Love You, Dad

There are certain childhood memories that you take and exaggerate with each re-telling, until one day you genuinely believe that blown-up version you have created is the way it really was. Some—namely, my mother—would argue that is the case with each of my blogs. I assure you it is not.

But I will admit that the events of one particular November day (or maybe it was March) in 1999, when I was 13 years old, may have become a bit blurred over the years. What I can tell you for sure is that I very nearly froze to death and Child Protective Services should have been contacted.

My dad, who is a high school English teacher, also runs his own landscaping business. The majority of his jobs are in the summer, but as was the case in 1999, one or two often run into the fall months.

Consequently, my younger brother and I reluctantly found ourselves in the backseat of my parents’ car that Saturday in November, headed to a customer’s house for a Family Work Day. In other words, my dad was sick of doing this job and wanted to wrap it up as quickly as possible. Enter his wife and two offspring.

My mother assured us it wouldn’t take very long if we all worked together—the same lie you tell your friends when you need help moving. We just had to plant a few more bushes and finish mulching.

What followed was the longest 85 hours of my life. Or at least a good five or six.

My dad could have contracted the work out, but he ran this small business on his own and didn’t want to worry about worker’s compensation and hefty salaries. So instead, when he needed a little extra help, he got to watch my brother and me huddle together under a small pine tree complaining that we may very well have frostbite and were starving. My mother, meanwhile, continued to haul massive wheelbarrows full of mulch like a mule.

Ah, the joys of being a small business owner.

Hiring good help without breaking the bank or running into legal issues is also a struggle for many Independent Rental Owners (IRO’s) in the apartment industry.

For Rich Sommer, who operates six apartment buildings in three locations in Wisconsin, totaling 42 units, hiring a full-time human resources staff is not cost-effective and probably not necessary. So when work needs to be done at the community, Sommer avoids HR-related issues by just doing the job himself.

But what about the times when Sommer cannot—and does not want to—do all of the work? Hiring contractors is an option, but they may not be familiar with the community’s nuances and mechanical or maintenance-related history and could cause legal issues by bringing friends to help complete the work. My brother and I also are not available, as we are now legal adults and don’t subject ourselves to voluntary manual labor.

Instead, Sommer has identified a steady supply of younger workers over the years that assist at his communities each summer as part-time employees. The summer hires often have brothers and sisters who eventually become old enough—and reliable enough—to do the work, too.

When Sommer recently lost one of these long-time summer hires, he posted the position on a local university job board and got six workers who put in eight hours each to help with some community maintenance projects.

Unfortunately, my father preferred to hire from within.

For information on hiring, check out the IRO Insider in the November issue of units, which mails Nov. 8.