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Setting Deadlines

QUESTION

I was recently hoodwinked by a customer, and [I’d like to know your opinion] about this particular situation.

“Mrs. Jones” brought in her drawing for a bid and told me her contractor was telling her that she needs to order her cabinets as soon as possible. She begged me to get her a bid immediately. She also told me that she needed cabinets by the first week of May.

I told her she would have to place her order this week, and she seemed like she was ready to go, no doubt about it. So I took the bait. I figured she already had a design, she seemed decisive and was ready to order.

The problem I have about putting a “rush” order ahead of my other clients is that it upsets the timeframe I have planned for my other clients’ projects. For example, it will delay getting bids back to others who are waiting and will also divert my attention from jobs that have already paid a design retainer.

Nevertheless, I got her job priced out overnight. Sure enough, I was hoodwinked. She got back to me and said they now have more time and didn’t need to make a decision right away. In fact, she said her contractor would not be able to receive cabinets by May 1. She just shopped the price for someone else, I can almost put money on it.

The thing about this experience is to be wary when someone claims to be in a hurry and ready to make a decision. I am irritated with myself the most because I bought into this “hurry please” tactic.
— KB Design1

RESPONSE 1
Yes, follow your instincts! This type of experience has happened to me enough times to have similar suspicions. Not once has one of these “rush” jobs ever panned out for me.
— susan27

RESPONSE 2
I think what I’m going to have to do, when this comes up again, is to be firm about my time. I am a nice person and try to be accommodating, but I really don’t like the feeling of being used. And, who knows, maybe she just operates on a level of panic on a daily basis.

Maybe I will start telling customers, “I understand you are in a rush, but this week I have a full schedule with clients who are waiting for their designs, bids, appointments, etc. If you can wait, I would be happy to make an appointment with you next week to discuss your project.”

It’s awful to have to explain these things to people, [but I’m sure] they wouldn’t like it if I put someone else’s project ahead of their projects.
— KB Design1

RESPONSE 3
Why not explain to her that your company has a policy that places a priority on projects with design deposits? The only way to jump to the head of the line is to pay a non-refundable deposit, and with this you will have a price for her in 24 hours. If they are serious, they will pay, if they are not, you saved your valuable time for your real clients.

If they cannot pay a deposit because the builder is paying for the cabinets, then let them know they will be refunded their deposit with an order from their builder.
— Pearce Services

RESPONSE 4
I checked in with “Mrs. Jones” yesterday, and she said she is looking at other bids. She can’t decide on the color, she is under the weather and doesn’t know when she will get back to me. Talk about a dance of words.

Why don’t people use honesty? Maybe it’s the price, or the color that is causing her indecision. I will appreciate honesty before all else. In my opinion, evasive, passive responses are irritating and rude. She got me to stand at the plate and deliver when she needed my prompt service!
— KB Design1

RESPONSE 5
When customers give me a deadline, I always give them a deadline right back. I simply tell them “if you want something by a certain date, you have to order today!” It helps me close when they ask for a deadline.
— powbath

Cooktop Placed In Butcher Block

QUESTION
Can I attempt to put a cooktop into a butcher block countertop? Any creative solutions for doing this would be appreciated.
— susan27

RESPONSE 1
No problem. I just did a huge island in Brazilian Cherry. The manufacturer did recommend a type of urethane finish to protect the wood, however. This means you can’t cut food items on the top, but I’d think one would want to use a cutting board anyway.
— Veronika

Hiring Designers

QUESTION
I am just starting up a showroom and have the opportunity to hire two great designers at once. With me, that would make three of us. I’m a little hesitant to pull the trigger due to the cost of overhead in my first year and the fact that I will also have to hire another design assistant to support them. I would appreciate hearing about others’ “rate of hire” in a new business situation. Am I biting off too much too soon?
— susan27

RESPONSE 1
I am a business owner in a new showroom and I must suggest to take things slow – unless you have an endless supply of financial resources, especially if things don’t go as planned. Trust me, they will not go as planned. I’m not trying to be negative, just realistic. It’s no fun lying awake at night wondering how you are going to meet payroll. It’s always better to grow into something slowly – that way you will make fewer mistakes and have fewer changes to make. In the end, changes mean more dollars spent on your part.
— sambailey

RESPONSE 2
I am not an owner, but I have managed two showrooms. If I were in your shoes, I’d try to figure out whether these designers will be bringing a lot of referral business with them.

If they will, you might suggest that they remain independent, but still able to buy from you at a discount and sell it to their clients. You could still refer your overflow to them at (perhaps) a lesser discount. That way you wouldn’t be responsible for insurance and benefits, but could make more money than you would earn on your own.

The advantage to retaining them would be the ability to set their own schedules and mar-ups and take advantage of the tax perks of being self-employed. This might appeal to an aggressive, sales-oriented individual who has health insurance through their spouse.

In your shoes if I had to hire someone, I’d take a great salesperson over a great designer. When you mention a design assistant, that is help you may need as an owner, but definitely not something that is a given for the designer.

Let them prove that they’re bringing in enough sales to need assistance. You, personally, may need help because you have to deal with all of the business owner-type stuff, but a designer should be able to do most of the job unassisted – despite the grumbles it might elicit at times. My advice if you are starting on a small budget is: “Be very, very frugal!”
— Khat

Granite Countertops

QUESTION
I recently sold a beautiful white granite countertop to a client. The problem is, I didn’t know the color she had chosen had veining. In fact, the countertop has a big vein that runs through it and the customer has refused it – she’s afraid that it will break.

The installer does not want to replace it because it’s a natural feature of the granite and cannot be fixed. My boss doesn’t want to eat the cost, and the customer ordered the installer to remove the top and take it away while we resolve this issue.

In my opinion, the countertop looks beautiful, but I also understand the customer because she was not aware that the color she had chosen would have veins in it, but I also didn’t know that.

The installer has been promising to bring larger samples for customers to look at before they purchase their tops, but hasn’t done it yet. We’re working together to solve the problem, and I know that this will not happen again, but I’m not sure who is right with this situation. Any suggestions?
— Anabel CkC

RESPONSE 1
Whoever sold her the countertop did not run the sale the correct way. Documentation for countertops, for anything, is critical. This may have to be chalked up to a learning situation for you, if your boss refuses to accept financial responsibility for this issue, and if you want to stay at that company.

You could try writing her a letter guaranteeing the stability of the stone and see if that works. Will it be in an area, like a corner, where things will be put, so it is not obvious? Or how about giving her a discount?

I would resolve this as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence here. Be nice, be calm and try to work together. Find out what she wants, but offer the things I suggested first. Additionally, see if your granite fabricator will take it back, which surely they won’t, but it’s worth a try if they have someone else who wants that stone.
— susanckd

RESPONSE 2
She called again this morning to tell me that the other countertop (by the sink) had broken and that she wants a new set of countertops. I talked to my boss and he said that we cannot give her new countertops. She only paid $2,300, ($47/sq. ft.) for a granite color that cost us $1,960. By taking the countertops back and giving her new ones, we would actually lose $3,920, because the installer won’t take the existing ones back.

We are a very small firm and cannot take such a big loss, so my boss said we will refund her money and take back the countertops. I informed her of our decision to refund her money, but now she wants us to pay for the installation of her full-height tile backsplash, She also wants us to install her sink, faucet, garbage disposer and dishwasher because of the setback. She also mentioned that this whole situation is causing her a lot of stress and that we have to pay her medical costs if she gets sick.

I’m very upset that she has blown this problem way out of proportion, and I don’t know how to deal with her anymore. She says she is very grateful for the way I’ve been handling the situation, but she doesn’t know that as soon as I hang up the phone I start banging my head against the wall. I hate to be judgemental, but I think that she just wants to be compensated, and is not being fair and just.

I also need to know how we define what is or isn’t acceptable in granite – things such as heavy veining or veining with small cracks?
— Anabel CkC

RESPONSE 3
What I think is acceptable in appearance, others will disagree, and vice versa. That’s why the client must look at the whole slab and determine if they like it. You could put in that hairline cracks are a natural characteristic of stone. Once they sign off, there should be very little worry, as they will have increased awareness about expectations.
— susanckd

RESPONSE 4
If you can have the customers choose their slabs, it will eliminate [these problems]. It would be a good idea to add into your agreement that, “It is suggested they view the available slabs before purchase due to the wide variations in natural stone.”

I understand that you asked her to go to the granite yard, but to have that in the agreement should help to encourage their involvement in the selection process.

A quality granite fabricator should be able to provide you with the stone-industry standards for allowable tolerances in the different types of natural stones available.
— BoxesEtc

RESPONSE 5
I suggest to all of my clients that they schedule a visit to the site where all of the granite is located. The granite supplier has a machine that will pull out each slab that the client is interested in seeing. Once they see the slab, then the client can approve it. If they select a slab, they place a deposit down right then and write their name on the back of the slab.

If there are veins on it, maybe a discussion will occur about the location of the seams or cut-outs. Perhaps you and the client can agree to either play upon these features, or minimize them.
— jane29

RESPONSE 6
I would have tried to get her to keep the material. In my opinion, customers always try to get the most that they can when there are issues. By standing your ground, you proved that you were willing to help, but were not going to be intimidated. I feel this makes you appear more professional and confident in your work. By appearing this way, your customer will have more faith in what you tell her.
— JStranick


I have learned that you must have a disclaimer. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a bad situation to teach us what to do the next time.

I have encountered some customers who insist I select the stone, because they are too busy, too high profile, too stressed with other things or too whatever the “excuse du jour” happens to be. I always refer back to the contract they signed when we started. I also make sure I educate the customer how that material will perform under normal, day-to-day kitchen habits.

As long as we have a dialogue before fabrication, it will prevent those calls later with a client blaming me for not telling them that the counter they chose is staining.
— KB Design1

Editor’s Note: Material for Pro to Pro has been excerpted from the online Designer Discussion Forum at the KitchenBathPros.com Web site under an exclusive agreement with KBDN.

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