One of the biggest challenges that I see in our Industry today is the division between Kitchen designers and Installers or Contractors. If you are a "Design/Build" firm, then this probably isn't as much of an issue, but if you only supply cabinetry, and depend on sub contractors to install them, or you sell directly to homeowners who have hired another contractor to do the remodel, there can be issues.
I find that more and more, installers and contractors are quick to point out flaws in the cabinetry or the design to, the homeowners, which causes a lot of grief for everyone and makes the customer feel like they made a bad choice. I can't figure out what's in it for the installer to do this since this is their "bread and butter" and if they trash the designer, he or she will certainly not hire this installer again. With the contractor, I find that usually they have their own cabinet guy that they like to use so when Mrs. Jones tells them that she is using you for her cabinets, he loses money and so does his cabinet guy. I get that, I really do.... But I don't believe that it justifies trying to make my cabinets look bad to the customer. Unfortunately it happens.
Here are 5 easy tips that you can use to develop great relationships with contractors and installers.
1) Ask for their cards and refer them to clients who are looking for a contractor or an installer: This sounds so simple, but when a contractor knows that he may get future business from you, then you become a member of his or her team, rather than the "competition".
2) Show up on the jobsite a couple of times before the cabinets arrive to check on things and make sure you have a good understanding of the site: I always asked the contractor to let me come out the day before they were going to do the drywall and cover everything up. Check on electrical and plumbing placement, can light placement etc. If you find something that needs to be addressed, DO NOT POINT IT OUT IN FRONT OF THE HOMEOWNER. Pull the builder off to the side and say, "Hey man, I noticed that the can light in the corner will interfere with the crown molding. There is a diagonal cabinet going there, not an inside corner cabinet so the can light needs to come out another 3" to clear the crown". This is something he can do easily when the customer isn't looking and it will only take about 10 minutes. If you didn''t point it out, no one would have noticed until the day of installation and now everything is on hold while the problem is fixed. not only that, but it's way harder to fix after the ceiling has been finished. The contractor knows this, and will have a lot of respect for your knowledge and for the way that you handle the situation. Respect goes a long way!
3) Coffee and doughnuts are like gold: How much does it cost to swing by Starbucks on your way out to the job-site and grab some coffee and pastries? It's priceless, because it helps to build a good relationship and it puts you on the same team as the contractor and the installer. Mainly it's just a nice thing to do. Good contractors and good installers are so vital to our careers so let them know that you appreciate their hard work. I hate to admit this, but when I was installing cabinetry myself, I was more willing to go the extra mile and fix a finish issue, or hide some damage to a cabinet before the customer saw it, when I respected the kitchen designer I was working for, and when she or he respected and appreciated me.
4) Ask their opinions up front as you are working on the design: If you have a "design challenge" and aren't sure how to handle a certain situation, call your installer or the contractor and ask their opinion. Let them know what your challenge is and ask if they have any suggestions for a way to handle the situation that might be better for everyone. Or ask the installer, for example, "would you rather use a standard toe kick, or do you prefer to use adjustable legs on the cabinetry"? Again, it's a matter of respect (are you seeing a theme here?). People love to know that you respect their abilities and value their opinion enough to ask for help.
5) Communication is everything: The first part to this, is that you as a designer, have to have a full understanding of your design and your cabinet order. You should be able to answer any question that is asked about the design and about which parts on the order are used to execute a particular detail. You would be surprised how many designers have an idea of they want to see, but don't know how to use specific parts to make it happen. This is very frustrating to installers and builders. Their job is to install what you design, not to do the design for you. However, refering back to #4, If you are knowledgable about most things but are stuck on a specific detail, asking for help as one professional to another is totally different than saying something like, "I sent out some extra material, can't you just make it work?"
These tips are really just about being kind, and showing respect for others. When we do that, people will show us respect as well, and when we all work together as a team, we have a much happier client and a lot more referrals for EVERYONE!
HAVE FUN OUT THERE!!!