By Ken Ryan
Grapevine, Texas—Certified Flooring Installers (CFI) recently held its 23rd convention. The theme at this year’s show was #IamCFI, which conveyed the message: “Your individual commitment is what makes the organization great.”
Robert Varden, vice president of the CFI division of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), opened the conference by asking for a number of hands of first-time attendees. He was taken aback by the high head count. “The first timers are knocking it out of the park this year,” he said. “That’s the future of this organization.”
Conference organizers cited a 50% uptick in the number of vendors compared to last year. This helped contribute to an increase in attendance overall. “You have never been held in higher esteem in the industry than you are today,” said Scott Humphrey, WFCA president and CEO, in his remarks to installers. “You are so vital to the success of retailers and that is starting to resonate.”
The timing of the CFI conference was fortuitous. Prior to the start of the event, nearly 80 industry executives convened for an installation summit at the Omni Dallas Hotel to discuss the installation conundrum—the need to raise standards for today’s installers and, more importantly, sourcing for the next generation.
As part of that event, seven industry professionals participated in a panel discussion. Tom Lape, president of Mohawk residential; Keith Campbell, chairman of Mannington Mills; and Mark Shannon, executive vice president of sales, Crossville, represented manufacturers. Other panelists included Fred Williamson of Starnet, Brett Miller of the National Wood Flooring Association, Tom Cartmell of Mr. David’s Flooring International, and Mike Welch of E.J. Welch Company.
Humphrey, who moderated the panel, relayed to CFI members that “having representatives from all areas of industry come together says your trade matters.”
Supporting the trade
CCA Global Partners has increased its commitment to the CFI. Through a partnership with WFCA, members of CCA’s floor covering divisions will be provided with incentives to bring new hires to the industry, and the CFI will train and qualify them. Through this partnership, members of Carpet One Floor & Home, Flooring America/Flooring Canada and International Design Guild will benefit from tuition credits and discounts from both CCA and WFCA. “CCA members have been asking for help in recruiting and training more installers and we feel this program will help them meet the challenge,” said Charlie Dilks, chief product officer of CCA Global Partners.
Humphrey said it was exciting to see CCA making a significant investment to help resolve an industry-wide problem. “CCA adds a lot of credibility to what we are doing.”
One thing that needs to change, however, is how the installation trade is viewed and marketed, according to Humphrey. Rather than identifying these professionals as “floor layers” or “installers” he said “artisans” and “craftsmen” are more appropriate terms. “I don’t like to dumb down the trade. After all, it’s the quality of the installation that will lead to a customer’s long-term happiness with a project.”
The challenge of recruiting the next generation of installers is not relegated to the U.S. A visitor from South Africa at the CFI convention said the issue impacts South Africa and other regions just as much. Indeed, the shortage is not just a flooring issue as it affects other skilled trades. Construction, for instance, has the lowest unemployment of any trade, largely because of a paucity of qualified workers seeking jobs in the field.
“Why is finding the next generation so hard?” Humphrey asked in response to a question. “Well, millennials are not great with their hands and we have demonized the trades. We have to extol the benefits. You don’t need a degree to be an installer, so you won’t have the student debt that college students face. [In flooring installation] you work in a controlled, safe environment—there is plenty of work to go around. The pay is good and if you want security for the next 20 years, this profession is for you.”