We recently received a call from a very sweet woman I'll simply call Mrs. C. She said that they had bought some laminate flooring from Home Depot, but her husband who had installer other laminate in their home years ago, was not feeling well enough to do it. They were looking for someone to install it for them.
Normally, we do not install material we do not provide. But this woman's story tugged at my heart stings a bit. Plus, she was only a few miles from our office. It would not have been a very profitable job for us, but the goodwill and potential referrals would have made it worth the effort. Over the phone I gave her a very general idea of what it would cost, but told her I'd have to see the material and site conditions before I could commit us to doing the work. A few hours later she called to invite me over.
The project room was right by the entrance, and the material they acquired was just a few feet away, so they appeared to be all ready. My goal was very simple; measure the room just as if we were providing a complete flooring solution and then compare the quality and quantity of the flooring material, they had ready.
Since he had previously installed laminate flooring, Mr. C did a good job estimating the job. The material quantity was spot on. when I spoke to Mrs. C on the phone, they admitted they were not ready to start the work but would have the room ready soon. During the appointment we spoke about all the steps of the projects.
- Move contents out (some pretty heavy and bulky stuff)
- Remove existing carpet, tackstrips and pad adhesive from their concrete subfloor
- Roll out underlayment
- Install laminate
- Install quarter round or shoe moulding around perimeter of room including a murphy bed frame that would not be moving
- Install transition to the tiled hallway outside the room
- Replace contents.
The clients told me they would handle all of the project except the installation of the underlayment and the laminate. That still seemed like a lot of work for them, but I was not going to insult Mr. C by questioning his ability to handle the other tasks. Plus, in most of our projects, we gladly separate the prep work and the finish trim work as many clients like to contribute their own "sweat equity" to the project.
Quality was a completely different story. Overall, the material was more of an entry-level product. That wasn’t the issue. The customer had already opened a box of the material and I could see that for that box, the end joints on both sides of the laminate were damaged somewhere in shipping or handling process. We opened another box and in this case 1 end of the planks was damaged. At least we could work with those and cut off the damage to start a new row. But there are only so many planks you can salvage that way.
Next, I took a few of the planks that were in good condition and attempted to put them together as if I were installing the floor. Compared to the products we normally use; they were more difficult to lock together. Worse yet, once locked they were easily pulled apart. This caused me to take a step back. I explained to the customer that using that material would take longer than usual. The extra time still would not put us over our minimum job size, so it would not have cost the customer any more money. My concern was just in taking the risks associated with the job. Thoughts raced through my mind.
- What if so many planks were broken that we could not complete the job?
- Between the client, Home Depot and us there could be a lot of finger pointing.
- If the planks separated easily during my test, how will the whole room stay together?
- No matter how much I point out the risks, there is a general rule that whomever last touches the job or material owns it – good, bad or neutral.
As I was leaving, I told Mr. and Mrs. C that I’d take a day to think about the project and if we could take it on.
As I drove home I was thinking what my floor industry colleagues would say about this job and what advice they would give. I already knew the overwhelming advice would be – “RUN!” Before I made it home, Mr. C called me and said he’d just wait until he was feeling better and tackle the project himself. He thanked me for my honest feedback and advice. He even said he probably should have just asked me to help load those 10 boxes of laminate back into his car so he could take them back to Home Depot.
Two lessons here.
Lesson #1 as a flooring guy – you can’t lose money on jobs you don’t take. Not all rewards are work the risk.
Lesson #2 to consumers – choices in flooring, and many other types of home improvement products, should involve the input of those that will install the material for you. A good deal on the wrong product isn’t a good deal in the end.