Confessions of a carpet fitter (1)

Our carpet-fitter says he doesn’t know how he got away with some of the work he did in the past. But he would’ve done it better if the company had made it possible.

ABOUT seven years ago now I was fitting for one of the big companies. No names, but their fitters get a lot of flak, some of it they deserve, but a lot is down to the way the company works and isn’t the fitters’ fault at all.

We used to be given a minimum of 120m a day including at least one (usually two) stairs. The manager was supposed to arrive early so we could get in and loaded before the shop opened, but we would often wait for an hour until he wandered in a bit worse for wear from the night before.

It was a big shop and there were three teams of fitters.

The cuts weren’t usually ready, so we had to find them and get them off the racks ourselves, which we weren’t supposed to do. It didn’t matter if the estimator had put down all the room sizes, the carpet was always supplied as one piece to save them having to do all the cuts on their state-of-the-art machines at their depot, cost-cutting for them but ball-aching for us, especially as we were fighting for space with two other fitters trying to do the cutting down.

The estimator made so many errors we’d often find we had to take out all but one room and go back when more carpet had been delivered.

When we got onsite we’d find the estimator hadn’t checked the condition of the floor, and often had told the customer they could keep their existing gripper when it was rusty and loose. If we’d done the estimate, we’d have been able to quote for doing a proper job, but instead we would have to either do extra work without charge or just get the carpet down and hope for the best.

The underlay was another joke. If the order said we needed 40m, the manager would give us two rolls and tell us to make it fit. Sometimes we could, but we had to devise a few ‘techniques’ to eke it out, sometimes stretching it a bit, using only stair pads, or even re-using some of the existing underlay when the customer wasn’t watching.

They never supplied tape to join the underlay, so we never used any. Then they decided to introduce ‘standards’ that required us to supply it at our own cost. Of course, we did. Not.

Another thing they did which made it easier for them but harder for us was to stock only a limited range of door bars and accessories. Raised base bars give a much better look than flat ones, but they didn’t sell them, and the ones they did sell looked really cheap in spite of the price they charged the customers. And there was only one type of gripper (they renamed medium pin ‘universal’ and it had to be used for any thickness of carpet).

We tried lots of times to get the manager to do something about this, and even spoke to the regional sales manager when we could, but we were just treated as if we were whingers.

I’d rather do a quality job, but in those days it was rarely possible because everything was about profit margins and volume, it wasn’t about customer care. The customers got charged for delivery of the carpets, but I delivered them in my van so there was no cost to the shop, while I never got the delivery charge. They also charged a ‘fitting deposit’ that got paid to the shop when the customer ordered and I never saw that, either. They must have made so much money out of fitting without actually doing any themselves.

To add to all of that, the manager clearly had his favourites. One fitter hardly ever got stairs, especially in the run-up to Christmas. He could earn nearly twice as much as me because he got the easy lays. His work wasn’t very good, but if there were any complaints that manager always asked me to go and have a look, but again that wasn’t something I got paid for.

I got so fed up with the treatment I jacked it in. I managed to get three days a week for an independent who took pride in the jobs he did. The estimating was much better, and we got all the right stuff to do a good job. Then on the other days I picked up private work.

My earnings went down to start with, but soon I was getting paid much better rates and I could take more time to do everything the way I wanted, so customers were much more grateful and in seven years I’ve had a good number who’ve come back to me three or four times for additional work, or when they’ve moved house.

Now I look back I wonder how I got away with some of the work I did then. But I would’ve done it better if the company had made it possible.