Solving the Riddle of the General Contractor
What's up? That is the catch phrase of the current times, but the real question is, what's up with general contractors? Here is a market segment that could be the poster child for people with conflicting goals. They are ultimately the party responsible to the end-user for our work. General contractors play the same basic bid game that they put all their sub-contractors through. Misery loves company.
General contractors stand on the same principles we support for our trade: good workmanship, quality products, and a managed, professional project. So why is it that when we claim these principles, it is often dismissed as “all bidders are qualified and must deliver the same quality of service”? Talk about falsely pushing the point that the low bid is the best bid.
Too often, important specifications are completely left out of bid documents, but a lot of non-applicable information is thrown in for who-knows-what reason. Then, when you raise a question, the common reply is, "I'm not sure, just make sure you cover it in your proposal." This is not the general contractor's doing, but generally the work of an architect who doesn't fully understand the scope of work that needs to be specified.
While business practices change or alter with consumer demands, it is tough to accept it when those changes appear to be for the worse.
Collecting money is the lifeblood of all business, but even this has become difficult. Invoices submitted by the 20th of the month used to be paid on the first or 15th of the next month. This has changed to paid when paid or, even worse, paid if paid. Suddenly, sub-contractors have become financial partners, helping to fund the general contractor.
The term “fast track project” has been vastly overused. It is a way of expressing that a project is going to be an all-trades free-for-all. Of course, any time lost on the front end, for whatever reason (weather, design changes, slow product shipment), will never alter the completion date. It is up to us to make up for time lost.
Adequate lighting, climate control, level floors, and cured concrete have all fallen by the wayside. If we install the new floor covering on a marginal slab, we own it. Why do I have to be responsible for the concrete contractor's work? We should put the onus on them. Provide a correct slab, one that meets moisture and pH requirements as well. While we're at it, have them fill in the saw cuts they created. Didn't someone specify the correct concrete and procedures?
When problems do occur, the team concept flies right out the window (of course, this is the same window that was only a rough opening when the flooring was installed). The team concept is gone when you face the Teflon-coated general contractor, architect, end-user, and once in a while, the manufacturer's representative.
Let's see 40 other trades people stomp and tromp over the double-glue installation as soon as it is installed, or deal with the vinyl tile spread due to the extension ladders used as soon as the tile was set. The flooring manufacturers do a good job of establishing installation guidelines for their products. That is the installer’s recipe, but the end-user just won't buy it until it is cooked and on their plate with the space turned over to them. A lot can happen in between. It's great that the manufacturer’s expert sales staff is out there every day flashing jazzy products, but they need to take the next step and help sell a quality installation process. It's one thing to inform the installation community of the correct process, but they have to enable us by providing support.
As flooring contractors, we allow ourselves to become victimized by the system, yet it is a system that we simply cannot ignore. We can solve some of the problems if they are addressed up front.
Target the general contractors in your area that work on projects or clients that are desirable. Don't always take the shotgun approach when providing bids. Limit yourself to the favorites. This helps establish a loyal following of project managers. When your bid is accepted, go to the project meetings. This helps establish you with the other trades and begins the people-to-people contact that builds your credibility.
Yes, there are really good general contractors out there that want good sub-contractors. Take care of business and get your “what's up” ahead of theirs.