Recently, we had a situation in which a good builder contended the PVC trim boards he purchased from our company were defective because they were separating at the seams that were 45 degree cut, glued, and nailed. Like all good suppliers, we called the manufacturer, the wholesaler, and all together the cavalry arranged to meet at the jobsite to investigate this defective product.
After all of the facts were gathered, it was determined that the PVC trim boards were cut properly, glued and nailed, and they were separating. However, the installer did not use the correct glue and his nailing patterns were incorrect. In fact, the installer really didn't use glue at all; rather, he used an adhesive caulk instead of the recommended PVC glue, and the nailing pattern was his own. Finally, the caulk on the job was not the preferred type that should be used for this application, and it appeared to be a cheap painter's caulk with no flexibility. Of course, the builder's eyes glazed over when we asked him if he used the proper paint for PVC trim boards.
In the builder's mind, the material was defective, but it really was a defective install - the problem was we had to prove it to him. There is a huge disconnect between builders, their installers, and suppliers that is quickly coming to a head as new products are created by technology with specific installation instructions. For the vast majority of builders, the number one criterion for hiring an installer is not his quality of work, but his price. Builders are hiring installers whose crews are composed of workers who have very little experience, limited knowledge, and will work for less money. As a result, the entire installation process is being awarded to the lowest priced worker - I'm sure that makes you feel good. These installers are getting their instructions from someone who is perceived as the most experienced person on the job, someone who may or may not speak English.
In the case of our PVC trim board issue, the installer said he got his installation instructions from another company who recommended this product be bonded with a certain type of adhesive caulk. The other company's representative said they did not recommend gluing PVC boards. This is the same company that lost the job to us, and the installer is taking installation instructions from a competitor who would like to make his company look good. This was either sabotage or incompetence by Brand X; nevertheless, we are left to deal with the consequences.
Understand that when we sold the product, we were told this installer had a lot of experience installing PVC trim boards, so we felt there was no need to train. I guess we were wrong. This situation points out a huge deficiency in the construction industry in relation to training - most of us do it once and we think everyone is covered. This economy has created massive turnover in the construction industry, and the assumption that everyone knows how to install products correctly is simply wrong. I challenge any supplier or dealer to visit a jobsite today and check on the installation of your products - you will be stunned at the installer's incompetence.
Both manufacturers and dealers must really focus on installation training, or you will face a barrage of defective warranty claims that have nothing to do with your products. The construction industry is full of know-it-alls for the last 25 years, good ole boys who can't read too well, and those installers who have a better way - this is why there's such a reputation problem in construction. I visited a couple of jobs sites last week and witnessed PVC trim boards being installed wrong, faced nailed cement siding, and trusses being lifted and installed without a spreader bar. Yet, when these products fail, guess who will have to call in the cavalry and try to convince a builder that his first cousin family member installer is the problem?
Executives, managers, and salespeople at all levels of the supply chain must start emphasizing proper installation techniques in their sales presentations to ensure the end user is satisfied. Training meetings, lunch and learns, jobsite training programs, and most importantly job site visits during installation time will be needed to reverse the current waive of installer incompetence. Everyone in our industry must get very proactive on properly training installers.
Most companies should assume that more than 60% of installers are brand new and go back to the very basic levels of their installation trainings - assume they know nothing, because in most cases they don't. It is important that easy-to-read installation instructions with pictures or graphics are available with your products. If you get to the end of the job and the product isn't performing as you promised, 99% of the time builders are going to blame manufacturers and dealers. Remember, the end of the job is the wrong time to find out you should have trained the installer and builder in installation.
Don Magruder is CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply in Central Florida and former chairman of the Florida Building Material Association. This article originally appeared in FBMA's March 3 newsletter.