Weíve probably all been there. Itís the day of the installation, weíre opening packages at the job site and there it is: a shade with a major problem beyond a simple fix. You have that sinking feeling knowing that the install wonít be finished today and you have to break the bad news to the customer. It seems like if it wasnít one thing it would be another. What does it take to have a clean install?
Iíve never seen a study on the subject, but failed installations result from three problems in main categories:
1. Mistake by the salesperson, such as a measuring or specification error, or an order entry error.
2. Mistake by the fabricator, such as an order entry transcription error or fabrication mistake.
3. Freight damage caused by poor packaging or rough handling.
After several decades in the window coverings business I think Iíve seen about every possible error. But you donít have to be a helpless victim and suffer another failed installation. Besides having a good parts kit and a skilled installer on the job, there are things you can do to substantially increase your installation success.
BEFORE AND DURING THE SALES APPOINTMENT
The time to start preparing for installation is before you sell anything, or even begin the sales appointment. Make sure you have a good understanding of how your products will be installed. Be well trained and study all product specifications. Take advantage of fabricator training seminars. When you are with your client, listen to their expectations and make sure reality equals expectations. Now, not at time of installation, is when those expectations need to match reality.
Weíve probably all had customers that want window coverings that defy the laws of physics. Donít promise what canít be done or your installation will be a nightmare. During the sales appointment, explain what is possible and how the product will work.
Recently, I was working with a client that wanted a fan-shaped shutter on a huge seven-foot radius. While I was able to design a system that could be built, the client also expected the vanes somehow to slide out of the way and stack on each other instead of in the normal tilt-to-view process. Another client wanted motorized tiebacks for drapery side panels for a home theater, and they probably had about $100 in mind for the equipment. Donít commit to the impossible or impractical whimsy of a customer.
AT ORDER TIME
Once the project has been closed and you are writing up the order form, make sure the writing is clear. This will cut down the chance for mistakes. This is also your only opportunity to make sure that side-by-side shades are going to be visually compatible. For example, roller shades may use different clutches, depending on width, but if they are side-by-side you need to specify the same size clutches to prevent an unpleasant visual surprise when installing.
For horizontal shades in the same room and about the same length, you want to consider a single length measurement to prevent the possibility of generating a different number of horizontal slats on similar windows. This is another important item to discuss with the customer when measuring their project.
Before you submit the order form, double-check all of your entries. When the fabricator sends you the order confirmation, go over it in detail to make sure there are no mistakes.
For a fabricator that takes orders online, double-check each entry before you send the order to its computer. This process of entering the order directly into the fabricatorís computer is preferred because it eliminates the possibility of the fabricator misinterpreting your order information during transcription. The rules for manufacture are also integrated into the automated order process, which prevents ordering a product that cannot be built. This saves time compared to a more manual process.
But thereís no substitute for checking every line before you press the send button.
WHEN RECEIVING FINISHED GOODS
Now that your order has been entered and you are sure of the accuracy, itís up to the workers on the floor to read the orders and build the window coverings according to the paperwork. For the most part, this is a pretty solid process, but errors do occur. A recent order included more than a dozen roller shades with white cassette enclosures. When the shades arrived I opened each box to make a visual inspection. One shade was built with a black cassette, contrary to all paperwork. Because I made this visual inspection I was able to catch the error before I drove 100 miles to the job site with my installer.
If any box arrives from a common carrier with visible damage, note it on the bill of lading while the driver is present. Look for open box flaps, crushed box ends, bent cartons and puncture holes that may lead you to hidden internal damage. Other indicators of possible damage are torn poly bags and damaged internal shade protection packaging. You want to do your detective work now to prevent a failed installation later.
While it is often impractical to verify every final dimension, you can still check your products to make sure the correct material was used, the colors look right, the options requested are in place and the installation hardware is present.
For battery-operated shades, I assemble them and test the operation. This also saves time on the job site. Recently this test uncovered a motor problem and I was able to deal with a solution before arriving at the site.
Some of todayís window treatments, such as those featuring soft vanes and sheer fabric, are among the most beautiful products you can offer your customer, but they come with high expectations, and rightly so. Immediately upon receipt, I open every one, operate it, and check it closely for any problems or imperfections. If any facia needs attention or thereís a fleck of metal in a vane, I want to deal with it now, not at installation time.
Finally, check the shade quantity and make sure the sidemark on the box matches the internal contents and that the right material is given to the right installer. Iíve had packers mix other companiesí shades inside my boxes.
As a final line of defense, make sure a complete parts repair kit is at every installation.
We in the custom window coverings industry provide a pretty complicated product that has untold opportunities for problems, but if you are willing to take the time, check and double check, you can eliminate most problems before you ever go to the installation. Your likelihood of completing your project successfully will be high. A happy customer added to your referral list will be your prize.
Steve Walton is president of Shades Of The Future, Inc., a retailer of window coverings, based in Beaverton, OR; www.shadesofthefuture.com.