On The Level: Keson and SOLA: You Are Doing It Wrong

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Jude Nosek

“There’s a better way, find it.” Thomas Edison. \

In 2009, after I had been with Keson for a few years, I received a gift from a mason in a small store in Eastern Washington. I was demonstrating one of our iconic chalk line reels, the Little Giant®, to the store buyer and counter salesperson. A customer was quietly and patiently watching me take the store employees through the features and benefits of this product. At one point, the mason interrupted my pitch with seven words that changed the way I thought about my job, our products, and our relationship with our customers. As I explained how to fill the chalk line reel with chalk and reseal the opening, the mason caught my eye, smiled, and asked, “Can I show you a better way?” 

Now, with complete humility, I can say I know a lot about chalk line reels. I have had input in the design of all the chalk line reels that Keson has brought to the market since 2005. I have examined, categorized, classified, and evaluated dozens of chalk line reels. I have taken apart, weighed, and reassembled these products. I have filled, emptied, and snapped lines with all of them. I have measured how many turns and how long it takes to wind in 100 feet of string with no gearing, 3x gearing, and 6x gearing. I have measured to the tenth of an ounce the quantity of chalk each chalk line reel will hold and still be usable. My children occasionally make fun of me for this. (Don’t misunderstand me, they are constantly making fun of me, only occasionally for this.) 

However, I have not used chalk line reels as part of what I do for a living, and that makes a difference. As I was about to learn. 

We built a large opening on all our Giant series chalk line reels. This opening is the fill port, through which you load the reel with chalk. We call that opening and the seal that secures it The Big Mouth®. You can pop open the Big Mouth Fill Port seal, take the top completely off a bottle of chalk and fill the Giant chalk box quickly and with little fuss. All that remains is to snap the rubber seal back in place. I had done this dozens of times in sales pitches. I was using technique that could, if you were not careful, cause an issue: you could plunge the rubber seal completely into the chalk line reel. While not dangerous, fixing this problem is fairly simple. You wrestle the seal out of the hole and try again. No big deal. At least not standing at a counter. With a brand-new chalk line reel. That is completely empty of chalk.  

My new friend, the mason, explained that if I sealed the way I demonstrated, I could push the seal into the reel. He went on to explain that with a loaded chalk line reel, fixing it would come with a price. He informed me that when I “pulled the plug out of the jug, I’d be wearing the chalk” that should be in the reel AND worse, I’d likely have to spend the better part of an hour cleaning the mess off the work site. His demonstration of me, dancing around with bunch of blue chalk pouring all over my legs and all over the job, makes me smile as I write this. 

So, he showed me a better way to do it. It’s simple, and it works. 1. Put the lip of the seal over the plastic edge on the tethered end of the seal. 2. Push your thumb toward the nozzle, not into the fill port. His technique is how we teach our salesforce and reps to demo this family of products. 

It was a little embarrassing, certainly humbling, and a bit of revelation to me. This is not a new idea. It’s called “the voice of the user, the customer perspective, and listening to the boss,” among many other things. I am not claiming to have discovered anything with this interaction. This was just the time I became acutely aware of it. It had been happening to me since I began at Keson. If I’m honest, it has been happening to me my whole life. This mason’s delivery and his information must have caught me at the right time in the right way. Since then, I have become aware that these lessons are out there, all the time. It’s one of the reasons we need to be more open to the experts, those grinding out a living with the tools we are so privileged to produce and supply. 

As we introduce our SOLA RED digital Levels with Bluetooth®, we are excited to find out how you experts actually use these products. And as we do so, we are going to learn more about what’s valuable to you. One mason told us the app-linked store and share measurement features would have saved him a few thousand dollars and a few days of arguments. We had another tell us he could check the work of his sons without having to tramp all over the site. ADA-compliance, code compliance, avoided disagreements, etc., all came up as we demoed these tools at the World of Concrete. The list of ways and of how it’s going to be used is growing. We figured on some of these applications and techniques, and we are very pleased to understand more. 

So if you think, “That clown’s doing it wrong ... ”, I hope you offer me a “Can I show you a better way?” The answer is going to be “YES, please!”

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou. 

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