Claims file: The No. 1 suspect

Home Columns Claims file: The No. 1 suspect

by Lew Migliore

The title of this column was taken from a dealer’s email to me that observed, “Every time I visit a jobsite for after-installation issues, whether it is staining, buckling, denting or wearing, I am essentially going to a crime scene and I am somehow the No. 1 suspect.”

Isn’t that always the case? Whenever a complainant sees a problem with an installation, the first thing they suspect is the flooring itself and naturally that is directly connected to the flooring dealer. You are the No. 1 suspect in the crime of failed flooring. How could you not be? You sold the flooring material, made all the positive statements about it and installed it. No one else could be to blame but you, right?

If you sold the wrong product into the wrong place then you are at fault but let’s not be so hasty. There are a lot of reasons why a flooring material fails.

Causes for failure

The first legitimate reason is the material itself is defective for whatever reason, whether it is a compromise in the structural integrity of the product, an inherent weakness, a colorfastness issue or some other manufacturing related reason. However, there are a multitude of reasons flooring material fails that aren’t related to the dealer or the material.

Soiling, one of the biggest causes for complaints, certainly can’t be blamed on the flooring dealer or the flooring material. If you drop or spill something that causes a dark spot, (not to be confused with a stain), or a discoloration or color loss, (those are stains), this is not the fault of the dealer or the floor covering material. This is purely a site related, use, abuse or maintenance issue, or the selection of the wrong color or material.

Buckles, wrinkles or bubbles in the material, most often caused by an unknown substrate condition prior to the installation, are another major cause of flooring failures. Certainly this could be an installation problem but the vast majority of the time it is an underlying problem such as moisture with failures that have reached epidemic proportions.

Vinyl failures in homes with damp basements or crawl spaces can affect it on the first floor.

Stretching in carpet is more likely installation related and could also account for not acclimating the product, cushions that are too thick, carpet not being properly stretched, using the wrong tackstrip and improper tackstrip placement.

Dents, scratches, cuts, gouges and chips are typically caused by someone doing something to the flooring material. It could be walking on it with spiked high heels, dragging furniture or heavy items, vacuum cleaners, gritty soils, dropping heavy objects and so forth.

None of these examples are the dealer’s fault. Unless you tell end users that hard surface flooring material is indestructible, you can’t be blamed for things done to the flooring that damage it.

People want to believe that things are not their fault and certainly this is true with flooring problems. No matter how factual your explanation for the problem, you could be labeled an idiot or totally incompetent, two terms I was recently graced with. So, being the flooring dealer makes you the No. 1 suspect because the problem has to be your fault. This would be akin to blaming a tree for getting in the way of the car in an accident. It makes no sense but it is rationalized by the end user.

How do you avoid being the No. 1 suspect? Qualify the end use and end user, put product performance issues in print and present them to the consumer. Make sure you do not rely on warranties to sell.

Know what the products you sell are capable of and what will cause problems with them. This way you won’t be searching for answers to defend yourself.

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