We received a thought-provoking letter about the installation crisis from the owner of a remodeling company in Atlanta. He prefers we mention him by his first name only: Dave. It’s a long letter, so I won’t take up any more space. Let me know what you think.
“Carpet mechanics aren’t licensed in my area, and we have a healthy population of Mexican workers—both legal and undocumented. These workers (who work quite hard and are very motivated) don’t affect the plumbing and electrical trades. Nor are they impacting labor rates at the law firms around town or driving down wages in the medical profession.
“Maybe you see where I’m headed? These are all licensed and regulated professions in all 50 states and, in the case of law and medicine, the customer isn’t looking for the ‘cheapest’ price nor are they ‘shopping’ for a better deal. My plumbers and electricians aren’t slashing prices to ‘compete’ with these guys.
“As I see it, much of the problem is retailers/sales folks devaluing the mechanics’ skill and time to meet their own short-term goals: a sale today. If they would sell a quality, finished install and forgo a sale or five, then this issue wouldn’t exist to the extent it now does. Most building materials need to be professionally installed and that leaves the retailer dependent long-term on skilled labor.
“Small retailers should also stop shooting themselves in the foot by selling jobs at cut-rate labor prices to compete with the big boxes. They should instead sell quality and a better experience. There is absolutely no way to take on a juggernaut by competing on price. I think what’s hardest for management to accept in these cases is you cannot remain the same size. You have to pare down and learn how to make more margin/profit off of less gross revenue. A tall order for sure, and many will not survive. Those that do will have to learn not to treat floor covering as a commodity.
“Bottom line: If you want good wages you’ll have to professionalize the business of installing. Doctors used to operate out of the back of barbershops and weren’t well-paid or looked upon with much regard—until they professionalized.
“If everyone just keeps focusing on their own narrow problems (“how do I get this sale today?”), the big boxes will continue to win the war. After all, it’s a war of attrition. While a few battles (sales) make the colonels and rank-and-file happy, if the generals don’t have a sound strategy, everyone will find themselves on the losing end of the stick eventually.”
As always, you can reach me at ChmieleckiM@bnpmedia.com or (603) 791-0215.