Tough Customer…

I want to say that I love, love, love my contractors that I work with on a daily basis in kitchen and bath remodeling. They are an extension of my work and design so I choose them very carefully. The small handful I keep close to the vest know me well because I’ve made no bones about what I expect when I recommend them to my clients. I’ll let you in on a part of that laundry list:

  • They have to be able to hold conversations with my clients and make them feel comfortable. This includes communicating clearly, demonstrating that they know what they’re doing technically, listening to client concerns and either educating them and/or problem solving for them.
  • They have to do what they say they’re going to do – every… single… time. If they can’t follow through on a promise, they call ahead of time. If they’re going to be late, they call ahead of time. If there’s a major problem with anything, they call and tell the client what is going on and when it will be resolved.
  • They have to have exceptional technical skill, and if they are lacking in any area then they know exactly which subcontractor to contact so that we get it done right the first time. That’s huge with me.
  • They must have stellar business skills – they produce professional and accurate bids for work, they have formal contracts, they have an organized paper trail, they invoice on time, and don’t take the last payment until the job is done.

If you’ve ever hunted for a contractor, you probably know that there are few who fit this profile and it’s the rest of them out there that give contractors a bad name. But I’d like you to consider the challenges that even great contractors deal with, especially in this economy, by letting you in on some industry secrets. Ready?

Secret Industry Fact #1 – The prices for products, materials, and supplies have increased. Yes, increased. With business slowing for everyone, manufacturers have had to raise prices to keep their businesses going. Those at the end of the supply chain aren’t getting any better deals, despite what you might think. Have you seen the price of your gas or groceries drop anytime in recent history? If you received a huge salary cut while at the same time had your insurance premiums tripled, how would you feel if your boss asked you to work the weekend without extra pay?

Secret Industry Fact #2 – Suppliers aren’t stocking nearly as much product as they used to, and so contractors are spending inordinate amounts of time hunting down anyone who carries the product they need to buy in order to keep projects on schedule. And the tighter you’ve set your project deadline, the more work this causes. This increased amount of labor makes projects more expensive – period. Great example – I ordered a plain old shower arm from a major plumbing store in town over eight weeks ago. It’s not here yet and they can’t seem to tell me when/if I’ll ever see it. Kinda hard to take a shower with nothing to attach your shower head to, right? So I have to call regularly to see if they have any new news which takes away from other income-producing activities.

Secret Industry Fact #3 – Contractors who will significantly drop their prices to make you happy belong to one of two categories: 1) they’re not quality contractors to begin with (in my experience) or 2) if that’s how they conduct business (by undercutting all the other bids) then they will soon be out of business themselves or they’ll “change-order” you to death, thus actually increasing the cost of your project exponentially. This is the “$99 whole house carpet install” analogy which doesn’t include the pad and charges extra for stairs, pattern matching, carpet delivery, old carpet removal, moving any furniture, transitions at doorways, etc., etc., etc. And in the end, costs you $600 like every other installer in the city. If nothing else, you need to perform due diligence that you’re comparing apples-to-apples before making any decisions.

So if you’re in the market for hiring a contractor these days I’d have you consider these facts before making outrageous requests and trying to start bidding competitions. It’s one thing if you get two bids – one at $50 and the other at $5,000, but please don’t assume that everyone is so hungry that they’ll do anything to have your business. Believe it or not, if contractors can’t make any money to support the long-term viability of their business, then they’ll turn you away. HUGE SECRET: In fact, folks who try to pit contractors against one another and instigate bidding wars immediately get “red flagged” because chances are it’s only the tip of the client nightmare iceberg.

There’s no shortage of information out there about “Hiring A Good Contractor” and I recommend that you do your homework if you’re in the market. But just as there are good qualities to look for in a contractor, we have our own list of qualities we look for in a potential client. But I’ll save that list for another blog.

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