When breaking into K-12 school projects:

 

 

Any contractor or installer looking to get into the K-12 schools segment needs to understand a few things first. The segment is extremely competitive, and since it’s all bid work, there’s not a lot of room to negotiate. Money can be made if you go about it in the right way, but it’s not going to be easy. We spoke with Monte Ray, president of Spectra Contract Flooring’s Salt Lake City branch to find out the ins and outs of this type of business.

Moisture. “One best practice with any job we do, whether for schools or anything else, is to make sure the floor conditions are acceptable before starting anything. Do moisture tests. Because of fast-paced construction, rarely do you find a school that doesn’t have a moisture problem to deal with first. Then it’s the battle of getting them to sign a waiver releasing us of responsibility or getting a change order so we can apply a moisture remediation product.”

One frustrating aspect of encountering moisture problems is that clients often act surprised, as if it’s the first time they’ve heard of such a possibility. “We really try to educate the specifiers of resilient flooring products, and tell them, listen, when you go to the architects, you have to tell them they need to specify moisture remediation in the projects. If we can get a bid up front and have that as part of the scope of work, it saves a lot of time, efforts and struggles, and the job runs a lot better for everyone.”

Alerting the client of a moisture problem is its own process. “We will write a letter where we will describe the situation, where we found the moisture, and give them all the solutions for them to reject or accept. If they reject it we exclude that from the warranty, and they have to sign the waiver of responsibility – not just the contractor, but also the architect and end-user. Typically at that point, they don’t want to sign, and we can figure out how to deal with the problem.”

Scheduling, safety and service. “Schedule the project properly. Usually what happens is you arrive and have electricians, plumbers, painters and ceiling guys all around. You need the floor untouched, and they need the floor to walk on. So it’s important to make sure all of the other trades are out of the way before going in there. It’s important to have jobsite superintendents who can manage that sequencing and really hammer out the job while understanding what it takes to move forward.”

Safety is also a priority. “That’s a critical part of our industry now, and we don’t want to have any accidents or challenges for us or our customers. We have a safety handbook that all of our installers follow. In Utah, all of our installers are subcontractors, but we would follow the same procedure if they were union or in-house.”

When problems at the jobsite do crop up, it’s important to attack them immediately, and keep an open line of communication with the client if any change orders need to be written up. “That’s one of the advantages of having our own eyes on the job. We can react to that stuff quickly. Service is everything, and that means getting on top of challenges and getting the material when we’re short. We are constantly taking inventory of the materials that are left and the balance of the project that’s left.”

Make sure it’s worth it. As Ray stressed several times during the interview, bidding on school projects is competitive. Bottom line: “We’re here to make money. If you can’t make money, you’re not going to stay alive. Typically we won’t even take a sniff at a school in our area, because we know we’re not going to make enough money to make it worth our time. However, one guy found a niche in Wyoming and Idaho, where a lot of people don’t want to go. He pursues work there and has learned how to manage that type of business. You have to go after areas where there isn’t an oversaturation of competition.”

Leaving a satisfied customer. Be professional, and make a good impression before, during and after the job is completed. “Schedule pre-site meetings, walk the job a minimum of twice a week to make sure everything is being done correctly, and interact with the on-site supervisor. We also try to meet with the customer who has taken possession of the business after the job has closed. We walk them through the finished installation, and also give them a complimentary cleaning kit for small stains.”