Randy Brown had had it. He'd warned the installing subcontractor several times not to throw excess materials from the roof. Then, while visiting a jobsite, he found that the sub had throw six bundles of extra shingles ? each bundle costing $100 ? to the ground, splitting open the bundles so they couldn't be returned to the supply house.

Enough already. Brown found another installer for his next job.

Basic Needs

Most home improvement companies use subcontractors to install some portion of their work, if not all of it, and depend on long-term relationships with subs to get jobs installed on time. But managing subs can be more difficult than managing employees because subs, by law, manage themselves.

The key to success, contractors say, is a detailed scope of work, clarity on what behavior is tolerated and what isn't, and a well-structured agreement that spells out subcontractor obligations. At Reborn Cabinets, a kitchen and cabinet refacing business in Orange County, Calif., subs sign a 12-page agreement, including an indemnification clause. That, experts would say, is a key piece of any subcontractor agreement.

Another is the requirement that subs have their own insurance. Brown, for instance, has his office call the agent listed on subs' insurance documents for verification. He recently canceled an agreement with a roofing subcontractor when he found out that the sub's workers' compensation had expired.

Mutual Respect

Bill Conforti, owner of Siding 1 Windows 1, in Chicago, agrees that a written scope of work is vital, but emphasizes the importance of his company being there, too. "We're there at the beginning of the job to make sure there are no misunderstandings," he says. "And [at the end,] our project manager checks the jobs for quality."

Anthony Nardo, vice president of production for Reborn Cabinets, points out that, ideally, subcontractors are seen as an extension of his company and come to view themselves that way and to behave accordingly.

At Southwest Exteriors, a siding and window company in San Antonio, owner Scott Barr, himself once an installer, says, "I treat [subs] like I'd like to be treated, and once here, we usually keep them." Barr parts ways with subcontractors over two issues: lack of quality ? meaning inferior workmanship ? and behavior that could compromise client relationships. Conforti requires regular subs to maintain a clean-cut appearance, but admits that, over time, what constitutes "clean-cut" has changed. "Twenty-five years ago, I would never have hired anybody with a tattoo," he says. "But ... we have to go with the flow."