The role of the flooring contractor is one of the least understood pieces of a flooring sales transaction. Without a flooring contractor, there is no install, no logistics and no one to warrantee the labor aspect of the job.
One of the most important things people need to remember is flooring contractors are notinstallers; their role is much more complex than that.
The contractor needs to measure the area for flooring either through a site visit or by estimating from a set of plans. This requires a particular skill set and a level of experience that includes understanding material sizes (i.e. 12-foot carpet, 18 x 36-inch tile, 4 x 36-inch LVT, etc.).
Without detailed product knowledge an estimator cannot properly put a job together. Today’s contractors utilize sophisticated software programs that produce color-coded take-offs so the customer can see exactly where the flooring will be installed and what the tile layout will look like, for example, or where the carpet seams will fall.
After this the flooring contractor has to account for subfloor issues and carefully analyze how the floor has to be prepped prior to the installation. Since moisture issues are the No. 1 bane of our business, most likely the contractor will have to test for it prior to installation. This is no easy task; the protocol for relative humidity testing—today’s preferred method—must be followed to the letter for the test results to be accurate.
It is also important to note, floor preparation varies from product to product. As such, today’s contractor has to be an expert in all types of flooring surfaces.
After the take-offs are done and the estimator has determined the material quantities, the contractor builds a proposal that carefully considers all aspects of the job including additional floor prep, demolition of the old flooring—if it is a renovation project—material costs, labor costs and shipping costs. State and local taxes must also be calculated and can be based solely on material or on material and labor based on the jurisdiction.
There is also the probability the contractor must consider overage when calculating the numbers. A vitally important component of the proposal is the labor amount, which is often built on the number of hours estimated to do the job but proposed by the square foot or square yard. Rates can vary depending on whether the job is union or non-union.
The spreadsheet on these jobs can be huge. Putting proposals together can be very difficult especially if you have to factor in many different flooring types and complex patterns and designs, which can often be the case with commercial jobs. The general contractor (GC) can also request a “schedule of values” as part of the billing, which is a complicated form that allows you to bill on the work as it is completed.
Once the contractor receives a contract for the job now the project management aspect of the project begins. The key with this phase is to make sure the job comes in at the profit targets on which the proposal was built.
This is no easy task. Job delays, defective materials, additional floor prep, moisture issues, extra labor to meet the schedule etc., can all affect the profitability of the job.
The material has to be ordered for on-time delivery and with that comes the logistics aspect of the project. Where is the material being shipped? Will it be cut prior to installation or cut somewhere on site? Where will the extra materials and tools be stored on site? If it is a high rise, how will the material get to the higher floors? Crane? Elevator? If new construction, has the building been sealed and the HVAC turned on? What about recycling? Where should the old material be returned; how does it need to be packaged, and where does it need to be stored until there is a sufficient quantity to ship?
During the job there can be additional work authorizations that must be signed by the site superintendent or project manager (for the GC) for additional work. This then has to be written up as a Change Order Request (COR) and submitted to the GC. Oftentimes the contractor has to haggle with the GC to get them to approve the COR so it can be billed.
I’m exhausted as I am writing this thinking about all the minutiae we flooring contractors face every day.
Once we’ve weathered the storm fighting other trades for floor space, racing against the clock to get the work done because the job is behind schedule and we are the last contractors on site, then the end is in sight.
This final stage can also be challenging just like every other part of the process. We have to deal with punch list items that may or may not be our fault and, we may have to clean, wax and seal the floors. It may even be necessary to protect the floors prior to furniture installation.
There can be hiccups in all of these steps.
Now the project is complete so it’s time to bill the job. We may be dealing with a schedule of values, change orders that we are trying to get approved and so on. Not until we are paid in full, including retention, can we breathe a sigh of relief.
I worked on the carpet manufacturing side for 19 years and I’ve also run a commercial flooring dealership for 10 years, and in my mind, nothing is tougher than the contracting side of the business. There is so much to know and so many pitfalls to overcome, being a contractor is not for the faint of heart.
To sum up, installation work is generally performed in a hostile, unpredictable environment and therefore each dollar may generate an expected $1.25 or only $.75.
My hat goes off to all the great flooring contractors and the good people who work hard to make this challenging business successful.
Geoff Gordon joined Fuse Alliance in May 2013 as senior vice president of business development. Fuse Alliance is a member owned network of professional commercial flooring contractors located throughout the U.S. and Canada. The organization’s goal is to increase the flooring contractor’s value in the supply chain, and ensure these values are continually enhanced to support its customers and suppliers. The basic business principle is to provide Fuse member owners programs, services and additional income unavailable as a standalone independent company. To learn more about Fuse Alliance, visit fusealliance.com. To contact Gordon, call (949) 637-0231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.