Since being asked to return to the pages of ProSales, I’ve been re-evaluating and re-thinking my approach and recommendations for installed sales. It seems that I’ve been involved in this discussion forever, from the simple beginnings of remodel/retrofit installs to today’s fast-paced new construction initiative. Craig Webb asked during one of our conversations if much has changed over the past decade. My initial response was that yes, everything has changed, but in reality—no, not so much. Dealers today still face the challenge of providing installation service, but with a renewed focus on new builds with a shortage of qualified labor.

During the downturn, much of the labor force left the market due to lack of work. When the housing market began its rebound, the increase in demand came on very quickly, much faster than the industry could respond with ready labor to build those new homes. This resulted in builders scrambling for help—in many instances working with what were competitors, all pulling toward the same goal of standing houses and getting them ready for sale. While this may be a solution, it’s temporary at best. 

The other side of this equation are those builders who simply ran out and hired day laborers to help frame and build houses, without an idea of the quality of work they would provide. This has led to an increase in call backs, re-do work, and just shoddy construction. The consumer public will ultimately pay the price for this practice. And that is doubly unfortunate. Most of us can remember building practices in the ’80s, when houses were thrown up seemingly overnight, and the resultant problems that became apparent very soon after. We need to avoid that at all costs.

So, what’s the answer to the million dollar question? How can I help provide qualified labor to improve the customer experience? 

Labor is out there; young people are graduating from trade schools every year, and in some cases having no clue beyond what they learned in class. In addition, veterans are returning from deployment, the military is downsizing, and these well-qualified, skilled individuals are looking to slot in somewhere in the workforce. Don’t overlook any source of labor—with or without construction skills. You can provide the training. 

Begin offering vendor-sponsored training sessions at your store. Not simply a lunch-and-learn, but tap into your vendor base to provide hands-on training and education on industry best practices. I would venture to say that most every vendor you deal with has a quality control team that would be more than happy to provide a hands-on session on how to properly install their product—from fiber cement siding to windows and doors, through to the framing process. 

We are an industry in constant motion. New, best practices are being developed every day. Many contractors don’t have an opportunity to learn these new practices because they are too busy building houses. However, you interact with your product vendors every day, you have access to publications like ProSales, and you have a well-trained, educated staff of professionals to help.

I fear that if we, as an industry, don’t step up the effort to offer training to our customers, history will repeat itself in a flood of construction defect lawsuits as happened in the ’90s and early 2000s. We can’t afford to build poorly constructed houses. We need a solid foundation of growth and resurgence. Training our installers and contractor customers is but one brick in that wall.