Ah, the joys of home ownership. To remind all, I have been living in, and fixing up, a $6000 house for the past year. As such, I get to look for, and deal with, contractors.
As an electrician, and later as a very small, short-lived contractor, I saw work from one viewpoint. Now, as the customer, I get to see the other side of the coin.
My experiences with getting the windows replaced should shed some light on the entire topic, and provide us with plenty of tangents for discussion.
First off is the matter of price- and what the contractor adds to the job. I've seen many folks attempt to replace windows themselves. Let's see: $80 at Lowes, $350 from a window contractor ... how hard can it be? Well, I've seen many such DIY efforts become horror stories. Maybe the simple fact that it took a two-man professional crew half a day to replace four windows suggests that there's more to this job than meets the eye.
Point to ponder: How do YOU get across to the customer the efforts you will put into the job? How do you justify a price four times the raw material cost?
I have worked with two different window companies. Let's look at some of the differences in their approaches:
One firm seemed totally amazed that an actual customer walked in the door. The owner even seemed confused. They measured, they did not co-ordinate scheduling with me, and the paperwork was sloppy. It almost seemed as if they forgot to ask for the second/final payment.
The second firm is a franchise, and there's no doubt this guy is going by the book. Positive-theme to the advertising ("Simply the best ... for less," and "We don't just stand by our product, we stand on it!"). Prompt call-back. Timely follow-up call.
My point her is: Do you seem organized, positive, and enthusiastic to your customers? Or, does the customer wonder if they interrupted Grumpy's nap when they called?
The first contractor's response was "OK, we'll get you windows." As an afterthought, he called back to verify the color choice (good thing, as he had guessed wrong). At no point was I advised as to what sort of windows were being provided, or what choices I might have.
The second guy came out, measured, then produced a sample window. He showed off the various features. As an aside, he produced a brochure that made clear the other offerings he had. (BTW, the demo window was upscale, but not the top of his line).
The point here is: Do you inform your customer of the different possible solutions, and bring them into the decision making process?
Now ... a word about the franchise operation ... thanks to the internet, I had no problem finding all manner of negative posts about the chain. Reading the posts, it was clear that the folks either were completely clueless (and would never be happy), or were preyed upon by imposters. It's worth remembering that everyone fears the first transaction.
The short answer is bad contractors make good contractors look bad. I had such bad experiences with contractors that I decided I would do it all myself. After all I can screw something up cheaper than the bozos I was hiring.
It all changed when my wife got into the building business and found out who the good contractors are. Now she calls a guy who comes over and does things a whole lot better than I could and when I plug in the cost of my screw ups, it works out cheaper. I still do a lot of things myself but I also know when to make the call.
I do think the small residential contractor has the biggest problem because if he is the cheapest, he will be far from the best and that only makes the reputation of all contractors suffer. The best also look for steady work and reasonable expectations from the customer so they avoid the yellow pages work or they are so far out of whack from the cheapest guy out there they don't get the jobs. The trick is convincing the customer, you get what you pay for. Again this may be more of a word of mouth deal than advertising. Do a good job and hope the customer tells all of his friends. That is a tough business model.
A real estate company that I did a lot of work for over 25+ years had a plaque in the presidents office. "You get what you pay for!", and another that said .."THe lowest price may not be the best price".
This was a family business for over 110 years at the time. They used a 'team' of regular contractors, never 'looking' for bargain work, always first class. And their properties reflected the 'Class A' name.
That sais, one day the pres decided to give this young excavator/mason a shot at a mid-size job, as he was $18k lower than the 'team' guy. Long disaster short, the 'new' guy had no clue what he was expected to do, let alone what was in the contract & spec. All said & done (without 1000 words of woe) the job was taken over by the 'team' guy...and it only wound up $11k over budget due to the mess the 'new' guy left.
"You do get what ya pay for"
I built a reputation as an EC by hard work, quality, and a lot of explanation to the clients.
The SINGLE biggest issue that keeps popping up with Resi Contracting is the wide spread belief that installing this or that shouldn't come to all that much money -- 'cause the DIY shows reveal just how easy it all is.
Lost upon the public is that the camera lies -- a LOT. Other than a handful of shows ( Holmes on Homes ... ) the edits eliminate all boners/ injuries and frustrations.
They also never have design/ permitting issues. ( As IF )
Back in the real world -- plenty of time is spent on just such tedium.
As you can imagine, the typical homeowner never imagines that her own SLOW decision tree is causing the cost of her project to explode.
In short, it is necessary to recover all of these non-installation events just to break even.
And this is why newbies usually blow up within their first year. Until they've faced it - it's hard to believe just how much paper-time they must spend.
I think that "Renovation Realities" is a great selling tool for the business. Every episode some guy who shouldn't be allowed around a hammer undertakes some major project that is well outside of his knowledge base.
There's always sparks flying and water spraying; one episode had a guy spend 2 days trying to do his plumbing only to give up and hire a professional who ripped his stuff out and completely redid the job (right) in about 3 hours.
You get what you pay for. There's a distinct disadvantage to 'cheap' and 'free'.
It was not my intent to have another thread where we knash our teeth over the idiocy of the CUSStomer.
Rather, I would like to see a discussion of how we present ourselves, how we address the concerns customers have. I used the window guys as examples, simply because the concerns are the same no matter what.
For example .... now here was a real eye-opener for me ... The second contractors' price came down a LOT, (to $1000, from $1400) once it was clear that his 'standard' price included several 'extras' that I neither needed or wanted. Less work for him, less expense for me.
That brings up another 'deal making' tool in the second guys' toolbox: financing. His website provided a link to a major bank, where customers could apply for a loan. The contractors' telephone 'hold' message also made mention of this, and the very attractive terms of that financing. This can make the difference ... especially when a job is time-sensitive and the money just a bit lagging.
In salesmanship, it's a fine line between being 'on the ball' and being 'pushy.' I think we need to study these franchise operations, and learn from them.
"The prospect base treats all licensed electricians as if they were but kernels of rice in the bag -- all the same. "
So said Tesla in another thread. He's not completely off base.
Yet, when I called out the various window guys, such a thought was not the first thought in my mind. Rather, I knew I was ignorant - not just as to the wnidows themselves, but also as to what each company had to offer.
Guys, this first contact is your opportunity to tell the customer what you have to offer. In this reagrd, the second firm did a much better job than the first guy. The first firm simply said 'our windows will cost you $X." The second firm said 'here's our most popular window ... there are others ... and here are the various upgrades we offer at additional cost.'
The first guy just looked at things and gave a price. The second guy walked me around and pointed out things I could do to reduce the cost of installation. For example, I could take down the storm windows myself, and save a few $$$.
Look, when the various salesmen arrive, I am "all ears." I want to hear what they have to say, and am curious as to what they have to offer. Yes, I have a pretty clear idea of what I want .... but I'm also open to learning something new.
Oddly enough, the sales pitch that is poorly received is the one where I am immediately assured "we can do anything you want, and very cheaply.' Please- at least listen to my request and look at the job before making that sort of assurance.
A roofing contractor made a good impression when he freely admitted that his price would not be the cheapest. He followed by explaining what he did that differed from the other guys- all good things, to my mind. He gave me reasons to hire him.
Doing some work around my house, I called a few contractors. Out of three that I called to install prefinished hardwood flooring, only one responded. He wanted the dimensions of the area, and gave me a 'ballpark' $$ over the phone. The other two never called back. Needless to say, I learned how to install 3/4" hardwood!
Two guys showed up for the roof job. One (well dressed) salesman type. He looked up, wrote an estimate, handed it to me & walked away. The other guy was a 'roofer'. He went up on the roof, measured, looked around, made notes and said 'estimate in your mailbox the next day'. He also presented a choice of shingles; suggested an attic power fan, and took time to explain how he (& crew) would do the job. He got the job; showed up as promised, did the work & passed inspection. He also installed (but not wired) the attic fan, and new vent. I hired him based on the presentation, and the reccomendation of a neighbor.
This Thread touches on an Item I have not been placing enough importance on - First Impressions; What _OVERALL BENEFITS_ Differs Us (the ECs I work for) from the Others (the remaining bidders).
As of late 2009, I have been working for (3) separate ECs, typically performing Electrical Design, Engineering and Project Management on Design-Build type Projects, and at times performing P.M. and misc. Consultant tasks on Design-Bid-Build Projects.
For each of these ECs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform proper Electrical Design / Engineering Services, as the "Push" is typically to have the Architects "Throw Together Some Electrical Plans" - almost always cobbled together by some newbee CAD Drafstperson, because the Plans "Are Only Needed To Pass Plancheck".
Only after endless trouble, the request for Consultation comes along; by this time, things are extremely difficult to rectify.
If I learn the Skills necessary to present the Overall / Long-Term Benefits of the Electrical Design-Build Projects to be done completely by the EC, this would save time, money, labor, frustration, Plancheck issues, Permit issues, Inspection issues, Coordination issues, etc....
Seriously, my Career as a Design-Build Engineer / Project Manager is rapidly coming to an end - as more Clients have been convinced that an entrance level CAD Grunt can do the same thing I can, but "Cheaper". "Cheaper" being described as only the content of Printed Plans (outlets shown here & there...looks pretty!).
The actual Engineering work + Management is never included as a package to the Clients, so it _APPEARS_ as if the total Electrical Design part is 50% lower than what my Company(s) bid at; whereas, in fact, the cost at Proposal is more like 500% of our Bid, and will end up being more in the range of 2500%+ higher, just prior to Final Commissioning.
I like to discuss things with People, and really enjoy direct Consultations with a Prospective Client, however I need to be able to explain things in a more Personable matter, in order for "Non-Engineer People" (read: People with actual lives...) to grasp the criteria involved.
Giving a concise response to a statement such as: "I was told that I should run my Lights at 220, as this will save half the power" becomes somewhat difficult to debunk, especially when the source of information comes from a Friend or Relative.
So, for best 1st impressions, both my Salesmanship (not high pressure, but Brian Tracy type salesmanship), and my Outfit (professional casual), need extreme makeovers!
Scott " 35 " Thompson Just Say NO To Green Eggs And Ham!