual benefit as an ideal has worked for me. Critics may argue I could have earned more. But profit alone is not how I measure success. Good relationships with customers, vendors, suppliers, and contractors have resulted in a steady continuous stream of income for my business.
We get what we pay for. But we get more via mutually beneficial relationships.