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Al’s column: Consumers who play contractors

February 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 19

By Scott Perron

 

As our industry evolves and the playing field continually changes, our leadership team tries to predict the future outside of the world of statistical analysis. In the wake of a new breed of customers intent on becoming their own contractors of sorts, we see unique perspectives on a daily basis and an increasing challenge with failed installations.

Interestingly enough, the consumers we see most often fall into one of the following two categories:

The academic or tech-savvy consumers. These folks spend countless hours, days and sometimes even months researching online in an attempt to find an angle that will allow them to bring all three characteristics of any flooring job into play—good, fast and cheap. The latter is the operative word as more inexperienced consumers feel they’re going to be capable of reducing the cost of a flooring project by posing as their own contractor. In a few cases they are successful as this particular endeavor requires finding a quality installer who will not overcharge, steal money or simply do a lousy job.

The construction-savvy customer. Aside from the professional builders who most often focus on their profit margin, this consumer is usually much easier to close as they speak a similar language. They tend to negotiate prices less than the academic but focus more on the process and desired result. In addition, they typically research the cost of a project, budget for it and execute once they begin to shop within seven days.

During the last week of January we saw two of these home contractor failures, which will likely result in the two customers spending a collective $21,000 to fix issues caused by improper installation. Both customers found their pros on Craigslist and did not research them other than calling the value-priced advertiser. In one of these cases, the so-called cheaper route actually cost the customer 20% more than we would have charged for the same job at full margin through our full-service entity. (Now their floor must be replaced.)

The other person hired a “bucket-and-trowel” contractor to put vinyl plank floors in several rooms of her home. All the rooms are running in different directions, the materials have started to separate due to improper installation of the tongue-and-groove system and the installer put an unnecessary sealer over the top of the vinyl material, embedding debris in the surface.

As retailers it may sound like sour grapes when we discuss these challenges with our customers during the shopping experience. However, we must do our best to provide documentation and pictures of these failed installations so we can assist them in understanding how much liability they’re assuming and the incredible price tag this may come with.

In the years to come, we’ll all see a dramatic increase in younger consumers entering the market. As a result, these challenges will likely become a bigger concern as they oftentimes take the online word as gospel without understanding the mechanics of construction or the installation procedures that accompany most products. This uninformed consumer becomes yet another target for unqualified installers or online purveyors who skirt liability in the pursuit of a quick sale.

My advice is to train your salespeople to tactfully broach these challenges with consumers during the sales process, utilizing statistics or anecdotes to support their case.