Houston, We Have a Problem
Hello? Hello? This is earthbound-installers-and-retailers calling out-of–this-world manufacturing warranty departments. Is anybody listening? It's long past time for the industry to stop depicting floor covering materials as being as durable as concrete.
Wear-warranties for carpet, resilient and laminate products of 10 years, 20 years, or more, are not realistic. Everyone banks on the hope that the end user will move within five years, or will simply choose not to complain about a failed product. This theory has worked in the residential market to an extent, but the commercial market requires a different approach. The commercial market is composed of big players that expect full use from a purchase. Their memory lasts longer than the realistic 5- to 7-year-life of the floor covering.
It's fair to say that end users in both markets contribute to product failure through poor maintenance. This message must be delivered up front with the sale so the consumer understands that he or she plays the most important role in the life of the product after installation.
The industry needs to stop giving consumers the idea that no matter what happens to their floor covering, the all-mighty mill warranty will come to the rescue. Even the way some manufacturers handle incoming claims casts a shadow over their claims practices.
The consumers want their problem solved, and must deal with an endless list of folks parading through their establishment poking and prying at the problem. In the meantime, there is a dealer stuck on the hot seat. Installation is where blame is generally first placed, but if that doesn't stick, it opens up a game of "let's make a deal.”
The manufacturer often says it will supply new, unwarranted material for the replacement. But wait; since the consumer used the product for three years, the dealer can purchase the replacement goods for 70% off the list price. These "deals" also depend on the installer being a team player as well. The deal costs the manufacturer almost nothing, the dealer 30% of the list price, and the installer 100% of the cost to install the replacement material.
The response I hear most often? "No chance in (a very hot place) that will happen.”
Even when the replacement installation cost is included, the labor figures tendered are often from 1970s price lists. Unfortunately, some confrontations end with “take it or leave it” or “we can discuss this in court in three years.” To be considered a complete product, flooring must be installed. Any replacement under warranty should include installation costs at the dealer's current, documented rates for that region.
Why build up to a confrontation when it isn't necessary? Warranties help reinforce the sale, but flooring does wear out. It can be correctly claimed that carpet fibers do not deteriorate, they only distort. But in the consumer's eye, the "uglying out" represents wear.
Wood products always seem to be the barometer against which all flooring is gauged. It is a known fact that after a certain amount of wear, the wood will have to be refinished. Everyone knows it, and consumers expect it. When providing a warranty, be honest and provide rock solid, understandable warranties that are realistic up front. An example would be one year on base goods and no more than five years on top-line products. If maintenance is part of the issue, convey to the end users that they must be able to document the services of a professional cleaner or janitorial service when initiating a claim.
When replacement is required, don't skimp on labor. More than ever, manufacturers need the best installation skills available. Installers do not just install products; they are the front line of consumer relations.
When production defects occur and the product is shipped, it is clearly the manufacturer's responsibility. Neither the dealer nor the consumer opted to pay for first-line product and receive seconds. Take the time to inspect your own goods, and stop assigning inspection responsibilities to everybody else.
This industry does not need smoke and mirrors. The new flooring now available is an outstanding product, and consumers understand its value. It is time for a change, and the manufacturers need to take the lead.