Like most kids, I grew up with friends who wanted to grow up to be astronauts, firefighters, and scientists. But as I grew up, I only wanted to be a carpet layer and work with my dad and uncles!
I loved going on jobs with my dad and uncles on weekends and after school, any chance I got. I was only 8 or 10 years old! I started bugging my dad (at way too young an age!) to let me quit school, and go to work as a flooring contractor like him.
One day when I was 14 my dad had a particularly hard project. He showed up at my classroom and said “Randy, if you want to go to work with me, let’s go!” I got up, left my books on my desk and my stuff in my locker, I don’t remember saying a thing to my teacher, I just walked out .
The day I left that school was the day I ended my formal education (other than homeschool) and the day I began my floor-covering career here in the Seattle WA area.
Granted… things were a little different in the 1970’s, I’m not sure I could get away with doing that today, but it worked for me!
After apprenticing under my dad for four years, I started my own flooring installation business at the age of 18, and that’s what I did for over 35 years. I specialized in commercial flooring, performance, and safety, as well as technical installations here in Washington State.
I gotta tell you, I really loved my career for all those years. In spite of the challenges (both self-inflicted and not) it was a great way to make a good living. I found the work enjoyable, fulfilling, challenging and interesting and — when surrounded with the right people — a fun way to make a living.
I know I’ve made more than my share of mistakes! But I am proud of my contracting skills and knowledge.
So I thought I would take a little time to share some of the more valuable lessons I have learned along the way. Some points listed are big mistakes contractors make and I wish I could say I was smart enough to avoid them, but I gotta admit I learned most of them the HARD way… and just tried not to repeat them too often.
Here’s hoping I can save you the trouble…
1. DON’T BE “THAT GUY” WHO THINKS HE HAS NOTHING TO LEARN.
Take advantage of every training opportunity. Flooring and equipment manufacturers and distributors have a great deal of training opportunities, usually free of charge! It is in everyone’s best interest that you know as much as possible about specific characteristics of different products. Take advantage of these, the manufacturers want you to know the correct way to install their products and operate their flooring equipment correctly.
2. TECH-REPS ARE YOUR FRIENDS.
When I would get a project with a material I was not familiar with, the first thing I would do is contact the Tech-Rep for best installation methods. They will always have pointers for installing materials you’re not familiar with.
3. YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM EVERYONE.
I can’t tell you how many times I have watched another installer do something and said, “How did I go this many years and never thought of that!” Be alert, be teachable, and be humble enough to learn from your peers, whether they are wise veterans, or creative young guns.
4. DON’T TAKE SHORTCUTS!
Always take the time to do the job correctly. Don’t allow other contractors, end users — or even your own deadlines — to push you to take shortcuts! You are the one that will pay the price for shoddy work, either literally if you have to redo it, or as a hit to your reputation. Either way, it’s not worth it.
5. Never accept the phrase “I’ll sign off on that”
Contractors and clients can pressure you into completing a job incorrectly or against manufacturer’s installation requirements by signing a waiver releasing of you of liability. The pressure to complete projects on time can make this offer very tempting. But a Job Site Conditions and Release of Liability form WILL NOT PROTECT YOU if there is a lawsuit due to a product failure. Courts say YOU, as the specialty contractor, are responsible for knowing and following correct methods, and will likely find you liable. Bottom line, always insist on correct conditions for installs.
6. Be Dependable
Just about the only thing worse than doing shoddy work, is not being reliable! If you say that you or your crew will be there Saturday at 6:00am — that sucks — but be there at 6:00am. If you have a “punch list” don’t ignore it. Be there and take care of it. I have found that it is not the actual mistake that gets you in trouble, it’s how you handle it and fix it that counts.
7. PRESENT YOURSELF Well... and that includes YOUR CREW, TRUCKS AND EQUIPMENT
Always show up looking like the qualified professional installer that you are, deserving of your invoices and your 5-star Google reviews. No beat-up trucks, holes in you knees, or unkempt appearance. Those first impressions run deep, and you can either strengthen or compromise your customer’s faith in you, from the first time they lay eyes on you, especially if you’re working in their home. But it cuts both ways… no need to overdo it. For example, about 15 years ago I was building my own house. A roofer showed up to give me a quote, rumbling in with a big flashy Hummer. The first thing I thought was, “This guy charges too much.” Was it true? Who knows! Either way, you make an impression, so present yourself professionally, with reliable vehicles, decent equipment and personal pride in your appearance.
8. DON’T BADMOUTH THE COMPETITION.
Do good work and let your skills speak for themselves.
9. Finally, DON’T NEGLECT THE FAMILY.
Any business owner will tell you, it’s a hard thing to balance… We work so hard to provide for our families, put food on the table and a safe roof overhead, and yet it is so easy to forget – especially when work is good and you’re “rolling” – to save some time and energy for them at the end of the day. The little ones are only little for a while. Don’t miss it!
you know, there is a whole other set of challenges to contracting that i haven't discussed yet and that's the financial side to running your own business. Her is another area that you can really get into trouble fast if not careful. i will cover that in my next BLOG so look for that soon and if you have any comments on this BLOG? drop me a line.