Whenever a group of flooring retailers or dealers gathers socially, eventually the discussion will move toward the “installation issue.” At dinner or sitting around having a few drinks, many dealers love to blame the industry’s woes on installers. Have you ever heard, “This is a great business except for you have to deal with installers”? Ironically, many of those who say this were once installers themselves. Sheepishly, I admit, that maybe I have even said it. But proudly, I still like to tell people that for much of my life, I installed flooring, that I am one of them.
Selling flooring is a complex business. It’s not that easy being a good flooring retailer or contractor. It requires skill, paying attention to details and solid expertise. In addition, since we are dealing with people, and sometimes very difficult people, it requires top-notch people skills. All those requirements and complexity can make selling and installing flooring a very stressful business. As a client’s wife said, “He’s so stressed out; I think he’s going to die!” She also added, “And if he doesn’t die, I think I’ll kill him myself.”
The older I get and the more experience I acquire in the flooring industry, the more I realize that much of my stress is self-inflicted. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous quote,“I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”Even so, managing flooring installation is not easy because there are so many unforeseen variables, i.e., people, substrates, moisture, complexities, etc.
My message here though is that many of the problems we face managing the installation process and the performance of installers can be solved by a well thought out standardized system of installation management. Many retailers face the same kind of installation issues over and over again. A simple process will systematize how the consistent, normal, expected, occasional, and unusual are dealt with. A simple system, then, will require you to deal directly with only the unique, one-of-a-kind issues. Your system will allow you to duplicate your installation process as you grow and move to additional locations. But, most of all, it will lessen your stress.
Your system and processes all begin with checklists and standards. A standard is an established norm or requirement. It usually establishes uniform criteria, methods, processes and practices. Your first checklist should begin with the standards you would like all your installation contractors to comport themselves. That list should include: how you expect them to dress, how they behave themselves in a customer’s house, how and when to turn in their charges, how and when you will pay their invoices, etc. It should also include the standards of installation for the industry (i.e.: CRI 104 and 105). When was the last time you discussed them with your contractors?
The checklist should also include how you expect them to handle their complaints. Your system should include policies for holding monies to address of warranty issues. Have you ever had an installer move or leave? Who handles the warranty problems? A better question is, “Who is required to handle the warranty issues?” That’s why a system to handle these problems will save a retailer thousands and eliminate much stress.
Once you have clarified the comportment of the independent contractor that works for you, you can start your next checklist: Standards for Hiring an Independent Contractor. The standards on that list should require that a potential independent contractor have a contractor’s license, certificate of insurance and a business license. If I still owned a flooring store, I would want all my installers to be at least CFI certified or have some sort of similar union certification. I would try to be more fussy about who worked for me. If I needed to, I would help my installers get the training they needed to make more money and improve their skills. I wouldn’t want just anyone working in the homes of my customers.
I would have an installation agreement with each subcontractor, outlining the standards that I required. (Email me for a sample copy, email@example.com.) I would also require references from others they had worked for. I can hear it now. “Yeah, let’s see you get all that stuff. You don’t know what it is like trying to find good installers.” Yes I do. When business is good, it’s hard. But, when business is bad, installers are easy to find. This recession is a perfect time to upgrade your installation team.
The next checklist would be for your sales team. It would standardize your measuring and estimating process. Everyone would be required to follow the same measuring procedure, use the same forms, and be held to the same standards. This system would require an installation agreement that the salesperson would have to discuss with the customer. (You can email me for a sample copy of this as well). It clarifies what the customer can expect as well as the store’s responsibilities before, during and immediately after the installation.
The system will forecast all installation charges. The installer will receive a work order that details all work required, materials needed, directions to the job and what he will get paid. If the installation demands more, the standard requires the contractor to contact the retailer for approval of additional work. The retailer can then discuss it with the customer and add the additional charges to her bill. I know a major retailer who was paying thousands in additional installation charges, but was never able to pass those charges on to his customer. The problem was not his installation contractors, but his dysfunctional system. After he fixed it, he literally added thousands to his bottom line. Also, his new system saved him hours of double-checking installation charges with customer invoices.
Finally, a good installation management system provides performance measurement. When performance is measured, performance improves. I am measured on most of all my seminars. We dislike playing games without keeping score. Scoring provides meaning to any game. Every retailer should be keeping score and sharing the results with his or her installers. Feedback is important to all of us because it gives us awareness on what to improve. You owe it to your installation team to give them feedback, as you owe it to them to treat them well. It is a best practice.
Finally, I want to make one thing clear. I am not bashing installers. After all, I am one of them. If you have a problem with your installations, you probably have a bad system. If you put good installers in a bad system, you will get bad results. However, if you put bad installers in a good system, you will improve their performance or the system will weed them out. Get a good system and put it in place. It will reduce your stress. For those who would like additional information on systems for installation, email me. For another great system for finding and managing installation, go to Installerpool.com.