I've been getting this question a lot lately, how to find good vendors - contractors and subs specifically. And it's not an easy answer. I'm going to give you some pointers here today, but know that when a contractor doesn't return your call or email, is late to a meeting, or doesn't show when he promises - you are not alone, this happens to everyone.
As a designer, organizer, and a planner I find dealing with contractors one of the most frustrating parts of project management. (Contractors are you listening?) I don't know why, but it seems to be the norm that contractors: take forever to send quote/invoice, don't show up on time, don't show up with the right tools, don't take direction, aren't responsive, aren't respectful of the clients, and a myriad of other offenses that seems to make our job harder.
Funny story, my dad is a retired plumber who ran his own business for over 20 years, we once did a bathroom remodel together in Sedona and it was like working with any "typical" contractor! No special treatment, he took forever to get back to me, he didn't take direction, and was hard to get straight answers from him.
Trial & Error
So how do you go about finding vendors and contractors that you can work with? I really only have one answer when I get asked this question and it's not what you want to hear, but there is no way around it. There is no magic solution, no shortcut, no black book of 5-star vendors. The only way to find quality vendors is trial and error.
To find a workroom to build custom pieces, to sew custom draperies, a great sales rep, the right showrooms, to find an electrician, art hanger, or tile layer, you will need to do some work. Building up your company's rolodex of good trades people isn't something that is quick or easy. You are building relationships with people and companies that you want to work with. The key here is building relationships. That takes time. There is no quick way to build a relationship. If you are just starting in interior design business remember this. Even those that have been in business for 20 years are always looking for new vendors, new trades, new sources. When you run an interior design business it is a never ending task. Embrace it - this is what it means to run a design business!
Whether you are a seasoned designer or a just starting your business, local and regional design magazines are great places to get sources. Read the captions on the features for furniture sources, the story will likely call out the contractor and maybe even the subs. Often magazines even include a "Where to Buy" page at the end of the magazine with even more of the sources used in their features.
Take a look at the ads in the magazine too. See who is advertising in your area. They probably are targeting clients, but you can be a client for them too helping them get to your homeowners in need of their services.
Referrals have been the bedrock of our industry for a long time. It is no different for finding good vendors. Ask other designers, ask your friends, ask your real estate agent, ask your neighbor, ask your doctor who just build a new house, you get the idea. Don't be afraid to ask people around you who they like and use. Hey, I am always looking for great vendors, who do you recommend? works wonders.
This doesn't get you out of the trial and error part, but it does help narrow down the options. A friend raved to me about her contractor recently and I met with him for a quote. He was on time to our appointment, asked questions, and was a really personable guy. Then it took forever to get a quote from him. When I finally received the email with the quote and responded to it, I never heard from him again. So referrals aren't always a guarantee, but they can still be helpful.
Set up Expectations
Finally, be sure to interview a contractor and let them know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. When you do this in the beginning, you are much more likely to encounter a smooth project than if you have to have a talk with your contractor in the middle of a project. Let them know how you expect for them to work with you, work with the client, how to behave on the job, how to communicate with you and communicate with the client. Share with them how you work and what they can expect from you when working with you. Before a project is the time when you want to tell them that you expect them to respect your time, to respect the client's home, to practice good communication and if they don't feel if they can deliver, then you don't hire them.