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Not At Any Price

May 19, 2014

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The old piano had seen better days. The sustain pedal was missing. A casualty of a trunk someone had shoved too hard. The cabinet was battered, of course. You would expect that of a piano that was nearly 100 years old and had been owned by a family with 15 kids. Inside, several of the hammers had broken off over the years. Enterprising kids had then “moved” hammers from the lesser used upper and lower keys and glued them into the middle range.

My wife inherited the piano because none of her siblings wanted it. We already owned a small piano. It was the first major purchase we’d ever made. But, we had a large house and the idea of a second piano was attractive to a family that loved music and planned to force. . .I mean encourage all of our children to learn to play the piano.

At the time I worked for Microsoft corporation. The stock was going up. We were all getting rich and we had the money to invest in restoring the old piano.

I called a piano repair location out of the phone book. (Yes, this story is old enough that it involves and actual phone book.) We set an appointment time and I removed all of the external panels so that he could more easily assess the work that needed done.


You called about a piano that needed a repair?

Yeah, thanks for coming it’s in here.

On the phone you didn’t say what exactly it. . . .

There it is. It’s been in my wife’s family for years.

Not at any price.

What do you mean?

I mean I’m not going to fix that piano. And no amount of money can get me to change my mind.

I had never encountered this scenario. He was a piano repair man. I had a piano desperately in need of repair and he was refusing the job.

Has you business ever taken a job that you really should have turned down? Maybe you do catering and someone begged you to do their kid’s birthday party, even though you told them you absolutely do NOT do kid events?

Maybe you agreed to try repair a computer, even though it was running Microsoft Millennium and the user refused to update?

Whatever the scenario, there are some situations where you know a job is going to cost more than it’s worth. Maybe it will tie up your best resources on a low paying job preventing you from using them elsewhere. Maybe it’s going to result in so many change requests that you know the project budget will balloon out of scope. Maybe it’s knowing the client is so picky that you will end up redoing the same sketch many times while only getting paid for one.

Sometimes you need to be willing to walk away from a sale, or a contract, or a gig. It may cost you money in the short run, but long term it will save you hours of headaches.

That was the case with my piano repair guy.

What do you mean?

Look, I can fix that piano. But, if I do, you’ll complain that it cost too much money.

No I won’t. I expect it to cost hundreds of dollars. Possibly as much as $800.

I’ve been doing this job a long time. You will not be happy paying me $800 to fix this piano. The real reason is that piano’s this old were tuned a half step lower than today’s pianos. So, if I fix it without tightening the strings, it will sound out of tune. If I tighten those 80 year old piano wires, they are going to break. A lot of them.

So, there’s nothing I can do?

My advice is go buy a new one. You can get a pretty nice piano for $800. Donate this one to a school that teaches piano repair. I can give you a number. They might fix it just to give their students something to practice on, but no professional piano repair firm is going to touch it.

And with that, he picked up his tool bag and returned to his car. It took me a long time to figure out why he turned down the job.

We kept the piano for many more years. Finally, we were moving and didn’t want to lug it across the country again. We offered it during a yard sale with a sign that said, “Make an offer.” Not a nibble. We would have taken anything. Finally, we updated the sign to “$50 – As Is.” It sold in 30 minutes.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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