Ask the Builder turns 20: My 1,000th column
Cordless tool technology is, in my opinion, the biggest change to affect the building industry the past 20 years. (Tim Carter / August 23, 2013)
I'll never forget that Monday morning in August 1993 when I walked into the Cincinnati Enquirer unannounced on the hunt for Ms. Ann Haas. She was the home editor who had interviewed me for a story two months before about a prestigious national award (The Big 50) that had been given to me. In May of that year, I had been selected as one of the top 50 remodelers in the U.S.
There was no security at the newspaper building. I simply took the elevator to her floor, got off and walked past the low cubicles to her desk. Try doing that today in any major office building! I was there to show her three columns I had written over the weekend. To make a long story short, she bought my column on the spot and told me to sell it to other papers. Ask the Builder was born.
Little did anyone know, but the golden years of the newspaper industry were about to draw to a close. This little thing called the Internet was gaining strength and power by the second. I saw it for the first time in 1995, and immediately I knew it would be the future. AsktheBuilder.com launched eight weeks after I first clicked a blue text hyperlink in September 1995.
Can you believe I used to transmit my column directly into the mainframe computers of my newspaper clients? I used a DOS program called ProComm. It took all day to transmit just four columns to 50 newspapers at the blazing speed of 2400 baud. I can now send my column in one second via email. Speaking of email, most of my editors had no clue what that was in 1993!
As crazy as this sounds, I used to have to mail color photos to each of my newspaper clients. Labels printed with a dot-matrix printer contained the photo captions. I sat in my basement many a late night putting these stickers on the back of the photos and stuffing and licking envelopes.
How about the building and remodeling industry? What's changed? I could write a book about it. One thing's for sure. It's impossible for one person to keep abreast of all the new products that are introduced each year. I've never calculated it, but my guess is there are more than 10 new things introduced each day on average, including products and tools.
If you love new products, then just get an exhibition hall pass to the national hardware and builders' shows each year. Unless you clone yourself, you'll never see all the new products at either show. I've done the math. You have perhaps eight seconds to spend at each booth, and some booths have many new products.
The biggest change I've seen in the past 20 years in tools is the explosion of cordless power tools and the major improvements in the batteries that power them. Cordless tools will not last all day like a corded tool, but some have the power of corded tools and can be incredibly handy. You can now use a cordless electric tool in places where you'd find it nearly impossible to stretch an extension cord.
Designer styles in plumbing faucets have made giant strides. I can clearly remember the plain vanilla days of plumbing fixtures. Now the average person can have elegant china fixtures and faucets in their home at somewhat affordable prices.
My biggest disappointment in the past 20 years has been the staggering growth of the home improvement big box stores. I'm a capitalist and an entrepreneur, so I don't begrudge these businesses their opportunity. Their gains, however, come at an enormous loss for you the consumer. Countless small hardware stores and lumberyards have disappeared like ships in a storm.
The competition for your home improvement dollar is fierce. Unique products and employees with decades of experience could be found at the cozy hardware or paint stores that used to be around the corner from you. Some of these older stores still exist, and those of you that have access to them should absolutely support them.
What you gain in convenience shopping at the one-stop big box store you often lose in variety of products in a particular category. Let's talk about interior trim moldings. Visit a big box store and you'll maybe see six to eight casing or baseboard profiles. Saunter into a real lumberyard and you may see 60 or more. Bring in a drawing of what you want in a molding and they'll grind the carving knife and have the custom trim for you made from your choice of any lumber species!
What does the future hold? I guarantee you that you'll see more Ask the Builder. I continue to produce my free weekly AsktheBuilder.com newsletter that has countless tips I'm unable to fit into this weekly column. You should subscribe at my website. I'm making more and more free videos that you can see on my AsktheBuilder YouTube channel. I shot 400 new videos last year alone and plan to do another 200 before 2013 ends.
I'm also starting a new writing project to expand my horizons and challenge me. It's a children's fiction adventure series based deeply on my own experiences growing up in a middle class neighborhood in the early 1960s. It was a time with no cell phones, no video games, no computers. You goofed around with your buddies, both girls and boys, and manufactured your own fun, constantly one step ahead of your parents and teachers!
If you want access to free snippets of the first book in this series and watch a short video about what's going on, go to MikeyOsgood.com. Sign up for the free newsletter alert service. You'll receive regular inside information as the book nears publication.
(Want free home-improvement information? Go to http://www.AsktheBuilder.com and sign up for Tim's free newsletter. Have a question for Tim? Just click the Ask Tim link on any page of the website.)