The Memories that Christmas Brings

The Memories that Christmas Brings

My wife and I had been married for 9 days on December 24th, 1979.  We were a young couple in love and starting our journey of bringing together the cultures and traditions of our very different backgrounds. We had spent Christmas Eve at my father’s house enjoying a loud, boisterous and joyful dinner; until we had to finally leave to make it to her family’s house to be ready for my introduction into the festivities of an Italian American Christmas. We left my father’s around 11:00 pm.  It would normally take us about an hour and a half, but it was cold and rainy, and the bridges were starting to get slick. There was almost no one on the roads.

Chatting about Christmases to come, the time zipped by. We had just noticed that it was past midnight and thus Christmas morning, when we spotted a beat up old station wagon pulled off to the side of the road with the hood up.  I pulled over and let my bride know that I was just going to see if they needed help.

There was an old man with white hair that seemed to light up his smiling face. He had but a few teeth and such a thick East Texas accent that I could not understand what he was saying.  After asking him to repeat himself three times, I finally understood that he was out of gas.  In 1979, at a little past midnight, on Christmas morning, there would not have been a gas station open in all of Texas.  I told him that I might be able to find some gas, but it would take at least 45 minutes. I asked if he wanted to come with us. “No, sir” he said, “I don’t want to leave those Christmas presents I got for my grandbabies.”

Off we went certain that my father in-law would have some gas in his garage. I felt like an intruder rummaging through his garage in search of gas, but we did not want to wake him. At last I found a can with a couple of gallons in it.

I told my wife that I would return by myself. “No way,” she said with a wink, “we are in this together.” With love, pride and Christmas joy we headed back to rescue the old man.

When we returned, I was worried because I did not see our new friend. I approached the car wondering if he had left.  Calling “hello,” I approached with concern.  Then, around the corner he came with a broken long neck bottle held in front of him mumbling something that I could not make out. I stopped with a rush of thoughts: could I take this old man without getting cut; was there an accomplice waiting in the shadows; could I keep my wife safe?  Why did I not insist that she stay behind? The joy of helping an old man on Christmas morning was washed away in a flood of adrenalin.

Straightening my spine and bowing my chest I said, “what did you say?” with as much machismo as I could muster. He continued forward. One more time, “What’s that?”  Finally, I made out “I found this here, we can use as a funnel.”

I could not help but laugh, at which point the old man realized what my fear had been. He laughed too and apologized. We got most of the gas into his tank and saved just enough to prime the carburetor.

I asked him if he had enough to get him where he was going and if he would like us to follow him. He said he thought he would be able to make and did not need any more help.  He opened his wallet and took out the only bill he had, which was a five. “No thanks” I said, “Besides, you’re going to need that for gas to get home.”  He smiled showing off the few teeth he had and said, “God bless you. Merry Christmas.”

36 years later and I still cherish this Christmas memory.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

Thank You and Happy Holiday’s from Stearns Design Build

The end of the year is fast approaching and what a year it has been for Stearns Design Build.  We continue to grow and this would not be possible without our existing clients and their referrals. We value your patronage and your continued confidence in us. If you are not aware already, we are a featured pro on Houzz.com. As part of our company profile, that includes photos of projects that we have completed and idea books, there is an option to provide reviews. More and more companies are relying very heavily on these online reviews. This not only gives us much needed feedback to continually improve our processes but also increases our visibility on Houzz.com to potential clients.If you have not already found us on Houzz.com, please take a look at our company profile and the many other features this site has to offer. While you are there, we would appreciate it if you would write a brief review. From all of us at Stearns Design Build, Happy Holidays!


When someone says quality, what do you think about? For some it is a finely crafted pair of shoes, for others it is a well-engineered car, still others will think of an Ivey League education and good manners. Clearly this is a word that can go a lot of places. How do you make the concept of quality meaningful in your life? Perhaps the most important place we can apply the concept of quality is in our relationships. And of those, none is more important than that of parent and child. There is no place where we can bring more quality to the world than through our work as parents because in this we create quality people. And, because it takes a village to raise a child, we are all parents.

The home is the center of parenting, of nurturing, not just children, but everyone who enters there. This is where we model our concept of quality. Each home is as unique as the people who occupy it. A home absent the people in it is only a house. What is the quality in your home? Is it the quality of food prepared? Is it the art exhibited? Is it the warmth and love expressed? As a design build company specializing in remodeling, we hope that your idea of quality in your home includes quality of design and craftsmanship. Whatever your concept of quality, it is good to occasionally paused and take inventory of what that means to you.

That is what we at Stearns Design Build are doing. Each quarter we focus on one of our four core values: quality, caring, relationship and honesty. This quarter our focus is quality. We seek to make quality pervasive in what we do. Quality craftsmanship is essential, as is quality design, customer service and so much more. One aspect of quality that often gets overlooked is quality of life. Our tag line is “we design and build happiness.” This is our purpose and it is about quality of life.

Guild Quality Helping Us Create A Great Customer Experience

In 2008 we made a great business decision, when we decided to partner with Guild Quality, a company that does third party surveying in our industry. After we finished a project our client would get a survey asking them how we did. These surveys did a lot for us. One thing they did was boost our confidence. But, even more importantly, they helped us pin point where we needed to focus our attention to improve our customers’ experience. It was also nice to be the winner of their Guild Master award for their top preforming companies several years in a row.
Then, in 2013, I was fortunate enough to hear Geoff Graham, the founder and owner of Guild Quality, speak at a conference. His speech was informative, compelling and inspiring. So I did the only logical thing. I immediately ended our contract with Guild Quality.

If that seems a little counter intuitive, let me explain why we did it. Geoff recommended the book The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reicheld and Rob Markey of Bain and Company. This book details the importance and power of a good survey system. After reading this, I understood that this stuff is too important to outsource without better internalizing the process. That is why we brought surveying in-house. We started surveying more often through the design and remodeling process.

This was a smart move because it has significantly improved the ways that we listen to our clients and how we operationalize what they tell us.

Though we have not now, nor will we ever, stop learning about this process. We have come to a point where surveying is a more integral part of our remodeling process. Our survey system drives a quality customer experience.  We have recently gone back to using Guild Quality for our primary survey after a project has finished. We do this because they are very good at what they do. For one thing they get a higher response rate than we do. Clients are more candid with a third party survey than an in-house survey. But most importantly, it frees us up to make better use of this valuable information. We will continue to do our own surveying during projects as well as calling clients six months and every year after a project finishes.

The one thing that I would love for Guild Quality to change is their scale. It is 0-4. We much prefer a 0-10 scale because it provides a much more granular measure satisfaction. Take a look at the great results we have been able to get though this important partner.

Core Values

A number of years ago we gathered to determine what our values as a team are at Stearns Design Build. It is advised that companies identify those things that are central to who they are, that are most important. So we set about doing that. We created a list of many possible values. We discarded those that were not fairly central and those that we did not feel defined who we actually are. In the end we had 9. They were:

  1. Caring
  2. Honesty
  3. Learning
  4. Engagement
  5. Quality
  6. Connection
  7. Empathy
  8. Stewardship
  9. Fun

Now, you are only “supposed” to have four or five. But, I reasoned, we are a rather complex company doing complex work so we need to have more core values to focus our efforts.

After a few years I now know that I was wrong. When you have 9 stated values, they become a blur. This is not to say that we do not hold all of those values, only that we must bring our focus through fewer of them.

So we came back together to further distill our core values. Here is what we came up with:

  1. Quality
  2. Caring
  3. Honesty
  4. Relationship

We found that many of our discarded values could be defined within the context of those we kept. For example we are stewards of community and the environment because we are caring and because these are relationships that we value. We learn because we care. The one value that mostly dropped away is fun. We do state that within the concept of quality, there is no quality more important than quality of life. Certainly fun is an important function of quality of life. Nonetheless, we take our work pretty seriously, which can, at times, have a negative impact on the fun factor. So I am torn.

A couple of questions for you:

Do you think that we should return fun to our core values?

If you had to pick only four values to define and focus yourself, what would they be?