In the past several years, particularly since the onset of the economic crash of 2007, we have noticed an increasing reliance on subcontractors for insulation removal, vacuuming, decontamination and reinsulating. I don’t much like the trend. Of course I don’t like it because companies are low balling. That could just be sour grapes.
But I’ve noticed that the companies now using subcontractors always did low ball – because they simply were not thoughtful about what they were doing. Now they can go even lower – but find a margin for profit they could not possibly acheive before, while creating a price spread that makes it hard for those that do not subcontract. Either way, the equation that the customer gets what he or she pays for always comes home to roost. The same is true for the company employing subcontractors thoughtlessly.
I’ve heard many stories of jobs gone wrong. The cleanup was often not complete or entire sections were missed. You know, “errors and omissions” do not just apply to the termite sector of the pest control industry. Now, these companies, who had questionable quality control will exhibit even less control over the results. The pest control company will sell and turn over 90% of the work or more to an industry that hires cheap labor with little regard for worker health.
I have personally done many full attic rat decontamination jobs. I always priced right because I knew how much hard work and sacrifice went into these projects. I understood the risks. I rarely felt abused by the process of removing fecal matter and other contaminants. It has been my philosophy that I take on risks to safeguard the homeowner from risks,… and that like a good soldier, I do my duty and I trust my equipment to protect me.
Recently, we had an encounter with a subcontracting insulation company. I came away questioning myself about whether I can continue operating without subcontractors in the face of their outrageously low pricing. Clearly they have economies of scale that allow them to do what they do. But questioning led to some other open issues. We tried doing a calculation as to what the workers made and were able to make some assumptions on the type of workers they might be able to hire. I asked them about the safety equipment they use. Sometimes they wear tyvek suits and sometimes they don’t. More importantly, sometimes they wear respirators and sometimes they don’t.
I left the possibility of working with them open. Why? I’m a realist. I recognize that I can’t beat a trend that has driven down costs – as it drives down quality. But I also decided that if we were to use subcontractors, we would approve the workers, keep our supervisors very close to the site or on site, even duplicating personnel, to be sure that the job is done right. And we would insist on certain PPE requirements for their workers. They may not be directly employed by me, but I still feel a personal responsibility to anyone employed on my behalf and for my organization. I’d also be sure that they all go through a live-scan check. Last but not least, I’d verify that their insurance is intact and set to high limits.
Working with subcontractors is a pragmatic but a potentially risky choice. At what price do you choose to degrade the quality of your results, your reputation and set in motion the potential for substantial insurance risk? Caveat Emptor!