Can you remember a time when the government actually made something better? (Save for those times when they had to step in to fix a problem they previously created?) I can’t. So why do I find myself making an argument for more regulation? Here’s why. As a kitchen & bath design firm we derive our income by selling materials to both homeowners and contractors. We too struggle to deliver quality products and services on a playing field that is becoming increasingly more uneven and murky. I can only argue value in the quality of my products and services to clients that will listen.

I recently toured several pricey new homes, some still under construction, in the Chicago suburbs. When I contacted the builders to introduce my firm, they were all receptive to meeting me at one of their projects to discuss working together. Typically, within minutes I found myself with a moral dilemma.
It seems that mid-six figure price tags only gets you cheap import, flat-packed, cabinetry and plumbing fixtures with expensive-sounding names made who knows where from whatever materials are least expensive. Flanking the cabinetry is built-in case work, casings, fireplace surrounds, mantels, and moldings made from MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) or whatever is cheaper and paintable. Seems caulk and paint can cover a lot more than stains and seams these days.
My dilemma? I have to match the quality, beat the price, and put my name and reputation behind my work while implying to the prospective buyers that these are the best materials available. I walked.
By the third time this happened to me, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the buyers that would probably find their homes falling apart before the last boxes are unpacked.

If you are a quality remodeler wouldn’t you want your clients protected from potentially harmful products with questionable warranties? Does the average homeowner--or remodeler for that matter--realize that a warranty from an import company that contracts out the manufacturing of its products to the cheapest third-party manufacturer isn’t quite the same as a warranty from an established manufacturer putting its name on the product?
Similar disparities exist when it comes to the labor and materials that remodelers and repairman provide. For instance, maybe consumers should be made aware that the faucet bought online or at the big box retailer doesn’t come with a labor guarantee. When you buy it from the remodeling professional installing it, it typically it does.

So I ask: Is it time for more regulation on imported products? Would remodelers be better off if the government required the people selling materials to disclose the origins and make-up of those materials?
Wouldn’t consumers be better served if they were informed that, for example, the moldings surrounding their high traffic areas (doors, outside corners) are not likely to hold up to heavy traffic because they are made of MDF--a relatively soft material?
Would a disclosure law requiring all remodelers to disclose training practices, certifications maintained by its firm, its employees, or sub-contractors make professional remodelers more or less competitive with “Chuck in the Truck”?
Would remodelers be more or less competitive if they were required to give clients a certificate showing they are a member in good standing of an organization like the BBB, NARI, or NAHB, which have established processes for resolving conflicts between members and their clients?
Are you tired of seeing unsuspecting people being taken advantage of by “branding schemes” used to disguise poor quality and potentially harmful materials?

At the end of the day, I trust well-informed American consumers to determine what combination of value and service best fits their situation and family needs. Give the American consumer, worker, and responsible remodeling professionals a fair chance and even playing field on which to compete.
Perhaps wanting the government to do the right thing is folly. As for all those people out there developing branding schemes to fool consumers? Perhaps an older branding process still used in the cattle industry would motivate them to do the right thing. Might motivate a few bureaucrats and politicians too! —Jeff Kida, a designer and kitchen and bath dealer, owns DDS Design Services, in Chicago.