Customers purchacing their own material (long)

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In another thread this issue was brought up. Is it OK for a customer to buy their own material (in my case tile), and expect a professional contractor to install it?
It's a good question, and one I've faced probably a few hundred times over many years. My opinion is that customers who purchace materials first, without consulting a professional do so blindly and many suffer for years for a bad decision.
The first thought people have about this is that the customer is "cutting out the contractor" from making a markup on materials. Generally this is where the discussion centers on. I think it's the wrong discussion.
As I've mentioned, there are two kinds of customers who buy their own materials... (1) the person who does so innocently, just thinking it is the right thing to do, and: (2) the person who deliberately is trying to save money and cut out the markup from the contractor.
Person (2) is often trying to be cheap and probably wants a cheap price on installation too. I quickly try to get out of dealing with person (2), and as far as I'm concerned if they want to go cheap, go ahead. I'm not interested. Save some money on the tile, save money on the installation- and get what you pay for.
What about the innocent person though? Is it wise to buy materials first, then hire a contractor install it? Adjusting the price is possible with the decent customer who wants a good installation and is willing to pay for it. They will agree to pay a little more to the contractor, knowing now that they innocently cut into his profit. That, though, the least of the potention problems caused by people buying their own material.
Some people buy such crappy material that I don't want to be associated with it. Others will buy the wrong amount but swear it's more than enough. Some will buy "close out" tile and not be aware it's 4 different shades, dye lots, bad sizing etc. Some will bring the material home and stack it wrong (horizontally), cracking dozens of them. The problem with cracking is that it's often not noticed until the grouting process when the cracks get wet and are visible for the first time. I've spent tons of time weeding through the "junk" to pick out the good tiles. People buy thinset and grout 4 months before the job so it's lumpy by tiling time, yet want to "break it up" and still use it. People buy the wrong type of thinset and insist I use it because "the guy" at the store said it was the right stuff, and of course "the guy at the store" is a real expert. People will buy the tile and expect me to pick it up for them since I have a truck, and after all.....they're hiring me to do the work!......so the store makes the profit and I'm supposed to do the work hauling it?
These are just a sampling of problems that have come up in my 25 years of tile contracting. By far the easiest and wisest thing for my customers to do is contact me _first_ and let me help them with what is now state-of-the-art, what is not already outdated... what is the right tile for them- what goes with their home and furniture. What tile works best with children? Old people who may slip? Animals who track in dirt? Who can help them with this more than an expert consulting with them in their home? Issues of color, style, size, type, quality, glaze hardness, break strength and the issues in this paragraph can't be "figured out" by the average homeowner.
Most people choosing new tile haven't done it in many years, sometimes 10, 15 or 20 years. They are surprised at what is now available for them in 2007. The selections are greatly multiplied from my early years doing this, but that just makes it far more important for customers to let me help them and point them in the right direction. I know what showrooms and distributorships are honest and good quality, and where they will be safe shopping for fair pricing. I know where they should avoid. When I send them to certain distributor showrooms, I specifically name the showroom people there who I know are expert and honest. The customer can benefit from this experience.
People also greatly appreciate help, encouragement and persuasion to do the 'right thing' and find that perfect tile that they'll live with for many years. I'm frank and honest when they're heading in a wrong direction. Elderly people need to be persuaded against smooth slick tile. Outdoor tile needs to be clearly non-slip. 12x12 tile will be immediately outdated. Etc Etc Etc. Customers need to be straight forwardly told when they are heading in a wrong direction, and appreciate the help and guidance. The goal is always at the end of the job to hear "thank you so-much for your help, we are so thrilled with the job". Even better is to go back years later for other work there and hear again how happy they have been with the tile.
A professional tile contractor's head is full of knowledge and ideas. It is a shame when people don't access this opportunity to get some fresh ideas and perspective.
It isn't about "sales". It isn't about "making money". Any contractor who has this as their goal does a disservice to their customers. What it's "about" is the customer. They are paying a lot of money for the work and tile. They have to live with the result for years as the installer moves on to other things. The goal is to lead the customer to that perfect selection that will fit their needs, then perform an installation that will make their project a success. Customers have friends and family. They want these people to come over and say "hey that looks great". They want to remain satisfied for many years. Contractors and installers who have this customer-first attitude will have no problem getting work, or making money, and will be a blessing to many people.
Should the customer purchace materials before consulting with the contractor/installer? I don't think so.
thetiler
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thetiler wrote:

thats probably fair enough , but on the other hand ya get contractors who take a job , quote low to get it , then appear one day a week or less, when they feel like it , charge 300+ percent markup on stuff bought and delivered by the local BORG and who leave a big mess behind. (bits of grout on hallway carpets, bits of cutoff plastic trim down the toilet etc. )
Not to mention that the quoted price is usually a flight of fantasy and usually ends up 50 percent or more higher.
The only contractors I will now use are installers from the building supply places who know that they need to do a good clean proffessional job , or they dont get more work.
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Tiler,
You might avoid this situation if your Yellow Pages add clearly states that you will not install tile that you do not sell since you can not stand behind it. Or that you will install but not warranty such work.
Dave M.
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I tend to explain to customers that the materials they bought might not fit. And that part of what they are getting from me is wisdom. So, it's cheaper in the long run for me to come out, spec the job, supply the parts.
If they really want to get cheap, two can play. I can get to the house, find out that what have won't work. So, I bill for a house call, and come back when they got the right parts. Of course, that's two billable house calls. Plus $50 an hour for advice and counsell.
--

Christopher A. Young
You can\'t shout down a troll.
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This happens to all the trades that do work in the home, and some that do other work too. It is a matter of stating up front that supply is part of the service, and the conditions and prices that you work under if the customer does the supplying.

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Good advice. I'd bet there are many more #2's than the #1's. They make for a no-win situation.
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In my custom woodworking business, I let folks (who want to) come to the lumberyard with me to select the stock to be used for their project. I charge a flat rate for the time spent getting the lumber (same as my normal labour rate), and let the customer pay the bill at the yard (They get my contractors discount).
This lets the customer be involved in stock selection, but also lets me be there to point out things that they may have missed because they don't look at wood every day. Some things that I've found: 1) many customers are amazed that you have to buy more wood than you are actually going to use - the concept of waste is often something they haven't dealt with before. 2) every customer I've ever dealt with this way is *amazed* at the cost of cabinet grade lumber. 3) after picking through a pile of stock, most customers start to realize that there is a lot more to selecting quality lumber than just getting pieces that are the right size. Those little knotholes, color variations, grain irregularities, surface dings and checks that they don't see (or assume can just be "sanded out") help them realize that part of what they are paying for is the fact that I can look at a few $100+ pieces of wood, and see which ones will work, and which ones won't. 4) when the customer watches me piece together what parts will come from which board (and write it down in my shop log), they start to realize that I can (usually) get a lot more out of a board than they can. They also realize that there are a *lot* of little pieces in furniture that they never thought of.....
Over all, I usually encourage a customer to participate in this phase of a job. By keeping them involved, they start to realize that they really are getting a lot for what they are paying. This is also a great place to realy fine tune what the customer wants. When they see a bin full of curly maple next to a bin full of birdseye, (next to walnut, cherry, mahogany, etc) its really easy to tell who has realy made their mind up about what they want.... I've had more than one customer decide to postpone a project while they reconsider what type of wood to use....
its worth noting that the work I do is high end custom furtniture. This wouldn't work for many home renovation type contractors.....
--JD
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I'm really wondering why any contractor should make money on the supplies they use to do a job. If you charge a proper hourly amount (or fixed amount by job - whatever), IMO, you should not need to charge any markup on supplies.
I am happy to pay a contractor for their work (including time it may take to obtain/determine necessary supplies). I'm not willing to pay him/her for someone else's work (the supplies themselves). This is part of the reason I've started to do most repair/remodel work myself. Finding an honest and reliable contractor these days is difficult at best.
Doug
thetiler wrote:

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On 16 Jan 2007 10:30:26 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Okay, try this: Go to your favorite restaurant. When the waiter comes to take your order, hand him a bag containing some eggs, bread, toast, juice, and butter. Ask him to make your breakfast.
CWM
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Charlie Morgan wrote:

Right, fair comparison there. Restaurants sell a product for a price, no arguments. They won't come back to me and say "well, as it turns out the eggs cost us an extra 15% today so we're going to tack 15% onto our price for your meal". Or "sorry, but it took us 50% longer than we thought it would to cook your breakfast. We're going to have to raise your price by 50%"
Doug
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wrote:

Actually, I have done just that -- some of my favorite restaurants are at Lei Yue Mun, a fishing village on the edge of Hong Kong. You reserve a table at your choice of several restaurants, then go to the fish markets nearby and select the individual fish, lobster, etc., that you want for dinner. You pay the shopkeeper for the seafood and tell him which restaurant you'll be using. The seafood is sent to the restaurant, and you go back to your table, have a beer or mao tai, and in a few minutes your personally selected absolutely fresh seafood dinner is delivered to your table. When you go with a bunch of friends it makes for a great evening.
I've also eaten at restaurants in Ottawa and around Ontario where you brought in your fresh fish and they then prepared it for your dinner.
Similarly, I don't see anything wrong with a customer specifying the specific type of materials that he wants used for a job, even if it means the customer has to buy the material first. The customer may have a specific concept for the space and have seen something special that the tradesman is either unfamiliar with or doesn't have access to. For example, we found some antique carved teakwood walls, 3 pieces, each 8' wide x 9' tall, that became part of the side walls of our bedroom. Similarly, in a junkyard (excuse me, second-hand shop) we found a pallet of high-quality cobalt-blue ceramic roof tiles that became the top course of a wall around part of our house. No local roofer would have found that material. OTOH, for conventional supplies I'll rely on the contractor or subcontractor, but I'll also know if there's something special that I want to add to individualize my property. Regards --
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Put yourself in the contractor's position. You buy the material. You put your money out, you spend the time to order it, receive it, store it, load up the truck, haul it to the job site, unload the truck, he waits for you to pay, meantime, he has sent off a check to his supplier, filled out any tax forms needed, etc.
Should he charge you the same rate as the guy that supplied all the material? What would YOU do?
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

In the end the thing one should be concerned about is the total cost of the job, not exactly how the money is split up. I agree that just about all contractors are going to mark up the price of materials they supply to cover their costs. Most are also going to add on some more margin. And any that don't are very likely going to make up the difference in profit with higher labor charges, or somewhere else.
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On 16 Jan 2007 10:57:18 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

Bang on!
This is one of the recurring threads -- a couple of times a year -- with consumers arguing they have the right to save by providing the materials and paying the contractor only an agreed upon hourly or job rate for labour.
When they order a pizza, do they supply the ingredients and allow the pizzeria labour costs only?
I'm a contractor. Occasionally, prospective customers tell me they want to supply their own materials. I just say "no".
Installing a tub, for example, costs me maybe 300 dollars for the tub, materials and controls and 150 for the plumber, a total of 450 dollars. I mark it up 25%, say 125 dollars. So the cost to the consumer is 575 dollars.
IIf the tub arrives and it is scratched, it is replaced and the cost remains 575 dollars. If the tub arrives and it is the wrong tub, it is replaced and the cost remains 575 dollars. Until the job is complete, the risk is entirely mine. If a material or installation problem shows up three weeks after the job is complete, and the tiles have to be removed and the tub replaced, the cost remains 575 dollars.
Takes too long to explain it. Easier just to say no thanks to the job.
Does the consumer have a right to insist on supplying materials. Sure. His house, his money, his right.
Does he have a right to insist that I use his materials? Nope. My company, my reputation, my risk.
Ken
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snipped-for-privacy@nospam.tnx wrote:

Great post. You've said it so much better than I tried.
It's an issue that probably can't be resolved- contractors understand their risk and reputation, homeowners (some) are thinking with tunnel vision solely about money and cost.
Like I tell people when I'm bidding a job and they say the other guy is much cheaper- I don't try to explain myself, I just tell them that if he's a reputable contractor like me but his bid is much lower, they'd be smart to hire him.
thetiler
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| | Great post. You've said it so much better than I tried. | | they'd be smart to hire him. |
finally you admit your incompetence the 1st step to recovery it admitting you have a problem. only 11 more steps to go.
get off your knees and ...............wipe that chin.
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the Home Depot Countertop installer sagacious dolt wrote:

What a childish little man. How did you figure out how to post on a newgroup?
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| | the Home Depot Countertop installer sagacious dolt wrote: | > finally you admit your incompetence | > the 1st step to recovery it admitting you have a problem. | > only 11 more steps to go. | | What a childish little man.
6ft 3in is far from little..............son
How did you figure out how to post | on a newgroup? | POSTING IS THE EASY PART just like pissing off morons like you. get a real job and stop pretending to be a tiler or let me illiterate for you stop pretending to be "thetiler"
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the sagacious dolt wrote:

You've failed to give an ounce of evidence as to why I'm not a tiler. If you doubt anything I post, feel free to counterpost and let's debate the advice I give.
Actually you can't because I am an expert, and you're a wee little phoney poster.
thetiler
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

It's called responsibility. If there are any problems or even future problems with the materials, I'll be held liable. To not make some money for that risk would be foolish.

"Markup" or whatever you call it, is simply payment for dealing with and handling/hauling/guaranteeing the materials.

Are you willing to pay for material failures? Materials can fail. It is rare but does happen. More common is materials that come damaged, or mis-matched shades and dye lots. All this causes a hassle, and the contractor sure can't look at the customer and say "sorry, it's your problem". You're paying a "markup" on the material so the contractor is responsible for it all.

I do most personal repair/remodel work myself too because I'm able to, but most of my customers are not able or willing to do tilework. It's true there are a lot of bad contractors. People must really do their homework and check out potential contractors.
thetiler
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