How do you stay ahead of the pack when it comes to the service industry? Focus on service and stay connected to your manufacturer representatives.

Here’s why: A product is only as good as its installation and vice versa. It’s extremely important to make sure the product and installation are compatible with the intended application.

In my experience, there are many situations where the specification requires tweaking so the project goes off without a hitch. Being as proactive as possible, effective communication and a solution-driven approach is key to managing a project and maintaining the client’s schedule.

As a Fuse Alliance member, we pride ourselves on being a knowledgeable, solution-driven flooring contractor partner to the product manufacturers we work with and the architecture and design community. We are committed to making every project successful, which means staying focused on service and being a knowledgeable flooring resource are essential to success.

There can be a multitude of situations that can delay a project, incur additional costs that were not budgeted for, or not meet the intended aesthetic or design.

Tight schedules can be a factor when it comes to running a successful project. When there are tight schedules, it is almost impossible to keep other project trades off the floor before the mortar has fully set. As a best practice, if we know the schedule will be tight, RHI will encourage clients to include rapid setting mortar in the specifications. Rapid set has a 3-hour dry time and acts as an inexpensive insurance to protect our quality of installation and our customers’ investments.

What’s more, we have found that regular tile mortar does not dry well between porcelain tile and crack isolation or waterproofing membranes because the moisture cannot evaporate. Using a product such as rapid set, which does not require evaporation to cure, helps to avoid damaged and broken tile from traffic before it is totally cured.

Issues such as reducing the grout size for a tile can cause a project to be short of tile materials. As an effective project partner, it is important for us to work with the specification up front in order to avoid delays or additional costs later. For instance, on one of our projects, 3/8-inch grout size was changed to 1/8-inch on an 85,000-square-foot project.

Reducing grout size seems insignificant in the planning process. However, in a case such as this, the project would be short 5,000 square feet of material. Working with the architect early on meant we could illustrate the sum of this impact. A keen understanding of the details and communicating the implications and solutions can make a huge difference in the end.

Communication isn’t the only way to stay connected to our clients, architects and designers. Developing a relationship—a true partnership—is what will set you apart.

As a contractor, if you notice something early on in the specification process where a small change can make a huge improvement, then reaching out to your manufacturer’s representative can change the course of a project—from being difficult to running efficiently. Work out a solution together, and then have your manufacturer’s rep present the change—or preventative solution—to the specifier.

For example, RHI was installing moisture sensitive agglomerate tiles for a large department store. After close examination of the tile product and mortar combination, we suggested a specification change to the mortar—one that doesn’t use water or doesn’t need evaporation to cure.

However, at another location for the same client—with the same specification and a different contractor—this wasn’t the case. Because the products specified weren’t truly compatible, moisture in the regular mortar caused the moisture sensitive agglomerate tiles to ‘curl.’ In the end, 50,000 square feet of tiles were replaced. Catching a detail such as this early on could make or break a project’s overall success.

Training is key in order to support a focused customer service strategy. Staying focused on the details and training investment means that our team can stay on top of the newest products, latest technology and other tools of the trade that make or break customer service.

When business slows down during the months of December and January, we have our vendors conduct classes and training seminars for our employees at our warehouse. We brush up on the latest and greatest products; we take a new look at existing product details in case we might have previously overlooked them.

In addition, we remain focused on sustainability and have a clear understanding of the impact it has in our business market. Recently, we were asked by a mall owner to replace 130,000 square feet of marble. Instead of replacing it, we offered the option of grinding, re-polishing and re-grouting all of the existing marble.

First, we completed a mock up. The decision was simple. The client loved it and RHI saved them millions of dollars, avoided a tremendous disruption for the mall’s retail tenants and, best of all, kept 900,000 pounds of debris from going into the landfill. This is another avenue to successful customer service.

We believe staying focused on service and having a strong connection to our product partners and clients equates to success. It is how we can differentiate ourselves in a competitive marketplace. We find the best product and service that meets our customers’ needs and give them a little more than they paid for. One of my favorite quotes is from author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll will get what you want.”

Dale Stevens is president and founder of Maryland-based RHI. He has spent his career focused on building a business that meets rigorous requirements for insurance, worker’s compensation and licensing, and is dedicated to cultivating a team of qualified craftsmen. A member of Fuse Alliance RHI is a flooring contractor specializing in all the major flooring categories as well as marble and granite, and also concrete toppings, staining and polishing. With over 25 years of expertise, RHI has worked on a variety of commercial projects including department stores, restaurants, healthcare facilities, religious institutions, and public buildings. For more information, call (410) 540-9494 or