Fitters never admit their mistakes

Sandy Armitage of Sandy Armitage Designs in Ipswich talks through the relationship between retailer and installer.

I should like to take up again the important subject of installation and the serious lack of competent trades, identifying its causes and trying to find the solution.

I agree with the BiKBBI’s Damian Walters about it beginning with education. For decades, the thrust in schools has been to focus on white-collar, soft-handed, sharp-dressed business subjects, which has led to the utter neglect of the non-academic technical skills-set trade subjects and a youth that doesn’t want to get their hands dirty. It’s the fault of successive poor Government policies. Apprenticeships should have been there all along rather than being thrown into the mix at this late stage.

But Damian’s talk of relationships and retailers’ treatment of installation as a ‘bolt-on’ I don’t recognise in any way.

As a designer, I have never underestimated the weight of my many responsibilities. These include: superb communication skills; a vast technical knowledge across the board (from home surveying to a vast array of products); design flair and competence and understanding of the installation process, and having great relationships with your tradespeople. And you need to understand how to do all of this to a budget, and with profit, and to keep everyone happy and the project focused on target. And, very importantly, you have to take responsibility if you have made a genuine mistake and then learn from it.

I have been brought up with these values and they are all ingrained in me, but I can almost never recall an installer taking responsibility for their mistakes. Ever.

Damian speaks of mutual respect and I have always approached my relationships with tradespeople on that level – and been the one let down by their attitude and lack of professionalism. If we on the retail/design side have delivered the correct information and discussed the project fully with the installer and agreed the costs, the margin for error is reduced, the client’s brief is met and we can all pat each other on the back for jobs well done and reputations polished.

We have to listen to each other, not talk at each other, but there has to be the understanding that this dwindling labour market cannot be sustained by inflating rates of pay. That’s just going to stop the market from functioning.

The other thing is women. Women in this industry. I have been banging on about the glass ceiling for a long time, because it’s true, so I would like to focus on one very significant woman – Diane Berry. She is a superb and solid example of an experienced, mature and talented high-end kitchen retailer with an eye for design and strong and admirable work ethics. OK, she chose an inflammatory word by calling those who use regular subbies ‘cheats’, but technically she was correct. It’s irrelevant to bang on about examples of subbies preferring to remain self-employed because that’s clearly going to net the most money for them, but Diane was focusing on those bigger independents with a tidy turnover who can afford to employ, but choose not to.

It’s very much about those companies who could afford to nurture new talent choosing not to. Diane is making a difference and all power to her. She is investing in the industry and producing her own decent tradesmen who are being shown mutual respect. It’s not all about the money and should never be – it’s about service to the client. So I applaud Diane Berry.

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