November 12/19, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 11
By Steven Feldman
Newport Beach, Calif.—When the members of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) converged here last month for its biannual meeting, just about everyone was celebrating a strong 2018 as they continue to ride the crest of the LVT and WPC/SPC wave. However, the 25% tariff set to take hold Jan. 1 weighed heavily on the minds of those whose businesses are heavily invested in products imported from China.
RFCI goes about its business without much fanfare, primarily because the organization fundamentally exists to ensure the well-being of the North American resilient flooring industry. “The idea is to leverage the resources of our membership to take on issues that are bigger than what any one company would want to take on themselves,” said Dean Thompson, president. “That’s one way we serve the industry.”
A representative voice
There are three main buckets of work on which the RFCI focuses. The first is issues management, where it will take on any matter that could potentially harm its members’ ability to go to market. Those issues can emanate from the federal and state governments as well as non-governmental organizations and activists.
Recently, RFCI has been working on a significant issue related to California Proposition 65, where styrene, which is used in rubber flooring, was listed as a cancer-causing chemical. This is significant in that a number of RFCI members produce rubber flooring.
“One of the ways to mitigate the impact of Prop 65 is to obtain a safe use determination, which is a provision within the Prop 65 scheme,” Thompson said. “We’ve been working hard with California agencies to do that. By demonstrating that product emissions are lower than what is called a safe harbor level, a safe use determination can potentially be issued, which means you do not have to label your products as a risk, and you are less susceptible to lawsuits.”
RFCI has also been working on a Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Petition filed earlier this year by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). The 2018 petition is a resubmission of a petition filed with CPSC by NFSI in 2015 that was denied by CPSC in 2016. Like the 2015 petition, the refiled petition requests that CPSC mandate use of a NFSI-created labeling standard that would require manufacturers to label the slip resistance of flooring products. The petition is riddled with alarming statistics regarding what NFSI portrays as a slip-and-fall epidemic in the United States as well as concerning allegations regarding incidences of death and serious injury resulting from falls.
However, even a cursory review of the petition and the sources on which it relies for support makes clear that NFSI has failed to distinguish between the multitude of factors that contribute to slip and fall incidents, according to Thompson. The NFSI petition has failed to provide any evidence, he added, correlating coefficient of friction labeling (or lack thereof) to incidence of slip-and-fall events, or severity of injuries resulting therefrom or that requiring coefficient of friction labeling on flooring packaging is a feasible method of reducing risk associated with slip-and-fall incidents. Further, there is simply no correlation between slips and falls and flooring products, he said.
“The NFSI is an independent, family-owned, small entity that has a direct financial stake in the outcome of the petition,” Thompson said. “The requested regulatory action would require all flooring manufacturers to purchase and use NFSI’s proprietary, which even NFSI admits ‘not a single flooring manufacturer is using.’ Both the earlier and current petitions are highly flawed and not in the best interest of consumers or the flooring industry, and for these reasons we expect CPSC will once again deny this petition.”
The second bucket of work involves building out a sustainability platform for its members. This platform has three core ingredients: FloorScore for indoor air quality; NSF 332, which allows manufacturers to certify product multi-attribute sustainability factors; and Environmental Product Declarations, which help people understand the environmental impacts of all products.
The third bucket of work is supporting business initiatives for its manufacturer members. Banking reform is just one example. “In the housing sector we knew there were serious constraints for available mortgage money,” Thompson said.
To that end, RFCI created a strategic engagement with a broad number of organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, the Vinyl Institute, the Flexible Vinyl Alliance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc., to provide support for the 2018 Financial Regulatory Reform Act that Congress passed.
While RFCI historically tackles the major issues facing the industry, one issue in which the RFCI will not get involved in is tariffs, as the association includes both importers and domestic manufacturers. “RFCI represents over 95% of all resilient flooring that is manufactured and marketed throughout North America,” Thompson said. “We have members within RFCI that have different positions on the tariffs. People who have invested heavily in domestic capacity are in favor of tariffs, and those whose businesses are largely import do not support tariffs. For this reason, RFCI as an organization cannot take a position, and these type of situations are not unusual for trade organizations with a broad and diverse membership.”
The installation crisis
A key flooring industry issue that has been highlighted over the past several years is the looming shortage of quality flooring installers. RFCI was a key contributor and participant in the recently completed installation study conducted by the Floor Covering Leadership Council (FCLC), designed to not only create a common platform for understanding the scope and breadth of the problem, but also to determine some of the barriers and potential solutions. “We did not say our project would solve the problem, but rather serve to inform potential solutions,” Thompson said.
He acknowledged that the research revealed the lack of qualified installers today and more so down the road as a serious problem, both for people who have direct employees and those who engage subcontractors. “The one thing that is pretty clear is the recruitment process will require new thinking and approaches. The historical pathway for installation employees has been family-based where a father had a son who learned the business. That flow of new installers is diminishing rapidly.”
Another important dynamic is this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum. “If you look across the trades, whether it’s plumbers, heating and air conditioning, flooring installers, carpenters, framers across the board, there is a shortage of that broad category of trades people. Consequently, you have more people competing for skilled resources, which makes recruiting even more of a challenge.
“Another key factor is the millennials, and how we address this major portion of the labor pool. Their whole thought process about working and jobs is different. They’re not thinking about the trades necessarily.”