by David Stafford
Be on the lookout for that perfect installer to make you and your client’s vision a reality. The ideal installer is 21 years old with 30 years experience, fluent in English and Spanish, with the mind of Einstein, the patience of Job, and willing to work for whatever your pay rate might be. In addition, have a crew that can be expanded from two to 20 at will, and able to go to work tomorrow.
The only trouble is, that’s not reality. Drawing upon my experience and misadventures, here are some questions for your quest:
Does he have the experience to quickly evaluate floor plans and job site information to know exactly what he’s supposed to do? Is your schedule reasonable given the described site conditions?
Start off with a strong back and an equally strong, inquiring mind that enjoys problem solving. What if this was a complicated pattern carpet with attached cushion? How about the training and experience to deal with bow and skew or other pattern matching issues?
Can he be trusted to inspect for flaws, or is this something you’ll have to do? A direct-glue-down lightweight level loop, in a large open area uncluttered with furniture is one thing; a large-scale pattern with Axminster construction requires extra knowledge and an expectation that all may not go well. Calls from the job site that “this carpet is defective because the pattern won’t match” frequently underscore a lack of experience.
Will he set his expectations—and those of his crew—for the day and look for all the little ways to improve? And keep his ego in check and ask for help? Will he balk at extra work or is he able to remain calm in the face of product and job site challenges? Attitude and good people skills are frequently more important than technical competence and will get higher marks from your clients. After all, no one wants to work with a sullen, scowling individual with a carpet knife in his hand.
How is his appearance? Does his crew reflect a commitment to good hygiene; are vehicles clean and well stocked with the right tools?
The perfect installer must also be good with numbers and a quasi accountant, businessman, manager and quality control expert. Is he worth what he wants to charge you and appear to know his costs to go out the door? Otherwise, you may hear, “I took this job too cheap and I’m not making any money,” which becomes your problem when he walks off the job.
How well does he manage personnel and the schedule of production? Some of the best technical installers cannot manage their crews, which translates into the “tail that wags the dog” for you and him.
Is he receptive to training and willing to be trained? Is he eager to enhance his skill set by investing his time? This is a big issue that will determine whether he is worth long-term effort on your part. Does he have any training or certification through CFI or INSTALL? Find out what levels and how recent the certifications. Has he had any remedial training, recently? And I’m not simply talking about whether it is carpet, ceramic or resilient; I’m referring to the challenges of handling and installing products within a particular genre.
Has he bounced around or worked mostly for one or two companies? Is he at a point where he’d consider employee status; would this make economic sense for you? Usually, a trial run as a subcontractor makes a lot more sense and limits your liability.
Sharpen your interview skills and ask a lot of questions. You’ll find that special person who just happens to be an installer.