When I worked at IBM, I often heard the quote, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. I loved this as an idea – and still do. It neatly encompasses the robust, trustworthy status of the big blue brand. It provides customers with the promise that while the price may come at a premium, that delivery will be flawless; and it provides employees with a rallying point, something to live up to. And in my years with IBM, I saw this promise fulfilled by teams of talented people. Not only were these people experts in their field, sometimes they came close to genius.

Recently, I went through the exercise of having my bathroom renovated. Now, I like to build things in my shed, but I am far from professional. I was more than happy to turn this over to professionals. Sure it will cost, but I wanted the expertise and experience. I didn’t expect a genius, but I did expect flawless execution. I did expect them to deliver a superior customer experience.

This did not happen.

So if you are in the market for a bathroom renovation and are considering Harvey Norman Renovations, then closely read these five reasons NOT to renovate your bathroom with Harvey Norman:

  1. The sparkle ends when the contract is signed. Our designer was great. He guided us through the myriad choices and budget options. Nothing was a problem and his suggestions really did help. But once the contract is signed, you are in a whole other world. The charismatic designer is replaced by the grumpy, uncommunicative subcontractor who invades your house and sets up camp. There will be problems and a million reasons why something cannot be done – or done well. You’re in for an argument every day.
  2. Sales bait and switch. The designer will sell you a vision for your new bathroom. That’s the one that you sign up for. But the reality is quite different. Take a look at the table below to see the silver words and an explanation of what they mean.
  3. The design is the blueprint, unless it’s too much work for the contractor. If you’re like me, you will be relying on the expertise of “Harvey Norman” to complete your bathroom to the best of their abilities. You’ll be expecting them to work to the agreed design and promise. But there will be many things that just seem to be “not possible”. Where something is “not in the design” it will be classed as a “variation”, but where the design appears to involve substantial effort, work arounds will be the order of the day. Note, while Harvey Norman variations will cost you extra, your variations do not result in a discount. It’s amazing what can actually be done if you push hard enough, but then again, it’s another argument that you have to have. 
  4. The site supervisor is non-existent. When something doesn’t go to plan, who do you speak with? When you want to check or validate the work of the contractor, who do you turn to? As explained above, I’m not a building professional. I rely entirely on the expertise, experience and goodwill of what I thought was Harvey Norman. Our “site supervisor” was only “on site” one day – in three weeks. And then, for a grand total of about 15 minutes. The small changes, accommodations and variations accumulate each day. There’s no supervision and no second opinion on the direction your bathroom is taking.
  5. Start and end dates. There is no end date in your contract, so your contractor can drag your project on as long as it takes. Our contractor would start about 11am and work on and off for a few hours before heading home for a well-earned rest. As to start dates – we weren’t even scheduled to start with the contractor – the paperwork had to be “found” and the work had to be scheduled – but only after a series of phone calls that got us all off to a bad start. What were we thinking? We’d only given them TWO MONTHS NOTICE to start.

Table of Harvey Norman Renovation promises and what they really mean

Promise What it means
“We do everything but the painting” If you can badger the contractor enough to actually do his job, you might have walls that will only need a couple of days sanding before you can paint them.
“We strip out everything and you’ll get a completely new bathroom” We will replace the wall below 1200mm which will be covered with tiles anyway, but above that you’ll still have the same old gyprock you thought you were getting rid of.
“Patch and make good” Actually replacing gyprock and cornices is not part of our deal – even if we have to smash it to fit. We’ll cover it up with a dash of plaster and hope we can make it look at least half as good as it was before we got here.

So – how did it all turn out? I’ll let you know when it is actually finished. In the meantime, I will write up some tips for “getting what was expected from Harvey Norman Renovations” – and even share some of the work in progress pictures.

Note: the image above is from Flickr. It’s not my bathroom.

UPDATE: Kudos to the Harvey Norman social media team who contacted me via LinkedIn. Good to see. Here's hoping that this leads to others having a better renovation experience.