I – and I'm guessing many of you–at first welcomed the opportunity this housing downturn presented to slow down, think about operations, clean the trucks, sharpen the pencils. But now I've done all those things three or four times each. There is not much left to do except look deep into my soul and examine my true feelings in a quest to improve myself as a manager and as a human being.

Tad Troilo That, or I could go clean out the warehouse. Not being one for introspection, I chose the latter.

Our warehouse is the temporary home of material for active jobs as well as the graveyard for goods left over from past work. Cleaning it up is a chore required every six months or so, but it's also a chore easy to put off. Not because it's particularly difficult to do but rather because ... well, the warehouse is spooky.

In a corner I found not one, not two, but three nearly identical vanities, all mistakes from the first house we supplied to a homebuilder years ago. While we had signed purchase orders and documents that solidly put responsibility on the builder for the three blunders, we took the hit and ordered a fourth vanity in the name of future sales.

Business did come in for a while, and we tried to get the builder to use these orphaned vanities on future jobs. But now our chances are over: The builder has closed.

Against the back wall, I found tile left over from a job we code-named The Bathroom of the Damned. The client seemed nice enough. In the showroom we breezed through the design and selection process. She paid her invoices promptly and never complained about change orders.

But the men in the field had to endure a series of bizarre and disturbing things. For example, they were asked to come in every Tuesday and wake up the client's son–"The one who's on drugs and sleeps in the bedroom at the top of the stairs."

"If I wake him up, he gets very cross," she explained.

Why only on Tuesdays?

"Tuesday is church day."

That was just the start. She would cook our installers breakfast one morning, then scream at them for taking a coffee break the next. We never learned why.

Then I spied a pile of hideously deformed cabinets. Eyes shielded and heart braced, I approached. They were from the bad job to end all bad jobs: The Black Hole.

The Black Hole simply swallowed everything that got near it, scrambled it up, and then spit it out. Men assigned to deliver cabinets wouldn't come back for days. Designers asked to visit the job to check on progress would call the next morning from Wichita, with only vague memories of boarding a bus while crying in terror.

And the money ... oh, the money. The Black Hole laughed at budgets, mocked markups and spit on cost controls. It sucked money directly from the company bank account daily, even on Sundays. Especially on holidays.

The Black Hole sprung from a combination of incredibly difficult and downright dishonest clients and a certain complacency that comes from quarter after quarter of explosive company growth and solid operating profit.

We eventually were able to destroy The Black Hole, but it took a combined Herculean effort from every member of the company to document, confirm and document again our client's wishes, plus a good dose of legal remediation. But so deep are the scars left from that job, no one dared to touch the leftover cabinets for months afterward for fear of reawakening the evil.

Cleaning the warehouse reminded me of some lessons we've learned over the years. Even big builders can go out of business. Don't judge a client by her cover. Profit-induced complacency can lead to horrors.

But on reflection, I should have chosen the soul searching. There is no way my inner psyche is as creepy as the warehouse. Right? Right???

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600
E-mail: [email protected]