Blaming the Contractor: The Often Lonely Role of the Floor Coatings Installer
by Peter Collins - Sales Representative for Texas
More often than not, installation contractors are the unsung heroes of the floor coatings industry. Without them, manufacturers and distributors would drown in inventory, the floor coating needs of businesses owners would go mostly unmet and the industry as a whole would come to a screeching halt. This is why floor coating installation crews and installation contracting companies are the industry’s lynchpins, the boots on the ground. In the industrial and commercial worlds of protective floor coatings, they’re the special forces that get in, get the job done and get out. In the residential world of decorative concrete, they’re the skilled craftsmen and women who beautify and enhance living spaces.
So why is it that contractors often find themselves on the wrong end of the blame game (either during an installation or after its completion), and how can the playing field be leveled? While thinking about writing this blog, I Googled the following topic: how to protect yourself as a flooring contractor. The first page of results mostly had to do with insurance for contractors but the most telling results were at the bottom of the page where there was a list of the top related Google searches. The list reveals why contracting as a whole has such a negative reputation:
- What to do when a contractor does poor work
- How to get a contractor to finish a job
- How to sue a contractor for shoddy work
- Bad contractor list
- What can I do if a contractor ripped me off
- Bad contractors website
- Criminal charges against contractor
- Contractor scammed me
As the above list suggests, part of the answer to the first question is to do the job right. But in the floor coatings industry that’s not always as simple as it sounds, and it’s complicated by the fact that, once two-part coating products are mixed and cured, there’s basically no changing them. This means that if the owner isn’t satisfied with some aspect of the coating’s aesthetics (like color, texture or finish), or if the installed coating is somehow compromised (as in the cases of insufficient adhesion or high levels of moisture), it’s difficult, if not impossible, to change or fix.
On paper, the floor coating contractor’s role is pretty straightforward: install the right products, the right way, on schedule and at the agreed upon price. But what happens when unforeseen problems arise with a flooring project, large or small? The installation contractor is usually the one who gets blamed even if the problems are outside of the contractor’s direct control and when blamed, its normal to feel abandoned, alone and surrounded; think Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the last scene of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
Blame, in the floor coatings world, largely comes down to two important ingredients, without which most problems would either be significantly reduced or they’d disappear altogether: money and misunderstandings. So much of our lives are spent pursuing income and managing the conflicts that stem from misunderstandings (arguments, disagreements, differences of opinion & other disputes). As an example, and all other things being equal, what would life look like if you always had enough money to take care of your needs and all misunderstandings in your life were eliminated, without creating any negative consequences? It’s also probably true that, if money equals power, many of the conflicts that arise in a contractor’s business life will stem from financial issues and the more people who are involved, the greater the potential is for increased misunderstand conflicts.
In the residential decorative concrete industry, the number of people involved with a project can be relatively low. They typically come down to the owner/s, the installer/s and sometimes a design professional, with the product manufacturer and often a distributor in the background. On large commercial or industrial projects, the number of participants is usually more. On these types of projects, the owner’s organization alone can include a number of different individuals and then there are design professionals, project and oversight managers the installation companies and the product manufacturers, both of which frequently have multiple layers to their organizations.
Given these layers, we suggest the following practices to help prevent an elaborate blame game if a complication or failure does arise:
- Use Only Reliable Materials: We live in a competitive world and, as the saying goes, we usually get what we pay for. If the idea is to do the job right, then that means using materials that will perform as advertised and according to their technical guidelines and information. Using inferior materials, cutting corners, installing anything less than what was promised, not knowing the installation and performance parameters of the materials etc., can all lend themselves to a lower a bid or estimate price but the net performance result will usually be compromised to the owner’s and the industry’s detriment. When selling your company’s services or purchasing materials, use the apples-to-apples rule. If your bid turns out to be significantly higher or lower than competitive bids, then there’s a good chance that others are either giving less or you might be missing something.
- Adopt a Set of Best Practices: It’s sometimes overlooked that, in strict terms, the floor coating contractor is both a manufacturer and an installer all in one, installing a material that’s finished (mixed and blended) on site and then applied. As a finished product supplier, it’s the contractor’s responsibility to ensure that the coating performs as intended and meets quality expectations. To do that, the installer must have procedures in place, just like any other manufacturer, which will be consistently followed and they should include every critical step for a project’s successful completion. The most effective way to start is to develop an internal best practices manual, no matter how simple at first, and to document (commit to writing) both the procedures themselves and the steps that are followed on each individual project for any necessary future reference.
- Seek Advice & Support from Others: Don’t go it alone. Industry experts and fellow installation professionals can be two sources of help when needed. Experts can usually be found either at or through the contractor’s material suppliers, often at little to no cost as part of the technical support they offer to customers. Industry associations and professional organizations are two other excellent sources expert advice that can be relied on for information and feedback. Joining a reputable trade organization and actively taking advantage of what they have to offer not only lends credibility to a contractor’s qualifications but can be an invaluable asset when independent support is needed.
- Ongoing Education & Training: Every profession encourages continuing education and some go as far as to require it to maintain professional credentials. But too often in our industry, tunnel vision and nearsightedness take over as a result of day-to-day pressures, deadlines and responsibilities. Tools, equipment, labor, financial services, coating products and others are all essential to do business as a floor coatings contractor. But the most important raw material of all, in any walk of life, is time and as demands are placed on a contractor’s time, on going education all too often takes a back seat to other louder, squeaking wheels. Technical advances, regulatory changes, industry trends and other developments come to the attention of installation contractors on a regular basis. The difference between floor coatings contractors who approach their business with a professional mindset and others is the commitment to the importance of continually working to improve the perfection, understanding and execution of their craft. Central to that commitment is dedicating a certain amount of time each year to formal, ongoing education.
As a general rule, blame only works when the the party doing the blaming has a plausible argument and position and the only way to make sure that that can’t happen is to be proactive. Actively taking the above points into consideration will go a long way to reducing, shifting or eliminating the coatings contractor as scapegoat or sole bearer of any responsibilities associated with a flooring project and will help create a more balanced supplier/customer relationship.