Over the past year, we have been planning and designing our farm in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. To meet builders and other needed contractors, being new to the area, we started with phone books. We spent days telephoning contractors, discussing our plans, arranging meeting. Contacting them was more difficult than my summary implies. In contacting dozens of contractors in four counties, not one--that's correct--not one contractor had a telephone answering machine for us to leave a call-back number or other message. Not one! In a few cases--and only a few--some one answered the phone. Except for one occasion, this person was the wife. And they were not helpful particularly. One wife said, when I asked about her husband's grading business, "I don't know what he does or where he is right now." Hmmm. Okay. The exception to the wife-answering rule was one time when a child answered. The child was not helpful, either. Just how did the contractors, all of whom were apparently very busy, do business?
As Southern Californians for whom telephones have become another organ of our bodies, we were flummoxed. We were able, however, working at the task, eventually to meet contractors. The key, it turns out, was word-of-mouth referral. On a whim--well, honestly, a desperate whim--, I walked into a real estate office and talked to the proprietor. I asked about certain contractor who advertised in the yellow pages. Oh, of course, she knew him (not surprisingly, as the largest village in the country has only 3,600 persons), but admonished me that though she and he shared last names, they were not related. She would contact him. She did and he called us. In another instance, a person who lived in the county, reading this blog, contacted me with the name of a barn contractor. We phoned, multiple times. Eventually my wife caught him near a phone. He was uninterested in our plans, until she mentioned that he was recommended by the woman who emailed me. No problem; he arranged to meet us the next day.
How business people communicate is, still, not completely clear to us. But the referral system works. You meet someone, they size you up. (It helps to explain that the car with the New York license plates they observed us driving is only a rental car--we're not from New York.) If the assessment is okay, they say they can recommend so-and-so. Apparently, the air is a secret medium of communication. When they utter the name of the contractor into air, the contractor hears it and responds. It sounds impossible; but it works.