Maintaining an Advantage
Use wood floor maintenance to help boost your business
After you install and finish a new wood floor for your customers, do you ever expect to see them again? Sure, you hope that you won't get any call-backs or complaints, but will you be going back to do a screen and recoat within the next few years? Might they have a few more rooms they'd like to put hardwood in after they enjoy the one you just installed? Are you in this relationship with your customer for the long haul, or do you give your clients the "taillight guarantee"? As you might predict, the former option is the one that will build a solid customer base and improve your profits.
Customers want to work with contractors who they can trust. Unfortunately, those contractors are all too rare. If your customers think of you as honest, that's the first step to building a long-term relationship. An important part of that is creating realistic expectations of the wood floors up front â€” before the contract is even signed.
Customers who realize that their floors aren't impervious to an onslaught of spills, grit and water will be less likely to call back with complaints in the future. That means explaining proper maintenance, including the use of throw rugs, floor protector pads and wood floor cleaners. One way to encourage customers to use the correct cleaner on their wood floors is to include the cost of the cleaner into the job with the initial bid, or at least offer it at the time you're finishing the job. A simple explanation of how humidity levels affect wood floor performance also helps avoid the typical complaints about cracks between boards. In addition to a verbal explanation, give this information to the customer in writing. (See "Wood Flooring Expansion and Contraction," February/March, p. 74, and the following page of this issue.) The NWFA has a floor-care brochure available to members.
Another area where you need to be up front with customers is the recoat schedule. They'll be disappointed if they've been led to believe that their floors will look brand new forever. Take a proactive stance: Leave behind a recoating schedule.
Of course, there are times when you may do a job and have very little or no contact with the home owner, especially if you do a lot of builder work. This doesn't mean that you've lost a chance to build a relationship with the home owner. You can send a follow-up letter to that address thanking them for their business, or leave behind a door hanger with your company's contact information on the job site. Some contractors put stickers from their company on the floor cleaner they've sold, and others have even been known to brand their company name into the wood floor (in an inconspicuous place such as a closet, of course). Even if you have worked with the home owner more closely, tactics such as these are important to keep you on the customers' mind.
For some contractors, being on the customers' mind is exactly what they are afraid of. They think that if they make it easy for the customer to contact them, they'll be deluged with complaints, not more business. Occasionally, that may be true: A follow-up call or contact can uncover a problem, not rave reviews. Even this situation can help your business in the long run, however. If there is a legitimate problem and you handle it honestly and fairly, the customer will end up respecting your business. If you've got the relationship back on solid footing, he may even consider your business when it's time for a recoat.
The savvy contrac-tor doesn't just leave it up to his custo-mers to decide that their floors are due for a recoat. Just like the dentist who so diligently sends re-minders every six months, wood floor-ing contractors should let their customers know when their floors are due for a checkup. A simple postcard can be all the reminder the customer needs. This can even work for customers whose business you didn't get â€” you can keep track of jobs you lost and get their business the second time around.
The best thing about pursuing a maintenance program is that it doesn't take a lot of effort, and the rewards you reap â€” both your good reputation and your increased profits â€” are great. That's a combination that should inspire any good contractor to get with the program. â€” K.M.W.