It is said that the floor covering installation business is a feast or famine type of proposition. When the salespeople are selling, you can count on those installations developing in two to eight weeks. There are cycles; such as new construction, holiday seasons and tax time that affect the availability of work.

Any given retailer of decent size has a pool, and variety, of sub-contractors to select from. Variety is a nice way to say that some have talent, while others are there to just push the overflow work along. In some operations the salesperson chooses the sub, while in others an installation manager doles out the projects. Either way, the approved list will have some type of code to it. Certain companies or personal names are highlighted on an alphabetical list or positioned in a pecking order.

Make no mistake that when work gets thin, the top crews work and others go home. I have heard the stories from the retailers. We try to spread it around between the crews so everybody gets something in the lean times. This is business and if you and I are competing sub-contractors, I am not really worried if you don’t work. There is no seniority in the sub-contract business, it is all about who has a track record of getting the job done with the least amount of hassle. No recalls and happy customers is the name of the game for the all of us. We have all sat outside the store loading dock sizing up the other guy. I get the bedroom job or maybe a kitchen while the other guy is loading up his third new house this week. That guy is an A-list crew. Don’t get mad at him. Do something about it and help yourself.

The goal is to provide the level of service that moves you to that A-list. It will require you to do some self-examination to assess what values you bring to the table for the Retailer? If you are rather new, you may be doing everything right and need only to keep at it to build a reliable history in time. Be careful though, the grace of being new is only the try-out stage and does not indicate you’re guaranteed to move upward or rise above average.

Retailers are looking for sub-contractors that are image conscious. This is an old story, but well worth repeating. That means a neat appearance by you and your crew. Cut off shirtsleeves, hole-filled jeans and such do not impress customers. The same with driving around in a beat up rusty clunker or maybe worst yet, pulling a boat trailer for hauling purposes. Having been on the inside, I can assure you that plenty of subs get passed over for good jobs based strictly on how they look. The issue had nothing to do with their skill level, which in some cases was better than the professional looking crew.

Good business habits are a must. Every sub wants to pick up their check on the designated day, typically Friday. Somehow we can always remember that Retailer rule, but often forget that all invoices must be turned in on Monday morning the week before. Often there may even be a store work order attached that needs some blanks penciled in, a customer signature or a C.O.D. check. You may even have to note some extra prep work or some special site condition you had to deal with. Be faithful to the paperwork details and deadlines. If you have changes in insurance, make sure you take those updates in promptly. Do not be a rebel when it comes to accounting procedures.

Be a good communicator with the store staff and the customer. There are a whole host of things this encompasses, including being polite. We all have information that needs to be shared. When you are in an occupied home, introduce yourself, act like you are a guest, let them know when you are stopping for lunch. Thank them for their business on the way out. Follow up with the salesperson and let them know if the customer said anything about possibly doing another room or expressed interest in maintenance procedures for the new floor. These types of things give a salesperson a good reason to contact the customer. With your good work and a sales pro dropping off a free bottle of cleaner, this customer will never purchase floors anywhere else.

The same follow up holds true if there is a problem on the job, additional labor costs, material shortages, or the dreaded defect. The salesperson is the one that needs to know first. No matter the situation, you build big respect when the salesperson knows that they can trust you to keep them informed. Don’t forget to be courteous to the dock guys either. They have a job to do just like you. Treat them with respect and make sure you always call in your material pick-ups ahead of time. Keep in mind that the one red flag that will send you to the bottom of the list, if not out the door, is anger. Never lose your cool in any work related situation.

You are expected to do a good job with the installations you are given. It is the part about being reliable that moves you upwards. Just as you are unhappy when your help shows up late, so are your customers. It starts the job off wrong in the customer’s eyes. You have a responsibility to get the work installed when it is scheduled. If your truck goes down, rent one. If your helper doesn’t show, grab a friend or use one of temporary day help places. Call another sub to see if they can help you out. Do anything but leave the retailer hanging.

Look for opportunities to be a team player. When that other sub bails out, be the one who steps in and saves the day. Avoid recalls, but if you get them, handle them quickly. Bend over backwards to accommodate the customer’s schedule to resolve the problem. Every so often a customer comes around that must have the work done on a weekend. I hate working on weekends, but when a salesperson would ask me, I would. Not because I wanted to, but I knew they would not ask if they didn’t consider it a favor. It was generally a real picky customer, who also required an installer with extra special communication skills.

If you are pulling work out of a retailer’s door twenty or more weeks a year, learn how to give back. If the wrong cushion gets sent out, or you have to travel back to the store to pick up product that was not there at the time of the load, don’t try to break the bank with extra charges. If you have a shortage and need another stop to install a stair or closet, be reasonable with the expense. Most of the time, these costs come out of the salesperson’s pocket, so don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Some jobs are better than others, but do not whine when you draw a couple of bad ones in a row. No salesperson gets too excited to sell floors to a two-bathroom customer, but it comes with the territory. It is fine to remind a salesperson once in awhile that you deserve a winner after you have handled a few of these losers. There is a big picture and the A-list crews see that.

To become an A-list subcontractor, you have to earn the right. Complaining or wishing does not get the job done. You need to position yourself with the desirable attributes that a retailer is looking for. Build the persona that reflects the quality of the work you perform. Next time you see one of those A-list crews, realize they are better compensated than the rest of the subs below them on the list and they stay busy in thick and thin.