In Part 1 of this post I left off by showing a terrible lowball job that I had to redo for a customer, who had to pay full price for both jobs. That customer is hardly alone. Here are two examples of posts from a FB group many of us participate in. You can easily see how the lowball situation frustrates us:
Here's another example:
I, for one, have lost more than few jobs because of my price. I think we all have. So, is the magic answer just lowering our prices?
If that were true, then us wood floor refinishers could not and would not be able to pursue and obtain the latest dustless machines our industry has available. I, for one, just bought a new edger, and I have my eye on an attachment for my big machine so that I can hook up a vacuum to it and remove the bag altogether. It’s no secret that the “generalists” do not and will not invest in our trade; they are quite capable of smoking out a nice home with wood dust using sanding machines at the rental store.
The same goes for those of us who are installers. I love my Makita compound miter saw—it wasn’t cheap, but it’s just what I need to cut wide-plank flooring and tall moldings. Those of us who are sports floor masters have not one but several air nailers with rollers for fast production. I’ll stop here because I’ve made my point.
So, who is our customer now that we are being priced out of our trade? Where is our market? For that matter, have we correctly identified who is NOT our market? Who are the mystery customers that push us to aspire to great heights and expand our skill sets in the hopes of being on the cover of a trade magazine or being recognized by our peers for exceptional work? Who cares about a laser-beam straight chevron or a one-of-a-kind handmade end grain parquet for a discriminating client?
Ah, you can see I tipped my hand. You see the kind of customers that will never go away and will always search us out: the discriminating clients.
Our customers can’t be talked into a less-than-adequate floor when they want a nice floor. Even though our products are not cheap, they want what we can give them. Sometimes, we get the job for the sole fact that we can supply the product. For example, I knew of a flooring contractor who was asked to install a herringbone parquet down an S-shaped hallway. All the techs on his crew could not figure it out, and the customer searched out other wood flooring contractors to install this herringbone to no avail. It began to look like an “S” shaped herringbone was not possible.
But then the contractor I previously mentioned, in a fit of inspiration, called the same flooring contracting company that installed the wood flooring in the Oval Office. They were gracious and “loaned” a single master craftsman to the contractor, and this master-on-loan made short work of figuring out how the floor was going to be made. The contractor got the job, and it’s all history now. That floor still exists somewhere in Orange County. You just cannot find that level of talent easily, and you just can’t acquire that level of talent for yourself by accident—it must be learned and earned by many hours of study and practice. Being aligned with masters greater than us is also a big boost, and we all have our lofty role models we aspire to, and also access to a limitless talent pool and technical knowledge base through the NWFA, WFCA and other organizations worldwide.
When it all comes down to price, you get what you pay for. But what if a customer wants a more demanding application? What level of talent is required, the parking lot crew?
That’s where we come in. If you are reading this, the possibility is high that you apply yourself to this trade with great passion, are more than likely self-employed or have a high standing in your crew. You’re the kind of individual that rockets past the price barrier and offers the customer real value. A value that just can’t be found at lower price points. Value is a perception, NOT a price.
This … this is why I stay. Knowing that there will always be a discriminating client or a technically intense installation or refinish that very few in your geographical area can handle leaves us to have a secure niche in our industry. In truth, I’d rather be doing this than responding to a job opening at a major corporation, an attorney’s office, an assembly line position at an auto plant or a sales position at a major electronic retailer.
To all you green techs who have jumped into our industry: Stay. There a steep learning curve, but a HUGE pot of gold at the end. The gold of a good living made from hard work and satisfying results that we make with our own hands. You just cannot buy a better therapy. Indeed, I was told by a wise rough framing carpenter something I never forgot. He said, “Hard work is therapy for the soul,” and he was right. If we apply ourselves to high standards, take classes and aspire to simply satisfy the industry standards, we will have for ourselves a nice life and a peaceful mind at the end of the day. The chance at a stable future will be ours to pursue for as long as we want it, regardless of the economy’s ups and downs.
Don’t be upset at losing to a low bidder. Laugh at them! Some have no idea how to even make a decent profit (I’ve written on that before). When customers ask for a deal, tell them the “deal” is that you do the work. That alone is a “deal” considering the goals we strive for, and the products we are capable of providing – for a fair price, of course.
I walk into a job site with power and confidence. I also keep close the Samurai code: Be fully prepared to walk out. I’m not going to beg for a chance to be the cheapest or jump through hoops. No ego here, just the awareness that I can supply what they want … if they want it. Otherwise I’m not interested.
As good contractors, we:
1) Are bound by a commitment to ethical behavior and solid skills.
2) Have proper contracts and heed all the proper contracting laws, including those that protect the customer (and us, as well).
3) Show up on time, work a full day and complete the contract in a reasonable time.
4) Hold our customers’ needs above our own, and accommodate where we can.
That, of course, is just a start, but these differences are a large part of why we deserve the best clients. When the customers witness these differences, we overshadow the underclass that drive our industry to low levels of expectation.