In the commercial arena, there are plenty of opportunities for making big embarrassing, glaring, reputation-destroying, expensive mistakes. And if you make a really big one or a series of small ones, they can send you out of business all too quickly.

Most of these pitfalls can be grouped under the categories of specifying; bidding; floor prep and installation. Here are a few examples showing where mistakes were made, the consequences of those mistakes, and tips to prevent these problems from occurring in your business.


Martha had a sales lead, and she quickly established a rapport with the client. She was given the job of specifying the flooring for an office building tenant replacement project. Martha was assigned a budget range and told to provide several price points with a “good, better, and best” price range. She was thrilled!

She began work and carefully color-coordinated carpet, ceramic, sheet goods, and VCT. She built design boards and practiced her presentation for the client. When presentation day rolled around, Martha was prepared and the client was extremely pleased with what he saw. As Martha had hoped, they stepped up from base grade, selected the upgrade package and incorporated her suggestions into the floor plan’s finish schedule, the basis for the bid document. 

Martha’s first inkling that there might be problems with the package was when bidders started calling the general contractor to complain they couldn’t get pricing on a key component. Even worse, the delivery time on another item seemed to make timely completion of this fast track project impossible. Finally, the provision against “or equal” product substitutions unless approved in advance, stopped some qualified bidders from even submitting a bid.

One contractor said, “This bid is a nightmare. I can’t get the carpet because I’m not a dealer, I don’t have time to submit another product and get approval prior to the bid date, and the ceramic is apparently on a slow boat from Italy. I cannot guarantee timely performance. I don’t need any more headaches. I’m not going to bid.” The bids that were received came in about 20% over budget.

The client was furious. Martha had to revise her upgrade package with all new, readily available products; this time specifying several acceptable products in each category. The revised finish schedule and bid documents had to be sent out again to all bidders.

What went wrong: Color, and what looks great on a design board, will be a disaster if the products are thinly distributed, unavailable within required project delivery times, and if reasonable accommodation cannot be made for a product substitution. In this case, Martha did not get enough solid information about the products and probable pricing. She ended up having to do her work twice, and got a bad reference from a client.


Jeremy had a chance to bid a new commercial project from a general contractor with whom he had previously done business. He did a quick review of the scope of work and finish schedule, and believed there was a good possibility he could get the job. He asked his commercial estimator to do a blueprints takeoff since he was in the midst of several other projects, and this was just one more bid to do.

“Just send me over your workup; if I have questions, I’ll get back with you,” his contact said.

As luck would have it, Jeremy was busy and didn’t take the time to review the bid scope, workup, and notes until the day before the bids were due. He did a quick review with Joe, his estimator, but it had been a week since Joe had done the plans takeoff. They discussed the amount of carpet tile, cove base, sheet vinyl, transitions, and an area where a poured flooring underlayment had to be done.

What Jeremy missed and Joe failed to mention again was that the sheet goods had to be heat welded and flash coved. In addition, the specification for the poured underlayment was that the area be “laser leveled.”

Jeremy was the low bidder and the notice of award was quickly sent to him. When they got the contract documents several weeks later, Jeremy finally dug into the project specifics and discovered the missed details. By then it was too late; he tried to revise his pricing, and then to withdraw his bid; all without success. He finally completed the project at a 4% profit.

What went wrong: Jeremy missed key details because he was in a hurry. The takeoff was accurate, but Joe didn’t underscore the importance of several key specs within the finish schedule. Jeremy mispriced the extent of materials and the labor to properly install; he paid for this in lost profit and a damaged reputation.

Floor Prep

Frank was given a work order to install some 350 yards of commercial loop carpet by direct glue-down, along with 400 square feet of LVT and 1,200 square feet of VCT. This was nice sized job for Frank and his small crew.

Take up had to be done in some areas and money had been added for minor floor prep. Most of the area had to be skim-coated since shot blasting had been done to remove asbestos-containing adhesive residue. Shortly after the work was done, Frank was told there were complaints about “ridges showing up under the LVT” and some of the large diameter tiles had “bubbles.” Frank ended up having to replace the entire LVT portion of the job. There was no way to fix the prominent ridges under the higher gloss LVT, however, and the bubbles were an even larger problem.

What went wrong: Frank should have asked if moisture testing had been done in the entire area and reviewed a copy of the results, especially where LVT was being installed. The skim coating had been done, but trowel ridges had not been “knocked down” prior to acrylic adhesive application. The astute installer will power sand skim coated areas, remove residue and vacuum before installing any higher gloss LVT.


Ed was “The Man” when it came to commercial installation for his company. As an installation service manager, he knew his crews and what it took to get projects installed on schedule, and at budget. When the 8,500-yard commercial carpet replacement project first came up, Ed asked about the time line to complete, when the project would be started, and any other necessary requirements.

“We can get one-half of a floor at a time, furniture will be moved by others, there is take up and disposal, and a liquidated damages provision if we fail to complete by the specified date,” he said.

Ed realized there would be a tight install time frame, but felt that a large subcontracter installation crew would be the answer rather than use his smaller in-house teams.

The carpet arrived on schedule in early July. During the first two days on the job, the existing foam-backed proved extremely difficult to take up. The building’s air conditioning was barely functioning, and the crew spent more time complaining than working. At the end of the third day, they walked off the job, leaving Ed in a real bind. The excited client was screaming that “Nothing is being done, and you’d better make it happen!”

Two new high-powered stripping machines were brought in to speed up the take up and floor scraping. Ed also pulled several crews from other jobs and teamed them up, a floor at a time. There was a candid conversation with the client about the poorly performing HVAC system and it was quickly fixed. With four crews, Ed also put a field supervisor onsite to manage crew direction and handle any other issues efficiently. After losing several days, Ed got everyone on track and got twice daily reports of progress, and finished the project ahead of schedule. From a potential disaster, Ed and the company got a great review for their ability to perform as promised.

What went wrong: The one thing Ed could have done better was to have checked more of his sub’s references; this might have uncovered his mercurial nature under stressful conditions. Ed made it a priority to get the project back on track and was successful in delivery on schedule.

Big problems, embarrassment, and bad reviews are usually preventable, but things happen to the even the best and most talented people. Oft times, it is how you respond to a dilemma, rather than why it happened, that will make or break your reputation. Clients don’t want excuses or face long delays; they want the issue resolved so they can get on with their lives. If you will just make fixing the problem a priority, then you’ll typically come out okay.