Contractor’s Corner: Tips to survive the busy summer season – July 2023

By Dave Stafford

Skyrocketing blood pressure and many a heart attack and fistfight erupt during the summer season’s tight schedules, last-minute orders and delivery demands. Add to this hot weather, insufficient HVAC, overworked crews and stressed-out project managers and you have the recipe for outright disaster-or some extra profit when you’re able to deliver. More than one commercial dealer has made their reputation for cooly performing miracles while earning exceptional profits during this season, when education projects push already tight schedules to their breaking point.

Obtaining, receiving and delivering products starts with expecting to see Murphy’s Law in full operation. Whatever can go wrong usually does. Plan for it and have contingencies built into your framework. What happens when your mill has a problem and cannot deliver on time? Where do you go for an alternate product?

One client, a small school system, designed its entire remodeling scheme around a color theme, and the carpet was an integral part. However, this solution-dyed nylon loop was based on a yarn color mix that was in short supply. The specified mill delivery was four weeks beyond the completion date. The designer agreed to a substitute product, but “only if the product was based on the same yarn bundle.” After scrambling, only one mill was willing and able to guarantee product, production time and delivery on the 6,000 yards of custom carpet needed. By using this mill and a dedicated truck for delivery, disaster was averted, and our reputation was maintained.

In another project, the wrong product was delivered. Unfortunately, the inspection upon delivery at our warehouse did not include a spot-checking of the actual product against the sample, and we did not discover the mislabeling until we were ready for install. There was no way to use the product-think brown instead of blue. Thankfully, the supplier accepted full responsibility, had product on hand and sent a truck with the right item, but we did lose several days and had to adjust an already tight schedule.

An important component of any purchase order to a supplier is the delivery date. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to get a large order, the mill’s actual production time can exceed their capabilities, and the promised ship date slips. Or you’re notified after the order is placed that you must apply for a credit line increase, and production will not begin until approved.

Some suppliers assume delivery date is based upon “loading it onto the truck.” This becomes critical to you when LTL shipments are involved. When told the shipment is on its way, the timing of delivery to your loading dock will depend on where the products are loaded on the truck. I once scheduled an installation team to start installation and looked the fool when the truck arrived at 5:00 p.m., could not be unloaded and inspected until the following morning, and a day and a half was lost. With a large shipment, sometimes the extra expense of a dedicated trailer is worth it. In order to avoid significant glitches, your purchasing agent or your mill rep needs to have a dialogue with the mill’s order, production and shipping departments. No amount of cajoling on my part produced results until my senior mill rep called in a favor.

It is not enough to have products delivered; most require some adjustment to site conditions. Therefore, factor in time for unloading, inspection at your warehouse and verification as to product quality, color and overall design before acceptance. Once done, re-delivery to the installation site must be accomplished by warehouse staff or the installation team. Where will products be staged in proximity to the actual installation area? Temperature makes a big difference; products will relax or contract.

Most products should be staged or stored in the immediate area or close to where installation will be done. Several miles away or in the lowest level of a building is not ideal, and temperature and humidity may be different. Carting to the site will burn up your installer’s time and ignite his ire. Carpet should be unrolled or cartons opened and exposed to the ambient air; that’s when acclimatization begins. This is also when theft often occurs. How will this be prevented? It is ideal when you have a client sign off on all product deliveries, specific to the number of cartons or rolls, and be responsible for their safekeeping. Locked areas are best; otherwise, missing cartons, rolls or ancillary items will have to be replaced at your expense. Even then, I once got nailed when several small rolls of carpet walked off the job.

We’ve had cove base falling off the wall, carpet shrinking and breaking seams or resilient products with developing visible seams where there were none. Improper staging and acclimatization or flawed installation accounted for the dilemma. I recall one case where Lou, known to be an adept installer, finished a job in record time. However, when the seasons changed, the client was screaming that “all the cove base has fallen off the walls!” This was over 1,000 linear feet, not just a piece or two. As far as we could determine, Lou had left the cove base in his truck during hot July weather, brought in boxes as needed, and used an inadequate amount of adhesive to adhere it to the wall. Result: When the product cooled from 100+ degree weather to normal inside temps and contracted, the shrinkage overpowered the lack of adhesive. All had to be replaced, along with Lou, who had also not used seam sealer, meaning many seams had to be reworked.

Expect problems and discuss solutions with your sales, purchasing, project management and installation personnel. All must work together to handle these issues, especially with critical projects. Involve your warehouse personnel, those who will be receiving or inspecting the deliveries. It’s not a bad idea to have follow-up meetings to be sure all is on track. Plan for delays, adjust potential installation schedules, inspect site conditions and update for the work of other trades. Maintain close contact with your client for any variance in his requirements; offer to accommodate his last-minute additions (at a price) to relieve some of his stress. Often, this communication can result in very profitable change orders.

Problem: The client’s HVAC went out during a critical phase of the carpet installation. “I don’t care,” he said. “You’ve got to have carpet on the floor because furniture is being delivered.” Once the client toured the area, with sweat pouring down his face, he understood. We agreed to delay the installation several days until the HVAC was repaired and added an additional crew to maintain the required schedule. The client was grateful and approved a change order for after-hours work.

Problem: An extra set of rooms was added to a contract with no additional time for completion. “Jim, there is take-up of existing flooring, repairs, and we don’t have time to get materials shipped into us and meet your schedule,” I told the client. “Can we work over the weekend and add another crew? What about product and color, are you flexible?”

“Yes, we’ll take another product as long as it’s blue,” he replied. We found a blue product and a crew willing to work extra hours, and got the job done. The client was ecstatic. Our response counted heavily in the subsequent award of an annual contract.

Problem: A large high-tech company occupied several floors of a building and “could not be inconvenienced during new flooring installation.” As they put it, “We have a budget for flooring but cannot shut down and move people or disrupt our workflow.” When we proposed after-hours work and how this could be accomplished with their floorplan, illustrating segment-by-segment progress, we got the job. Although we took a full markup on after-hours work and a bonus for the crew, there was no balking at the price. This became the model for other similar jobs for which we were recommended.

All projects are not created equal. Some are high profile, time sensitive or especially prone to glitches when a myriad of products is being used. A can-do attitude with a smile, even though you may be cringing inside at the extra work, will enhance your reputation.

Rather than guess what a change order should cost, establish a written guideline for each probable changes in conjunction with your installation manager. This does not mean it should be shown to the client. Once you have a base cost, then add a “10 and 10” as a minimum (10% for overhead and 10% for profit), or whatever you can charge. Some contracts try to specify the maximum charge of any change order, but this is open to interpretation. There is a fine line between what is fair and what is seen to be price gouging. Prepare to defend your logic and be confident. A client will remember your attempt to screw him on a change order while forgetting the excellent job you delivered. Above all, do not perform extra work or changes in work scope without having a signed order by one authorized to do so.

Review the change-order protocol with your sales team when starting any significant job; set out which member of the client’s team must approve and the method used: fax, email, and on your form or theirs. In case of multiple issues, perhaps schedule a weekly meeting with your client to discuss specific components. Work out any disagreements and get written approval. Memories are short; what seemed critical at the time may fade as time goes by and will become a matter for negotiation, to your detriment.

When there are product delays, how will you handle them? In case of an emergency, who is your go-to supplier with a history of exceptional performance, and where do you have a current credit line? In most cases, this will be one of the major mills or one where you already do significant business and are important enough to warrant special consideration. Sooner or later, you’ll need them to pull you out of a potential catastrophe. Treat them well, pay your bills on time and cultivate your relationship with the mill rep and credit manager.

In the July-August nightmare for installation, what happens when a crew decides to walk off the job? When that happened to me, I was saved by the quick action of our installation manager calling in a favor from a local competitor. He had met his counterpart at one of the installation training seminars, developed a professional friendship and stayed in touch. This paid off in a big way when we needed it. Later, we were able to return the favor. You may be competitors, but you can look out for each other when it counts.

Never bid a job based on the profit from change orders. Look at the job and review what you have to offer that makes you special. Do you have an advantage in project pricing or is this going to be a “jump-ball saga?” What is your history with this client; does this give you a slight edge? Are you able to live with his delivery schedule during the frantic summer activity? The best advice is to always price a job high to compensate for the aggravation and level of difficulty, rather than refusing to bid. “Don’t tell them no, tell them how much.” Good luck this summer!

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