Often, it is not that you had a problem, but more how you responded, assessed and corrected the situation that sticks in the memory.

Often, it is not that you had a problem, but more how you responded, assessed the damage and corrected the situation that sticks in the memory.

The Carpet Tile Would Not Lay Flat

“The only way to get this carpet tile to lay flat is to nail it down at all four corners.” Those were the words from an experienced installation service manager. “Justin” was reviewing a complaint on a large, just-completed carpet tile installation. Not only was it becoming a tripping hazard, it was a visual nightmare.

This was a well-heeled client with significant political clout in an important industry segment. Justin passed along his assessment of the problem and recommended a site visit with the mill rep. Once the rep saw the extent of the problem, he arranged a team to come in and reprocess each individual tile, solving the issue of “doming.”

The client’s facility manager was kept informed of each step being taken, the method be used to fix the problem, and was assured that the warranty was intact. In addition, a small credit was issued to the client.

The Pitfalls of Cheap Adhesive

The first inkling “Jon” had that there was a problem was when the facility manager said the carpet tile was literally sliding around on the floor. “You can set your foot on it and push and it moves,” he said. Upon inspection, not only was the tile sliding around, but when a tile bumped into one of its neighbors, it created a peaking effect that was exacerbated by nightly vacuuming.

While Jon’s company had supplied the thousands of yards of carpet tile, the government facility had elected to make the award for installation to a small, disadvantaged business owner to satisfy their SBA requirements.

Jon had no idea what had been done after the carpet tile had been delivered. The Deputy Chief of Procurement, however, stated the government’s position: “The carpet tile you delivered was defective and we hold you and the manufacturer responsible for fixing the problem or making replacement.”

With the amount of tile involved, the cost of removal, replacement and installation, this could have been a $1-million problem for Jon’s company; he was determined this would not be the case.

First, he contacted the carpet tile manufacturer to make sure the batch was not defective. Next, he procured a third-party expert to assess the product, the adhesive used, and the installation to determine what had happened and a solution. Given the potential size of the claim, there was also a discussion with the company’s attorney and their commercial insurance carrier.

Over the next 16 months, it was determined that the small flooring contractor had used an inexpensive substitute adhesive rather than the recommended adhesive, and also used an unapproved method of adhesive application. The cheap adhesive reacted with the tile backing, causing plasticizer migration which began dissolving the backing.

All third-party experts agreed that all tile would have to be taken up and discarded. The area would have to be cleaned, the floor primed, the carpet tile re-procured, and the installation done using the proper adhesive. Also at issue was handling some 1,200 modular workstations. Although the government facility had hoped otherwise, Jon’s company declined to participate in any of the expense of re-carpeting the area.

Their exposure was limited to legal and third-party expert expenses and fees, plus internal costs for 16 months of extra work.

The Bleeding Carpet

“Craig, I hate to bother you with this, but I swear the carpet seems to be bleeding.” After he got over his initial shock, “Craig” assured the client he would make an inspection and figure out an answer.

This was an upscale property management corridor project for common areas in a high rise building.  There were some 1,800 yards of high-quality tufted, multi-color graphics, cut-pile broadloom carpet in the project. The job had been completed some six months ago, and Craig wondered why he was just now hearing about the problem.

The problem surfaced after an air handler leaked water onto the new carpet in one area. Once the carpet became wet, red dye stuffs from the yarn-dyed carpet began to track to other areas, including tile floors and light-colored carpets in the residential apartments. At first it was localized, but it began spreading all over the job as the seasons changed.

The manufacturer and the distributor who sold the carpet checked their control samples and found that the converter had provided one color of red yarn where the dyed stuffs were not “fixed.” Under conditions of moisture and under traffic conditions, the yarn’s color began to come off and spread to other areas.

After considerable effort (mixed with a little yelling and loud discussion), the decision was made to clean the carpet and seal the entire area so the dyestuffs would be properly fixed.

This was done and the problem was fixed; the client was placated with a monetary adjustment.

Faux Fume Finger-pointing

“I was overcome with the fumes from adhesive.” When Roberta, her husband, and two children showed up at “Clayton’s” office, this is what he heard. Some months earlier, Clayton’s company had performed a small job at the county government office building. Roberta had worked there and apparently had complained about the smell from adhesive used to glue down carpet and transition molding. In fact, she had complained so vociferously that her manager sent her home.

Once there, she continued to complain about the effects from “smelling that awful adhesive” and began a round of visits to various doctors, all the while claiming paid sick leave from her job. When her sick leave ran out and her supervisor was unsympathetic to her claims, she contacted Clayton.

After a brief conversation, Clayton suspected there was more to the story, so he advised her to have her attorney contact the company. As soon as she left, Clayton contacted his source within the county to find out what was going on since there had been no complaint from the county.

This is when he found out that Roberta’s reputation was that of someone looking for a “free ride.” The county had found no basis for her complaint and no report from any medical professional of any physical problem. Within several weeks, Roberta’s attorney filed a $1.5 million suit for ailments related to “fumes from supplies improperly used and stored.”

Upon advice of their attorney, and Clayton’s research, they ignored the complaint. The statue of limitations on the suit expired without any other action being taken.

Lacking in Proper Preparation

The buckling floor and fractured underlayment was quickly brought to “Jerry’s” attention by the general manager of facilities for the school system. Jerry had installed all of the VCT and sheet goods in the remodeling of the large multipurpose area. According to his notes, the demolition of the old flooring and floor prep was done by others, and except for minor skim-coating, the concrete slab was in good shape. After a brief inspection of the area, he was at a loss to explain the bulging and buckling of much of the area.

Jerry knew the installation had been done properly, but he wondered about the sub-floor which had been resurfaced. He asked an expert in cementitous underlayments to look at the area and provide an opinion.

The tech rep examined several areas and was able to demonstrate that the poured underlayment was not a cementitious type as was specified, and was releasing from the original substrate. This lack of bonding was because the area was not cleaned to remove soil and debris, and apparently no primer had been used.

The facility manager said, “I’ve heard enough, Jerry you’re off the hook.”

Money Under Lock and Key

Sub-contractors for flooring, drywall, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing all got the news about the same time: the owners had lost their funding. “Jennifer” called to ask the general contractor when they would receive their check for the monthly progress billing and was told there would be no check. “I’m sorry to tell you that the owner has run out of current funding for the project, so payment is being held up this month. I don’t know how soon other funds may be received.”

This was a major problem since the check was to have been for over $75,000! The flooring portion had been completed and this check would have covered delivered materials and labor except for the 10% retention amount.

After more discussion at Jennifer’s company, a quick call was placed to their attorney with the facts as they knew them. The attorney did some checking on the situation and placed several calls to get the real story. Apparently funds were being held up because several parts of the project had run over budget.

“My suggestion is to let me talk with the general contractor’s project manager and the owner’s representative,” her lawyer said. “I will let them know we are going to file a lien against the property. You are going to have accept a reduced payment, likely about 70 cents on the dollar, but you will get more than the other subs who have taken no action.”

A bitter pill to swallow, but she decided to follow his suggestion. Later, they heard that most got fewer than 25 cents on the dollar.

  In virtually every instance, prompt, decisive action limited the liability and potential for a reputation-destroying event. The very best decision you’ll make is to quickly define the problem, assess the damage and, if you’ve made the mistake, fix it as a priority project.

Communicate with the client verbally and in writing as often as possible to keep them aware of what is being done to rectify the situation. Be nice and put yourself in their shoes. As the song says, “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”