What exactly do you expect?

GARRY BATEMAN, PRESIDENT, CFA.

Garry looks at how ‘expectation’ plays out in the flooring world, and how they vary between us all, whether corporate or individual.

EXPECTATION. How often do we hear that word used these days?

In a world where the minutia of daily life is commonly and immediately judged (usually online) as to whether right (meets expected standards) or wrong (falls short of expected standards), it’s perhaps appropriate to spend some time considering how this ‘expectation’ plays out in the flooring world.

With our desire to monitor or test everything, whether service or goods, comes the presence of minimum standards (usually centred on a defined viewpoint or desire) which then translate into something that we all ‘expect’.

The problem is these expected standards vary between us all, whether individuals or corporate. But expectations can be also influenced by historical facts or experience; quite often related to not meeting expected minimum standards. So how does this manifest itself in the flooring world?

A flooring contractor recently mentioned a conversation between a fitter from mainland Europe and a builder.
Fitter: Why do you have retentions in the UK?

Builder: To have retained funds to ensure companies return to put right any problems
Fitter: Why are there problems?

Builder: Common ‘standard’ in the UK building industry is work needing rectification
Fitter: But if you set out to do it right first time, given sufficient time to complete in the correct conditions, the expectation should be, no problems – why do you expect the opposite?

Builder: Bad experiences
So, we have two opposing ‘expectations’ – one positive and the other negative.

Conversely, architects and end users will have expectations concerning the finished quality and visual appearance of floor coverings. These may be higher than the flooring contractor or product can sensibly attain to but may be directly related to a flawed installation process.

So, how do you try to avoid the conflict that inevitably follows not meeting ‘expectations’?

One way of satisfying ‘expectation’ is to ensure clear communication and agreement of what is ‘expected’ from the installation ahead of starting work by all parties involved. That should include following recognised guidelines such as the relevant British Standard, manufacturer’s instructions and reference to the CFA Guide to Contract Flooring.

It’s fair to say the appearance, performance and durability of the installed floorcovering will be determined to a large extent by the quality of the prepared subfloor and the conditions in which they are laid. Failure to seek agreement ahead of commencing installation on necessary basics can lead to some interesting discussions later.

Conversation concerning a resilient tile installation:
Architect: Why can I see undulations in the floorcovering surface?
Installer: That is the uneven subfloor grinning through the product
Architect: Why is that?
Installer: We were asked to reduce subfloor preparation
Architect: Why would you do that? (looking at the main contractor)
Main contractor: Time and cost pressures – you did agree to this!

Sound familiar? The architect has not got the floor finish they expected and most probably then must have a difficult discussion with the end-user.

There are some practical things that can be done, such as on large or complex projects producing a fitted trial area to agree a benchmark standard to get signed off. This is an example of a pro-active option and one that will lead to meeting agreed expectations whilst avoiding or diffusing later problems.

Going back to the first scenario, the points raised by the fitter are extremely valid and hit at the core of commonly seen issues involving finished quality and standard of work. Being given insufficient time is a regular complaint amongst flooring contractors as, being one of the last trades, they are often ‘pressured’ to compromise installation procedures contrary to recognised standards to complete work in unrealistic timelines to help projects ‘catch up’ on lapsed time. This is too often coupled with less than correct working conditions – other trades working in or overhead same area, temperature too low, poor lighting, etc.

With restrictions such as these, it’s no wonder jobs aren’t finished as well as they should be with the resultant call back to site to engage in rectification work.

Floorlaying is a skilled occupation, and this needs acknowledgement onsite with proper recognition and provision of required installation procedures and standards. From a DIY perspective, it’s too late to complain that the gloss paint looks bumpy if no time had been allowed to rub down the woodwork first. You might say common sense, but it’s true.

For us all though, the comment made by the fitter, ‘But if you set out to do it right first time’, does bring with it a reminded responsibility to start any job with a high expectation as to the finished standard. Having been part of the assessment group for this years’ apprentice of the year, it was clear that all the entrants were trying their best to make the individual installations as good as possible. No top marks if you set out to ‘not do your best’.

Doing things right first time provides a positive outcome for everyone.

I’m reminded of my presidency themes - ‘training’ and ‘excellence’. In a very simplistic way, we can all ‘train ourselves’ to work within a mindset of ‘doing it right first time’. If we are unable due to lack of skill or knowledge, then we can seek appropriate training such as through Flooring Industry Training Association (Fita) installation courses.

If you ask people what is ‘excellence?’, you’ll probably get a similar answer: ‘excellence is about doing your best’.

Having this mindset will help us to not only match but excel in meeting our customer’s expectations.
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