Monday, July 30, 2012 is probably one of the best easy go-to reads I've come across.  Not quite as funny, varied or nerdy-with-the-numbers as catskill4sale's blog, but there's no shame in coming in 2nd to that well-written upstate commentary.

Upstater updates daily, with both real estate for sale and information for the part-time upstater.

One for Lucas, One for Me. And some nice national press.

I had a nice visit with some prospective customers the other weekend and then in the mail I got this unexpectedly.  

The Lego set and Single Malt.  Now there's some class (unlike Brandi Merolla up in Narrowsburg).

Our architect Kevin and myself lent out our knowledge to Builder Magazine, a rag I think is one of the best national magazines on home-building trends, real estate and design.

Builder Magazine Design Article

Many of you will recognize this design trick since we probably used in your home if you built with us in the last 2 yrs and have a home smaller than 1400 sq ft.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nice Morning Greeting

From Anonymous, as a comment to my blog -

"Yes. You are a charmer. Both men and women get flustered. Keep up the excellent work across the state. You are one of the best business people we have met."

Considering how savvy and broadly experienced our clients tend to be, this is quite the compliment.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boys and Girls Benefit at the Motorclub

Yahzaa - Hard to Believe

Ever since my rant the other day and then a few quick follow up posts, my phone has been ringing off the hook and inbox filled with would-be clients that have been 'stalking my website for years', know 'my website and my life inside and out', and loads of other great feedback including from Tommy from Brooklyn today who literally called me up and said "listen, dude, seriously, I've been jerking off to the pictures on your website"(that's how he started the conversation).  It's funny how it works - bombarded all day long with plastics, phoneyisms, disingenuity, and shallow appeals for attention, I come in with a real hard-earned opinion that rings true and people get it, appreciate, applaud it, want to be part of it.  Why not - there's so much self-righteous, self-important, dumbass, bullshit out there, that something with some balls is a nice comic relief every once and again.

Over the past 2 weeks -

Cottage 35, Narrowsburg, going into Contract.
Cottage 39, Eldred, going into Contract
Cottage 41, Livingston Manor, going into Contract
The Shack, Narrowsburg, going into Contract

Working on 2 big custom house deals in Stone Ridge and Chatham NY.

Now granted, 2 of these deals aren't our rock solid no doubt about it deals, but I have a feeling I'm gonna nurse 'em right home to momma.

Waiting for the laundry to dry which was long overdue cause I kept forgetting to buy laundry detergent.  I was tempted to just run 'em through with water, but I didn't.  I had no idea Wisk cost $14.

Barn Axioms

So I was searching for a name for a new business I'm considering and was researching terms related to barns - I thought I'd share some Axioms wikipedia listed..

  • "He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn" is a popular expression for a person having poor aim when throwing an object or when shooting at something.
  • To "lock the barn door after the horse has bolted" implies that one has solved a problem too late to prevent it.
  • "Were you born/raised in a barn?" is an accusation used differently in various parts of the English-speaking world, but most commonly as a reprimand when someone exhibits poor manners by either using ill-mannered language (particularly if related to manure), or leaving doors open.
  • "Your barn door is open" is used as a euphemism to remind someone to zip the fly of their trousers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Save $15k a year

My companies, and me personally, donate a lot of money to local business and causes.  A $1000 to the Eldred Lions club, a $1000 to the Barryville Chamber of Commerce, $1000 to the local Eldred library, couple thousand to NACL- and a few more I can't think of.  Today I'm going to an event at the Boys and Girls Club at the Monticello Motor Club.

I even consider my advertising in the River Reporter, or the Homestead School pamphlet and the like to be donations cause I'm not getting any business from that stuff - it's just nice to co-brand and support local organizations that work hard and offer unique services, whether I agree with them or not.

But based on the continued (actually increased) community manipulation that The River Reporter serves up as news, I've withdrawn my advertising support, since in the end, my support was to support their work, and their work sucks.  For 10 yrs I've been buying $8-10k a year in advertising from them with probably a return of little if any business generated from the advertising.  I mean I don't have to agree with them to want to support them, but I can't support an organization that is going out of its way to misinform, mis-educate and manipulate - It's actually just like Fox News - all the news is put through a filter prior to reporting, and that slant is incorporated into every nuance, texture and detail of a story.  And since the local radio station, WJFF, who I've been supporting way before I could afford it, allows Fritz Mayer of the River Reporter to give weekly radio newscasts (propogandcasts), I've stopped supporting them as well.

It was all fine and dandy to have this nonsense playing out when the issues were small, but Sullivan County and the little towns like Narrowsburg actually are faced with pretty serious issues as of late, and the residents and readership of the River Reporter deserve more respect for their intelligence.  The position of trust is even more important because people don't have any other source of news.

So, how do you save $15k a year?  Stop supporting things you don't believe in.

Local Band/Homeowner at Bakers on Saturday

So one of our customers opened a cool general store, and another bakes pies for a local restaurant and another one just bought an historic church/school to turn into a biz venture.

And this Saturday, The Bon Vivants are back at Bakers Tap Room, starring Richard Parkinson who owns Barn 2 over on Tuthill Road in Barryville NY.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Catskill Farms Brand

I've been told more than once that I have a good head for marketing.  Actually, some people use the word 'genius' but since I'm trying not to play into the hands of those who want asshole validation, I thought I would tone it down a little.

I guess I do have a knack for it since we have branded ourselves like no other company in the Catskills, possibly the region and maybe even the country.  It's a brand that stays fresh, understands its market and stays true to its mission.

I mean we don't go for the lowest common denominator - we aim to skim the cream off the top.  We are picky who we want our message to reach, and by consequence, those who the message is not for are not engaged in the least.  It's a laser-like message with a sweet small niche of a target audience.

I've been riding around in my car with hundreds of buyers and would-be buyers over the past 10 years and I got to know them well.  I get what they are looking for and it's not just a floor plan.  It's an idea, a sophisticated thought, an inspired ambition.

So when I tell Brandi off, or I joke around about being an asshole, I know who I'm speaking to, who I'm aiming for.  And our brand has always been to connect uniquely, personally - in our message, in our process, in our goals and product.  I know my clients can take a joke, get some raw humor, understand a business journey, appreciate the unvarnished reflections.

In the end, our brand is intensely personal, to both me and our clients.  And that is a very hard thing to pull off, and nearly impossible to feign.

And the proof of our success of marketing realness would have to be the proof in the pudding (or possible the new bay front condo in Miami Beach I just bought).

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Am I an Asshole?

Am I an Asshole?

I know, a very existential question for a Saturday afternoon, a quest of introspection better left for Thursday mornings.  But ever since Steve Jobs made being an asshole seem cool in his recent biography, I've been pondering the question and what it means to me.

Where to start?  If you start with just the pure number of people who think I'm asshole, then hands down, I'm definitely one.

If you eliminate the people who don't actually know me thus have some vague measurable information to work from, then hands down too, I'm definitely an asshole.

If you just include people who actually have spoken to me, then yes, pretty much same answer - asshole.

But if you talk to most people I work with and most people I work for, and a close circle of friends, - actually, come to think of it - they think I'm an asshole too.  They just think it has a redeeming quality at root, or they are related to me and half to deal with it.

Anyways, Lucas thinks I'm pretty cool, and I know it's pretty weak to dip that low to validate my non-assholeness, but look, it's an early business lesson - take it when you can.

That's Lucas with Bronson at the office.  Actually, come to think of it, I don't think Bronson thinks I'm an asshole yet and he has known me for a few years - he owns Cottage 22 with his wife Courtney, who I think retains a favorable opinion of me (I can hear the gallery -"Give 'em time, give em time!!" - whatever!)

So, how does a business leader in a small town become universally known as an asshole?  Well, blog post like the one two days ago go a long way, and so does hiring and firing a large assortment of local people, and so does make decisions that are good for my clients but bad for the vendor underperforming - those actions are definitely a good start.

But my neighbor, friend and client Bryan said it best.  I think we were sitting at Bakers and he said "Dude, you have unique issues.'  I can hear my ex-wife blurting out "Duh!!!" but that's not what he meant.  (that's bryan and his dog at Cottage 34).

What he meant, and he was definitely right, was that by just running a legitimate business, a growing business, a successful business at times, - separates me from most everyone up here - the 2nd poorest county in the State of NY.  My concerns are not the same as most people, and not the same even as most business people since most business people up here are not running dynamic growing business but rather static, declining mom and pop operations.  Catskill Farms and its associated businesses spend $600k a month locally.  In two months, that sum exceeds most of the local Towns' budgets.  it's a ton of money, and it's impacts and responsibilities are a very real concern of every decision I make.

So when I see the Town of Lumberland passing zoning that I know will adversely impact small businesses in the area (which are not a dime a dozen), I'll stand up and say something even though the local intelligentsia don't agree, or more accurately, have a different goal in mind and don't mind some collateral damage.  Zoning may be boring, but it has very real impacts for those starting inns, businesses and restaurants who are blindsided by inappropriate hurdles and expenses.

Or when I see the Town of Narrowsburg electing a slate of candidates because they repeat the 'no gas drilling' mantra, from my vantage I see a new supervisor who doubles as a school bus driver, and a non-elected do-gooder partner, who have no experience in legislation, budgeting, contracts and the like.  So when they spend $150k to study the Esplanade to Nowhere that will never be built, I know it's eventually about property taxes and the new and increased burden due to wasteful spending.  When they use the building department to harass citizens (not me), when the town clerk calls the cops when people come in looking for simple information, to me - a voice needs to be heard.

Or when I see The River Reporter mis-reporting and using it's influence to affect local issue education and uses it position of trust to deceive and misrepresent, and ultimately this is a no-business, no-growth platform, it's important to stand up and say something.

So, while there has been a large surge in citizen participation in the last year and half, most of that has been narrowly focused on the gas drilling issue, all other issues be damned.  To me, it seemed like the anti-gas drilling platform was being used by some organizations (River Reporter being one the them) to extend the no-business, no-growth, pastoral poverty agenda.

Having attended dozens of meetings over the last year to be informed about intentions and motivations, it was clear to me that this was a very dangerous time for Sullivan County and it wasn't because of the spector of gas drilling.  It was because the momentum and organization of a small group of organized and loud people were working on policies not good for area, electing people who never would get elected before (not qualified), monopolizing the conversations with bullying and intimidations and generally not knowing when to stop now that they had some successes and their power increased.

It was alarming to me to see a mass movement of yes-people, not really caring about the nuances of the issues, or the residual effects of some of the laws under consideration.  Some of my best friends and associates shocked me with their lack of curiosity about the issues they were espousing.  It was like if they were going to participate, they were going to participate with no hesitation and with a total black and white approach.

The more I watched this, the easier it was to go a separate way, since yes, I do have other issues than the average 'weekend/retiree political warrior".  And in the end, most of the issues I have been raising that have really raised the ire of the intelligentsia and dramatically increased my 'asshole ratio' have been good issues.  I've been proven wrong on a some, proven right on others, but mostly the most important consequence of my actions (and a few other hardy souls) was to expand the conversation, slow down the process and give other people some cover to come in and raise similar concerns.  

For instance, only through the contrarian actions of me and a few others (total asshole actions, like having a different opinion or conclusion) did Highland pass the best anti-gas law in the county.  It was restrained, it was targeted, the process was controlled, it didn't overreach, and it addressed a very real issue.  On the other hand, Lumberland - under the guise of anti-gas drilling - passed a new 250 page zoning document that makes everything you want to do illegal and required to beg for special permission in a very political environment.  The difference between the two approaches is directly tied to the pressure and actions of people who could see through gas drilling hysteria and actually comment on the laws being proposed to limit it.  To speak up in this hysterical, mean, one-issue environment was to learn more about people who I thought had some breadth of perspective than I ever needed to learn.

But in the end, if being an asshole means upsetting people who would rather close their eyes to all nuance, color, interpretation or issue complexity, then I will elect to be an asshole any day of the week. In most places, there is enough diversity of opinion and perspective to eliminate the island that I (and a few others) find ourselves on, but up here the organized and loud people tend to be on one side of an issue - it is rarely balanced.

Which makes it all the more important to stand up and be an asshole.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nice Feedback

Scott and Erika over at Yankee Lake sent us over a nice note today after we did some punch list work -

Dear chuck
Thanks for sending the guys over. You have the most professional people working for you. Brian is terrific and Tito is a real perfectionist. Again we love the house and after hearing all the horror stories from our friends with reference to their contractors we feel really truly blessed to have found you to build us this fantastic new home!
Our best
Scott and Erica 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Big Barn in Narrowsburg - Done (phase 1)

The Big Big Barn in Narrowsburg is just finishing up Phase 1, the house and barn project.  With 17 acres and a lake, I expect Phase 2 to center around the grounds.

That's the house up above and the garage down below.

It took us about a year to put these babies up and considering everything that went into them, that's pretty speedy.

The 4 door garage with space upstairs turned out real nice.

Lots of deck, some covered, some screened, some elevated.

With 17 acres there was a lot of different places to put the house.

Here's the mudroom, with a bench, a roof panel backsplash, double closet, local stone, natural ceiling.


The hole house is about openness and light.  We used 3 residential garage doors that operate real smooth as the defining house accent.

Lots of stone on the inside and the outside.

This is a shot of the master bedroom, which is open to the rest of the house.

Stainless steel hanging orb..

And a swanky shower.  We used 3x6 subway tile with black grout in all 6 bathrooms.

From the bath, the barn.

Drawers from the vanity out cause we just did templated a concrete countertop, which turned out really good.

Here's the upstairs of the garage.

And a frontal on the garage doors.

Floor to ceiling subway tile.

And a phone pull string toilet.

2 good bedrooms on the first floor, each with a bath.

And a kitchen that sprawls in a few directions.

We went back and forth on the garage design  - glad we ended up where we did.

Master Bath toilet.

Exposed spiral ductwork.

Going down in the basement...

With polished concrete floors, a pool, wine room and media room.

In a way, it's harder to build a small home than a large one.  But we had a lot of fun here and really turned out an architecturally unique and modest homestead to be enjoyed for years to come, I'm sure.