Contrary to popular belief, installation is not the No. 1 problem in the floor covering industry; it’s installing the wrong product in the wrong place which fails to live up to the end user’s expectations.
However, installation still holds the lofty position of the No. 2 problem. Even with the right product, a failure can occur or a complaint may arise when an installer didn’t do something he should have, or else he or she didn’t do it right.
Installation starts with knowing and understanding the products you’re working with, and today the number of products and variables for installation, with and without adhesives, is endless. Just like a doctor has to stay on top of the latest medical trends and techniques, a flooring installer must do the same. In the last three years alone installation systems have been introduced to the market that may be totally unfamiliar to an installer, particularly in the commercial arena. So before you install a product, you should make yourself aware of how it should be installed regardless of whether its carpet or hard surface flooring.
Issue No. 3 is the substrate, be it wood or concrete. Concrete conditions can create a failed installation shortly after a flooring material is installed or sometimes much later, even two years down the road.
Moisture – and the alkalinity it brings with it – is the biggest concern. But, moisture isn’t the only concrete condition that will cause an installation failure; there is fly ash content; topical and integrated additives; highly burnished surfaces; epoxy treatments; flame retardant applications, bug sprays on wood and so on. Unless you protect yourself by investigating and questioning the condition of the substrate, what tests were done and what applications or additives were used, the commencement of the installation constitutes acceptance, and the installer is then liable for the failure of the installation.
Even if you get a document that supposedly relieves you of any responsibility, it won’t protect you from liability, especially if a known condition that will cause an installation failure exists. The fact that you knew the existing conditions could cause a possible failure and you proceeded anyway puts the bull’s eye squarely on your back. As hard as it is to walk away from the money, you have to consider the consequences you could be liable for if you don’t.
On the other hand, with the number of installation systems available that can and will work, there shouldn’t be very many flooring materials that can’t be installed under all kinds of compromising conditions. The problem is that you have to be aware of them, and you have to be part of the selection and specification process to make sure the right products are being used in the right way. If you come in after everything is selected, the chances of influencing a change to something that will work are almost nonexistent.
After the substrate you have to know the right tools to use that not only make the job easier, but allow the flooring material to be properly installed. This is one of the most frustrating areas of installation-related flooring failures, because here is where the installer is totally in control.
Compare this to taking your truck to a garage where the mechanic only has a screwdriver and pliers. How successful do you think your vehicle repair will be? Not very. From sharp blades and scrapers to trowels, stretchers and specialty tools, your toolbox should hold a smorgasbord of appropriate items to successfully install any flooring material that you pass yourself off as being an expert at installing.
No one should ever have to look at your work and ask you why something is not done right only to hear “We couldn’t work with the material.” A professional installer will always be able to work with a given material and install it successfully. Even pattern inconsistencies in carpet can be overcome with the right tools and techniques. We have installation crews we send out to take over or successfully fix installations some other installer said he couldn’t install because of “a material problem.” We know it can be done. Some installation challenges are more difficult than others, to be sure, but most are not impossible. Installation should never have to be questioned as the reason for a flooring failure.
You have to understand the psychology of installation as well. There are very successful installers and installation firms around the country who make a lot of money working with specialty products who don’t sell price. So you have to understand marketing as well.
Why are you better than your competition? What sets you apart? Why do your services cost more? There isn’t a business on earth that holds itself to a higher level of quality that doesn’t get more money for their products or services. Think Rolls Royce; Bentley; Harley-Davidson; Peterbilt trucks and Craftsman tools, and put yourself on that level. You have to up your game and your appearance to do this, and also believe you can do it; do you? You have to be willing to do whatever it takes and often that’s a huge – and sometimes insurmountable – leap for people to make.
Follow up is also important. After you’ve done the perfect job, better than anyone else, you have to clean up after yourself. Pay attention to detail: pick up all the loose pieces, sweep, and vacuum and properly cover, if appropriate, the flooring material so it won’t be ruined by another trade or by the end user. On a commercial job the laborers often take care of this, but you should be able to influence how well it’s done. On a residential or small commercial job it should be your responsibility to protect the product. Again, this is all part of a more professional service than just an installation.
These have been some obvious and simple concepts that should be inherent to the installation of floor covering materials. They will make your job easier and your business more successful if you adapt them. You have to be willing to accept change to be better. If you’ve done something the same way for years, don’t expect to be successful. Change is occurring so fast in product and installation today that if you don’t change you won’t be around for long.