Tips for Ensuring a Successful Installation

Editor’s Note: Beginning this month, long-time KBDN columnist Steve Nicholls will be addressing how design professionals go from conceptu-alizing and designing a project to actually getting it built in a new column, “Building the Job,” appearing exclusively in KBDN.

“You can’t always get what you want.”

If you’re not familiar with those words of wisdom from Mick Jagger, then you’re young and have a long career ahead of you in the kitchen and bath industry.

If you were around for that classic rock song, you’ll have learned from experience that not all of your dreams and ideas reach fruition.

Did you ever design a wonderful looking project, only to have it come out not looking all that great? The crown molding joints had wide gaps in them, the stone countertop seams weren’t in the right location, or the top of your backsplash had to be notched because the electrical outlets were set too low?

How about when the client’s painter decides that the ceiling color – which you carefully selected to be a shade different from the wall – can just be the same as all the other surfaces? It’s quicker for him, and he can make a few extra bucks, too. You visit the job and want to scream.

Welcome to the all-too-real world of the jobsite – and the gulf between what you design and what gets built. This problem doesn’t only happen to those who contract out the work. Whether you oversee the job yourself, hand it off to a project manager at your own firm or work with an outside contractor/remodeler, lack of communication can create a disconnect between what you design and the end result.

Let’s take a look at how you may have a better chance of getting your vision translated into reality.

Plan it out

It all starts with good planning.Whether the onsite work is headed up by you, a project manager from your firm or an outside contractor/remodeler that you’re partnering with, you want to get yourself prepared for the installation process, both mentally and physically. A good attitude is essential – it’s going to be somewhat chaotic when all of the trades descend on the job, so just accept it, and make sure you have a good project manager or remodeler alongside you.

Good plans and specifications are critical, too. Are your drawings clean, uncluttered and easy to read? How’s your appliance list? Is everything available? Better still, is the equipment ordered so everything is ready to go before the work starts?

The same goes for the cabinets and windows; many companies won’t even start the job if the cabinets aren’t on site or the windows are not ready in the lumberyard for pick-up.

And make sure you put out an up-to-date installation set of drawings for the project manager or remodeler before he starts, perhaps with all of the cabinet pieces clearly labeled and numbered so he’s not scratching his head among a pile of boxes and parts.

Before the installation starts, you may want to walk the jobsite. If you’re just involved in the cabinet part of the work, have your installer check the framing for flatness, for plumb and level conditions, especially at the ceilings or where tall cabinets intersect. Many newly framed walls have bows and bulges – have your lead person make sure that will work with what he’s planning to put in.

If your company is responsible for the whole remodel, then there may be other, more general items on your list to plan for. Have your clients removed and packed up all their “stuff” from the work area? Are there pictures hanging on the wall in an adjacent room that may fall off when your sheetrock subcontractor starts pounding on the new kitchen wall?

At our company, we try to organize a team meeting prior to launching into the job. It’s a chance for you as the designer or salesperson to go over the work with the other players, and to be clear about what you have in mind. It’s also a great opportunity to mention any particular client stress points: Maybe your clients are very protective of their rose bushes in the front yard, or perhaps there’s a nosy neighbor the crew needs to be aware of.

The planning meeting is also a good time to really visit the schedule, and make sure the critical path items are taken care of, i.e. do you have a granite countertop measure date that the installation crew has to be ready for? Have the alarm people been notified? Is your heating and cooling subcontractor available when you need him?

Execute

Getting it done well and in a timely manner comes down to your team and how well you’ve planned. Your project manager will be your point person on a daily basis, so make sure you have the right person on the job.

A good way of communicating is a regularly scheduled weekly meeting. It’s a good idea to involve the client in these meetings, too. At this meeting, you can go over the progress of the job, and what’s planned for the next week or two. More importantly, this is a good opportunity for your client to know if there will be any key decisions to be made that will keep the job running. Maybe there’s some toilet shopping on the weekend that needs to be done – to at least see the fixture you’ve specified.

Two other things we’ve found that really ensure a smooth installation are keeping the job site clean and keeping the punch list going.

By keeping the job site clean, your job will progress faster and your clients will love you. Friday afternoon is key here – the weekend, when your crew’s not around, is often the time when your clients walk the job, sometimes with friends and family. There’s nothing like a clean and swept site to give a good impression that things are going well.

Secondly, keeping the punch list going as the job proceeds will make for a smoother process, especially at the end of the work. If there are only a few things that need to be fixed, not only will it be easier for you and your team, but your clients will feel like you’ve done a great job. So don’t let the “fix-it” items build up.

Both of these will help you keep the client’s confidence. And a client’s confidence in you and your team will likely be how the client measures how you’re doing; it’s the foundation of a successful installation.

Remember, it’s a psychological process as much as a technical one. Sure, the crown molding joints have to be clean, and the dishwasher can’t sit crooked in the opening, but so much of how your work is perceived is in the client’s mind.

You may want to finish up the work with a flourish, too. Consider presenting your clients with a “job-warming” gift, something nicer and more expensive than a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates.

Consider giving a piece of artwork, a high-quality set of cookware or whatever you think will go down well. Not only will this leave clients feeling good about your work, but they also will rave about your company to their friends…and, as Mick Jagger says, you might just get what you need…

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