How to start up a carpet fitter business

Carpet fitter fitting a carpetDemand for carpet fitting services is closely linked to performance in the housing market and the economy. Our easy-to-follow guide will help you to start up and run your own carpet fitting business.

Market research

You will need to make an estimate of the number and type of customers that are likely to use your carpet fitting services.

Domestic work

Pay attention to the type of housing in your area. For example, are houses large or small? Do they appear well kept or run down? Expensive or cheap to buy? Can you find out whether the accommodation is mainly owner-occupied or mainly rented? Is some owned by the local authority or by a housing association?

Think about the types of people who live in your area. Are they well-off? Old or young? Professionals, working people, students or unemployed?

Try to match the range of products and services that you offer to the type of work that is likely to be available and consider widening your planned operating area if needs be.

Work for commercial customers

Think about other buildings in your area. Offices, shops, pubs, hotels, schools and public buildings may all require floor covering services at some point. Decide whether you will take on contract work for businesses and organisations like this. You might also consider approaching commercial and residential landlords, including small-scale buy-to-let landlords.

Once you have identified who your potential customers are, you can direct your advertising efforts at them.

Sub-contract work

If you don't intend to sell carpets and floor coverings yourself, you may look to get work from carpet shops in your area. Some of these may employ their own fitters, but others may use or recommend businesses such as yours when their customers need fitting services.

Try approaching other businesses in your area that sub-contract out carpet fitting and floor covering services. As well as carpet shops, you could also leave your details with:

  • furniture shops, DIY shops (including the large chains) and even department stores
  • shopfitters
  • interior designers and decorators
  • local building contractors and property developers

Consider approaching your local authority - they may be prepared to include your business on a list of 'approved suppliers'. Housing associations may also be potential clients.

Large organisations who invite firms to tender for big contracts may be reluctant to use a small newly established business with little or no track record. Nevertheless, it still may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting floor covering work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations, local authorities and construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract. You may find that there are opportunities to partner with larger, more established firms.

You might consider finding out about becoming an insurance-approved contractor and undertaking work such as flood-damage reinstatement for insurers.

Establishing the level of competition

Once you have decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they are already served.

Try to find out how many other floor covering firms there are in your area. A look through the Yellow Pages - or online at yell.com - (classifications 'Carpet Fitters' and 'Carpets and Rugs - Retail and Repair', perhaps also 'Flooring Services') and other similar directories will help you to establish this. How many advertise the same services and products that you intend to offer? These are your direct competitors. Pay special attention to nearby branches of national chains like Carpetright. Bear in mind that other types of business, for example furniture shops, might also sell and even fit carpets.

Look at some of your competitors' advertisements to establish:

  • what services they offer
  • whether they advertise any special features, for example interest free credit, free fitting, out of hours measuring service and so on
  • whether they belong to any trade associations, for example the National Institute of Carpet and Floorlayers (NICF) or the Contract Flooring Association (CFA)
  • what sort of impression their advertisement gives you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and efficient, good value, traditional, upmarket?)
  • Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

  • Sector trends for carpet fitters
  • Legal issues for carpet fitters
  • VAT rules for carpet fitters

Offering finance

Carpeting a house, or even just one room, can be an expensive purchase. Some customers may be unwilling or unable to pay for it all in one go and would prefer to pay a deposit and spread the balancing payment over several months or years.

If you decide to sell as well as fit carpets, you may want to offer credit to these customers through a specialist finance company. Several such companies exist and, between them, they offer a range of different finance packages. Some of the finance packages available which you might use to attract customers include:

  • standard interest bearing credit
  • subsidised interest rate credit
  • interest free credit
  • deferred payment (buy now pay later) credit
  • high risk credit (for customers who might normally be turned down by a finance company)

When you sell goods on finance you will have to fill in a credit application with the customer. Your finance company will then give a decision on whether to accept the application. All being well, the transaction will be completed quite quickly and you will receive payment from the finance company within a few days. You will usually also be paid commission. This is normally based on a percentage of the value of the sale and paid to you separately at the end of the month.

Most finance companies will expect you to meet certain requirements and standards before agreeing to do business with you. Some will only deal with businesses that have been trading for a certain minimum length of time, often two years.

Shop around when it comes to choosing which finance company you will deal with. Their terms and working practices vary. When choosing which one is best suited to your business, bear in mind the following:

  • what type of finance packages are most likely to appeal to your customers
  • how promptly will you receive payment from the finance company
  • how much commission are you offered
  • how quickly will your customers' credit applications be turned around
  • what level of back-up and support is available to you

You will need consumer credit authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) if you want to offer finance to your customers. Visit the FCA website for more information.

Pricing

You'll need to decide how much to charge for the floor covering services you provide. If you offer carpet sales as well as fitting, you'll also need to decide how you will set your retail prices. Think about whether you'll offer a discounted 'trade' price to commercial clients.

Floor covering services

As well as thinking about how much to charge you'll also need to decide on your charging methods, which might vary depending on the nature of the job. For example, you might:

  • charge for your services (and those of any employees) on an hourly or daily basis, adding to this the cost of any items such as grippers and door bars that you supply
  • charge for fitting certain types of floor covering at a standard rate per square metre. Your standard charge may or may not include items like grippers. You may decide to vary your charge depending on the type of room you are working on - for example, you might charge a higher rate for carpeting stairs
  • work out a standard fixed price for certain types of job. For example, if you offered carpet cleaning services you might charge on a per room basis, or even work out set prices for different sizes of house

Customers that are other businesses (for example local property developers) might expect you to offer them a special trade rate that's lower than your normal rate. Large organisations like housing associations that invite firms such as yours to tender for contract work will also expect your rates to be very competitive.

You may decide to use different methods of costing for different jobs, depending on who the customer is and what type of work you will be doing.

Carpet sales

If you decide to supply carpets and possibly other types of floor covering (for example laminate, vinyl and so on) you will need to set your prices for these. Generally, carpet prices reflect the type, quality and grade of the material and are normally quoted per square metre (or square yard). You will probably aim to stock a range of different carpets to suit different applications and to fall within different people's budgets.

When you set your prices, decide what they will include. Will you, for example, charge an all-inclusive price per square metre to include measuring, underlay, ancillaries and fitting, or will you make a separate charge for these? Discounting is a major feature of the carpet industry. Will you set your prices to allow for occasional special offers and discounts, or will you perhaps aim to always be one of the cheapest retailers in your area? Maybe you intend to sell exclusive ranges which you don't think will need to be discounted.

Some things to consider

It is very important that you set your charges carefully. You must make sure when setting your prices that, assuming you sell and/or fit enough carpets, you will earn enough to cover all of your operating costs, including your own drawings.

Also consider the following points when setting your charges:

  • what do your competitors charge for similar products and services
  • will you aim to win business away from your competitors with attractive pricing
  • will you vary your fitting charges depending on the type and complexity of the work involved
  • how much profit will you aim to make on ancillaries that you supply (for example grippers, door bars, underlay)
  • will you set a minimum charge for small fitting jobs

You will often be asked to give an estimate or quote for a particular job. Many customers will want to agree a price before a job is started and will expect you to stick to this. It is quite usual to offer a free measuring and estimating service.

Be aware that many of your clients will get quotes from several carpet fitters, so you need to be able to quote accurately and competitively. However, don't cut your own throat. Many clients value good quality workmanship and efficient service and are prepared to pay a realistic price for it. Above all, make sure that you don't end up working at a loss because your quote was too low, or because you didn't allow for enough carpet and underlay!

Your work rate

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of work, the amount that you can earn depends partly on the number of days you work and the length of your working day.

You may decide to stick to normal business hours, for example 8.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and perhaps Saturdays too. Or you may decide to work longer hours to suit the needs of customers who are out at work during the day. Perhaps you are prepared to work very long hours at busy times when your services are in demand, taking some time off during quieter periods.

Many of your customers will find it more convenient if you or your employees can visit during the evening or on the weekend, as it means that they don't have to take any time off work. So you may decide to offer an out of hours measuring/fitting service and be prepared to start early in the morning so that customers can speak to you before they have to leave for work. (Building a reputation for trustworthiness can mean that customers are happy to leave a key out for you rather than wait in.)

As an experienced carpet fitter, you are likely to have an idea of how long certain types of jobs will take you. It is very important when quoting for a job that you can make an accurate estimate of how long it will take. It's no good quoting for three hours work if it ends up taking you all day!

The speed at which you work depends on your own skills and experience and on the type and standard of the work that you do. Your charges should reflect all of these things.

Non-productive time

Unfortunately, not all of every working day will be spent earning money. Here are a few examples of reasons why you may sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • visiting customers to measure up (if you do this free of charge), and perhaps also to show them samples
  • finishing off jobs that take you longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems)
  • re-doing faulty work
  • travelling to and from jobs, or to get tools or goods from a supplier
  • repairing tools or vehicles and doing administrative tasks

Sometimes you may find that you are unable to work at all, because:

  • you arrive at a client's house to find that the room is not yet ready to be carpeted and it is too late to reschedule another job for that day
  • a vital tool or piece of equipment is broken
  • you are injured or ill

Remember that the above can apply to your employees as well as to you. Take all of these factors into account when you are estimating the maximum number of productive hours that you can work each month.

Shop hours

If you have a retail outlet you will probably choose to open during normal business hours. You might, however, consider opening late on certain days, and possibly opening on Sundays. Perhaps you intend to supply carpets by showing customers samples in their own homes. As with measuring and fitting services, many of your customers will prefer you to visit outside normal business hours.

Remember that if you have a shop and provide fitting services, you will need to think about how you will share out the work. It would be very hard work to sell carpets all day, then spend your evening measuring up and fitting them!

Services offered

Floor covering services

You might decide to offer a range of different floor covering services, depending on your own skills, experience and working preferences. These might include:

  • fitting new and used carpets, including reusing old carpets in a different room
  • refitting existing carpets, for example after under-floor plumbing work has been carried out
  • restretching existing carpets to improve their fit and appearance
  • laying laminate and wooden flooring (for example strip-wood and block)
  • laying other types of floor covering, for example tiles, vinyl, lino and so on
  • laying specialist floor coverings, such as cushion flooring, anti-static and safety flooring
  • repairing carpets and other floor coverings
  • removing old flooring and carrying out remedial work (for example screeding, levelling or boarding) prior to fitting a new floor covering
  • carpet binding (also known as whipping)
  • wood floor sanding and polishing, and carpet cleaning
  • applying protective finishes to carpets (for example Stainguard)
  • laying hearths, for example when a homeowner instals a woodburning stove

Much of your work is likely to be carried out in domestic premises. However, you might also decide to tender for contract and commercial work.

Retail sales

Even if you don't normally supply carpets and other floor coverings, it is likely that you will often be expected to supply ancillaries such as underlay, gripper, door bars and so on.

If you do decide to supply floor coverings, you might stock some or all of the following:

  • domestic carpet, in various different grades and styles
  • commercial and contract grade carpet (very heavy duty) and other floor coverings (for example rubberised flooring used in commercial kitchens)
  • remnants, roll ends and discontinued lines
  • laminate flooring systems
  • various other flooring materials, both on the roll and packaged (for example tiles and wood strip)
  • rugs and mats

Your customers will probably expect to be able to look through sample books showing all the different colours and patterns available for each range. Some may want to do this in their own homes.

You might also decide to stock some other items, for example window blinds, curtains and even furniture.

Added value services

The carpet trade is competitive and you may decide to offer your customers a range of attractive 'added value' services. These might include, for example:

  • design, planning and advice services
  • free measuring, estimates and quotations
  • insurance approved quotations
  • 'free' underlay and/or ancillaries (although your prices will probably have to reflect the fact that these items are included)
  • free collection and delivery of carpets purchased by the client, and free disposal of old carpet
  • credit facilities, and possibly interest free credit and/or deferred payment
  • out of hours measuring, sample viewing and fitting services
  • guarantees on all products and workmanship
  • membership of a recognised trade association
  • fully trained and time-served fitters
  • a freephone telephone line
  • a 'no job too small' or a 'price match' promise

Advertising your business

It is important to advertise your business effectively to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them.

Many of your domestic customers will not require floor covering services regularly and may not have the name of a fitter to hand.

An entry in the Yellow Pages and/or other similar directories can be an effective way of advertising your business. However, many of your competitors will have done the same, with some firms regularly spending a lot of money on large, eye-catching display advertisements. You will have to decide whether to compete head on with these firms, or to look for a different way of attracting customers. You could, for example:

  • focus on your own 'unique selling point' (USP) in your advertising material. This might be, for example 'Family run firm', 'Match any price' or even simply 'Friendly, honest service'
  • look into becoming listed by an insurer, specialist helpline or directory as an 'approved tradesman' (most of these organisations operate a quality screening process and some will only list firms that have been trading for at least two years)
  • consider advertising in ways that aren't used by your competitors, for example by using social media like Facebook or Twitter

Try to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in your advertisements, particularly things that distinguish your business from your competitors.

Other ways of advertising

Think about other ways that you could advertise your business. For example, you could distribute a paper flyer, plastic card, fridge magnet or sticker with your business name and telephone number on it as part of a mail-shot that you do, perhaps in the early spring. You might consider asking businesses like carpet retailers, estate agents, furniture shops, interior design outlets and DIY stores if they will display your business card or flyers.

More and more people search for things like floor coverings on the internet - so a website and/or a listing in an online directory could be effective. Your local paper may run a regular 'contact the experts' advertising feature. Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable.

Networking and word of mouth

If you just provide fitting services then you will want to reach as many people as possible who have just bought, or are about to buy, a carpet. Contact local carpet retailers who don't provide fitting services and ask them if they will recommend your business to their customers. Some may want proof of your credentials before doing so. You could also find out if any of them will use your business on a sub-contract basis.

Word of mouth recommendations are very valuable to your business. Everyone has heard horror stories about 'cowboy' tradesmen who bodge jobs and swindle their customers - and they want to be sure that you're not going to do the same to them. You will have to earn your reputation through good, reliable workmanship - but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff you employ are good ambassadors for your business too.

Buy an existing business

You might decide to buy an existing carpet fitting business rather than start your own venture from scratch. Buying a going concern may mean that:

  • the premises (if any), vehicles and equipment are already in place
  • there are established relationships with carpet retailers, property developers, construction firms, residential and commercial landlords and so on who might put fitting work your way
  • there are existing customers
  • the business can generate income immediately
  • suppliers have been identified and relationships established with them
  • the business has a track record, which can help if you are looking for finance
  • staff (if any) are already in place

However, look critically at any business that you are interested in to make sure that the price you negotiate with the seller is a fair one. Try to establish why the business is for sale - for example, is the owner keen to retire or is there another personal reason for selling up.

Your market research into the sector as a whole, and the locality in particular, will help you to establish whether or not the owner is selling because he or she can no longer generate enough income from the business. This may not necessarily deter you - many business people are confident that they can turn a failing business around. The important thing is to have established the current position so that the price you pay for the business is not too high.

Other matters to consider include:

  • the state of any premises, equipment and so on. Will you have to spend money refurbishing or replacing assets
  • if you are thinking of buying a business that also sells carpets, check the condition of any stock that's included and make sure that it's still in fashion
  • existing staff rights
  • how to retain key personnel once you've taken over
  • does the business owe money that you will be responsible for
  • if you are paying for goodwill, to what extent does this depend on the skills and personality of the seller

Ask your accountant to look critically at the business accounts for the past three years and discuss with him or her the selling price in the light of what the accounts reveal. Make sure you budget for other professional fees such as legal fees and valuation and survey costs.

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