To Russia, To Observe

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The Iron Curtain’s long gone, but capitalism continues to struggle in the former Soviet Union. Not for lack of desire, discovered Alan Derrick, but rather lack of knowledge.

February 03, 2000

Rod Sutton's Editorial Archives

The Iron Curtain’s long gone, but capitalism continues to struggle in the former Soviet Union. Not for lack of desire, discovered Alan Derrick, but rather lack of knowledge. Derrick, owner of Huntsville, Ala.-based Derrick Design & Remodeling, traveled to Russia this past summer after hosting a Russian remodeler the year before.

Derrick made the trip as a guest of Community Connections, a federally funded organization that provides grants to help plant seeds of capitalism in the former Soviet bloc, Derrick says, to "reduce the risk of a return to Communism."

Derrick hooked up with the group through a U.S. program that brings Soviet interns to the states to observe how business works. The University of Alabama in Huntsville works with the organization, and Derrick was asked to host an intern through that connection.

"They brought a group of interns from Russia," Derrick says. "One of them was a woman who worked in a remodeling company." Her job involved sales and marketing, although Derrick says the job description there doesn’t match the job here. "They didn’t really sell," he says. "They didn’t understand the concept. Her job was to do client relations, but they didn’t distinguish between those who were and those who might become clients."

After the intern program, the University had some grant money left over, so they sent 12 people from the area to visit Russia on a return trip. "We toured four cities in an area the size of the continental United States," Derrick says. "I was exposed to what it was like over there."

Derrick also learned that home improvement in Russia differs tremendously from the States, primarily regarding the financing and scheduling of the job. "You buy materials, then you have them installed," he says. "You build the house over a period of time. It’s a function of inflation; you move your money into something tangible. Then you install quickly so somebody doesn’t steal it.

"Their workmanship standards were low, quality wise," he says. "One day I saw some crews laying bricks without a plumb bob, slapping mortar on with a shovel. You can walk a hallway and feel the waves in the surface."

He says part of the problem is the old Soviet rule. Business owners are highly educated, he says, and they understand the problems. "It’s the people they work with," he says. "Imagine, you did your job for the state, and the state made sure you were provided for. The entire work force doesn’t understand the concept of customer service."

Derrick says he’s looking forward to hosting another intern. "They send them to school over there, but there’s only so much they learn."

Rod Sutton is the Editor-in-Chief for Professional Remodler. Please email him with any comments or questions regarding his column.

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