For our purposes, we’ll define light commercial projects as those ranging in size from less than 1,500 square feet up to 100,000 square feet. These include retail stores or “strip” shopping centers; small office spaces; restaurants; banks; apartment buildings and retrofits; school additions and renovations; houses of worship; retirement communities and office buildings. Perhaps the biggest light commercial market for hardwood flooring is high-end specialty retailers, many of which are national chain stores.
Light commercial construction is now finally on the upswing. There is a lot of pent-up demand, and several sources point to it getting back to being the competitive $50 billion-a-year industry it was prior to the start of the Great Recession. It can offer a way to buttress your business while the residential market is in its slow recovery, or open new doors for when the residential component of a new community has been completed but the commercial development is just getting underway.
Easing Into Commercial Construction: Diversifying into commercial construction work is much easier when you have someone in your organization with at least some basic knowledge of light commercial construction practices. This person will need to follow up on leads, make sales calls, obtains specs and drawings, perform the takeoff, and estimate the cost of the job.
It also helps for this specialist to know some local commercial contractors, and to have the time, resources, and skills to go after these types of projects. It takes quite a bit more time and effort to close a light commercial job than it does when a homeowner comes into your store and picks out new hardwood flooring for their family room.
Light commercial jobs, unlike houses, are generally steel-sided and more than likely have a concrete slab. A concrete slab normally requires specifying engineered hardwood floors, and most owners prefer prefinished material. There are also ways to install solid hardwood flooring over a slab using one of a variety of underlayment systems to provide a nailing substrate.
A Gaggle of Clients: On residential projects, your typical customer is a homeowner, remodeler, or builder. But on a commercial project, your “client” may be a group of people. Even when selling just the hardwood flooring for a small office build-out, you may be dealing with a facilities manager, the purchasing and accounting departments of the company that owns the property, and the end user of the space. Each of those parties has different needs.
The facilities manager wants the work to be completed with minimal disruption to normal operations. This may mean limiting disturbance to the immediate area of work or working only during off hours to avoid noise and other annoyances.
The purchasing and accounting departments want to get the best price and terms for the work, and to limit the amount of effort required to process your invoice. The end user, who some may consider the “true” client since he will be using the space on a daily basis, will usually want the job completed yesterday and thinks you should deliver a Cadillac product on his Chevrolet budget.
Architects and Other Parties: While architectural services for residential projects usually stop once the plans are signed and delivered, architects on light commercial projects often take on a larger role during construction. They may approve invoices for the owner, review change orders, review and approve shop drawings and submittals for materials, and perform inspections on behalf of the owner.
While some flooring contractors see this impeding their work, it can be helpful to develop a good relationship with the architect, not only because he or she may be approving your invoice, but also because it may lead to more work in the future.
One of the most important people you’ll run across (especially in his mind) is the building owner or landlord, unless the customer happens to own the building you’ll be working on. While you aren’t contracted directly with the landlord, your customer (his tenant) is. The tenant’s lease documents may contain provisions regarding who can work on the premises, as well as when and how the work is to be done. Be sure to review any lease requirements pertinent to the construction process before signing a contract.
You may also find yourself dealing with property management firms and real estate brokers. Be sure to establish the proper “chain of authority” between yourself, the customer, and all these parties before your part of the construction process begins. Determine who can request changes to your work, where to send invoices, and who will be approving your work and authorizing payments.
Sign Here: On most light commercial jobs, with the exception of very small projects where the architect plays a limited role and the owner is either a sole proprietor or a partnership, the contract for your services may take a different form than you’re used to. Rather than you providing your contract for the owner to sign, you’ll find that you’re being asked to sign someone else’s contract.
While it may seem awkward, being asked to do business under a contract that you didn’t write – and they tend to protect the general contractor or architect more than anyone else – they usually are fairly decent contracts. If you have any reservations, pay a few bucks to your attorney to go over the contract with you.
Now’s the Time: If you want to grow your hardwood flooring sales and can see the long-term profit opportunities in light commercial projects, there’s no time like the present to get your feet wet. So go after some work; make some calls; ask to be placed on the bidders list; visit some job sites of projects underway and ask if they need a competitive bid for their hardwood flooring. Before you know it, you’ll secure your first job…with many more to follow!