An explanation of the title ‘Approved Contractor’ that is often seen in contractor’s advertisements and on their headed paper – What does it really mean?
To promote the use of their products very many product manufacturers have groups of favoured contractors generally referred to as ‘approved’, ‘authorised’, ‘preferred’ etc. who use their products. This sales promotion technique has been around for years across all industries and the building preservation industry is no different. Many contractors are keen to have a ‘badge of approval’ to show their clients and product manufacturers are keen to retain the loyalty of their contractor clients in order to continue to sell their products. But what does the granting of this status really mean?
The basic premise runs like this.... Sales reps of product manufacturer’s seek out companies either involved in the industry or on the fringes of it and try to entice that company to buy from them - usually by undercutting their existing supplier’s prices. Sometimes for a modest fee and proof of the existence of their Public Liability Insurance, the newly poached contractor is signed up to the manufacturer’s scheme and agrees to work with integrity and trust, to a minimum set of standards.
Due to the competitive nature of the preservation industry hardly any of the manufacturers’ request a fee for this vetting and acceptance into their ‘Approved Contractor’ scheme is usually on the say so of the representative who may have been selling ice cream last week and now wants to sell products to the contractor! We are aware of one manufacturer that mailed unsolicited ‘Approved Contractor’ certificates to contractors! So much for vetting!
Once ‘approved’ the manufacturer supplies some slick marketing materials along with logos for use on vehicles and stationery. Sometimes a prospective client may contact a manufacturer looking for a contractor. In these circumstances they will either be given the contact details of an 'Approved Contractors’ in their area or what happens more often is the clients details are passed on to the area representative who will contact them and point them towards their own ‘favoured’ contractor customer. This helps the rep maintain a favourable relationship with their contractor client.
What's in it for the client?
Well, they gain some peace of mind in knowing that they have more than likely eliminated the worst of the cowboys and they hope that the contractor has been lightly vetted and declared 'compos mentis'. They are able to take advantage of the Manufacturer’s Guarantee schemes (at an additional cost) and they have the option to complain to the sponsoring manufacturer if the contractor lets them down or does a shoddy job but do not rely too heavily on this.
What's in it for the Contractor?
Basically kudos. Gone are the days when a contractor was only ‘allowed’ to be ‘Approved’ by one manufacturer. It used to be if a contractor dared speak to another manufacturer and their current sponsor got wind of this they would be threatened with expulsion and removal of their ‘Approved’ status - shock horror! Nowadays, due to the intense competition to supply building preservation materials it is not unusual to see contractors openly advertising that they are ‘Approved Contractors’ for several manufacturers. The tables have turned.
The ‘approved contractor’ schemes are basically a marketing tool that gives the contractor added kudos thereby adding prestige to their business and perhaps a small premium to their costs. They also have access to the technical back-up of the sponsoring manufacturer, enhanced marketing materials and rapid access to data sheets.
Many contractors also believe that the more ‘badges’ they have on their paperwork the more impressed their potential clients will be yet in many cases the opposite is true. Be aware that some of the less scrupulous contractors print badges, logos etc. on their paper work that they are not entitled to. It is always worth checking that a contractor is a member or is registered with whoever they are claiming to be associated with.
What's in it for the Manufacturer?
Forgive the cynicism, but manufacturers have not established these schemes for the benefit of the client or the contractors. It is primarily for their own benefit to maintain contractor loyalty and a steady outlet for their products but as mentioned earlier loyalty is not always the case. If the clients and the contractors are helped in the process, that's a welcome bonus.
These schemes turn contractors into unpaid Sales Reps for the manufacturers. The 'Approved Contractor’ turns up on the client's doorstep, eager to sell not just their building preservation skills and expertise, but also the products of the sponsoring manufacturer....and they're actually paying the manufacturer for the privilege, which means, at the end of the day, the client is paying!
Approved contractor schemes in the preservation industry have been around for years and it is probably true to say that their status has been eroded over the last decade. They were viewed by some as a positive move but it should be remembered that approved lists are not infallible. They are specific to each manufacturer and a contractor that is 'Approved' by one manufacturer may not be 'Approved' by others.
Also remember that a product manufacturer has little or no influence over the day to day running of a contractor’s business or their business ethics. By the same token the business ethics of manufacturers who grant just about anyone ‘approved’ status just to sell some products is to be frowned upon.
Contractors that repeatedly 'break the rules' may be thrown off a list by one manufacturer and lose their 'Approved' status, but other manufacturers will soon ‘take them onboard’ if it means a sale. They cannot be prevented from carrying on as contractors. Work that is seriously sub-standard may or may not be corrected by the contractor but by then, the damage is done; the client is disenchanted, the job has been delayed and the preservation industry takes another knock.
However, overall, choosing a Contractor from an approved list is still a better idea than sticking a pin in the phone book, or accepting the bargain offer from the ‘bloke’ that knocks on the door because he is ‘working in your area’. It is better to engage the services of a contractor who is a member of the Property Care Association (PCA).