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Unread 09-11-2013, 07:59 AM   #1
Calgary Dave
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*sigh*....Lost a good customer

Ever have those days? Pretty much my own fault and a major mistake...but man it's frustrating.

TLDR warning ("too long, didn't read") Pour yourself a coffee and sit down...

I had done 4 or 5 houses with this particular builder. He was partnered with another builder, and then split and went on his own. So he gave me a call to give him a quote on his next project.
I gave him my price and he said it was too high. Asked me to meet the price of another tile company. He liked my work and wanted to use me. He said he had 15 more houses, so "meet their price and you can have them all"
(You've heard that line before right?)

So the son and I dropped our price by about 15% since we weren't too busy at the time, and met his price...."Awesome..all the other houses are yours"

So we did the first project, a side-by-side duplex worth around $1.8 million. Completed both sides on time. His super was a young kid (former framer) and he and I didn't really get along from the "get go". Telling me how to lay the tile out, etc etc. On one kitchen splash, they wanted 3x6 bricklay. I pointed out how the framing/drywall around one window had quite a noticeable "bow" in the wall. It stuck out over half inch from the jamb, and using a "brick pattern" would only accentuate this bow. "Just do the best you can, we don't have the time to completely fix it properly".
"Okay". (I know, I know...this was my first mistake)

So we finish the job. Invoice it. Get paid for both sides. Done deal.
Builder sends me to the next one, and I do all the take-offs for him, send in the quantities required, etc, etc. He says to me "Make sure you're ready for this house..I don't want any delays"
"No worries. I've even hired another guy for it".
As the start date approaches, the office sends an email; "there's delays on the materials...start date has been postponed two weeks."
Again, no problem...I've got it scheduled in.

A few weeks go by and I haven't heard anything. This is now over 3 months since we finished the first two. So I drive by the new house and THERE'S A TILEGUY IN THERE DOING THE JOB!!!!!

So his site-super emails me about a minor question on the first job and I ask "what the hell is with the new job?"
"Oh, the other tile guy came back..his price was lower than yours" he says.
"I get it....nice to know the builder's word means that much".

So the builder hears this and gets back to me..."yeah well we weren't happy with your work on the last job".
WHAT?? Why didn't you say something? What was the problem?
"Well why don't you come and take a look"

At this point I figured he would just use any little minor imperfection and argue about it, which I didn't feel like getting into with him, since he's obviously just going for the cheaper price. So I just let it go.

Weeks later I get a text threatening me with a lawsuit. So I phone him and say "what is going on?".
"Come up and we'll go over it". So I show up and he points out the "shadows" on the brick pattern backsplash. (The homeowner didn't even notice, they were completely happy with the job) I agree that it wasn't the best work, but his super wanted me to work with what was there. So that's what we did.

Then he takes me upstairs to a 150 sq foot ensuite floor with large format polished porcelain that we laid in-floor heating under.
"The heating doesn't work"
"WHAT??!!!!! Why the hell didn't you tell me about this months ago?!" (Possession is in a few days). This isn't a minor 'oh we don't like your work' this is a major problem!!

I don't know how it happened...we tested the wires when we were finished and it was fine. I had no proof, so it was my responsibility. Pro tip #1: take a picture of your readings when you're done!!
I agreed to rip up the entire floor, replace the heating and the tile all on my dime. Cost me about $3,000 and my whole long weekend. He thanked me for standing behind my work, but the damage was done. We agreed to part ways.

What really irks me though, is that he never even made a phone call or any contact whatsoever...just went ahead and dropped me without a word. Over 3 months since we finished the first job. He paid up no problem, so I assumed everything was good.

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Unread 09-11-2013, 09:44 AM   #2
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So in summary you were 1.) promised 15 other houses for reducing your price on the first one, 2.) the builder's super tells you one thing while the builder has a completely different opinion on the matter and holds you and not his super accountable, 3.) there's an apparent "other" tile guy they've used before you and it sounds like he was canned for the house you worked on because you were cheaper (see #1.) but is back because he is now cheaper.

Yet you do the stand up thing after being shafted on promised future jobs and replaced a bath floor on your dime to fix an issue.

I'm no pro, but I must have missed the part where you lost a "good" customer. I think perhaps a sketchy builder lost a good tile guy.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 09:51 AM   #3
Calgary Dave
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^^ Nailed it.
I like to think it was the latter of the two...I just wasn't sure. I wished I could've prevented the whole thing but it was an honest mistake on my part. Hurts to lose out on roughly $90k worth of work, but it probably would've happened anyways.
Thanks for the support.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 10:15 AM   #4
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I have to agree with Pete. Can you imagine if you had done 15 units with this guy? It could have been a lot more expensive than the $3,000 and a weekend.

Consider this a blessing in disguise and move on to better things. Anyone who is willing to sacrifice quality for time will bring out the worse in a contractor. You should make every job you do a portfolio piece.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 10:35 AM   #5
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Ah yes the promise of lots of future work as bait to ask for discount on the first one. I agree with Pete's assessment.

Don't you have a formal sign off procedure when the job is done - it looks like not but it is something you should think about. Not just photos but have a check sheet and walk the client through and check each item that is complete and have them sign the sheet. In the case of the heating issue, turn it on have them check it is working and sign off on it. This is evidence in case of future disputes.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 11:11 AM   #6
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I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today....

Whenever I hear of a builder needing a new tile guy I run.

For when DIY isn't such a good idea...
Houston TX area Kitchen & Bath Remodeling

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Unread 09-11-2013, 12:34 PM   #7
Jim Farrell Tiler
dont blame me i didnt vote for him
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he wasnt a good customer anyway so no great loss, we have all heard the old " work for me cheap on this one and you can work for me cheap on all of them"
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Unread 09-11-2013, 02:29 PM   #8
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The general is treating you like a pit dog.

First he throws you into a price battle with the other guy, letting you rip each others prices apart while he is entertained with lower price. He dangles the 15 other houses in front of you like a nice juicy steak, getting your bloodlust up, and making you not care about the 1st projects profit margin.

Does this sound like he cares about his subs? Don't worry, you don't want the other 15 because it will just be a repeat of the 1st. A good contractor cares about his subs and builds a working relationship. He will tell you that he is only as good as his worst sub. Well, the contractor you found is worse than his worst sub, and he will eventually burn-out every decent tile guy in your area. He doesn't know how to establish a working relationship because his only concern is himself and his bottom line. He will eventually get what amounts to the worst tile guy in your area because you can bank on that he will alienate every good tile guy the same way he did you.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 02:29 PM   #9
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He'll probably be back. Sometimes they have to see the grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's happened to us before and worked out nicely. If they do come crawling back let them know they lost their meal ticket with that more work for less money deal (put it to them nicely). You can always negotiate that down the road once you have reastablished your relationship/trust. After all they cheated you and proceeded to cheat on you. Wounds have to heal.

Rule number one in life: You go with what you got, imperfections and all.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 05:05 PM   #10
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Get It In Writing

As a remodeling contractor of some 40 years, I can tell you that the builder is no one I would work with twice. As a lawyer for nearly as long, I can tell you that you violated CARDINAL RULE #1:


Carry a note pad, and when he promises you 15 houses if you will reduce your price, jot it down and have him sign, "so there will be no confusion in the future".

Works every time. Either he will sign or back off. Either way, you win. If he signs then renegs, you got him by the pinkish parts.
No trees were injured in posting this message, but billions of electrons were diverted from normal daily activities and seriously inconvenienced.

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Unread 09-11-2013, 05:18 PM   #11
Bill Vincent
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If you already had a working relationship with the builder. mistake one was dealing with the Super on something that was questionable at best. Go straight to the man if his underlings are doing something you disagree with with respect to your work. But considering the way this guy handled the whole thing, you got the better end of the deal being tossed off to the side. Be prepared. You haven't heard the last of this guy. He'll be back asking you for a price. And when he DOES come back, jack the F**K out of your prices, and demand a deposit!

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're probably right."

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Unread 09-11-2013, 06:10 PM   #12
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Dave, you didn't lose $90K in profitable business, you lost $90K in future problems. Might not seem like it now, but you're better off without it.

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Unread 09-11-2013, 06:57 PM   #13
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The business part of our industry can be brutal. Too much work, not enough work, chasing down leads, negotiating deals. The only way to learn is to keep getting burned... or work for someone else.

I feel for you and I can relate. Just make sure you learn what you need to learn from this experience and you'll have the upper hand next time.

Nice post.
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Unread 09-11-2013, 08:44 PM   #14
Tool Guy - Kg
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Sorry to hear, Dave. It's a bummer that so many builders these days have such poor reputations in the eyes of the subcontractors they work with. Too bad the customers of these builders aren't exposed to their reputations before they sign on with them.

If a sub is so inclined to offer a volume discount to a builder, I think it's fair that the discount starts after the first job, not before. "I'll be happy to talk about a volume discount after the first job", is what I'll generally say to a builder I don't personally know. When the builder doesn't call back after hearing that, it's pretty obvious that they weren't forthright in their implications of "tons of work after you do this one" speech.

But about that heat wire. You tested after you were done and the reading was proper. Any chance that it was exposed to damage in the wall by a baseboard nail or something? Any ideas on what might have happened?

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Unread 09-11-2013, 09:20 PM   #15
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Definitely agree with all the others, you did not loose a good customer, you lost a poor customer.

With all that flood damage around Calgary you should be set for work for a couple of years. If you're slow, I'd advise you look into installing laminate too. It's just as profitable as tile, if not more so.

That builder is crooked or just plain incompetent anyway, normal builders don't threaten to sue people until all normal avenues of resolving issues have been exhausted. The people that jump on the lawsuit bandwagon are the ones who have been frequently sued themselves.
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