One of the first things I learned as a carpet installer is that I could not last forever on my knees. This trade can take a serious toll on your body. Most installers dream of someday becoming the “boss.” Taking that next step can be very rewarding, but is incredibly difficult to do. Many circumstances must fall into place to even get the opportunity to expand into a workroom. The industry is turning this way so the opportunities are out there.
What we need to understand is that there are fewer “Mom and Pop Shops” supplying the work. The industry is moving toward regional or national chain type stores or box stores. If you managed a corporation, would you want to deal with 50 to 100+ installers every day? Liability is too great for this. The corporation would have to track licensing (where it applies) and insurances, as well as training. Instead you would select several workrooms that you could hold responsible for taking care of this for you. These workrooms become a corporation’s buffer. It becomes the workroom that takes on all liability for anything that happens on a jobsite or on the way to a jobsite. Large corporations may have several different workrooms managing responsibilities for them and it makes fiscal sense for a corporation to do this. Also, corporations alleviate inventory issues by having their goods shipped to an outside source or workroom.
For me this “dream” became a reality. I have learned much about what to do and what not to do when establishing and operating an installation company. As the owner of a workroom, I learn much about what to do and what not to do on a daily basis. Our trade needs more and better workrooms. There are opportunities out there; you just have to know where to look. Of course, you must also be willing to put a lot of effort into making this happen.
If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to start up a workroom, there are a few things you must review. The first thing to ponder is “Why?” Why would you want to take on the responsibility for someone else? If you own a workroom, you are responsible for all the materials that you store, as well as all the work that is done by the installation teams that represent the business. If you decide to measure or sell a company’s products, you also have additional responsibility for this. I was somewhat fortunate; I recognized an opportunity and walked through the door.
However, operating a business such as this is nothing like I had expected. When I embarked on this journey, I thought I could correct all that was wrong with the flooring trade. Never again would I have to work a Saturday. There would be absolutely no work on evenings or Sundays for me. The Monday after the Super Bowl would be a holiday! I would be able to charge what I decided was best and take the occasional Tuesday off to catch a ballgame. Unfortunately, that did not leave much time to actually conduct a business. I found out right away that what I actually became, was a charismatic flooring installer with big ideas.
Basically, I work a minimum of 50 hours a week at the office and continue to install also. I did get one thing from my initial plan; I do not work Sundays. That day is for my family; I call it “Father Time.” I know a lot of fantastic flooring installers. Very few of us can work into our fifties. I have found out that if you can find one still working at that age; he is good, so keep him around.
There are many unique aspects to our trade. One of them is the pay. Most areas pay by the square foot or square yard installed. This pay scale is tailored to an installer who can physically install more flooring than the next guy. The bulk of your income is made from your mid twenties to your mid thirties. As you get older, you can no longer work as hard or as long as you could when you were younger. There are exceptions to the rule of course; but not many. Right now, my top crews have either worked with me when I was younger or they helped train me as a youngster. This is a way to stay involved with an industry that you know and love, while maintaining a pay scale that allows you to provide for your family as you grow older.
If you are considering this opportunity, make certain that you love your job. I have seen many people attempt and then fail to operate a business, mainly because they established them for the wrong reasons; the biggest being money. Everyone wants to make more money. From the time we are children through adulthood, we dream of being “rich.” Heck, even Donald Trump wants more money. However, if you are not doing something that you love, your heart will never be completely into it. Therefore, you will never do the job correctly. If you are just trying to make money, you will fail.
A service company, which is what a workroom is, has to be about the installation and not the cash. Of course, without finances you cannot keep your doors open and no job should be installed for free, even though it may be “sold” in this manner by another entity. Do not misunderstand me. As your responsibility and liability grows, so should your financial situation. Just do not lose sight of what a successful service company is all about: SERVICE!
Our trade lacks leaders. Some people would say society lacks leaders. So what makes us any different? Some guys need to be in charge. At times, I must admit, I have been accused of this. From the time I was 20, I was always in charge of my jobsites. A lot of guys are like this. Leadership is natural to some, while others have to learn how to become leaders. The older I get, the more I understand that I was the latter group. Personally, I have learned a lot about leadership and make certain that I continue to learn every day.
The second thing you need to ask yourself is, “Who would want me?” Every business must have clients. Without them, you would not have a purpose. Most people open this type of business to serve one particular client. They have a customer waiting for their services. Unfortunately, if you have only one customer, whether it is a chain store, a box store, or one large retailer, you limit your growth potential. Some people are comfortable with this and that is fine. There are different business models that suit different people.
You have to remember what your job becomes; it is not being the installer anymore. Now you are in charge of finding work for others. Initially, I had trouble making this transition. You need to be aware of your role in your business. If you are going to be in charge, you need to understand how to be in charge. Hiring other people to perform the daily duties to help you out can be very tricky. This is also a very important factor that leads to the success or failure of your company.
There are two ways of doing this. You can either hire people from inside the business that you know and trust, but this can be very dangerous. Not every installer “buddy” is fit for an office. By placing people who may lack the ability to truly help your business grow, you are doing both them and yourself a disservice. The second way is to interview and hire people that you do not know based on an advertisement in a local paper or from someone inside the industry who was highly recommended. You may be spending a little more this way, but inside assistance is important. It is also very important that you trust the people you hire, so whatever method of hiring you use, bear this in mind.
The most difficult part of the business is hiring the flooring installers. Every jobsite that you are entrusted with is an extension of yourself. Basically, you are asking somebody else to be “you.” This is tougher to do than you might think. The reason you are in this position is because somehow you have already made the decision to set yourself apart. Usually, you do this by expecting more from yourself than others do. Now, you have to find a way to draw out of others what you have been giving all along.
Most companies hire installation crews with which they are familiar. This can be very dangerous. When you find out that your “buddy” is not the installer you thought he was, what do you do? Short cuts are out there and installers take advantage of them every day. I have learned more deceptive installation practices since I started my business than I care to relate in this article. You have to remember that it is YOUR company name that is being destroyed by using incorrect installation habits; not theirs. When your client decides to use another workroom due to poor installations, the installers just go to work for the next guy, leaving you holding the responsibility to cover their poor jobsite decisions.
The obvious solution is to hire the best installers available. The problem is that the best installers are often not available. Just like you, if they are good at what they do, their current workplace wants to keep them. Your reputation with your colleagues is very important. If you have been an honest person in your previous situation, this is known to others. Of course, the bottom line is the work. If you have work; installers will find you.
Yet another trick is making certain that the crews are qualified. When I started, I made certain that anybody I hired would have to spend time on their knees with me. I thought this way I would be able to find out whether they knew what they were doing or not. As my business and reputation grew, I found that the best installers were seeking my company to work for rather than me seeking them. I also found that not all experienced installers appreciated an intruder on their jobsites. However, it is important to know how the flooring for which you are responsible is being installed. We all know that installer who can really “sell” himself, yet be “kicking” in the flooring.
I firmly believe in training. I strongly suggest any installer that represents my firm, participate in an installation training or certification program. As the mills change their manufacturing process, newer installation techniques are developed. CFI is a perfect fit for this. By hosting a training or certification, you discover exactly how willing the installers are to learn new techniques which may ultimately be required by the industry. Their installation skill set is readily apparent. When I use the services of an installer, this is understood from day one.
One of the most overlooked expenses in any business is insurance. An installation company is no different than any other business; you MUST have adequate insurance coverage. You must insure your warehouse and what its contents. This includes products as well as computers and equipment. Make certain that your insurance covers whatever situation may arise. You must remember that you are responsible for the material after it leaves your warehouse until it is inside the customer’s home or facility. This is why it is equally important to make certain that the installers who represent your firm also have the proper coverage. The responsibility for the material on their trucks becomes theirs. Why should your premiums rise because installers do not maintain their trucks, causing them to catch fire on the interstate or get stolen at the gas station on the way to the jobsite?
One of the first lessons I learned was to get it in writing. There needs to be an “agreement” signed by both you and the installers that designates the responsible party for all situations. This should cover everything from payday and pay amount to responsibilities and work ethic. The contractors or employees should understand both what to expect from you and your company. It is your responsibility to make clear what is expected from them. If your company policies are in writing and signed, there will be less discussion over them. Make certain that you provide the installers with a copy, but retain the original documents. Our company requires new agreements every year.
When starting a business, you must have sufficient money set aside for startup costs. This includes computers with software, a warehouse and a forklift. When selecting a place to store the received materials, location is the most important aspect, but price can be an issue. The perfect location always works out to be the most expensive location. You can save money by compromising location, but you must weigh security issues also. It doesn’t make sense to have a warehouse that is “emptied” before you have the opportunity to deliver.
The size of the warehouse is also important. If you select a smaller warehouse, this may require a cutting machine. Make sure you have enough room to store cushion, supplies and all types of flooring. A sound rack system is important for storage. Next, it is very important to determine how the flooring will be moved on and off the racks without putting yourself in traction. This means you need to purchase a forklift with a carpet boom. Under no circumstances can that forklift leak; whether it is oil or hydraulic fluid, it can never be on the warehouse floor. Once it gets on the floor, it can easily get into the customer’s flooring. This can happen by either walking through it or rolling carpet over it. Either way it is your fault. Just like your work truck, if your forklift falls into disrepair, it will cause more frustration than you ever expected.
The day of living in the past, using old methods, is over. Today, everyone has a computer for social networking, as well as media technology. This is essential if you plan on owning a business. Along with the required technology and computer costs, there are accounting program expenses. There are programs written specifically for flooring. They range in price as some are more expensive than others. Some perform different functions for you than others. I did a lot of research before I selected the one we use. It is important that the program works best for your business, so do not be afraid to do the necessary research.
Although starting your own installation company may not be as simple as you think, it can be very rewarding. As long as you stay organized and are willing to put in the time; it becomes a rewarding venture. Remember, our industry actually needs workrooms that are run correctly. Keep in mind that it will always be about the customer, so put service first, then the money. If this is followed, you will find that your financial needs come easier.
Also, do not forget that the last person the customer sees is the installer you placed on the jobsite. Make absolutely certain, that the installers represent your company properly, share your same goals of customer satisfaction and most of all; make certain they are happy to work for you. It makes all the difference in the world. Good luck and good hunting.