Industry Standards and Documentation: Two Unknown Practices that Can Keep You in Business
Think about it! Following standards and methods established by your industry makes complete sense. So does keeping track of all the paperwork that flows through a project from bid stage to completion and final payment. Why is it that we often fail to do it?
The world is changing around us. We live in a litigious society. We don't have to like it. It is a fact of life. It is also a fact that if you get called into court for an installation failure, it is going to be expensive. It used to be that your word and a handshake were good enough for your customer. Believe me, this is no longer the case in most situations.
Recently, I received a call from a homeowner in the process of suing the tile contractor. They had done their homework. They were aware of the TCA Handbook for the Installation of ceramic tile. They also lived next door to an attorney. The contractor in this instance did not use a method approved in the TCA Handbook. However, this is not where he made his crucial mistake. Even though we strongly suggest to contractors to follow methods approved in the Handbook, we acknowledge that many successful installations occur with methods not currently in it. The mistake that this contractor made was that he did not get in writing from the manufacturer that his method was recommended and that they would stand behind it. Basically, the contractor assumed all the risk in this installation. Do you really want to do this? In this instance, the home was valued at several million dollars and the tile installation was over $40,000. Even if the tile contractor was not at fault in this failure, how do you think it is going to stand up in court? Unfortunately, this happens all the time.
Be Proactive. I talked to a tile contractor the other day who really had his act together. This is what he told me: "We go the extra mile to communicate with our customer. We describe the method of installation we are going to use on the home, and we include references to the TCA Handbook and the manufacturers installation instructions. We tell them up front what we are going to do, and that we adhere to and stay on top of industry-approved methods. We charge a premium for our work, but we are worth it because we can be trusted."
Wow! This is a great angle to take. So often we receive calls and emails asking us if the contractor did a tile installation by utilizing approved methods. It speaks volumes to the consumer when you receive a bid that is detailed with the back-up to prove you know what you are talking about. In addition, this bid will help a consumer to understand why there may be a significant deviation in prices from a low bidder. It certainly will eliminate any claims by the consumer that they were not aware of the method being recommended to be used in their home.
When a complaint arrives in your mailbox or you receive that dreaded telephone call from an unhappy customer, the checkbook is already at risk. Even if they cannot prove you are at fault, can you prove you are not? If you aren't documenting your projects now, start! There are excellent software packages available that can assist you in this endeavor. An excellent source of information is the American Subcontractors Association, (www.asaonline.com) If you are a small contractor and lack the wherewithal to afford sophisticated software, keep clear and detailed correspondence in its proper order for each job you do. It pays to be ready when you need to be.
If you are unfamiliar with your industry standards, become familiar with them now! Go to the Tile Council of America Website at www.tileusa.com and order the TCA Handbook. Consider becoming a member of the National Tile Contractors Association and use our Reference Manual to help you troubleshoot through problem installations. The Marble Institute of America www.marble-institute.com is an excellent resource for stone installations as well. The investment in knowledge is worth every penny, and more! You will be ready and prepared when the time comes.