It’s Simple but Not Easy…Relationships!

Posted: March 17, 2011 in Making Customers
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Panel Discussion at  ReSource Commercial Flooring Network Annual Conference

Developers, Contractors & Project Managers.

The discussions between the developer, contractor and owners agent/project manager contained excellent points of increased understanding and learning for all the involved parties. First of all, there is always an issue dujour that will dominate the discussion and is the focus of intense Q&A. The hot topic this year – moisture.

With the changing LEED requirements and their impact on both the installation process and traditional manufacturers’ warranties, it is frustrating for everybody trying to figure out the most effective way to deal with the guideline changes. As is often the case, a new regulation is put in place by well-meaning people who have absolutely no idea what changes their regulation mean to the field. Flooring contractors and installers are faced with a difficult situation. For them to install correctly they need a sealed building and a dry slab, which, depending on what protocol the contractor is following, can either mean a loss of warranty from the manufacturer or telling the contractor that more days are needed to ensure that the slab is dry enough. More time or more money. Neither of those are good options.

Firing up the HVAC to dry out a building can no longer be done as this violates the LEED certification process. To do it according to LEED standards would involve adding additional unbudgeted cost for the owner in filter changes and additional warranty costs for the units themselves. Since HVAC can no longer be used to weatherize buildings there are issues and questions that arise with regards to slab moisture levels and how best to mitigate them. In the past this has only been an issue with wood, but now all flooring will feel the effects of the new LEED regulations. There is a new protocol that will eventually emerge once the frustrations at the field level have made their way up the system to where policy and decision makers live. Until the discussion in San Francisco, the contractors thought they were being hit for unjustified change orders as they didn’t understand that the revised LEED procedures were significant for the flooring vendors. A positive and beneficial discussion and education process for all involved.

Once moisture was delved into and discussed, more of the day-to-day issues were on the table. All three panel members agreed that they never award bids based on low cost alone. The lowest qualified bidder is generally the winner, provided there is a relationship. ‘Lowest qualified’ was a wide open discussion that involved many aspects and angles, but the one word that was constantly repeated in all three sessions was ‘relationship.’ The contractor/builder/developer has to have trust in the sub-contractor/vendor. Will you do what you’ll say you’ll do? Can I call you on Sunday afternoon because there was a problem that arose Saturday? Do we have a good enough relationship to trust that we both have each other’s best interest in mind and at heart? This was the basis of everything. There has to be a relationship was heard over and over again. And that takes time. As a vendor, are you finding out who you are doing business with? Are you getting to know them? Without a relationship your bids are just numbers on a paper without any clue as to how you’ll perform. Take the time to get to know your contractors/architects and builders before the bidding process starts. It may take years, but once the relationship is established and you have the opportunity to prove yourself, you will be a preferred vendor by doing what you say, when you say for how much you say. Simple, but not easy.

Your first job will often be a test. Even with a relationship beginning to be established, the contractor wants to see if you can perform. A small success will lead to more work on larger jobs down the road.

Other issues that were raised dealt with floating bad news quickly. Provide the contractor with information they need to know as soon as you are aware of it, instead of what you want them to hear. If you have information that has an impact on the job on way or the other, the contractor wants to know as soon as possible.

Providing complete bid packages that may even go above and beyond by including any specific information you may have on a certain building or location. Generally speaking, contractors aren’t interested in a specific number for floor prep. Especially on a remodel. They understand that you can’t know until you tear out the existing floor to know what you are dealing with underneath it.

The contractors are also looking for feedback on their own processes and procedures. Are they allowing enough time to bid properly? Is the electronic blueprint retrieval system working as well as it could?

While the flooring contractor would like a place at the table of weekly job-site meetings, the contractors and developers want as few people there as possible. So the flooring contractors usually need to work through the onsite superintendent/project manager for communication.

It’s difficult to overcommunicate. The more you communicate helpful information, the more you will be respected. Remember, the contractor or developer doesn’t know as much about flooring as you do. They are hiring you not for your product, but for your expertise.

As far as bids go, the panelists agreed that they have never seen flooring make or break an overall budget, but it may make or break the relationship.

You don’t want every job.

Some of the best, most long lasting relationships have developed by solving a problem together.

Expect product to be reselected and hard/soft surface cut lines to be redone. In fact, contractors would like you to let them know when what is spec’d is something that won’t work long term.

It was generally assumed that architectural firms have lost expertise in the area of scopes and specs. There are young architects just out of school doing scopes and specs who lack the necessary experience to be complete and detailed. And the older, more experienced architects are spread too thin to be as thorough as they should be.

By Kirk Chittick

Making Customers, Inc.

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