Jodi Wallace

Monarch Designs

This past October a unique opportunity presented itself to my husband Ken and he was offered a job. The company was one we work with closely and consider a partner. But their “go back” rate for problems is astronomical. 

My husband has a Type A engineer mentality, which makes him great at doing templates. He can troubleshoot practically any issue that arises and come up with an answer to even the most challenging problem. Although you can train someone to understand the basics of templates, it takes a long time to train someone into a really good templater, someone who can identify and diagnose how to fix or work around a problem.

It had been many years since we had seen a regular paycheck in our house. 

This is an unfortunate side effect of both of us working for our small business. The job opportunity seemed an answer to a few prayers – a regular paycheck, and they covered his health insurance 100%, so we just had to cover mine. That would certainly save us a good bit of money.

(Sigh) As they say, the grass is always greener. After several weeks, he understood where many of the problems were coming from. One problem was they were very overextended on jobs. Another big problem was that they spent too much time and energy reacting to situations. Instead, they needed to look at putting processes in place to get rid of the issues that kept cropping up, like dandelions on a putting green. Their philosophy seemed to be, “He who yells the loudest gets the quickest results.” As anyone who has ever been in charge knows, that isn’t a very productive way to run a business. People are stressed, overworked, and much more likely to make mistakes (and lots of them, at that). 

As it turned out, his new job put him in charge of templates and supervising the two template guys. He was to schedule and confirm templates with customers, check in all templates to confirm the paperwork was completed and the template details matched the paperwork. The details for each template job included the correct edge treatment, was the template accompanied by a sink, and seeing that all template pieces were accounted for. 

He also handled customer “red tag” (problem) issues. He was responsible for the screw-ups the template guys made (who were not trained by him), as well as field the many, many calls from unhappy customers who had been given his name and number as the person “responsible.” Oh, and when needed, he was also supposed to make templates. Attending to all these responsibilities was exhausting and he was putting in a huge number of hours to get it all done. 

Anyone who has ever been on the outside looking in at “the eye of the storm” knows it’s much easier to identify and evaluate problems than the person trying to just survive the day to day issues. Ken realized there were definite things he could put in place to help solve some of the problems – like schedule multiple template jobss located in the same or nearby cities in a logistical order instead of wasting time jumping across town from one job site to another, without a plan. Other simple changes would also help – like confirming customer tear outs and templates several days prior, including the template details, confirming countertops have been cleared off, and lower cabinets and drawers have been cleared out. Also, confirming the sinks are on location, (or farmhouse sinks installed), all cabinets are on site and fully installed and leveled. These are just a few of the upgrades in planning that he knew would reduce re-dos, mistakes and wasted time. 

I was shocked at the number of cancellations my husband received. People who had been scheduled for weeks would say, “Oh, am I supposed to have my sink? I didn’t know that.” Or, they would confirm their appointments and the template person would show up only to find half the cabinets were missing. I go over things in minute detail with my customers so everyone knows what the proper process is, but when you are the subcontractor, information doesn’t always get shared properly. (DO NOT forget to tell subcontractors what you need from them to do your part of the job. Do not overlook this important detail – for it will cause problems, every time.) 

Back to fixing what’s broken: instead of working with Ken as he slowly tried to put changes in place which would benefit the company as a whole, the templaters habitually did an “end run” around the new processes. Tempers then flared when the “shortcuts” resulted in incorrect products, re-work, and in many cases, total re-fabrication. How is it turning out? It’s a work in progress, but changes are gradually being accepted.

“Quality over quantity” is something I regularly repeat to my guys. There still are months we can barely keep up because things have gone from 0 – 90 in the blink of an eye. I admit it can be a challenge to get everything completed and installed correctly. But taking shortcuts and hurrying through things can cause return visits, or make you re-fabricate jobs because they missed details. It only takes a couple of minutes more to make sure a vital step has been done correctly. Sometimes I feel like a recording, repeating over and over to my guys, “Take the extra time to ensure it is done right.” 

If they get to a job site and it isn’t ready, pick up the phone. I will reschedule templates in a heartbeat rather than have the guys template something that is going to be wrong. Letting contractors or customers pressure guys into making templates when they knew the job site was not ready has resulted in wasted labor, unanticipated costs and verbal and written write-ups. There is a reason to do things the right way, because as we all know, shortcuts inevitably cause headaches. And this applies to the small things as well. 

Count all the tops and backsplash pieces before we leave for the job site. Double check that you have the sink, make sure all tools and supplies are loaded onto the truck. “Oops – I forgot” is just not an acceptable excuse for a job you do every day. It doesn’t take any more time to make sure things are accounted for and correct than the extra time required to go back and fix something. In fact, it takes less time.

As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” Making sure a job goes in correctly means that all the details have been worked out and we are installing a correct and well-fitting product that meets our customer’s expectations the first time. Occasionally something changes and we just have to get over the annoyance and make a return visit. But we should always aim high. Everyone in our shop generally tries to do their job quickly and safely. It is up to everyone in charge – from owners to shop foremen to lead templaters to lead installers – to remind templaters, fabricators, polishers and installers that a job should be done RIGHT, not just fast.

Jodi Wallace is co-owner of Monarch Solid Surface Designs in San Jose, California. She may be reached at