Product or Service? (You need to know!)

Determining whether your contractor is a “product” contractor or a “service” contractor is one of the most (perhaps THE most) critical component of your remodeling or building project. If you don’t pay attention to this at the start, it will cause needless tension, disappointment, and you may never realize why it’s occurring.

To explain, you must understand first that construction is unusual in that it is both a product as well as a service. Contractors logically understand that they are providing both, yet will likely unconsciously perceive what they do — call it their “world view” — as being more one or the other.

Clients, too, also have an intuitive understanding, whether they realize it or not, of what they are looking for as being more one or the other. When you have mismatch of world views you have a situation where the contractor is feeling misunderstood, clients are unhappy, and nobody really knows exactly why. Unfortunately, the topic is seldom brought up during the initial contractor interviews.

You’ll recognize a “product”-oriented contractor as someone who takes pride in efficiency, easily cranks out competitive bids, loves building but hates paperwork. You want the walls purple? No problem, as long as the paint is available quickly. They dislike having the homeowner on the jobsite, because it slows them down. They see their best strategy for making more money as being more efficient. They love having a slew of built projects under their belt and having a reputation for being on time and under budget.

A “service” contractor takes pride in how they manage projects and how well they take care of their customers. They often will be technologically advanced, with spreadsheet estimates and computerized scheduling. They will take great pride in how well they protect the homeowner’s house from damage during the remodeling, and are happy to spend time explaining things. They may take more time in building just to do things “right”. Asking for a competitive bid from a contractor like this makes as much sense to them as getting a bid from a doctor. They see their best business strategy as keeping their clients happy and getting referrals.

These are stereotypes, of course, and many contractors have qualities of both. But take a homeowner who is interested in getting the most square footage for the lowest possible price and a very service-oriented contractor, and you have a recipe for frustration. The contractor will be wondering why the extensive budgeting and scheduling process is going unappreciated, as was the care that was taken in protecting the rose bushes. The homeowner is wondering why the job is taking so long and why it’s so expensive.

On the flip side, a homeowner wanting a service contractor is going to be unhappy with a product contractor who thinks it’s fine to play the radio really loudly. (Hey, otherwise you can’t hear it when you’re pounding nails!) And why wasn’t the homeowner told the hot water was going to be shut off this week? Well, the project is going very quickly at a very good price, but it just isn’t very pleasant.

You need to be very clear with yourself before you hire a contractor as to how much service you want, and how much you’re willing to pay for it. If getting more attention during the construction process is important to you, make sure that you’re talking to the correct type of contractor. If you’re more interested in getting competitive bids, and you won’t be living in the house during the construction, a more product-oriented contractor might be your best choice. There’s no “right” choice, just the right choice for you.

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