For contractors only: How to get those better jobs, at the prices you want.

Just how does a hardwood floor contractor go about getting more money for the jobs they are now doing? Well that’s the $64,000 question isn’t it? Read this and you will find out how best to market your skills in the wood flooring industry.

The simple answer is to build an excellent reputation, and the world will beat a path to your door. But how long does it take to build a good reputation, you haven’t the time to wait years and years. And you are itching to do these custom jobs in the rich neighborhoods. You may be convinced that you really need some wealthier clients to make the big money. Your present clients complain that everything is too expensive. That’s why you continue to give them quite low prices, for what you know is not your best work.

Well that’s the key to earning more money, from fewer jobs. Find the better clients. Now the myth is that these have to be wealthy people. But the truth is that all you need is people that appreciate the work you do, and are willing to pay a fair price for it. But YOU also need to appreciate the work you do. If you are not completely happy with the quality of your work, how will you ever convince others?

Why are you settling for bad clients that really don’t care for better quality work, and refuse pay for anything better? More to the point, why are you settling for just mediocre clients, when you really should be waiting and holding out for the really great customers? You know the ones I speak of. This article will show you how to find the jobs that challenge you, and will bring out the best of your skills. This article will show you just how to get those jobs.

You may have developed a reputation for fast and cheap work, but year after year the really good jobs seem to elude you. Just what are your doing wrong? You seem find steady work only by doing the subcontract work that a larger company feeds you. And this you do at the worst possible rates. On these jobs you just get by on the quality, taking shortcuts where you can. After all these are really not your jobs, and you feel no real connection to these customers.

Let me begin at the beginning. Just how do you get new customers? Do you advertise at all? And where do you place your ad, where all the other competition is? That may be the start of your problems. If your newspaper or phone directory ad is just among a list of other floor contractors, what would a potential customer want to do with this list? Well of course they will call every one on it, and ask each one what they charge, and the cheapest, fastest one wins, right? So there is your first mistake, if you are advertising in the big city yellow pages, or the daily newspaper, you may not have the money for a big flashy ad. So your ad reads something like this Floor Sanding and Installations, best prices, staining, repairs call for quick service. Has this ad been a real work horse for you or are you just part of the long list, competing for not the best of prices nor the best of customers?

You can stay with this mass media approach, but why not try a new twist. Try to find a local paper, that is well read. You can tell if it is only a advertising flyer or a well read community newspaper, by turning to the classified section of the paper. If it is well received by the community and has established itself, you will see lots of baby sitter, small articles for sale and lost animal type of ads. These will be placed by the people in the community and have their home phone numbers. If you find that the journal is simply full of real estate and grocery store ads this may not be the paper for you.

But your ad, no matter where you choose to put it should have something to grab the consumer’s imagination. Try an approach like this : "Do you wish to have the most beautiful hardwood floor in your neighborhood? Call us if you do." Always stress the custom and personal touch than only your firm can supply. Be sure to mention any specialty you do quite well.

You may find that the people that call this ad will be prescreened for you. They are intrigued by the thought of having the most beautiful floor, who wouldn’t? And that automatically eliminates the people who are just calling to get the lowest quote on just any quality of work. But now the real question is can you deliver on this quality, and still make money?

The first answer is yes you can if you change all your bad floor installation and sanding and finishing habits. If you are new to the business, never do your work to only the industry standard, you’ve got to stand above the rest. The answer to the second part of the question, can you still make money? Well to be honest, NO. Not at first.

I’m not here to tell you lies, and suggest you can succeed in becoming a stellar performer and big money earner in this business overnight. But if you are willing to put in some time and effort you will succeed. If you want to install new floors, consider staying away from the prefinished floors. You will never be remembered for your good installations, the customer will only remember the brand of floor he chose. Try doing sand-on -site floors only. You will have improve your floor sanding skills, but you will be setting yourself apart from the other companies. Sand-on-site floors still make up more than half of the new wood floor business. There is a lot less competition in this sector, and the prices are getting better every year. Specializing in this will give you access to the resand market, which will grow exponentially when all those prefinished floor surfaces wear out (notwithstanding long warranty periods).

Don’t worry about what you have to charge, you will not be able to raise your rates yet. Keep your prices about the same as you always have and for instance sand the floor 3-4 times and apply at least 3 coats of OMP, or 4-5 coats of water based finish taking enough time for a really bubble and pit free durable finish. Learn how to use other methods to strip a floor like chemical stripping. You might even use a paste wax to restore a good old hardwood floor, instead of simply sanding every floor you encounter. And there are other finishes like shellac, lacquer and even oil finishes that will give wood floor a distinctive look. There is also a growing demand for distressed, and hand scraped floors. There are many specialties in this trade, that others can’t or won’t do. Get the knowledge on these specialties and stay way ahead of the competition.

Don’t try to be the super sales person with your first meeting with the customer. Instead be the wood floor Educator. But KNOW what you are talking about, back up your knowledge with references. This is no place to be faking it, the next bidder will shoot your unsound ideas down fast. If you do not know the answer to all their questions offer to do some research and get back to them. Do this for everybody you talk to, until word gets around that you KNOW of what you speak. And your floor jobs are really looking most beautiful, just like the ad says.

Now only when you find yourself booked about a month ahead, do you increase the prices you bid on jobs beyond that. Increase your charges by at least 25% each month as you book further in advance until after 6 months or a year has passed your are able to charge double what the lowest bidder get. Now in most cases the jobs take about twice as long, you think, and the finish you are now using cost a lot more than the local stuff you were using. So where are the profits?

As of this writing you should be able to charge about $3 per square foot for most basic hardwood installations, and between 2-4 dollars per foot to sand and finish, depending on the complexity of the finish. That’s what I get, and I am typically booked 2-4 months in advance. But I’ll tell you now, I really work hard for this extra money. I have no call backs or complaints from my jobs and I have extra time between jobs, because I spend more time on these larger jobs. I do less traveling between jobs, and do fewer quotes. The quotes I do give out, believe me, are competitive and I am well in the running for these jobs. All in all I am more relaxed and can focus on the job at hand. This focus translates to better work and better money. And a lot less wear and tear on me, and my machines.

No one will remember, years from now, just what they paid for a really beautiful hardwood floor, and they will enjoy the look of it every day. If you were warm and personable with them, they may even remember you. That’s the very best reference. But on the other hand they will never forget the hack whose job they must see under their feet each day. Bad news travels fast and far and there is no stopping it.

Well the truth is that you have just begun. Because now you have to maintain what you have started. Every call that comes to you must be answered promptly, and you must communicate in simple and well understood language just why and how you create these beautiful floors. Not fast floors, not a cheap floor, but a durable and beautiful floor. By now you have many past customers with the gorgeous wood floors, and so happy they chose you because of quality and price. Use them as references. Always volunteer at least 3 references when you do a quote. And hopefully from the same area. This way, they can go see your job. They will be so confident in you abilities, that even your higher prices will be no longer a deterrent.

If you were shrewd enough to read my Hiring a Contractor article, you will have gained some little insight into how to market your service to your customers right from the start. Oh there’s that magic word, I said it "Marketing". It can mean almost anything, but for your sake it means getting the customers you want and the jobs priced well enough so you can pay yourself and your employees wages, and have a profit left over.

So most floor contractors believe that marketing begins and ends with advertising. The truth is the ad is only the start of marketing yourself to the world. So if you have the patience I’ll tell you all my secrets of how to get all the jobs you need for the money you want. And that’s the main thing you’ve got to accomplish, it’s your job to become the ideal tradesman, you’ve got a lot to learn.

The first thing to do is to promptly return any incoming calls yourself. Not the secretary and not your spouse. You are the expert, and you need to present yourself up front right away. I make most of my return calls in the evening after 7 pm. And also I stop work about 11:30 and call the people who left work numbers the day before or that morning. Of course I try to check my answering machine several times a day.

The first thing I say over the phone is always my name and the company name, and right away I say, HOW MAY I HELP YOU TODAY?. No matter what mood I am in or how tired I am I always listen to everything the potential client asks and tells me. I usually have to ask them a series of questions to clarify their situation. I am interested in what type of wood floor they have, and I am genuinely interested in how old the floor is. They may have already been to a showroom, and have already decided the brand of new floor they now want you to install. Here is where you can stand above the others calls they may have made.

You should ask them about the subfloor, and help them try to determine if a prefinished floor is really suitable to their situation. They may know little about what is under their carpet, and it will be up to you to do an estimate that includes doing any needed repairs, shimming or beefing up of the subfloor in order to make sure the installation will go well. They may need quarter round, and this you can provide for a reasonable price, and material that will match the floor. You might want to include moving furniture in and out of the job, so that they can just sit back and enjoy the process.

If it’s an old floor don’t just launch into your prices and the finish you use. Instead, I often make a guess at what type of finish they have on the floor, based on age and condition. And that’s really what I want to get out to you, the floor mechanic, that unless you make an impression in those first few seconds that you are interested in their particular job, you will never get any further than that. Especially if they don’t know anything about you.

So a prompt call back within 24 hours, and a lively well spoken floor mechanic on the phone who sounds keen to listen to their problems and concerns. They may be an educated consumer (i.e. they may have visited the Wood Floor site) and will grill you on all that you know. They may be passive and just want to know what you think is best.

Well, here’s where your marketing skills come in. Speak to them clearly with simple language, about exactly how you do the floor installation, or how you sand a floor silky smooth. The details may fascinate or simply bore them, you have to get a feel for how much information is too much. It’s important that you pause often to see if they are understanding what you are saying. You have to get the most shy customer talking, this is essential. But be sure to hit on the points that you know the other floor companies just ignore. That you use flooring nails and not staples, that you sand the floor at least 3 times (or more for stained floors). Be sure to include all or any these little details that you know are unique to the industry. Try to work these details into an easy going conversation over the phone. Never use the hard sell approach, it rarely works these days. Not on good customers anyway.

So there’s the secret, before you’ve even stated your price, they know that they are dealing with a cracker jack tradesman, who loves his job, and will do the best by them. You will have to answer their questions about your prices, and they may remark on how they seem high. And then you should be able trot out your many, many excellent references, over many years. Be sure to state that the most expensive job is one that wears out in less that 3-5 years, and has to be done over and over, by the short-cut production tradesmen with fast but questionable methods.

Sometimes the potential client even over the phone will tell you that they are only intend to stay in the house a few years anyway, and want to sell it to move up to a better house. You could counter that by stating that a poorly done hardwood floor job will actually detract from the houses value. Having to later redo a poorly wearing floor finish simply for the resale, is the real waste of money. Some poorly done finishes (like the lacquer sealer and one coat poly) will only last as little as 6 months in heavily used areas. Houses more often than not will take longer than that to sell.

You may want to say (if they still baulk at your price) that if they are only looking for the cheapest job, your price won’t be it, and they should continue their search, thank you. Just say politely that you don’t like to waste anybody’s time doing a quote in person, when only price is the criteria. It is almost always true that you get what you pay for (notwithstanding fraudulent floor men). And seeing how you should not collect a cent from a resand job until the final coat of finish has dried several days, any fraud could not be done by your firm. Even for new floor installations you will have a large last payment held back by the customer, until they are satisfied that all that was said is now done. And any new floor will have all aspects warranted for a year at least. But have the customer read and understand just what conditions prefinished floor warranties are limited by, and whether or not your firm will act as an agent to remedy these warranties. Best to be honest about this now.

But when you have a receptive customer, and they want you to give them a quote in person, try to make the appointment within a few days. And try to have all decision makers at home when you do. It has been shown that women make 80 % of the household buying decisions, so having her there will be essential. I make most of my appointments after 7 PM when everybody involved is relaxed after dinner and settled in for the night. Don’t make people take time off from work to see you, they will be distracted I assure you.

You MUST show up 5-10 minutes early. NEVER come in late. You shouldn’t be dressed too well or they will assume you are not going to be involved in the work. But I try not to show up in dusty work clothes either. Just neat and tidy blue jeans and shirt. Sort of a "Norm Abrams" style. Have all your samples with you in a tidy package, and be prepared to write them out a quote right there and then. This is very important. If you have have left them with a positive impression, they will have a well written detailed quote to remember you by. A quote arriving by mail a week later, may not trigger such a memory. A written quotation on the spot makes you look decisive, and confident.

Notice how I say quotation, and not estimate. There is a difference. A lot of States new consumer laws demand that the estimate be within 10% of the final amount charged. Even for hourly charged repairs. So why not do that one better and give your perspective clients and iron clad quotation, no surprises.

There is no doubt that you can help them with their decision, suggesting the best floor for their particular subfloor. I sell mostly unfinished floors, that are of course sanded on site. I might bring a few species of wood plank or strip floor. Some stain samples, but of course not all. In my case I need them only to choose a species of wood, and the final color of the stain or clear finish can be shown on the wood floor itself. So for me only a few samples are needed. And that’s the key, don’t overwhelm the customer with choices. They can go to any showroom for that. What you really want them to understand is that certain types of floor may not be suitable for their subfloor type or decor. So, one by one eliminate the choices down to a select few. That’s what you are really there for. To find the best method of installation, and the color of the wood can be decided on their own. Oh, and that’s important, they need to see the different colored floors in all the types of natural and artificial light, that the floor will be exposed to. So don’t bring samples unless you can leave them there. I prefer to show the stain colors right on the newly sanded floor. And I let my clients take all the time they need to decide. But this only pertains to sand-on-site floors obviously.

And that’s the key, you are NOT there that night to make them decide on your company. You are there to gain their confidence. To impress them that you know the suitability of their subfloor, for the floor they are about to choose. And you know the type of finish that is on the floor you are recommending will suit their ability to maintain it.

But by all means answer ALL their questions fully and HONESTLY. If you know some drawbacks to a particular type of wood floor, tell them up front. If they then choose that type knowing this, they will not blame you for the shortcomings. Really, you have to imagine that this was your house, and you were under the same budget constraints that they are. What would you choose in this case.

Write up the quote, not on all the types of floor, but something that is best for the house. Include all taxes, labor etc., so they can see what the final cost will be. BE TRANSPARENT. That alone will set you apart from other sales people.

Leave the quote with them, and be sure to tell them to call you if they have any other questions. You have all the measurements, and subfloor specs, so you’d be glad to quote a different style of floor over the phone. Leave at least 3 references, without asking, on the back of the quote. Now, if you’ve been doing great work, there will be no need for you to call these references and prepare them for a call from your prospective client. If you are worried about what your past customers are going to say about you, just what the heck have you been doing anyway!

You might consider calling these prospective clients back after about 2 weeks. But I rarely do. If they believe you are desperate for the work, they may try to beat your price down or try convincing you to add expensive extras for nothing. So just sit tight and wait until they call you. If by then they still want a reduced price, here’s what to suggest. Tell them they could certainly save some money if they did some of the work themselves. Like removing the carpet, moving the furniture or even ripping up worn out old hardwood. They may be able to handle simple renailing or repairing of the subfloor. Give them an exact quote on what each part of the job will cost to do, so that you can start adding up the savings if they wish. Sometimes the owners will be glad to do some of the grunt work themselves.

I even go a step further than this and suggest they just let me install the floor (that they have purchased at a wholesale level), and sand it only. Then I promise to coach them through the finishing of the floor themselves. When I have done my coaching well, the job will turn out as good if not better than most of the so called professional floor jobs. The final cost will then be quite competitive with the lowest price in the city. Your clients will have spent a few weekends following your precise instructions, and they are now talking about your prowess as a wood floor teacher though-out the neighborhood. You have gained their trust, and this will blossom into more jobs that you can handle. You will not have to be the lowest bidder anymore. They will know they are getting good value for their money when they hire you.

You can usually do this cooperative type job for about half to 2/3 of the price of a finished job and if you send him/her to the Wood Floor web site, to read and down load one of our How To articles you will hardly will have to do any coaching at all. I have done all the detailed instructions already in my OMP (oil modified polyurethane) article. Your customer will have the best of both worlds, an excellent and beautiful but cheap job.

You could do all this in less than a year in a small community. Heck, even big cities are just a series of small neighborhoods. Neighbors often talk about the great tradesmen, but complain bitterly of the poor ones. Bad news about poor tradespeople as I said before travels twice as far, and twice and fast. Do anything you can to keep from getting a bad reputation in a small close knit community. Bend over backwards for all of your customers. Do your work well, and be willing to help with the moving out, or moving back in if needed. Help with the cleaning, whatever they need. Just don’t lower your price to meet the so-called competition. You are going to develop unique ways of work, that put you beyond the ordinary production guys.

I’ve got a lot of information in this web site, and it’s not all about how to install and sand floors. There are lots of other methods to restore hardwood floors. Be sure to have a lot knowledge of these alternatives before you bid on a job. Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat (ouch , that sounds awful). Choose the best floor or restoration method for each job. It’s your job as the skilled mechanic to suggest this to your prospective client.

And really that’s your job, not a marketer or salesman, but an educator. Sort of like what I am doing for you right now, and you appreciate this article don’t you, after all you’ve read it to the end. Good for you, it shows you have a good and long attention span. And hopefully a eye for details, I just know you will succeed.