Best Hometown Business

I'm a guy. That means I should have been born with the natural ability to fix things around the house. Something must have gone terribly wrong during my fetal development. I suspect the problem is that my mother listened to too many Mario Lanza records while I was in the womb, thus mutating my fix-it gene into a cartoonist gene. The closest I ever came to being handy around the house is when I used my black pen to draw a fake butt crack on myself. (My cats thought it was a hoot.)

Handyman skills and cartoonist skills are genetically similar, except that with the cartoonist gene you have an uncontrollable urge to hammer your thumb instead of the nail, just to see if it instantly turns red and gets as big as a lightbulb. It's best for everyone if I don't get near tools.

That's why my favorite local business is Ralph M. Price Inc., Construction and Handyman Services. Ralph and his small band of handymen will fix any problem in your house. They seem to have some bizarre extra sense for detecting the true cause of any problem, no matter how obscure.

For example, one day I discovered that the hot-water knob on my bathroom sink was partially disconnected from the sink. It looked serious. I thought about fixing it myself. Obviously, the sink would have to be replaced, since it seemed to be a single unit with the fixtures. And the cabinet would have to be replaced if I couldn't find a new sink of the same dimensions. That means the floor tiles would have to be replaced, too, because the new cabinet would be a different size. By the time I was done thinking through this long chain of events, I was pretty sure it would end with my wearing a handkerchief on my head and shoveling asphalt onto my neighbor's driveway. This job was too big for me. I decided to call Ralph M. Price Inc., Construction and Handyman Services.

Ralph took one look at the problem, and then he tightened the collar below the knob with his hand. Problem solved. Allow me to recap:

Tools: Two fingers
Time to fix: 40 seconds
Money saved: $200,000 (approximate)

I was quite happy with that outcome.

I have plenty more problems. The hall closet won't open because the hall rug is too thick. Pam, my girlfriend, tells me I'll have to shave the bottom of the door. That sounds stupid to me because the shaving cream would make a huge mess and probably ruin something. I think a more rational approach would be to place bricks on the rug until it gets packed down. Pam says I should "use my head." By that she means I should be more clever, not use my head instead of the bricks. At least I think that's what she means.

I've been a homeowner for several years, and I have managed to learn a few things. For example, there's a way to pump water out of the pool if the rain threatens to overfill it. All you do is unhook a pipe from the filter system, connect a garden hose, and turn on the filter. I also learned that if you turn on the filter before you connect the hose and you hear a loud rushing sound, it is best not to put your face real close to the open pipe to "see what's happening in there." (Yes, I actually did that.)

I have always been this way. When I was a kid growing up in the mountains of New York, it was legal to burn trash in a big barrel on your own property. I was the designated trash burner. Sometimes it was necessary to poke the burning trash with a stick to make sure everything burned. I was proud of my trash-burning skills until one day, after I'd had a particularly enthusiastic episode with the burning embers, my brother said, "Hey, where are your eyebrows?" Then he clutched his ribs and fell to the ground laughing. (The eyebrows grew back.)

Now I know better than to use my own judgment about things around the house. At the first sign of trouble, I call Ralph M. Price Inc., Construction and Handyman Services. Ralph still has his original eyebrows. I admire that. And he's fixed a dozen different problems for me without ever resorting to massive quantities of duct tape.

(Tip: Did you know you can make a hammock out of duct tape? Just be sure you put the sticky side facing the ground; otherwise, you can't get out of it. Take my word for it.)

Ralph has created a business that targets a rapidly growing market: people who are either too busy or too incompetent to take care of their own homes. (I tell people I'm too busy.) Every time I call with a new and unique problem, I'm sure he'll tell me that this is the one thing he doesn't handle. That hasn't happened yet. I haven't figured out if Ralph is selling handyman services or headache cures or free time. I get all three. It's the perfect business for the late 1990s.

Scott Adams is the author of The Dilbert Future : Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century , a new book from HarperBusiness.


OWNER: Ralph Price, age 60

BUSINESS: Construction and handyman services

LOCATION: Walnut Creek, Calif.

EMPLOYEES: Five (not including Ralph)


FOUNDED: 1990 (incorporated in 1995)

PAYMENT ACCEPTED: Cash or checks only

HOW HE GOT INTO BUSINESS: "I've always been decent with my hands, and when I retired from the automobile business, at 52, I still had to make a living. I'd been a finance manager, a sales manager, a general manager, and a dealer. I went broke as a dealer, and then I went back to being a salesman. I had trade skills--carpentry, plumbing, electrical--so I started a handyman business, and then it just plain took off."

ON SCOTT ADAMS AS A CUSTOMER: "We have no problem with him."