Your installer is 25 miles from your warehouse and he needs caulk. Should he drive back? If he worked for Let's Face It, a kitchen cabinet refacing operation in Lansdale, Pa., the answer is No. Installers have big-box credit cards in their pockets.

“They're authorized to go to the nearest supply center — Lowe's or The Home Depot — and get what they need,” president David Cerami says. The Board Store Home Improvements, in LaCrosse, Wis., maintains a similar policy. There the building products supplier is Menards, and The Board Store general manager, Miles Wilkins, says that his installers — all are employees — carry Menards' cards that they're authorized to use if they need to. “If they are 30 miles away and need a piece of lumber, it's insane to think I'd pay $30 to get a 2x4 to someone,” Cerami says. Key employees at The Board Store also use a company Mastercard and Visa for in-house purchases of items such as office supplies.

SO CONVENIENT Cards give installers the ability to keep the job moving forward without delay. But controls are essential. At Let's Face It, employees are required to submit a purchase order for products purchased at local building supply stores, as well as the receipts. Field employees at The Board Store also submit receipts, and if they need something, such as a nail gun or a table saw, they're required to clear that purchase (or rental) with the office. The Board Store Home Improvement also furnishes installers with gas cards.

INTERNAL CONTROLS Financial experts such as CPA and author James Leisner say that certain safeguards can prevent internal abuse.

  • When employees are assigned cards, “have them sign a statement explaining that the card is for business use,” Leisner says, “that they're responsible for its safekeeping, that they are to immediately report loss or theft, and that unauthorized use can result in termination.”
  • Limit the credit amount, depending on employee.
  • Accounting or management should review “what are they buying, how much are they buying, what job are they buying for, and does what they are buying make sense?”
  • Leisner also points out that those responsible for internal accounting should know what they are looking for, why, and what to do if they find suspicious activity.

    An updated list of card numbers, card users, credit amounts, and who in the organization has access to which card will prove invaluable if cards are lost or stolen. That way you can quickly contact the issuer and avoid being responsible for fraudulent purchases.