Last month we touched on the common mistakes that installers make when working with hardwood flooring that can lead to an inspector knocking on their door. This time we’re looking at the other side of the equation, at the common issues flooring retailers face that oftentimes lead to a wood floor inspection.
The types of flooring failures resulting in an inspection can end up costing four to six times the original flooring invoice, and my inspection service has determined the five most common mistakes retailers make. By making simple adjustments, retailers can help reduce their claims by 25% and up to 35%.
Problem #1: Overselling. Retail sales professionals are good at selling. Their strengths are often centered on meeting sales quotas, bottom-line numbers and turnover in product. Sales are design-focused, assisting customers to achieve a desired look for their room.
Many retail flooring sales professionals are great at pulling the look together, yet often are weak when it comes to technical knowledge and support to prevent the likelihood of flooring failure. When the potential flooring customer comes into the showroom with a décor concept (color, width, finish type, etc.) and the sales professional jumps in headfirst to assist with the choices, it is important to keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach to wood floor sales is not going to work.
The sales professional needs to listen to the buyer’s décor and design concept, while at the same time completing a brief interview (discovery process) of the client’s lifestyle, building type, HVAC capabilities, subfloor type, etc. Use the information obtained in the “discovery” process as a guide and as a tool to recommending a wood floor that meets the design elements andfits the environmental capsule it is being installed in.
Avoid making vague statements that the floor you are recommending is “bulletproof” or “hard as nails.” It is important to know the manufacturer’s guidelines for humidity levels and explain that to the customer. It is better to disclose this information upfront and educate your prospective client beforehand, than to find out aftera flooring failure and an inspection is summoned that the buyer has limited control over HVAC system, or there is no provision for supplemental and controlled humidity levels.
Know your finishes and explain the care and maintenance for each product you are recommending. Often the sales professional will suggest a zero-VOC oiled finished product, yet fail to disclose the finish’s maintenance requirements and how they may be different from a polyurethane finish maintenance.
Problem #2: Installation Practices. Most retailers use subcontract labor (installation services) to install their flooring products. This is a common practice in the industry, yet plays one of the biggest roles to generate an inspection.
To ensure the flooring will be installed and perform as promised, the retailer should have a project checklist to record that all flooring requirements are met. In many cases this is outside the sales professional’s expertise; however, it should be a normal procedure for any retailer’s project manager. Leaving out the pricing/estimate part of the process, the checklist is broken down into four categories: Sales, Pre-Installation, Installation and Post-Installation.
· Salesaddresses the discovery process, ensuring the buyer’s lifestyle, expectations and environment are in line with flooring manufacturer requirements and warranties.
· Pre-Installationis to ensure the project’s HVAC is correct, wood/subfloor moisture tests were performed, wet trades are complete, etc. and the project is ready for delivery.
· Installationconfirms proper site conditions are met and ready for install, including flooring and subfloor moisture content, etc.
· Post-Installationis to ensure all proper maintenance/warranty documents have been delivered and signed off on. Also, a final inspection (walkthrough) is performed to confirm that all the buyer’s project expectations have been met.
Problem #3: Wrong Moldings/Trims. Many times this is where the stress comes in for the retailer/installer or buyer. The installer will be in the field installing the wood floor, only to find they have the wrong stair nosing or wood grills that do not match. Now the delay comes in during the scramble to obtain the correct moldings. The buyer is upset due to delays; the installer wants more money for return trip charges; and all profits are eaten up over one small issue.
Has this ever happened to you? It’s happened to all of us, and the best method to avoid it is have your field estimator/installer confirm all the required moldings/accessories are correct during the pre-installation process beforematerials are delivered.
Many times we see the sales professional making the empty promise we can be there by the end of the week, yet special-order moldings/trims may take two weeks or longer. Remember, your reputation is based on the quality of work and the shortest disruption to their home during the process. Which of these two will leave the best lasting impression of your services: The installer making a second mess two weeks later, making up excuses for the inconvenience, or a final walkthrough interview with the buyer answering any unanswered questions?
Problem #4: Warranty Coverage/Maintenance. “What’s Covered?”This is usually the question asked by the buyer during and/or after a sale if a problem should arise. The retailer must know and understand each of the manufacturers’ maintenance/warranty coverages. If they handle 30 different lines of flooring, then they need to know each of them thoroughly.
The sales professional cannotmake the appropriate flooring choice to the buyer unless they know and understand these requirements. For example, if the manufacturer requires a relative humidity range between 35~55% and the buyer lives on a high rise condominium, they no doubt do not have proper climatic controls to support the manufacturer warranty. When the inspection is performed, the inspector will discover this and the floor will be declined by the manufacturer, placing the burden back to the retailer. This again shows the importance for the retailer to use the discovery process during the sale to ensure the buyer is making the best choice.
Problem #5: Expectations. Expectations are often brought on by what the buyer reads or hears; i.e. “this floor is as hard as nails.” Remember, the buyer has selective hearing and this statement gets the customer thinking to themselves that this floor is indestructible and will perform great with his or her two German shepherds. A few months later, the dog’s toenails have scratched and dented the floor, yet the sales professional made the buyer believe this floor was perfect for them.
Again the manufacturer will send a claim denial letter, stating pet nails are not covered under warranty. It’s the sales professional’s responsibility to discover this concern through the sales discovery process and help the buyer make the appropriate flooring selection.
What it boils down is many floor-related concerns are based on the misunderstanding or miscommunication between the seller and the buyer. This is why it is so important for the sales professional to have extensive knowledge of flooring products, applications, installation methods and warranties.
Through the discovery process the sales professional should be able to obtain many of the basic questions within the first three to five minutes of conversation. From there one can proceed to help the buyer make the appropriate flooring selection for their home.
With that said, the retailer can dramatically reduce the unwanted claims/concerns through better understanding of wood flooring. I see many retailers have sales managers to assist in sales training, yet it’s rare to see a retailer have an experienced field manager to ensure projects goes smoothly and all buyer’s expectations are met. I encourage retailers to engage in further flooring education for their sales professionals. Don’t you want to reduce claims by 25 to 30%?
Roy Reichow brings over 40 years of experience in the wood flooring industry as a wood floor contractor, consultant and educator. Roy is founder and principle of Reichow Parquet Flooring and National Wood Floor Consultants. He holds National Wood Flooring Association Certified Professional certification in Wood Floor Installation, Sanding, Finishing, Sales Counselor, Inspector and Commercial Inspector. Roy also serves on the National Wood Flooring Association’s Certified Professional Board of Directors and Marketing Committee.
Roy has authored articles published by the NWFA and the International Fraud Update, a publication of the International Association of Insurance Fraud Agencies. His wood flooring projects have been featured in American Woodworkers Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Mpls/St. Paul magazine.
Roy has led educational seminars for the NWFA, wood flooring distributors, contractors, and home builders, and has been a featured speaker at the MPLS Home & Garden Show.