Lesson No. 3


The Tale of the Foul-mouthed Countertop Guy can be viewed through a lot of filters: that of the artisan, the customer, macroeconomics and on and on.

However the lesson embedded in the story has nothing directly to do with haggling, the value of craft or Socialism.

Instead, it is about the word “no.”

Run your business so you always, always have the power to say “no.” No to a supplier, a customer, a request for proposal (RFP), an employee. Never overextend yourself or your business so you are powerless and must say “yes” to the customer who demands an unreasonable price, the supplier who treats you like a gnat, a piece of work that is dangerous, an employee who does not pull his or her weight.

Take away whatever you like from the story, but that was the intended lesson, like it or no. And I do like no (though I’m quite polite when I use the word).

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to Lesson No. 3

  1. jbgcr says:

    I have been contiually asked for a discount over the long years of running my shop. I have always said yes with a smile. “yes, I’ll give you a good deal next time”. Nothing better for my business than long term, repeat customers.

  2. I prefer to have some fun with the situation.
    Me: I get $1/ft for air dried pine.
    Customer: Can you do any better than that?
    Me: Sure! $1.25/ft.
    Customer: How is that better?
    Me: It’s better for me! How many feet do you want?

    • I say the same when people haggle me for something that I’m selling at a great price. Them: Is the price firm? Me: Nope, it can always go up!
      Good for you.

  3. Wesley Beal says:

    In the end the comments around the meaning of #3 in the earlier post were more interesting than the post itself. I didn’t read any comment that I thought was “wrong” even though there was a fair amount of disagreement.

    One key work lesson I’ve learned, that often aids in life too, is this: it’s OK if people don’t like you.

    Your job might dictate how literally you want to observe that. Once I realized people I didn’t care if people liked me, worlds of freedom opened up.

    Of course now that I live in New England, it seems everyone here is pretty much born with that knowledge (I’m a Midwesterner by birth).

  4. snwoodwork says:

    Interesting. While I agree with the intended message of lesson three I’m not sure that was the best story to illustrate it. Being able to say “no” is one thing but there are not many people I’ve come into contact with who can consistently get away with “@/$! no.”

  5. When you have learnt to say NO you are really in buisness . It is something I have always told people who ask about being self employed .

  6. So … Are we not getting the wood boxes for Book Of Plates then?

  7. tenbearsadq says:

    I’m of the Customer is Always Right mind But…… TINFL when it comes to discounts. BTW that stands for There is no free lunch

  8. Theron Ball says:

    well said, thanks chris

  9. gyegreene says:

    The title of this post — “Lesson ‘NO’ 3” — was that an intentional pun? 🙂


  10. Damien says:

    Of topic, but on the picture they offer to install flush toilets.

  11. John Hippe says:

    Thanks Chris. I think that this is a great lesson not only for business but also for life.

  12. Wesley Beal says:

    I’m falling on the side of those that disagree. I like the lesson: always be in a position to say no. I appreciate the sentiment behind !#$%-NO, or even “!#$% You.”

    Ultimately though I want to see a more relaxed approach to life. Just, simply, “no.” Why be in a position where you allow yourself to so easily get outraged? That’s right up there with letting traffic dictate your mood: There are always going to be people that anger and aggravate you if you let them. Save the energy for something that really matters, and something you might be able to do something about.

    But hey, that’s just my view. To each their own.

  13. fitz says:

    I find “no” among the most beautiful words in the English language. I dream of someday being able to always follow through on it.

    • Wesley Beal says:

      My favorite word in the English language is “Huh?” Favorite not in the sense that I like it, but in the sense that I find myself using it most often. “Popular” perhaps more than favorite. Oddly, as I get older I don’t find myself using it less.

  14. My almost 3 year old is the best at saying no….

  15. saorgans says:

    Not having heard the story in question, it’s difficult to find a frame of reference… 🙂

  16. Rachael Boyd says:

    anytime I give a discount it most often comes back and bites me in the ass. ( you want to be nice and make them happy) so no is a hard one to learn. it does save your butt once you learn to say it

  17. Tim Raleigh says:

    Thanks for your explanation Chris.
    While I agree with the ability of saying No and I say it often, in this story the owner said “no” twice. Once to no discount and once to no sale.
    Saying no to the say is the part that bugs me, the business owner established his price, held to it and the customer agreed. Not selling him the top is just pride and that often leads to a nasty fall.
    In my experience, some customers can be much more mercurial than this story illustrates and don’t give you a chance to say no. For example, after a project is completed they will tell you they are not paying tax on services rendered as a form of discount. I work with them once and then never again.

  18. I like this lesson.


  19. Thomas Bruni says:

    I have not received any email since 20 DEC..any idea why?? Thanks Tom

    • Tom,

      I sent you an e-mail about this and it was snagged by your whitelisting service. I imagine that is where our notifications are going, too.

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