Not long ago a flooring contractor and I were discussing his desperate need for new younger installers. The contractor assured me the workload is such that there is plenty to do and he is prepared to pay a premium price for a qualified worker. But finding someone who meets his expectations has proven extremely difficult. “That good installer is turning out to be an illusive creature,” he remarked. He’s not alone. Many in our industry are finding that today’s workers lack the most basic qualification: a work ethic. We hear so much talk about “training” but seldom is there any mention of preparing people for the day-to-day rigors of installing.
Many younger installers and even people raised in the ‘70s and ‘80s have little understanding of what a work ethic means. When confronted with truly hard work, they often seem offended and uneasy. So contractors and retailers are left to ask why. Why should I take the trouble to train someone who is incapable of a sustained work effort-even for a single day? Why should I teach them how to read a job layout and safely operate power equipment? Why would I bother teaching them the right way to prep a sub-floor? It is practically a waste of time. The fact is many young people have never really been exposed to hard physical work. Many have learned that they can “blow off” a day without batting an eye. Top quality professional floor installation is no place for slackers.
Okay, now that I got that off my chest, let’s talk about the “intangible” attributes you should look for when hiring an installer. Even if it is someone who lacks experience, their appearance, manner and attitude will tell you a lot about that person. So look carefully at the following areas:
Well-groomed.Nothing says more about the professionalism of an installer than his appearance. It is the first impression the consumer will get. How do you suppose a middle-aged homeowner feels about a person showing up at their door covered with tattoos, body piercings and an overall unkempt appearance? An installer who is also a true craftsman usually looks the part. If the installer’s appearance is careless and sloppy, what assumption is the customer likely to make about the quality of his work?
Polite.When talking to a prospective installer, do you find he uses “please” and “thank you”? Is he generally courteous and cordial? These little gestures can take the installer to a greater height in the eyes of the customer. Consumers, who by nature are a little skeptical, are put at ease when they are dealing with someone who is “nice.” It is essential that they feel comfortable around the person who will work in their private domain.
Punctual.There are few things that infuriate a customer more than being forced to wait. When you tell a customer your time of arrival, think of that as a verbal contract. If you fail to comply with the agreement you made it is extremely damaging to your credibility. They wonder if you are capable of keeping a commitment.
Reliable.Reliability is one of the strongest assets we can possess. It demonstrates that we mean what we say; we do what we say and we can be counted on to deliver what we promise. Nothing can erode a customer’s confidence faster than a broken promise. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver nor have any intention of delivering.
Clean vehicle.Ever open the back door of an installer’s truck and it looks like it was ravaged by a typhoon? Keeping you vehicle clear and organized can be a tall order given the nature of the work we do, but think about the consumer’s perspective. “If this person can’t even keep his vehicle in order, what kind of order will my installation be kept in?”
Communication.Consumers hate to be left in the dark. Effective communication is a vital skill (and something that needs to be worked on regularly). Customers view the inability to communicate as a sure sign the installer is inexperienced or lacks competence. On the other side of the coin is someone who is too familiar with the customer - the installer who doesn’t know when to shut up. He can talk himself into trouble or simply annoy the heck out of the customer.
Cooperation.If anything, the communication gap (or language barrier) between installation and sales has grown wider in the last decade. Installers and salespeople must be able to communicate and work with one another to quickly settle all differences without conflict. True, that’s easier said than done, but this must be accomplished. Both installers and sales need to understand the other’s job and become a little more patient and diplomatic in handling each other.
Pride.Regardless of your endeavor, pride will determine your success. That’s particularly true in a field like installation where there’s ample opportunity to cut corners. If you want to get an understanding about an individual installer’s level of pride, ask him to describe a recent job he completed. Does he talk about how wonderful the floor looked when he was done, or how quickly he completed the job? It will tell you exactly where his level of pride is. Pride in your work is a message that is conveyed directly to the customer.
Attitude.It won’t take the customer long to recognize a poor attitude. Many an installation has been made or lost based on the installer’s attitude. Maybe the installer is having a lousy day, but that isn’t the customer’s fault. A true pro knows to “leave it in the truck” when you get to the job site. Sadly, the vast majority of the installers I meet today look for excuses for how to get out of accomplishing something rather than how to get it done.
Eager to face change.While some installation techniques have endured for generations, there are also constant upgrades in procedure, tools and products. You want an installer who sees change as an opportunity, not a threat. Those who resist change are doomed to years of frustration and turmoil. The true installation pros see change as the opportunity to take their careers to a new level. It is also a welcome break from everyday, mundane tasks. This mindset helps them stay on the leading edge of installation technology.
Customer oriented.How does the installer view the customer? Do they have their best interest in mind or are they eager to perform the task and get out? Installers need to empathize with the customer. You want people who are committed to doing everything they can to ensure that the installed floor lasts much longer than the warranty.
While these above items all require a concentrated effort on the part of the installer, there is one more thing to keep in mind: respect is a two-way street. The installer is at the end of the food chain and unless they are treated with respect and compensated fairly, their dissatisfaction will be easy for the consumer to spot. Treating an installer like a third-class person is a sure way of ensuring they will become exactly the type of worker you don’t want. So, if you want a first-class installer you now know what must be done.