Do You Really Need Those New Tools?

Q: When is enough enough? Every time we attend a class or convention, manufacturers claim their new tools and equipment are the best. How do I know which one is right for me?

A: Over the years, customers' increased expectations have raised the standard of acceptability. What once was considered a good sand-and-finish job is now unacceptable. With the increased popularity of prefinished wood flooring, customers now demand a perfect sand and-finish job. Contractors are expected to match, if not improve, the look of these floors. Because prefinished floors are quick to install, a lot of tools have been developed to help contractors achieve quick turnaround times that customers expect. With the introduction of borders, medallions, feature strips and mixed woods, equipment manufacturers have been in a race to keep up. Power tools such as chop saws, circular saws, routers and hand sanders are made with better grips, more power and slimmer shapes—all with the goal of working with less labor cost and less effort. Hand tools have slowly fallen out of the market and are being replaced with tools that offer more speed without loss of quality, such as power jamb saws. New sanding machines on the market promise flatter floors, better designs and upgrades with all the new bells and whistles.

All the new tools are tempting. But when is enough, enough? That is a question only you and your crew scan answer. Take a look at these key areas: What are your goals and skill levels? What is your competition doing? How can you grow with the new tools? Will the new tools save labor and time? How do you know what new tools can do?

What are your goals and skills? The next step for many hardwood flooring professionals is the introduction of borders and custom floors. You need to know if your crew can do custom floors with the tools on the truck and, more importantly, can your crew meet the customer's expectations with those tools? Often, jobs are not as easy as they first seem, and they could cost more in time than the cost of the tools. The job is only as good as the crews, and the crews are only as good as the tools they use to complete the job. This sounds like a fast-talking sales pitch, but thinking about the entire job and the finished product is how you can expand your skill levels.

What is your competition doing? Keeping an eye on your competition is always a good idea. Many times we hear things like, "I don't care what they do, I know what my company can do." But how many times have you lost a bid or job because someone has something new to offer the customer? One of the best tools to appear on the market in the last few years is dust control systems and dust control buffers. Offerings like this will improve your jobs and set you apart from your competition. Keeping up with the Joneses is not always a good thing, but keeping up with the needs of the customer is. Look at them as a skill builder, not an enemy.

How can you grow with the new tools? In today's market, word-of-mouth and real-life testimonials are the best indicators of a product's performance. When a tool can step up your skills and save time,the customer will be your salesperson. We all have stories of one job that leads to the next job and that job in turn brings in the next one. We always think that growth comes entirely from a marketing plan,advertisement and finding ways to sell jobs, but if we can improve the crews, we will improve the bottom line. Completing jobs with no callbacks, complaints or money held back is money in the bank.

Will the tools save money and time? We all can make this decision; if a tool will not pay for itself, then it is not worth the money. The simple truth is that you shouldn't spend good money on equipment that will not benefit the bottom line. We see unique tools with all the bells and whistles that look great, but they may only be used once or twice a year. There turn is not worth the investment; you're better off renting tools that fall into this category.

How do we know what a new tool can do? The best way is to try it and ask around. Conventions and schools are a great place to try equipment and speak with others who have the tools. Don't be afraid to ask the manufacturer for names of other professionals who use the tools. NWFA, NOFMA and manufacturer schools allow you to see the equipment in use and get hands-on experience with it. Most manufacturers offer schools and classes for the new equipment they offer. Dealer shows, open houses and road shows often bring the tools to your area—never pass up a chance to see new tools and techniques. Educational ways pays back ten-fold. The chance to learn from friends and leaders in the industry will never have a price that is too high.

The new tool trap is easy to fall into—especially if you're like me and equate buying a new tool with getting a new toy. Many of us don't weigh the pros and cons, we just look for an excuse to buy. Buying too many tools and not keeping an open mind can cost big money. Always ask the simple questions before you buy. Then you'll know when enough is enough.

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