Dear Janice:

I just read the Market Pulse article in the February 2020 issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News, “Designers Talk About Lessons Learned.”

Before I respond, let me first explain my background in the construction and kitchen and bath industries.

I graduated with an Architecture Drafting & Design & Estimating Technology degree in 1974 and worked in a lumber yard for a couple of years until I got a job as an Architectural Draftsman at a local development and construction company. I transitioned to a Construction Supervisor job for that company, and then for other companies over the span of 20+ more years. In one of the companies I worked for, we developed a system where we built 1,000-sq.-ft. homes with crawlspace foundations and attached garages in 26 working days from groundbreaking to new customer move-in. We did this repeatedly and consistently for many years. Attending many NFIB national conventions during this time helped us to devise efficient systems for construction as well as methods of management that allowed us to create a very loyal employee and subcontractor base, which was the key ingredient to making our systems work. 

Then in 2000, I started my own business with a partner. We have been in the laminate countertop fabrication and installation business for 20 years, and by developing efficient systems within our two-person company, we have been able to be a very profitable company, staying the course even through the downturn of 2008-2010 when many of our trade partners went out of business.

Throughout the years, I worked with many interior designers and architects as well as kitchen designers. With my countertop business, I continue to work with those professionals as well as other professional cabinet installers and finish carpenters. These people, in my mind, are the key ingredient to all professional architects, designers and contractors as well as product designers.

In reading your Market Pulse article, many of your contributors described the exact same issues and learning experiences that were being expressed 30-40 years ago when I was learning about these things during my construction industry career. Most of these issues are not related to new technology or products, which leads me to wonder: With all of the new educational programs and professional training, certificates and degrees in this continuously revolving industry…why are all the basics not being learned (or taught)? That is what most of these issues are about. Like they say, “Those who don’t pay attention to history are bound to repeat it.”

I still communicate with a number of the ‘last line of defense’ professional installers and fabricators, and they say the same thing: These same problems continue at almost all levels with ‘newbies’ in the industry, as well as many ‘seasoned professionals.’

I believe the training and feedback designers get from their installers can be invaluable.

The following are just four general suggestions I would make to your readers to avoid costly mistakes.

Create a “cheat sheet” for yourself that works as a checklist, with all items listed that you have seen or anticipate that you either forget constantly or have experienced negative feedback from others on, or mistakes you have made in the past. Do this no matter what part of the design or fabrication you are responsible for or will have an impact on, or what your expertise is on the project. This list of yours can and should be continuously updated with new issues as they arise. Then, as you memorize all of the items on the list to the point where you turn them into a habit, you can keep that checklist to use as ‘training’ for your subordinates or newbies – or you can help them to create their own. Or, just keep using it yourself. It also can be a very valuable tool to put into the project file for future reference.

Go to the jobsite…more than once! You have to do this because you can’t afford not to. Go for at least the first trip for measuring (which definitely should be done after drywall for most products when you might still have chance to adjust something) and in the framing stage as well if your product is subject to special blocking requirements or framing changes and electrical, plumbing or HVAC location situations. If you know your product, you know when you should be there. If you don’t know your product that well…then learn it. The next time (at least) to be at the job site is when the installers and fabricators are working on your product. That way you will see and hear first-hand from the installer what works and doesn’t work and why, what a previous mistake caused, how it could have been avoided or why something else had to be changed to accommodate that particular issue. Then record it (picture or written). If you wait for your next visit at the job site to be with the customer at finish, you are too late. (And forget the waivers…at the end of the day, you are still the ultimate party responsible for your product.)

Changes…Whoever initiates the change with the customer (in most cases) is responsible for seeing that change is written in one form or another and gets to everybody down the line. Even something as simple as a color change can turn into a major issue and cost. Just one red flag raised by a team member in the chain can potentially minimize or eliminate a very costly procedure, both in time and money. However, that still may be minor compared to the customer’s dissatisfaction, which can ruin the entire project as seen in their eyes. Remember, the project, no matter how big or small, is a team effort, whether you recognize it or not.

For the designers, architects and other professionals who have issues with the contractor and/or subs, ignoring their ‘details’ could be directly related to the issues above, and may be rooted in lack of respect for that professional. It may be due to the lack of previous communication or other assumptions. Remember: Respect isn’t given, it’s earned. And this is true on both sides of the contract.

This is my advice from someone who has worked in the industry for almost 46 years and has seen a thing or two.


Lelan Rufus, owner/operator

MountainTops of Missoula, Inc.

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