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Some trade tips for a lasting impression

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For most of you, installation of the finished product is the final step of the manufacturing process. Whether delivering a single piece of furniture, assembling a large built-in, or installing the millwork for an entire house, you're invading the customer's personal space and certain decorum needs to be followed.

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My personal space has been invaded for the last six months as a major home renovation is under way. And while my contractor, his crew and all of the subcontractors have almost become part of the family - after all, I see them nearly as often as my wife and kid - I can't help but look forward to the day they're gone. They've bent over backwards to be as unobtrusive as possible, but building a three-story addition isn't exactly a stealth operation. I've come to a few realizations:

Who needs an alarm clock when an air compressor can do the job of a thousand roosters?

If it's supposed to take six months, figure seven or eight (and add another 20 percent to budget).

While it's possible to live comfortably in your dining room and kitchen, your nearby mother-in-law's home becomes more inviting every day.

Based on this and other customer-related experiences, I've come up with Tod's Tips for Installers and Job-Site Crews:

1. Neatness counts: I can't stress enough, from a homeowner's perspective, how important it is to leave a job site as clean, or cleaner, than when you arrived. This starts with wiping or removing your footwear before you enter the house, placing floor protection where necessary and sealing off other rooms to limit the spread of dust and debris.

If a wall is damaged - either accidently or as part of the normal installation procedure - fix it immediately. Sometimes this involves several return trips as you wait for joint compound to dry, for example, but don't delay any longer than necessary. And don't, under any circumstances, leave the fix for the next tradesman, unless a legitimate explanation is given to the homeowner.

2. Keep appointments: This tip doesn't need a lot of explanation, but I'll point out that there's a fine line to getting an early start. If you want to start at 7 a.m., clear it with the homeowner first. And if you need to go over a few things, find out if the homeowner has to leave for work by 8 a.m. And one final point: never schedule an appointment in a two-hour window. Leave that ploy to the cable guys.

3. Designate a spokesman: If you have an installation crew, make one person responsible for communicating with the homeowner. He should be your most experienced and diplomatic employee.

4. Parking: Be courteous about where and how you park. Don't block the customer's or neighbors' driveway, and leave at least one space for a returning homeowner. And no matter how crummy the yard looks, keep off the grass.

5. Finish before 5 p.m.: My contractor has been excellent about suspending work at 4 p.m. After a hard day at the office, the last thing I want to come home to is a noisy job site.

6. Weekend cleanup: Again, my contractor has been great about doing a thorough Friday afternoon cleanup. If your customer is anything like me, he wants to study your work during the weekend and show it off to his friends and family. A tidy work area - with whatever tools you've left behind in a neat and out-of-the-way location - really leaves a lasting impression.

7. Keep the noise level down: No one expects you to hammer softly, but don't blast the tunes. Actually, it's probably a good idea to check with the homeowner if it's OK to play the radio. At least ask if they like country music.

8. Dress appropriately: Take a good look at your installation crew and decide if you'd want them in your house. From a marketing perspective, nothing beats the small investment in company shirts.

9. Be prepared: Do your installers have the proper tools and hardware in their vehicles? Nothing is more frustrating to a homeowner than learning a job will be finished tomorrow because something so basic was overlooked.

10. Exceed expectations: A professional installation will leave a lasting impression. If it goes better than expected, repeat business will surely follow.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.

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