Saturday, March 27, 2010

Contractors: When Things Go Wrong

This was one of those very challenging weeks where things didn't go as planned. I had to fire a contractor and that is always an unpleasant event.  Let's face it, without contractors a designer can not do their job.  The vision we have for a space, the ideas we propose to clients require skilled individuals to execute.  They are  key players in what I fondly refer to as my trio.  The trio consists of the client, the contractor and me.  Often I am working with the contractor the client has selected.  In other situations, I will recommend a particular contractor that I am very confident in their professionalism and abilities.  In most cases, they have been test driven...in my home!  Or, I have seen their work in person.  And sometimes, even this is not enough.
Case in point.  This past week I had to fire the painting contractor off the job for the client whose closets I am re-doing.  Here's a recap.  The painting was suppose to start a week ago, but the day before Mr. Painter called to say they were running behind on another job, could they push it to next week?  I called my client she said okay even though she had already emptied out 5 closets.  This past Tuesday, the painter I had "sold" her on showed up on time with 2 other men.  He then instructed one man about the work to be done and left.  She callled me to inquire if I knew this, because other than to introduce himself he did not speak to her.
I immediately called Mr. Painter to inquire about the situation and he replied "She is getting me, because he is my guy and I am the best and therefore she is still getting the best!"  My response, besides difficulty comprehending the arrogance I had not previously been exposed to, was to say "Well I sold you and this has taken us both by surprise, so I will trust what you are saying."  After this statement, I was trying to talk to him and he kept talking over me and said he had to go to another job, but would be a "good boss" and check my job later. Ok. Fine. I called my client and told her that the man at her home is one of his employees and he assures me will do an excellent job.  I have worked with this client before.  She trusted what I said.

Later that evening, I received another call from my client saying she was unhappy with the work.  There are drips, holes that were not filled, nail pops not fixed, and shelves that had previously been covered with a paper not sanded.  Oh, and Mr. Painter did not come back to check on the work/progress.  All things I had emailed as well as discussed with Mr. Painter ahead of time!  I called him and said "I think we have a few problems over at...." and began relaying the concerns.  More talking over me, some profanity and then "they're closets!" and I said "that makes no difference, she is paying for a professional paint job!"  I then began to try to explain to him how it is very important for me to manage the expectations of each client and job, still thinking he would apologize and say I will take care of all the issues personally and not to worry.  He did not say any of those things, but instead  said "get to your point, I don't have time for this!"  I said  "Ok.  Here is my point...your fired."  Silence.  And then he said, "Are you @#$%@&#.....kidding me?  No one has ever fired me off a job and you're not even giving me a chance to fix it!"  I said ,"You have had two conversations worth of chances to say the right things and be professional and you have chosen not to.  He then asked me not to share this with a couple via me he had just quoted work for.  I said I can not promise that because I do not  think you are the right painter for them either.  He then said, "Oh, so now your trying to take business away from me?"  My reply, "These are people who I have known for 15 years, I care about them.  Without my recommendation, the business would not have been yours to quote."  I then said, "It is regrettable our relationship is ending on a sour note and that I am sorry to have ruined your evening."  He said, "You didn't even ruin my day because I just bought a brand new Ford F-150 with Harley Davidison (something or other) and it was a great day!"  We hung up and just then it occured to me....there was no other more important/difficult painting job.  He had lied.

I immediately got on the phone trying to line up my favorite contractor to beg for a favor.  Yes, that is what a good designer should do for their clients in my opinion. We spoke and he said he could work me into his schedule for Thursday and Friday, but he would have to put 3 guys on it and I would need to make sure all the paint is there.  Whew, I had  been saved!!!   I called my client and said " Mr. Painter has been dismissed from the job and a new crew of 3 will be there on Thursday.  She said "Thanks, this is such a relief."   I met my contractor's painter that morning, to go over the details of the job.  I was on time, he was early.  When I was walking toward the house he came down the driveway to greet me, then grabbed my client's trash bin from the curb, as well as the gallon of paint I was holding, and put the bin in her garage.  The first closet we got to, he pointed out all the things that needed fixing.  This was going to be a very good day.  I made the right decision for both of us. I always notice these little gestures and details.  They often provide me with everything I need to know!

This situation definately took time away from blogging, so please excuse the lack of posting. I have been planning to do a post on contractors....just not this one!   I will eventually do one that outlines key elements of what I think you need to know and look for when hiring contractors based on my experiences as a designer and homeowner.

images courtesy google

28 comments:

  1. What an ass!!!! Pardon my language, but that was the phrase that kept coming to my mind as I read his responses to your concerns. I think you handled the situation perfectly; your clients are lucky to have you. Have a great weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. As a designer, the most important thing we can do is manage our client's expectations. I say this over and over around my office, to my clients and to our contractors.

    Managing client expectations and overseeing execution of a project are critical to the success of any creative idea - be it building an addition, installing a kitchen or painting a closet. Good for you for promptly fixing the issue!

    Marija

    ReplyDelete
  3. I feel your pain, I have had something similar happen in my own home with a contractor I had used before, but his crew had changed, that should have been my first clue. I turned out to be the contractor watching every tile that was layed, it was a crazy experience. Good contractors are worth their weight in gold. I am glad you got it resolved. I bet the weekend was a welcomed site for you, Relax! Kathysue

    ReplyDelete
  4. Have so much to say on this issue, but it would become a novel here. Had the worst experience EVER with Contractors when we started our Vt. renovation, if I had the blog then, would have completely outted them, for what it was worth, if not just to make myself feel better. Not living in the unit while a lot of work was being done, only to come up with all 3 children to find the mess we found was akin to vandalism! So many horrible experiences with awful contractors, but thankfully have found some amazing ones now too. I am not a decorator, but I can imagine that this HAS to be the most stressful aspect of your job. You handled it perfectly! Your clients are lucky indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Way to handle things (your clients are lucky to have you on the job!). What IS it with contractors? Does the job attract the dishonest? Or do we just notice incompetence so much more in this area because it's personal - in our homes?

    ReplyDelete
  6. i hear you loud and clear and believe me... we have all been there.
    we have to protect our clients... it is what they have hired us to do but it is also in our hearts to do the right thing... wouldn't it be nice if everyone felt that way?

    rest well this weekend xx

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wow, if he keeps this up he may not be able to pay for his new Ford F-150. Sorry you had such a stressful time - sounds like your client is please though.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi
    This is the first time that I have left a comment on your blog, as I recently have found it. I thought your story and the way you told it, told of your class and elegant way in which it was told. And I thank you for sharing this as I'm afraid it does happen. I couldn't agree with you more, the 2nd crew of painters, you do notice the little things, like taking the paint from you and carrying it for you.....makes all the difference. Again thanks for sharing and keeping it real.
    Take care
    Janine
    XXOO
    Tasmania, Australia

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi: I'm new to your blog....came here through Holding Court(you always leave comments there, so I thought for once I would follow up!)
    This is very good for so many reasons: but I think taking immediate action is the most important. It is amazing how, in a service oriented business, some people just do not have a clue as how to relate to other people i.e. customers! And, of course, it is the DETAILS that matter (hence the name of my blog!).

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am truly appreciating all of the feedback of a challenging topic. No doubt, we all learn something along the way by sharing and relating.

    MNH, I had the same thought :)

    Janine, I can't thank you enough!

    Eye, I think everyone in the design business is detailed oriented. It's this component combined with talent and good communication skills that allows us to have any sort of success.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am sorry you had to experience that and you did right by your client. I had an issue with a guy I call for some jobs I need done. The last time we saw him did not end well but almost a year later, I needed him this week after the big storms we had in the NorthEast. Before he came by, I sent love out there to the universe and it worked. He was pleasant and seemed pleased that we called him again. Phew!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wow, what a nightmare! I'm sure your client appreciated your quick work to make things right.

    I can't help but wonder if you first painter was having some personal challenges you were not privy to. Not an excuse at all, but there must be some reason a previously good and trusted painter went off the deep end!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow, I am not a designer... but I have been on the client end many times and it's so great to see how you watched out for your peeps. This is the way to earn trust and get tons of great referrals!
    -ME
    P.S. I love your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  14. YAY for you standing up to the oh so UN professional Mr. Painter. What a jerk.
    I know your client appreciates all you are doing for her and more business will be coming your way via her recommendations!

    ps....my client in Clifton has a fab painter if you ever need another one!

    ReplyDelete
  15. thank you for sharing this frustrating exoerience. it has happened to us all but your poise set you apart
    well done
    debra

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's amazing people manage to build up a business with that kind of attitude, though as you say it hadn't been visible before. I can't stand that kind of arrogance, he sounds like he has a real chip on his shoulder, so well done for getting rid of him firmly but tactfully. After all he did have two chances to take control of the situation.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Great job for fixing it so quickly! I think that's what the customer's will remember. I too had to fire a contractor mid bathroom renovation and was LUCKY enough to find another one at the 11th hour. I am now using the new contractor on our Master Bath, so finding good ones is tough but worth it! Hope all turns out well! *Amy

    http://landscapeandlifestyles.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  18. Sorry this happened to you and your client. How frusterating!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ugh, what an awful situation. I am glad you had it all worked out and your client was happy. If you ever need an awesome painter recommendation email me offline. I swear the guys leave the house cleaner each night when they leave than they do when they arrive each Am. And, their prices are competitive.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hard situations to deal with in this business. You handled it well, sorry you had it in the first place...

    ReplyDelete
  21. You're hired! ;)

    We've been on the verge of firing our contractor and we're on the second set of painters. I won't even go into what the first set did...it wasn't good.

    Your clients are blessed to have you watching out for them!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sadly, so many of us have been in your shoes-I'm not sure why it always has to end so badly-I had to sit on my porch at 7 every morning for a month dialing my contractor and asking who would be showing up-but as a true professional, it sounds like you pulled it off and your new painter sounds like a dream. Nice post! Best, Barbara

    ReplyDelete
  23. What a horrible experience! Good for you for staying strong and not giving this guy another chance. I think people who are nice and well mannered do that too often so as not to offend anyone. Hopefully the rest of your week will finish nicely.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I LOVE how you handled the situation -- I need to copy the dialogue down for when I have a similar experience. What a complete jerk, but you come off with such class -- way to go!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I really appreciated this post. When we were building our Farmhouse we had to let a contractor go. It was not a fun experience. We were the general contractors and we were not going to put up with poor work. We definatley learned a lot along the way!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Great post. I have not experienced such a situation myself (yet) but when I do, I hope to handle it with as much professionalism and class as you did. Mr Bad Contractor had no idea the extended ramifications of his need to have a new truck THAT day. (what? he couldn't wait til Saturday?) He's a good example too... of what NOT to do.

    ReplyDelete
  27. As much as I hate that this happened to you and your client, I appreciated reading the 'behind the scenes' write up of your experience. In this economy, I am surprised that anyone in the service industry is not giving 100% time and attention to their clients (the painter)! You certainly are taking great care of your clients.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I feel your pain! We had the contractor from hell working on our home and I still think of him every day as I walk over my bouncy kitchen floor that he failed to take responsibility for. The only thing I am grateful for is that I did not recommend him to any of my clients. I fell on that grenade myself.
    Great post!!!!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment!