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Subbing, Not Snubbing Installers

A four-step process for subcontracting installers.

At our shop, we outsource about 10 percent of our vehicle-wrap installs. Yes, for the most part we rely upon our in-house install crew of about 30 installers around the country – after all, they’ve all but spoiled us with their record-setting speed and quality work. But there are some instances when it just makes more sense to outsource and use a subcontractor.

In fact, subcontracted installers can become a pretty vital component of the wrap game. An outsourced install solution, when it’s successfully managed, can definitely make or break a shop. I’m all for giving new installers a shot at our business, but to ensure we have the best possible experience when using a subcontractor, we’ve assembled a four-step process. If we have a subcontracted install go wrong along the way, we’ve found that we can almost always trace it back to skipping at least one of these steps.

Criteria and qualifications
Our first step is to have set criteria of just when we should use a sub in the first place. These criteria will likely be different for every shop – but having it agreed upon and documented to your team is something all shops should certainly do.

Our general rule of thumb: If the job is local, we’ll use our own crew unless the current workload is bigger than we can handle. If the job is not local, but it’s big enough or important enough, we’ll also send our own crew.

By “big enough,” we usually mean multiple vehicles, all in one spot, that we can send a crew for at least three days. These jobs typically entail four to 50 vehicles; this generally seems to be the breaking point where it’s more profitable to cover travel costs and still send our crew. By “important enough,” we mean that the job is very high profile, or the price for failure is too high – like a super-rushed NHRA vehicle.

But even though sending one of our own installers might make us feel safer as it relates to cost and performance, it’s sometimes just not practical. We’ll almost always turn to a subcontractor on standard (easy) jobs that are remote, or even challenging jobs in a remote market where we have established relationships with talented and dependable contacts.

The second step in our process is qualifying the subcontractor we’d like a quote from. There are many ways to get an opinion about the quality of sub you’re considering. One starting point is to determine what associations or qualifications they have, via groups like United Application Standards Group (www.uasg.org) or the Professional Decal Application Alliance (www.pdaa.com). I should point out that I have used installers that have one or more certifications, but I’ve also come across installers who have more certifications than skill; and I’ve used many installers – some who have turned out to be among the best in the industry – who don’t belong to any associations or have any certifications whatsoever. So, again, this is just a good starting point.

We then like to look at the installer’s portfolio, their personal/company website, and consider their overall professionalism. We look at the format of the estimate; is it hand written or in the body of an e-mail, or do they use a pro system to generate and track their quotes? At the end of the day, don’t forget, you’re hiring a company not an installer. This company needs to have a good track record, be fully insured, and be professional. They should be prepared to send you a certificate of insurance (COI) naming you as the additional insured, as well as forward to you a signed W9 form so they can correctly be entered into your system as a vendor.

Another checkmark in the plus column for a subcontractor is a personal referral from someone you trust. We’ve had a select few subs that have been on our favorites list for a long time and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I gladly refer their names, and it’s not because we have never had an issue with them – it’s that they are pros. They do what they say they are going to do, they’re honest, and they take ownership of the challenge and any mistake they might make along the way. Stuff happens in the wrap game, and it’s how professionally you handle it that lets a client know who they’re dealing with.

Quotes and checklist
Step three in outsourcing is to get multiple quotes. In our case, though, this doesn’t mean we’re simply seeking out the lowest figure. Rather, I’m looking for an installer to deliver the best option. The best option is a combination of response time, quality, rapport, and price – it’s not just any one of those.

I know installers who are extremely skilled but don’t call back in an appropriate time frame. I also know installers who are courteous and priced well, but just lack the skills to complete an install in an acceptable way. We strive to deliver the best options to our clients, and I know we are not the cheapest out there. So getting quotes is a vital step, but price alone should never be the deciding factor.

Our last step to help ensure we have a smooth process when using a subcontracted installer is to produce a checklist for communication requirements when awarding the job. We’ve built this checklist over the past 15 years and I’m not sure how we would live without it. It includes steps to capture items such as: the install company’s full contact information; the COI; the signed subcontractor agreement that outlines the terms; the estimate in writing; the bluemedia-issued purchase order; job specs with photos; install diagrams and inventory sheets; the install date; the photo request; the notification of completion process; and the final invoice submission.

Once the install is complete, we then add the installer to our own database by region with ratings on speed, quality, professionalism, and price.

Making it work, together
In the client’s eyes, there should be no distinction between your company and the installer. Your company and the install company need to perform together as one, and that starts by you managing the process to ensure that this is exactly what happens. Your quality level, your response time, and your customer experience are what the subcontracted installer needs to deliver. If you just ship the contractor the graphics with an address and a contact phone number, don’t be surprised when they don’t represent you in the exact fashion you desired.

And don’t forget that much of an installer’s success is on us as print shops; the best installer in the world can’t fix poor output on our part. So when you find a great installer, take care of them because they’re looking for print partners to work with that have their act together as well. They’ll spread the word about you just as you should spread the word about them.
 

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