I have been installing and selling floors since the age of eight. In fact, I know few people who have been in the business longer who are still alive, except for maybe my father. He’s eighty-six and still goes to his store every day. Proudly, even though it is difficult for me to pick myself off the floor, I still like to tell people that for much of my life, I installed flooring as a flooring installation contractor. Today, I mostly teach, write and consult others on how to succeed in our industry. I hope you don’t mind if I share some of my thoughts.
Selling and installing flooring is a complex business. It’s not easy being a good flooring contractor. It requires skill, paying attention to detail and expertise. In addition, since we are dealing with people, and sometimes very difficult people, it requires top-notch people skills. All those requirements and complexity can make installing a very stressful occupation. As a client’s wife said, “He’s so stressed out; I think he’s going to die!” She also added, “And if he doesn’t die, I think I’ll kill him myself.”
The older I get and the more experience I acquire in the flooring industry, the more I realize that much of my stress is self-inflicted. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Even so, installing flooring is not easy because there are so many unforeseen variables, i.e., people, substrates, moisture, product complexities, etc. To be a successful floor installation contractor requires expertise, professionalism and good people skills.
My message to you is that many of the problems we face as installation contractors doing jobs can be solved by simply changing how we think about our work. It’s called a “paradigm shift,” or changing how you think about something. You are not just another flooring installer; what you really are is a businessman whose business is to install floors. In other words, you are not just doing business, i.e., installing floors, you are building a business. “Every day at IBM was devoted to business development. We didn’t do business at IBM, we built one” (Thomas Watson). Building an installation business requires different tactics and strategies than just installing floors. What my suggestion to you is to think like a businessman, instead of an installer. Changing the way you think about your work can change your life.
In order to have a successful installation business, you need to focus on three important strategies. 1) You need to be customer intimate, 2) You need to separate yourself from your competition, and 3) you need operate your business excellently (efficiently). Unfortunately, you can’t be good at just one or two of the strategies; you have to be outstanding at all three.
Customer intimacy gets to the core of a purpose of a business. The purpose of a business is to create a customer. Without customers, there is no business. Being that is the case, the only ways to grow a business are to acquire new customers, get current customers to buy more and to get current customers to buy more frequently.
The mindset that customer intimacy engenders is that if I am building this business, I have to understand the needs and expectations of my customer (both the retailer and the flooring customer) and deliver such outstanding service that they will come back again and again. Businessmen think of customers as long term relationships, customers for life. The most professional installers are requested by customers over and over again. Have you ever been requested over and over again?
I have found that being requested over and over from a long term customer relationship is not only about being a good mechanic. It’s about the relationship itself that you’ve built with that customer. It’s like a doctor’s bedside manner. It’s getting the customer to like you and trust you. Most of the long-standing relationships I know are built on mutual trust. I know many mechanics that sabotage themselves because of the indifference they show to the person whose home they are working in. It’s funny, but the more the customer likes you, the less they complain.
Second, the strategy about separating yourself and your service from the competition is about differentiation. Differentiation is a master selling skill, as well as an opportunity for you to make more money. We all need to make more money. Why would I pay you more, if there was someone who would do it the same for less? The way to make more money is to do it better, do it differently and make it a memorable experience. We need to make ourselves so valuable to our customers (retailers or their customers) that they would buy from us no matter the price.
Differentiation requires that you do excellent work, you build a relationship with the customer whose house or job you are doing and you do something that is different, surprises them or something that is customer intimate. It’s impossible to separate yourself from your competitors unless you stand out. You must figure out how to stand out! Why are you different than everyone else?
If I were building an installation business, I would build a book of testimonials. Good salespeople do this. I would ask customers for recommendations, referrals and testimonials. I would build my resume by getting certified. I don’t believe certification is enough. I would join Installerpool.com; so that I could be rated on every job (It’s free to installers). My ratings would help me standout and separate myself from the also-rans. A higher rating would allow me to get more jobs and charge higher prices.
Finally, in order to be operationally excellent, I would want to become more organized. Many of your organizational problems are caused by retailers, who are poorly organized. You arrive early to pick up your job, but the material is not laid out, or the paper work is not ready, or you arrive at the job and the work order leaves more questions than it does answers. As a subcontractor, you have the right to expect clear instructions about your job as well as directions to the customer’s house.
You should receive a work order that details all work required, materials needed; directions to the job and what you will get paid. The retailer should have an installation agreement with the customer on who is to do what on the day of installation. Your retailer needs a good installation management system. (I would happy to send you or any retailers or companies that you work for the basics of a good system. Email me at email@example.com.)
Managing your schedule should not be done by memory. If I were a subcontractor, I would manage my schedule on line using Installerpool.com. I would require those for whom I worked to use it to schedule my jobs. After all, it’s free to installers and it will make me more organized.
So here’s my recommendation for your new mindset: Instead of doing installation jobs, build a business, an installation business. Focus on your customers (customer intimacy), separate your services from other installers (so you can charge higher prices), and become operational excellent (so you can make more money and have more of a life). After all, you are first a businessman, and second an installer. Start thinking like one.