Years ago when I was first starting out in this business I was told, “Take good care of your installer. Your installer can make you or break you.” I have to say that after 21 years in this business those words still ring true.
These days, installers are becoming a rare commodity. Designers and workroom owners covetously guard the names and numbers of their prized installers. With the number of installers dwindling and the demand increasing, it is important that the window coverings industry, as a whole, learn to maximize each installer’s time.
As always, time is money, especially for the installer. Profits depend on turning work quickly. An installer isn’t making money sitting in traffic or chasing after components for a job. He doesn’t have time to solve a puzzle that consists of a plastic bag full of fabric. He is the person in the line of fire when things don’t go as planned or the customer wants to seize the moment and vent to the nearest target. The installer just needs things to go right so he can move on to the next job.
Workrooms and designers risk messing up a drapery, but the installer risks the house, the expensive rug, the antiques and the draperies. Spending too little time dressing the treatment properly can ruin the installer’s reputation, but spending too much time doing the same can hit him right in the pocketbook. Again, time is money for the installer. He or she balances between doing a good job, doing it right, and doing it fast.
Early in my career I was an installer. For 15 years I installed everything my company sold. I know what it is like to install in the cold, the heat and the rain. I know what it is like to load it all, haul it all and find that the customer forgot to put the key under the mat costing me a day’s work. I know what it is like to have an angry customer at my throat about something over which I have no control. I know about driving, and driving and driving only to find that the directions I was given were wrong. And I know about being out late on a Friday night installing for a party the next day and having my drill strip a gear. And about being totally finished, including packing all the tools in the van late on a Saturday afternoon, only to reach over for one last pull on a traverse rod and feeling it come completely unstrung in my hand. Installing is not for the fainthearted or the lazy.
As I installed, there were many times I wished I could take my workroom employees out on the job with me. There was the time I pulled a valance out of the bag to find the rod pocket had only the bottom seam, and the time I was holding a product that wasn’t made as specified. These were times that I sure had egg on my face. I have often said that all workroom people should have to go with the installer to understand what they go through to make everyone involved with the project look good.
FABRICATE WITH INSTALLATION IN MIND
There is a lot that workrooms and designers can do to make the job of the installer easier. Because I am also an installer, I find that my fabrication methods are always with the installation in mind. I often ask myself, “How can I build this so it will go up with the least amount of trouble?” On difficult projects I consult with the installer to make a plan of attack for ease of installation.
A recent project that my company constructed involved elaborate, 20-foot arched-top panels attached to a board. With lining and interlining there was a considerable weight issue. Underneath the panels there was an arched-top London shade also attached to a board.
Our plan was to make two separate arched boards—one for the underneath shade and another for the long panels because of weight concerns. We were unable to attach the corner brackets to the underneath side of the topmost arches, so careful measurements had to be made to make the installation go as planned. Because the expense of renting a power lift was necessary, I attended the installation with a full set of tools, including an air compressor and stapler, to be on standby in case of adjustments or repairs. The job was massive, filling an entire trailer located some distance away. Leaving the installer to fend for himself under those circumstances would have been unthinkable.
AND DESIGNERS CAN DO TO HELP
When scheduling an installation, the installer wants to know the scope of the work. Packing enough jobs into the day, without over scheduling, is a trick because the installer can only estimate how long a job will take without knowing if he might run into any kind of problems. Working with a workroom that specializes in having everything ready to go and fabricated with ease of installation in mind allows the installer to schedule more jobs in a day, which helps the installer’s profitability.
The hardware is always a big concern for the installer. What it is, where it is, and who is providing it are questions that installers should be asking.
Simply having clear directions on how the treatment is meant to look is extremely helpful. I remember one particular instance where the installer was not informed that the panels should puddle. He drilled into a $100 per single roll of wallpaper. Of course, not allowing for the puddle meant that the rods were hung too high. Having clear instructions would have prevented such a costly mistake.
Even better than clear instructions is having the designer present at the installation. The designer can act as director of the installation, she can distract the customer at opportune times, and she can pay the installer on the spot. Installation time is showtime. The customer wants to celebrate or complain, as the case may be. The installer is put in an awkward position if the customer starts asking questions that can only be answered by the designer.
Knowing where to go, how to gain access, and where to park are other important things the installer needs to know. The person who measures the job should also make note of the best places to park, the best entrance to use, and plan a staging area for the install. There’s the story of the designer who was upset because her installer was angry with her. It seems as though she couldn’t remember where the installation should be in a huge hospital. She and the installer wandered the halls carrying ladders and tools for almost an hour. When they finally found the room, they couldn’t find their way back to the installer’s van. The designer couldn’t understand why he was so put out with her. But her actions likely caused him to be late for a whole series of installations.
Often, installers will also provide a measuring service. If someone else measures the job, the measurements should be made in an organized way so the installer knows which product goes where. My personal method is to enter a room and mark the leftmost window as window No. 1. I then work my way around the room left to right. When measuring a commercial building, I work my way around the building the same way. I start at the leftmost room from the door I entered and work my way around the building left to right. A hand-drawn map, even a rudimentary one helps the installer to know how products are numbered and in what order they should be installed.
Noting which side of the building the installation is going to be on is also something else that would be helpful. A large window facing west is a killer on a hot summer afternoon. Anything unusual, such as the need for special ladders or tools is pertinent information that the installer should have. Also, hauling products into the building and sorting them out often takes more time than the actual installation so any help in moving that process along is beneficial.
When scheduling installations, the customer should be given a general timeframe rather than an exact time. Providing the customer’s phone number so the installer can communicate his progress is helpful to both the installer and the customer. If, as a workroom, you are involved with providing the installer, it is helpful to you to not be in the position of taking the time to relay messages between the installer and the customer.
It is vital to understand that spending time to backtrack and collect money reduces the installer’s productivity and profitability. For example, five installs in a day might be for five different people. Chasing down payments from five different sources means wasting time that could be better spent installing even more jobs.
If you want your favorite installer to call you his favorite workroom or his favorite designer, do all you can to help him do his job. You will be glad you did!
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.