Thursday, December 29, 2011

Special Edition! New Year's Resolution

It's been a while since I have written an overtly Real Estate related blog. This is only sort of one.

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about my job, my work, my source of income. This is the time of year to evaluate performance over the last year and to plan and strategize for next year. I've done some of that, identifying markets I want to be in, planning some new marketing strategies, etc. One thing has been bugging me though and I finally made a little headway (so to speak) today in pinpointing it. The phrase, "work as ministry" has been in my head. After several days of this thought, I've decided to work it out by writing it down. I also decided to share that writing with you in hopes that you can implement the same kind of strategy.

Work as Ministry

For most of my more mature Christian life I have heard various people espouse the virtues of treating your work as ministry. Be a witness wherever you go. Treat people as you want to be treated. What would Jesus do. All those phrases that we all know and have used to the point that they are almost cliche. The problem is that they are not very specific and don't give a guy like me some concrete things to DO to accomplish those noble goals. What I am writing now is my gameplan on how to put those cliches into practice as a Realtor. I hope that you will read these and be inspired to do the same wherever you work. I believe God expects it of us and I know that our coworkers/clients/customers/employees/employers (Christian and non-Christian) need it from us. So here goes:

How can I make my job as a Realtor into ministry?
  • Implement the golden rule--I know it is one of the cliches but it is a good one. I truly need to treat others as I would want to be treated. Even more, I need to treat people as God would want me to treat them. This means I just naturally go the extra mile. I provide more than they expect, all the time, without them asking. EVEN moreso, I need to do it with a really joyous, thankful, genuine disposition. Do it because I love them as people.
  • Understand that I am helping them with something far more important and noble than just buying some product. A house is (for the VAST majority of people) the largest single investment they will ever make. A house is something they dream about, somewhere to raise their family, somewhere to build memories and somewhere to turn into HOME--a concept almost everyone longs for. It can be a complicated task and I am honored when someone trusts me to help.
  • Delight in the small points of this process. People make decisions about their home based on ALL KINDS of reasons. For some it is simply the schools, the square footage, the condition and the overall layout of the house. Others go by "the feeling" the home gives. I need to be open to all of those deciding factors. I need to tune into those factors. I need to fight the urge to become frustrated when someone takes a long time to decide and seems to be too picky. I need to delight in the meticulousness some people exercise--after all, this is where they will call home.
  • I need to be 100% honest and up front with people. I am an honest person but even so, I will sometimes sugar coat things. No one benefits from that in the long run. This policy may cost me some listings but in the long run, it will help. More Realtors need to do this. You help no one if you have a listing for 6 months with no showings. If the house smells, tell them. If the house needs work, tell them. If their price is WAY out of line, tell them. Set the expectations. I know there are some reasons for listing an overpriced property but don't give false hope that it will actually sell
  • Humility, honor, integrity and thankfulness--These are the words that should govern my actions.
    • I can only do so much and God does the rest--this gives humility.
    • Honor is a 2 way street--I am honored that my clients trust me and I honor them, my family and my God by treating people well
    • Integrity--goes without saying
    • Thankfulness--again, thankful for my clients' trust and thankful for God's blessings. Also thankful that I live in a place where I can help people in this fashion.
  • NEVER give less than my full effort. Again, this is someone's home that I am being trusted with. Less than 100% is not acceptable--even if I am tired or grouchy or whatever. Remember that this is a SERVICE job. It is my opportunity to serve my fellow man. This is a super important point of emphasis for me.
  • Focus on the family--including my own. I cannot do this without my family and I need to keep telling myself that, no matter how busy I am, I owe it to Cindy, Jonas and Maggie to put them first. When I do this and still get the "job" done with efficiency, I set a great example for my clients.
  • Value the relationship that is being forged. When people step into my path and we work on their largest asset, there is a natural relationship planted. There are no accidents and I HAVE to put value on the relationship that results from helping with a business transaction. It is an emotional process to buy and sell the home. Don't be closed off and just get to know people on a superficial level. If they are open to it, take the opportunity to actually build a relationship--even if the person is a little weird.
  • Finally, to really see this as ministry, I need to keep God in it. So many people are afraid to talk about God because it might offend someone. I don't need to preach but I don't see any reason why it can't be woven into the conversation. If that conversation is rejected, then leave it alone but I should always try.
These bullet points are my outline for treating my "job" as ministry. This is real, rubber hits the road kind of stuff. I would love to see your thoughts on this. I would also challenge my brothers and sisters out there to think about this goal and set specific objectives on how you might do the same. Let me know if I can be of service to you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Lie--Music and Media Have No Lasting Effect on Me

I love music. I love all kinds of music. I love country, rock, hip hop, rap, oldies, classic rock, bluegrass, classical, and everything in between. I do NOT love all the songs within each genre. There are some that have some redeeming qualities and some that are just plain bad (talent wise) or vile (content wise). I would like to see us (all of us) be a little more conscientious about our consumption of media.

I always like to ask the youth that I work with about their media consumption. What kind of music they listen to, what shows they watch, who their favorite artists are, what books they are reading or have read recently. I believe that the media we take in shapes the words we put out--even if it is only barely noticeable. My favorite thing is when a young person, when presented with the question "why do you listen to that garbage", responds with "I don't listen to the words, I just like the beats." I usually then proceed to askt hem questions about the song and ask them to "hum a few bars." 100% of the time, if they are honest, they have a good portion of the lyrics embedded in their minds. It will almost always come out in their language also. If you never take bad words in, there is no way you can spit them back out.

Understand that I like all kinds of music. I listen to all kinds of music. I even listen to some music that is "not good for me". I really do like the beats. The difference is, I KNOW that those words and thoughts are being preached at me in a really catchy sermon of beats and words. I am a conscious consumer. I am not someone that says that an 18 year old should completely hide from the world he or she lives in. I would also say that it is a parent's job to know what their kids listen to and to shield them as much as possible. It is important to listen to the stuff your kids listen to so YOU can be a conscious consumer for your kids and help them develop the skills necessary to be that conscious consumer themselves.

This goes both ways, by the way. A lot of parents believe that if their kids listen only to certain types of music, there is no problem. For example, if a song mentions God, it is probably ok to consume. This is so very dangerous. Kids like to dig into the music and the artists. Here is an example of why this can be dangerous. The band Evanesence did a song called "Bring Me To Life." It is a really good song. If you listen on the surface, and even if you dig into the lyrics, it can easily be passed off as a Christian song. In fact, when it first came out, CCM radio stations played it and Christian bookstores sold it. After the song got popular and sold a ton of albums, band members said things like "Can we get over the whole Christian music thing. It is so lame." and "What the f*** are we doing there" in reference to being on the Christian music charts.

The take away from this blog is this, be aware of what goes into your brain. Don't assume that if it is on the radio it is ok. Also don't mindlessly consume media and expect it NOT to affect you. Music and television and movies change you. They add vocabulary to your arsenal, the beats get stuck in your head (I call that an earworm), the ideas cause you to pause and think. Over time, your whole personality is shaped by the media you consume. Just be aware of it and make sure you like the person you become.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Truth--Small Business is THE Fabric of Our Culture

This series has been focused on lies in our culture. This blog is going to change it up a little and focus on a truth that many people know. They just might not know HOW truthful it really is. All of this blog is going to focus on small business. Specifically, it is going to focus on my life experience with a particular small business, Crosslin Supply. Many of the people that read this blog know that Crosslin's sold to national company, ProBuild a few years ago. ProBuild closed its doors in Smyrna on Friday of last week. This morning I was "inspired" by a dream to write about Crosslin's and what it has meant to my life. My story is not unlike countless others who have been impacted by family run, small businesses across the country.

We moved to Tennessee from Texas when I was almost 5 years old. My dad worked for my grandfather in his auto repair garage in Smyrna. My mom worked for Kroger for a short time and then went to work for a lumber yard in Smyrna, Crosslin Supply. A few years later, my grandfather closed his shop and my dad also went to work for Crosslin's. You could say I basically grew up at Crosslin Supply. It certainly helped shape my life. Below are some of my memories and the lessons I learned because of Crosslin Supply:

Lesson 1--people want to be treated well and will pay a little more if they are. Time and time again I would wonder how Crosslin's could compete with the big stores like Lowes. The answer was always the same--people go to who they know and who they know will treat them well. Everyone wants to be treated like they are important (even if they are not). That deck that the DIYer is building is the most important thing in that guy's mind right now. It may only be $1,000 worth of lumber but it is his crowning achievement. He may not be as important to your bottom line as the customer that builds 100 homes a year but it IS important to that customer that he is treated like you couldn't survive without his business. If he gets that treatment, he will be a fan of your business and will even pay a little more for the same product. If you slip up, even once, he will go to the big box store where he doesn't expect good treatment but will get a cheaper product. In other words, if I get crappy service at both places, why would I pay more for it?

Lesson 2--Go the extra mile--period. I learned that no matter what, give all that you can to your clients or customers. It makes you feel good and you never know what else that will bring you. I remember when the Kingdom Hall in Smyrna was being built. They wanted to build it in just a few days. They requested, and Crosslin's agreed, to have 24 hour access to building materials. My dad stayed at the store through the night and delivered stuff to them in the dark and at all kinds of times. It was cool in its own sort of way. Only a small business would do that.

Lesson 3--When the employee takes pride in the job and are rewarded for it, you will be successful as an owner. There are countless examples of this at Crosslin's. From the doors that were built on site for customers to the organization system and the racks that the employees built to the times when special cuts were requested and the employees took pride in helping someone out. My dad and others helped build many of the sheds and other buildings on that property. They took pride in that place and were often rewarded with bonus checks or lunches or even just pats on the back. Either way, the employees were part, if not most, of the success of the day to day operations. Combine that pride with the relationships built by Mr. Crosslin, Mr. Victory and all the sales staff and you had a great place.

Lesson 4--Weave yourself into the community. There are so many examples of this one from Crosslin's. The company sponsored all kinds of athletics in the community. "Crosslin Supply" was on thousands of little league shirts and school shirts and signs at ball parks and everywhere else. Kids grew up with that name on their backs and then got a job there after high school. They learned to work hard and work harder at college so they wouldn't have to keep working hard in the lumber yard. I heard that one a million times.

There was also the old man's coffee club in the break room. There is a really cool table up there with all kinds of bits, blades, nuts, bolds, etc. carved in. There was a group of old men that would congregate there regularly to drink coffee, tell lies and solve the world's problems. They didn't buy lumber, they didn't work there, they just met and talked. It was part of the community.

The Fish Fry--once a year Mr. Lee Victory would host a fish fry at his home (that is now Ms. Imogene Bolin's law office). My dad and several other Crosslin employees would help set up the event. I always got to go before it got dark and the party really kicked in. That was the first time I met a political leader. I met and had a picture made with Governor McWherter. At that age, it didn't matter what party he was or what his politics were, he was the Governor!

Lesson 5--Your life is shaped by your upbringing and you never know when that will become evident. I grew up in the construction industry because my parents worked at Crosslin Supply. It was the topic of discussion at the dinner table. It was our weekends (driving to look at new homes being built). It was my first job--dad got Mr. Parker to hire me. All of that led me to have a keen interest in homes, their construction and the artistry involved. It also gave me a pretty good working knowledge of the builders, different methods, problems and "the right way" to do things. This body of knowledge has made me, at least I think, a pretty good Realtor. Whats really weird about that is that I NEVER would have said, prior to about 4 years ago, that I would want to be a Realtor. I was a teacher and I enjoyed teaching. It was stable. Then it wasn't. I learned that stability in the job is in the eye of the beholder. Businesses close. Good employees get fired. I can be successful as an independent person and that is more stable than any "job". 

In addition to "life lessons" (and those were just a few of them), I have so many memories that involve Crosslin Supply. This is the part that I dreamed about. It was a sort of montage of all kinds of memories. These are going to be kind of unorganized, quick shots of memories. I hope you enjoy reminiscing with me.
  • Mr. Victory's hats. Coon Victory's office was outlined by hats. There were all different varieties. I will never forget coming into the office at about age 8. The fire truck had been at school and we all got those plastic fireman hats. I gave mine to Mr. Victory and he hung it on his wall. It was there until he left. I was so proud to have a hat on his wall.
  • Crosslin picnics--So many memories here. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
    • we always had the kid shoe races. All the kids would take their shoes off and throw them into a pile. We would then race to put them back on. Epic fun.
    • Softball game--wow, that was fun to watch the old people play
    • BINGO--Mr. Victory would call Bingo and it was, by far, the highlight of the night.
    • Kamikazee Kelly--I believe it was Mr. Victory's 50th birthday (correct me if I am wrong) and the employees hired Kamikazee Kelly to come visit during the picnic. It was hilarious
  • Riding Bicycles--I don't know if Mr. Crosslin or Mr. Victory knew it but Jeremy and I were up there all the time. Dad would go service the trucks or build new racks or during inventory, or any number of other times. We would bring our bicycles and ride all over the place. It was an awesome place to ride with all the ramps and jumps and cool things to do. When they first built the drywall warehouse, the floors were incredibly slick and with a little speed, you could lock the brakes and slide forever. There was this little yellow plastic wedge thing that we used as a jump. One time I was riding super fast and hit that jump. I was too close to the stack of drywall and crashed into it. I thought I broke my wrist and my bike. It was scary.
  • The intercom system--when mom and dad first started at Crosslin's there was a back counter and a front counter. The back counter had an intercom that went to the warehouse where my dad worked. He thought it was hilarious to take the high power nail gun and shoot the speaker/microphone so that it made a terrible noise in the store.
  • The burn pit--ok greenies, this one is not for you. The coolest burn pit in Smyrna was at Crosslin's. As a 10 year old boy, I was infatuated with fire. It was humongous.
  • Friday morning donuts--There was a company wide Friday morning meeting every week. It was early. Jeremy and I had to go to Crosslin's because it was too early for us to be dropped off at school. the upside was that there was always donuts at the meeting!
  • Paint calibration--My Aunt Jo was the paint mixer person who first got the computerized color matching system. She taught me how to use it and I looked forward to Fridays booting up the computer. You used a green slide, a white slide and a black tube to calibrate it.
  • Clayton--this guy was awesome! He was one of the nicest men I ever knew. Crosslin's sold Holland Grilles for a while and Clayton was the man on this grille. He cooked all kinds of things. Everyone's favorite was when he would cook tenderloin and biscuits on the grille (bake the biscuits on it--awesome).
  • Building all the additions--Crosslin Supply changed A LOT in the time that my parents were there. Dad helped build a ton of the additions. The little office wing, the expansion of the office wing, several warehouses, the remodel inside from two counters to one big one, so much more.
  • Other community involvement--furniture building for local teachers, building things for the community--gazebo at the rock school park, deck at the rec park, and much more
  • Not all times were good. When you are family you have sad times too. I think Crosslin's was a family.  Here are some of the sad or scary times I remember (I know there were tons more)
    • Larry Gilliland (probably misspelled) passing away
    • Mr. Crosslin dying
    • Mrs. Mullins falling off the upstairs dock
    • Brian Craig (son of one of the employees) drowning
    • Clayton dying
  • In addition to this very small sampling of stories, there were countless "characters" that have places in my memories of Crosslin's. Here is a very short list of the ones that come to mind right away: Mr. Crosslin or "Frank Jr." (I don't think I ever met Frank Sr.), Mr. Coon Victory and his dad, Mr. Victory, Willie Collier, Ms. Betty, Ron, "Tallboy", Sam, Sandra, Leigh Ann, Joanna, Izzy, Mary Elizabeth, Eddy, Terry Medders, Shorty, Bubba, Mr. Irvin, Elaine, Randy Horn, Brian, Rick, Gene, Sharon, Eugene, Mrs. Eugene (Catherine), Ray, Chris Wray, Kelly, Dean, and literally hundreds more.
I always try to have a take away from my blogs. This one is very long. Even with this abnormal length, I have not done justice to the role one small business played in my childhood, youth, young adulthood and even adulthood. The takeaway is this, small business is the most important "cause" in capitalism. Go, support businesses like Crosslin's. Someone is depending on it. These types of businesses are so incredibly important to our culture. Check out for a list of small businesses in Smyrna. Look them up and go support them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Lie--Kids Shouldn't Argue

When I was growing up, I argued--a lot. I argued with my brother, mom, dad, teachers, relative and anyone else that would argue. Pretty much every time, an authority figure would tell me not to argue. Parents would tell me "because I said so" when I asked why I should do something. Teachers and other authority figures would see an argument as a challenge to their authority and would quash it immediately. What I learned from this was that I was less than those people--even if I had a valid argument and was able to articulate it.

I believe this to have been a disservice. Now, remember, I am a parent, I was a teacher and I have said "because I said so". On more occasions though, I have listened to the argument and made a decision stand or be reversed after the argument was presented. I believe this is a valuable skill to be taught. I believe it is important for kids to learn how to properly disagree and discuss the differences (argue if you will) in a safe environment. I also believe that they learn submission to authority in enough places.

Let me qualify this point of view with a few caveats--some things are not up for discussion. Some things are not important enough to discuss and some are too important to be lenient. If my son wanted to play in the interstate, I would say no and it would not matter how convincing of an argument he presented, the answer would stay no.

Some things, however, are ripe for discussion. If he wants to do something else and can present a good reason, I will, even at 5 years old let him have his way. I am objective enough to know that some of the things I tell him to do are completely arbitrary. There is no good reason for him to do it this way or that. If he wants to do it a different way, fine. I think this lets him develop his logic and reasoning skills and helps him develop his communication skills.

I was the same way in my classroom. I would give parameters for a project. If a student came and said they would rather do it a different way and could give me a good reason why, I was flexible. It created a bit more work but it helped them learn the concept and learn to communicate with authority well. It also gave me a great opportunity to teach the soft skill of debate (argument). I would even help them argue with me sometimes.

That may sound weird but it is invaluable to the developing mind. Teach them how to argue. Teach them and give them opportunities to think on their own, form a plan, present the plan and try to be persuasive. Teach them how to resolve conflict. All the while, coaching them on being respectful, being open minded and being creative. Too many kids give up at the first "no". Still other kids don't give up, they get beligerent or equate a "no" with a rejection of THEM.

Bottom line, kids should be given the opportunity to argue with you. Help them decide which topics are open for discussion and which ones are not. Let them formulate an argument and even let them win sometimes. If everyone did this, I think we would have a much less frustrated, depressed, unable to deal with rejection, unable to cope with "no" society.

Who wants to argue with me?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

School Uniforms

Ok, so this isn't so much a lie as it is an age old debate in public schools. I have a bit of a different perspective on uniforms and want to share it. See what you think.

I used to have my students debate on this issue to practice debating. It was an easy enough topic to debate, did not require too much hard core research and gave them all the chance to work on the process of putting together coherent arguments and speaking intelligently. Here is the topic as I see it:

Why you wouldn't have uniforms in public high schools: The main reasons people are opposed to uniforms include the perceived "added cost" and the limitations of expression.

Some think that the student would have to have, essentially, 2 complete wardrobes--one wardrobe of uniforms and one wardrobe of "normal" clothes. My argument to this is to keep it simple. Most uniform policies would call for something along the lines of khaki pants (a wardrobe staple anyway) and a specific color, solid polo type shirt. Since the uniform would call for consistency in the color of shirt, it would be simple to purchase 2-3 pairs of pants and 3-5 shirts. This purchase would cover the uniform for the whole year (assuming wear and tear was not severe). Additionally, there are tons of ways to purchase the shirts in bulk and further reduce the cost.

I am going to address some of the benefits before I address the second major argument.

Uniforms greatly reduce the stress on the teachers caused by enforcement of an arbitrary dress code. Dress codes typically have things in them like "can't be too revealing" and "can't have offensive imagery". Both of these are, at best, uncomfortable to enforce. Imagine being a male teacher and being charged with approaching a 16 year old girl to send her to the office for a dress code violation for being "too revealing." How many times would this have to happen before the teacher is in trouble for gawking at students. It's not a stretch at all. On the other item, what is offensive? I am offended by far less than some people and far more than other people. Who decides?

Another benefit is the reduction of stress on parents and on students. There is no "what am I going to wear today" discussion. There is no "what if ___________ doesn't like this outfit." There is no "OH NO! __________ has the same shirt on as me, my life is ruined!" There is no, "oh look at this guy, he is such a thug/nerd/jock/hick/etc." This brings me to the second argument against uniforms--they limit freedom of expression. I would contend that uniforms actually do the opposite--they FOSTER freedom of expression. If you can't hide behind your clothes, you have to learn how to present yourself verbally. How many youth do you know that dress a certain way to either elicit some kind of reaction or to keep people from talking to them. I know LOTS. You have the kid that wears black makeup, chains, studs, all black, etc. just so the "popular kids" won't mess with them. That same kid will probably never speak with the kid that wears baggy pants and a huge tshirt.

We judge people on a whim based solely on their dress. This is magnified in high schools as kids are trying to find their identities and place an even greater emphasis on clothing. How much better would it be if students started out on a level playing field without pre-judgement based on clothes? This would mean they would have to talk. They would have to discuss their identities and have to express themselves. They could no longer hide behind their clothes.

I know this isn't a "hot topic" or anything that will change the world. It is a topic though that comes up periodically. I don't think it will turn around the school system nationwide or anything. I do think it is an easy change that will promote respect, promote learning and will minimize distractions and minimize some other outside influences, allowing everyone to focus on learning instead of what Suzy or Billy Bob is wearing.