I grew up working for my dad’s wood flooring business by the age of 8, had my own company from the time I was 19 until I was 30, went to work for a manufacturer after that and have been doing that ever since, teaching at a lot of NWFA schools and manufacturer schools in the process. Over those years I’ve seen a lot of mistakes wood flooring contractors make (and, yes, in my contracting days I made plenty of them myself). Here is my top 10 list of the most common mistakes I still see all the time:
1) Embarrassing Estimates
Your appearance is your first impression, and you’re going to make a bad one if you show up like you’ve been staining a floor for 18 days straight. Most contractors are one- or two-man bands, so a lot of times you are going straight from working on a job to doing an estimate. That’s fine, but put on a clean pair of pants and a clean shirt so you look presentable—like the type of guy people would feel comfortable having in their house. And, don’t smoke a carton of Pall Malls before you meet them.
2) Rushed Estimates
Most guys don’t allow enough time for an estimate; they just come in with a tape measure and say, “OK, you’ve got 250 feet; here’s your price.” Generally an hour is more than enough time to give an estimate in which you go over everything the job covers, like possible subfloor issues and moisture issues, and give a thorough explanation to the customer of what’s going to happen on their job and what they can expect from every step. Which way is the flooring going to run? What is the timeline? What is the schedule for the deposit and the payments after that? If it’s a resand, would they like a border or medallion installed or flush-mount vents? Especially in these times, you need to make the most you can out of every profit opportunity. I think that when I was contracting, 90 percent of the time I got the job because of my explanation during the estimate of what was going to happen.
3) Not Thinking about the Future
During the estimate, I also discussed realistic expectations for the floor and how often it will be recoated. What is the typical wear in the house? I once had a client complain about the finish not lasting in their house. When I got there one of their kids was riding a Big Wheel in the house, so I explained that the floor would probably have to be recoated every four months. Do they have a 130-pound dog? Sometimes a finish like wax or oil might be the best fit for that home.
It’s tempting to tell customers what they want to hear, like, “We can have this done in three days.” But what if something goes wrong? Always build in a time cushion in case things don’t go as planned. If it’s something you haven’t done in a while, add extra time to how long you think it will take. I had a job once where I had to take out ceramic tile. I hadn’t had to do that for 15 years and planned on it taking a day and a half … but it took twice that long. Don’t forget to leave an escape clause in your estimate in case you come across unforeseen conditions. On another job we thought we would have to demo a 1-inch concrete subfloor under slate to install our plywood subfloor. We ended up having to jackhammer out 4 inches of concrete and build up the subfloor those 4 inches. As the contractor, you shouldn’t have to eat that cost. One more thing: Never, ever say your wood floor will look like a piece of furniture.
5) Trying a New Product on a Big Job
This is a common downfall: You’ve never used that new finish, and the first time you try it is on a 2,000-square-foot job—never a 150-foot job, a practice floor or your friend’s floor. Also, you have a certain confidence when you’re using a tried and true product; with a new product you don’t look as capable. Of course, that is going to be when you find the customer watching you work. When you’re unsure of something, do not use it on a big job that will cause you some pain.
6) Not Knowing the True Cost of a Job
Many guys just charge what the going rate is in the market where they are selling, but if they don’t sit down and figure out their costs, they could be losing money on 90 percent of their jobs. And each job is different. On a factory-finish job, are you factoring in that you’ll be needing more saw blades because the blades dull down faster? Did you plan for 5 percent cutting allowance and figure that up to 5 percent of the product is allowed to be off-grade? Have you figured out how long it takes your average guy to install? How long will it take to drive to that job? Are you counting things as simple as trash bags? It can be the little things that kill us. What about counting your overhead like liability insurance and workers comp? Your vehicles? When it’s all said and done, most contractors would be surprised to realize what their true costs are for a job.
7) Thinking It’s Your Money
The reality is that a lot of wood flooring business owners feel every dollar that comes in is their money. But it isn’t until they’ve paid their suppliers, taxes, employees, and other expenses that it’s really their money. You can’t get paid, go buy a $60,000 truck and not pay your distributor. It takes a disciplined person to make sure all the expenses are paid out of his business. A lot of times it’s not a bad idea to hire an accountant to make sure all your financials are on the straight and narrow. Also, remember that Uncle Sam will come and find you if you don’t pay your quarterly taxes.
8) Not Maintaining Your Distributor Relationship
On a related topic, when you drag out paying your distributor, you put their business in jeopardy, and yours, too. Why? If you aren’t paying your bills, they can’t afford to turn inventory. Then when you need that gallon of finish or that paper, guess what? They aren’t going to have it. (See the article “Develop a Partnership with Your Distributor in Hard Times” from the April/May 2009 issue.)
9) Putting Your Head in the Sand When Problems Arise
As soon as you get a call from a customer with a problem, call them back. Say somebody calls and has a finish issue and you don’t call back for two weeks. Something you might have been able to deal with by doing a simple screen and recoat could now be a nightmare because you waited to call. When you don’t get back to people, they feel like you don’t care. When you do call, don’t make excuses or make up stories; you never have to worry about what you say when you tell the truth.
10) Not Listening to Your Gut
If you have a bad feeling about a job or a customer, trust your instincts. If you don’t, you’ll probably regret it.
Reprinted from NWFA
Wisteria Lane Flooring is a professional wood flooring manufacturer, reseller and installer. We provide quality, honest and reliable service to customers in California, Hawaii and around the world. We are also a proud member of the National Word Flooring Association. Please read what some of our current customers have to say about their experience with Wisteria Lane Flooring.