Home Improvement Biz Needs Improving

April 6th, 2011

I wanted to write something positive to promote the new Career Changers TV episode that premiers Thurs., 8:30 PM on OC16, but I feel like I have to get this off my chest: Are local companies purposely trying to lose business? Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have been getting price quotes for new windows, carpeting, air conditioning and bathroom remodeling projects. Here's some of the things we've encountered...

• Companies that take days to get back to us with price estimates or other information we requested. Some didn't respond until we followed up a week later. And this was for things that would cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. Those were lost sales that went to competitors who were eager to provide answers.

• Inaccurate information. In one case, we were told windows we ordered would arrive in 4-6 weeks. We made it clear that timing was important because of other work that was scheduled to be done. After 6 weeks had passed, I had to call and ask what the status was. The sales guy was defensive and made excuses before he even checked. "It normally takes 6 to 8 weeks," he said, contradicting what he told us earlier. Then he looked it up and said the windows wouldn't be arriving for another 3 weeks. I'll never do business with them again.

• Confusing price quotes. Instead of breaking out costs by items and labor, some contractors just lump everything together. When we asked for specifics, it became apparent they were including high end products or marking up certain items. We told them we were on a budget, and yet they didn't offer different options that were more affordable.

• Stores that closed at 5 pm on weekdays or weren't open on weekends. Um, if you're selling tile, carpet, or home furnishings, why would you limit your hours to times when most people are working? We even took a weekday off to go to some of those places... guess what? They were pretty empty because potential customers were at work. Sheesh.

• Speaking of empty, have you been to the Gentry Pacific Design Center lately? Lots of vacant space. That was supposed to be a place where you could get remodeling help from concept to completion. But it seemed like they were all competing for the upscale, luxury projects... and there's only so many of those to go around. Did any of them consider going after the middle class market, and offering more affordable designs for budget-minded home owners?

• Companies with name or image problems. This may sound trivial, but when you're trying to Google a company or find their website, it helps to have a name that's easy to remember. Not so good: having a name with "Sewer" in it, when they're advertising upscale bathroom remodeling services. That may be fine for plumbing work, but no one wants to tell friends or family that Joe's Sewer Cleaners did their bathroom redesign.

The one bright spot: found a good handyman in Kailua who offers very reasonable hourly rates, and always does his best to try and save us money. If you want his name and phone number, drop me an email.


Program Alert - The April CCTV episode that starts running 4/7 will feature a first for us: we're taking the leap into selling products through our show. The first items are unique life-saving devices developed by local inventor Dr. Rob Yonover, which we believe every boater and fisherman in Hawaii should have on board when they go out to sea. To find out more, please visit our website for daily viewing times or check out our CCTV YouTube Channel to watch video segments.

5 Responses to “Home Improvement Biz Needs Improving”

  1. Mr. B:

    I've noticed this too Rich. Recently, we had a similar experience ordering some T-shirts, from a local company, for my son's football team. The guy was behind schedule and took long to complete our order. We could live with that - we are very tolerant people. However, what peed us off was the fact that this guy would never return phone calls, and it was ALWAYS my wife who had to initiate the calls.

    What this "business man" does not realize is that my son will be playing football again (and will likely play for the next 4-5 years), and we're gonna need more shirts. You can be assured that we will NEVER go back to this guy again.

    From this one bad experience, this guy will lose thousands of dollars in future T-shirt orders.

  2. Mr. B:

    One more thing. This is why the occasional economic slumps/disasters can be a good thing. Back in 2008, when the economy crashed, many, many local restaurants went out of business. What I noticed is that most of the restaurants that went out of business had mediocre food and mediocre service at best. In contrast, most of the restaurants that survived were the ones who have provided good food and good service for years.

    The one thing about hard economic times is that it serves to wipe out the bad businesses. The good ones are able to weather the storm.

  3. Fence Novice:

    I agree with this too. Especially with the economy not at it's top form, I emailed for quotes regarding building a 20X30 fence 4 feet high. The only time I hear from them was if the fence was an L shape or rectangle. After that I've never heard from them. Well instead of getting my business (since I wrote that it we needed the fence ASAP) we went to Home Depot, researched, and assembled the fence ourselves. Now that we know that it's capable to assembling a fence, I will not recommend either fencing companies to friends who are looking to put up a fence. Very poor customer interaction, especially since I was literally giving my money away to have a professional do it.

  4. Rich Figel:

    Fence - I was actually going to add that I think the reason DIY (Do It Yourself) stores like Home Depot are thriving is because so many people are sick of dealing with contractors who don't seem to put a high value on customer service. If I was the least bit handy with tools, I'd probably be doing a lot of the work myself... but as it is, I'd wind up calling in a professional to fix my messes, anyway!

    Mr. B - You hit the nail on the head. When these businesses blow off a customer, they don't just lose one sale -- they lose a lifetime customer and potential referrals.

    I also agree that when the going gets tough, the ones that survive typically have the best customer service. They also adapt. That's why I don't understand why all those businesses that specialize in remodeling work, haven't come up with simple price package options...

    Eg., for $6,000 we can do this type of bathroom remodel. For $10K, you can have this type bathroom. For $15K, you get these upgrades. Instead, we have to price everything separately and hunt all over for tile, cabinets, bath fixtures (unless we just order everything from Home Depot, which isn't quite what we had in mind).

  5. Rich Figel:

    Another example of lost biz: last year our bedroom AC unit died. I called the company that originally installed our "Mr. Slim" split systems upstairs and downstairs. Told them we needed the bedroom unit replaced immediately (cost approx. $2K) and would be needing to replace the living room unit soon (another $3K). Asked for a price estimate and how quickly they could replace the bedroom AC...

    Meanwhile, Company B immediately got back to me with a price and said they could get someone over in two days. Didn't hear back from Company A until the end of the week! Told the guy, um, we already had it replaced by your competitor.

    Then this Mon., I called Company A to give them another chance to bid for replacing the downstairs unit. As of today, they still haven't called back. Company B offered to have the owner stop by Mon. afternoon to take a look and give me an estimate. So Company A, which installed our AC for over $5K has now lost another $5-6K in sales, plus what they would have made for periodic AC maintenance visits. Is that anyway to run a business?

    I felt like calling the AC company owner, and window company owner to tell them what was going on with their sales and support staff.... but you know what? Screw them. If they're not paying attention to what their employees are doing -- or not doing -- they deserve to go out of business, just as Mr. B says.