Contractor’s Corner: Challenges of a hospitality project - November 2022

By Dave Stafford

If you are considering a hospitality project or an opportunity for bidding on one, there are significant differences and unusual perils awaiting you. These projects are not for the faint of heart and require superb project management skills to avoid damage to your reputation and lost profit. The good news is that if you have your act together, these can be profitable jobs.

Hospitality projects are different because they usually involve an experienced interior designer or architect who specializes in this area, intricate patterns in flooring where companion finishes are integral to the design, and locations only available for delivery and installation with tight timelines. There is rarely an opportunity to change the spec or request an “or equal,” due to the impact on related finishes. Exceptions might be supply availability or a product that is discontinued. Should you have questions about the viability of a project, read and reread the scope of work, especially as it relates to the time for completion. Many will have a liquidated-damages provision for completion. Do a quick investigation to make sure you can buy the product, what the conditions of purchase are, and that the delivery time is compatible with the completion schedule.

I was a bidder on a project involving a “no substitution spec” where the quoted delivery was 12 weeks, and the delivery and installation window was only six weeks. Had I not checked the details, I would have had little defense on the liquidated-damages provision. In this case, the architect was operating with old information, a four-week delivery time. After verifying this and screaming a lot, he changed the spec to a more delivery-friendly product.

Who will supply the main products-you or the owner? An opportunity may look great until you find out the owner will supply all the products and just wants you to install them. Red lights should be flashing when you hear, “We’ll supply all the products and have them on location for you.”

In some cases, it is a blessing when the owner supplies high-end custom hospitality products. You are relieved of the ordering process, paying for the goods and fronting the money or using up your credit line. The astute owner may be quite willing for you to receive, inspect, store and redeliver the products as needed, and pay for it. In this scenario, you should provide a menu of services in addition to that of site prep and installation. Each project is different, so be detailed with the services you offer. The scope of work is supposed to let you know what the owner wants to include-how does this match up with what your site inspection tells you will be needed? Don’t overlook ancillary items that will not be owner-supplied: wall base, reducers, adhesives, padding, floor patch, primers or consumable accessory items.

Be forewarned, if a smaller mill is supplying custom designs, the mill may require large, nonrefundable deposits. Should there be a quality issue, most will have limited tech support or rely on outsourcing of inspections. I have been the victim of delays in the resolution of clear defects in manufacturing. This is especially alarming when there is a liquidated-damages provision and you paid a deposit up front.

In their quest to save money, the architect/general contractor may be overlooking acclimatization requirements, transport and delivery to the actual area, or individual site preparation. I vividly remember finding out on one job that the product to be installed was going to be stored in the back of an unheated space. I was informed that I was responsible for digging out the flooring and manhandling it to each installation area as needed. This was uncovered only after a pre-installation walkthrough. Fortunately, the product manufacturer was quite succinct in its specs insofar as site conditioning, and this nightmare was avoided.

You’ll have the most control of your destiny if you furnish and install the product. This way, you are able to stage the delivery to your warehouse and inspect for flaws or damage before, not after, delivery to site.

With carpet, especially those with intricate hospitality patterns like Axminsters, Wiltons and printed or tufted designs, side-match and pattern runoff can denote a manufacturing defect. The general rule is to “inspect before you cut.” After the product is pre-cut into rolls and sequenced for installation, it may be too late. Site frustration may be eliminated when pattern run-off, color oddities or obvious flaws are spotted when the rolls are run for inspection at your warehouse. Charge for this service on your menu.

When such issues occur, take the time to have the mill rep inspect in your warehouse and determine if it can be corrected in the field by your installers and what the mill might be willing to pay to accomplish this and avoid a return. On one project, a severe pattern run-off was deemed a mill defect. The pattern side-match was corrected onsite by an experienced master installer amid much stay-nailing, power-stretching and profound curses, while he instructed our team on exactly what to do. Extra money was paid by the mill to avoid a product return and replacement.

Expert project management and oversight are the norm for hospitality jobs. Most are replacement or retrofit of existing space. A constant is that all spaces are booked for events, perhaps months in advance, or are in public areas where tight time constraints exist for access. For every day the area is “out of service,” there is a real cost to the owner. “You can have this area until Thursday, but I have a party scheduled and setup begins at 5:00 p.m.” Or, “We have the club’s signature event on July 4 and have to use these areas. You’ve got to be done and out by July 2, regardless.”

Some projects, because of age, previous products or substrate deterioration, require noisy equipment with dust, odors and the like to accomplish site prep. Shot-blasting, mechanical floor-debris removal and floor resurfacing are examples. Imagine trying to prep Ballroom A while there is an event going on in Ballroom B or C. In spite of air-movers, a strong adhesive odor can put a damper on the use of adjacent areas. The solution may be starting work at 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and continuing until the early morning hours. On a large job, this will require a sleep adjustment schedule and may result in cranky installation personnel. It also means they cannot be scheduled for other jobs without sufficient rest. This must be priced into your bid.

Many contentious conversations can be avoided if you and the client can agree on reasonable expectations. “Harry, this is a manmade product, and there will always be minor flaws. Most can be fixed by expert installation, so be patient with us and realistic in your inspection, okay?” This reminder from an experienced project manager will often shortcut nitpicking about unusual patterns or designs. As one client said with a crestfallen look on his face, “I know, I know, I have to remember this is not the living room of my house; different standards.”

If you walk into an area and immediately notice pattern changes, unusual waves or some other issue, it’s probably a flaw. If you have to get on your hands and knees to notice a seam or slight mismatch, it’s probably not. Fortunately, most hospitality designs make a dramatic statement through patterns, a mix of colors or product selection. This helps hide minor flaws in the product, substrate or installation that would otherwise be noticeable. Some are by design to hide spills or soiling and increase appearance retention. One reason patterned carpet tile is so popular is because you may not even know it is a modular product; this selection requires less expertise to install once an area is prepped.

Inspection and correction are best done while work is ongoing in an area, since it may be a real challenge to return. The field supervisor should spot flaws and have them corrected before the end of the workday or first thing the following morning. The project manager and the facility manager should then inspect and sign-off should take place. Take plenty of pictures and document completion of each area.

Whenever possible, an integral part of the scope of work should allow for partial sign-off by area, rather than an inspection and sign-off after the entire job is done. This will prevent repeated inspections of the same area after the owner has put areas back into use. This also avoids needless return trips at odd hours to correct deficiencies.

As with all jobs, site surprises can lurk when there is not an open, empty, clean floor area. Since time constraints for performance typically exist, there should be an agreed-upon method to deal with change orders for extra work.

The scope of work should be clear on what is “minor” and what would require a change order. Who can approve a change order? Many of us have been burned by “I’ll take care of you on this…” but nothing was signed. Or you have been late in delivering that meeting area or lobby that cost the client, for which he wants an offset on the price. As one industry legend is fond of saying, “Don’t spend a dime until it’s signed.”

Hospitality jobs can be your worst nightmare or a magnificent testament to your company’s prowess. It starts with understanding your limitations and the client’s expectations. If either is flawed, disaster is sure to follow.

Copyright 2022 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:The International Surface Event (TISE)