Editorial: Bring back the BBB?
Consumer trust in contractors is at an all-time low.
By Patrick Flannery
A recent poll commissioned by Reno-Assistance found around two-thirds of Canadians don’t trust general contractors and have similar levels of distrust for specialty contractors. Fenestration contractors weren’t specifically broken out in the information online – no doubt we score much better (gulp).
Granted, this study was ordered by a company that offers contractor-verification services, but it was conducted by Ipsos, which has a reputation for credibility to protect.
I don’t even need to go into why this would be so. Everyone has multiple hair-raising stories of contractor malfeasance both from inside and outside the industry. If you threw a dart at a listing of contractors and hired the one you hit, your chances of ending up with a straight-up criminal are about as good as getting one who is professional, on-time and honestly priced. The survey above found six per cent of respondents in Toronto reported items being stolen – stolen! – from their homes by contractors working there. My own experience has been mixed. A referral I got from a work friend sent me to a terrific guy who did great work fast and cheap. Another time I was absolutely chewed out on the phone for simply calling to ask about a shower surround that was more than a week overdue (how’s it going over there, London Marble?). Toronto does seem particularly bad. Just about every friend I have who has embarked on a major renovation in Toronto has a tale of long delays, shakedowns for more money and “companies” that disappear with deposits leaving work wrong, incomplete or not even started.
These aren’t new problems, but they are problems I feel were less prevalent, say, 30 years ago but have been accelerating over the past decades. In my mind, the problem coincides with the urbanization of our country. More of us are living in cities and our cities have grown to the extent that a company doesn’t have to safeguard its reputation the way it used to. There’s always another mark who hasn’t heard about the last person the contractor ripped off. Even single individuals can use online tools like Kijiji to reach unsuspecting homeowners at the same rate as larger companies with marketing budgets. When I was in high school in London in the 1980s it seemed that just about any company you dealt with was at least slightly known and familiar to you either from advertising or seeing its storefront. You could certainly ask anyone about it and get an opinion. Now, you often seem to be starting from zero with some organization you’ve never heard of before.
In the very old days before even the mullets and legwarmers of the ‘80s, people identified this problem and took measures to safeguard consumers against the unscrupulous. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau gave companies a stamp of approval that consumers could use to choose vendors that had at least been looked at by some outside agency. And members of those organizations could skip the part where they had to convince a customer they were trustworthy, simply by showing the logo. I’m not entirely sure what happened to those groups as they seem to be a lot less relevant today, but I suspect it had something to do with them relaxing their standards in order to encourage wider membership.
Everyone’s lives would be easier if we could rediscover some way to establish trust with our markets in the face of the shenanigans that go on. Perhaps an injection of funds to the WindowWise program to advertise it to consumers?