For many years, the industry has pointed to installer error and site-related issues as the dominant factors in claims related to commercial flooring projects. Manufacturers often point to their internal metrics that support these assumptions and use them to justify policies and procedures minimizing the risk exposure. These internal metrics may not tell the entire story with context. Due to the elevated risk associated with construction projects, Starnet members continue to build specification capability, installation standardization, and project documentation into their operating procedures. They have the opportunity every day to support and specify vendor partners that have internal processes and policies that enhance their labor productivity. These standard procedures help to insulate them from the worst of the challenges on project sites. Professional flooring contractors are successfully influencing material selection away from manufacturers that are less than ideal to install, which protects the entire industry.
What Complicates Situations For The Professional Flooring Contractor?
Many manufacturers have technical, operations, and legal departments that have been assaulted by the risks associated with residential products and individual consumer protections. Providing products to the consumer through the residential channels have their own pitfalls, and because much of the industry evolved from residentially oriented manufacturing that added commercial markets to grow, you can see the underlying approach. The limitations written into most manufacturer warranties have residential exclusions modified into the commercial warranty. For example, a common element of the limited warranty includes language like, “It is the responsibility of the installer/end user to confirm the received material is free of any obvious visible conditions that may be detrimental to the appearance and/or performance of the product. Manufacturer will not pay for labor costs to repair or replace material with visible conditions that were apparent before installation.”
If you are scheduled to proceed to install 12,000 square feet of material with union installers in a New York City law firm over a weekend, this complicates the situation. A commercial flooring contractor will desperately avoid installing poor quality material at all costs, because every project that fails requires them to successfully complete several more to get to even money. In addition, one might find another reference in the limited warranty such as, “Manufacturer will not credit or reimburse the costs associated with the removal of items such as furniture or other fixtures required for replacement.” Starnet members search for manufacturers that provide consistent quality so that these sentences never have to be referenced in a meeting with a client. Evidence of the manufacturer’s confidence in their approach show up in the language of their published limited warranty. The language they use is different than their peers. A simple example, “Should our product fail to perform as warranted, we will resolve the deficiency, labor included, at no charge for materials, freight and labor.”
What Is Quality?
Quality is an evaluation of something as measured against other things that are similar. Quality accounts for the excellence of something. One of the major challenges in the construction industry across all products, interior and exterior, is the technology outpaces the standards of quality by years and sometimes decades. ASTM standards that influence the production of like products, for example resilient flooring or carpet tile, are often set to allow more participants in the market. Broadly achieved standards are a disincentive for meaningful capital investment in the latest equipment. General standards allow less capable companies to compete with companies that have invested. This ultimately drives down prices and profitability, further slowing innovation and investment. Less innovation ultimately causes the end user to be starved of value, dramatically impedes the productivity of labor, and often leads to contentious claims.
Does My ISO 9000/ISO 9001 Vendor Partner Produce Quality Products?
The ISO 9000 series of standards was first published in 1987 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international agency composed of the national standards bodies of more than 160 countries. After many decades of implementation of these standards, and others modeled after them, why isn’t every product shipped perfect? The reason is the ISO standards are tools. Like any other tool, when used by skilled teams under the right conditions they can deliver outstanding and repeatable results. Companies that adopt the tools and standards outlined in the ISO 9000/9001 have a much better chance of manufacturing quality products than those that do not follow the standards. However, the people and the focus of the company on the customer must be part of the company culture to ensure consistent success. ISO 9001 certification is a strong indicator that the company cares about quality. ISO 9001 does not guarantee quality products for customers.
Why Is Practical Quality More Important Than ASTM Standards or ISO Certification?
For example, the ASTM Standard for tolerance on the thickness of LVT is ± 0.005 inches. The general public can actually see differences in the thickness of an LVT plank at ± 0.002 inches. This may not seem like a big difference. Imagine the product installed over 20,000 square feet on a poured engineered subfloor with a very thin layer roll down adhesive recommended by the manufacturer. Those thickness differences referenced above become obvious to anyone. One technique to manage this is to bevel the edges of the planks, which is not to modern trends, but provides relief to the manufacturer that cannot control thickness. Another compromise would be to return to outdated skim and sand techniques with trowel down adhesives. This would minimize the visual difference by “floating” the planks over the ridges in the adhesive. Unfortunately, this would dramatically reduce the efficiency of the labor and force the crews back on their knees to do the work.
Starnet is constantly working with Preferred Vendor Partners to uncover their special capabilities that deliver “Practical Quality.” Unique capabilities in manufacturing may be diluted by the traditional design/bid/build process that forces competition with less capable companies as an ‘or equal.’ Starnet members have hundreds of real-world examples of manufacturers who execute “Practical Quality” to enhance labor productivity and create enhanced value.
How is Practical Quality Supported by Operations?
Parts of the flooring industry are operating equipment in manufacturing facilities designed and built more than 75 years ago! How does this impact quality? Older equipment is generally less precise and less repeatable. One of the marvels of modern manufacturing is the use of standardized parts, allowing for reliable and repeatable assembly of components manufactured on different machines on different days by different operators. Are backing systems and wear layers repeatable components when manufactured on different machines on different days by different operators? In the flooring industry, the answer is generally no. Older equipment can be updated with various sensors and computerized controls to measure temperature, pressure, speed, and physical dimensions. This type of investment can be effective in increasing the precision of older equipment.
One of the great ironies of the industry is a common disclaimer from installation instructions that generally reads as follows, “Ensure flooring is installed in an environment that maintains a temperature range between 65° to 85° Fahrenheit at least 24-hours before, during and after installation.” This is a requirement, supported by ASTM standards, that most manufacturers do not follow in their production facilities. If a constant temperature has such an impact on flooring material at the job site, why are most manufacturers operating in facilities that have wide swings in temperature?
Because of the ‘or equal’ pressure of the construction industry and consolidation of supply chains globally, manufacturers are in a constant struggle to manage their vendors. Purchasing teams are under pressure to find new vendors at lower costs to support the manufacturing internal efficiency metrics. These initiatives can be driven by shareholder expectations and the illusions of synergies from an acquisition. With all of this internal pressure, it is difficult for some companies to stop and ask “Is this good for the customer?” The choices are often good for an individual bonus or the profitability of their division, considerations far away from the customer.
Below are some probing questions for vendors to determine if they can deliver Practical Quality to the marketplace:
- How do you measure customer satisfaction with your products?
- Who determines if a product meets quality metrics on a claim? Do the operations teams judge their own work, or does an independent associate review claims with the customer in mind?
- How many companies do you source your major raw material components from for this product?
- How many companies do you source finished product from and where are they located?
- Do you control the ambient temperature in your facilities where you manufacture? What is the target temperature range?
- Is your operations team rewarded for hitting quality goals or are they measured only by output and cost control?
There are no easy answers to these challenging problems that are the reality of our commercial flooring industry. Like most complex systems, it is important to look at the contributing factors that hinder the industry and prevent the meaningful progress we all need to achieve. Every element of the industry has challenges to success. The more we share across all stakeholders, the closer we can align to achieve the goals of industry growth and end user satisfaction by Partnering for Success!