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Al’s column: Attracting the installers of tomorrow

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Kaye Whitener

The CFI division of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) recently partnered with Informa, owners of Surfaces, to host the first Build My Future—Flooring Edition. The interactive, hands-on educational event allows local high school juniors and seniors to experience employment opportunities in the floor covering industry.

The idea behind the event came from attending the Build My Future program in Springfield, Mo. This event is created through the local home builder’s association with a focus on the construction industry trades. Its purpose is to introduce trades to local high school students looking for career opportunities.

Their most recent event attracted more than 2,500 students and featured virtually every aspect of construction. Students had the opportunity to operate heavy dirt-moving equipment, hang drywall, nail shingles on dog houses, seam carpet and design tile backsplashes. At the end of the event, the kids voted on the vendor trade they enjoyed the most. The overwhelming majority said the flooring portion was their favorite!

The construction group decided to branch out and let other organizations such as CFI and WFCA hold their own recruitment event. CFI presented more than 40 hands-on installation modules for the teens to work on, including tile designs, seaming carpet, gluing hardwood, LVP and laminate. The excitement was most prevalent at the Magnetic Flooring platform, which introduced students to next-generation floor coverings.

Some of the industry’s major manufacturers also contributed to the cause. Mohawk sent a team of professional instructors to demonstrate carpet seaming, hardwood and laminate installation, etc. They were such a huge support for us. In addition, we also asked some of our local retail members to participate and be available for any summer work opportunities for the students. With such a large number of students in attendance, I don't think we could have asked for a better event.

In their prime
It was interesting to learn many of these kids are planning career paths, whether it’s college or becoming a tradesman. Even the teachers who brought them were amazed. “We never think about flooring as a trade,” one told me. And when we started talking about the income that can be made, they were very excited.

What was even more amazing to me was the presence of all the female students in attendance; I’d say it was probably 50-50 male and female. I was able to speak to both groups, and what I learned was kids who might not be looking to go to college directly after high school aren’t necessarily unambitious. Many of these kids are extremely smart; they just like to work with their hands. It’s our job to let them know there are alternatives available outside of college.

In a perfect world, we would like to develop this platform in different regions of the country. We realize we will not be able to create this type of regional event without the support of the floor covering industry. We would love to expand the modules to include design, estimating, sales and other employment opportunities currently in demand in our industry.

As we look to replicate the success of the program, we are also working on developing a tracking mechanism to evaluate the true success of this program and the impact it might have on our industry. When it comes to attracting the installers of tomorrow, we have decided it’s time to stop talking and start doing something about it today.


Kaye Whitener is the national manager of member relations for the WFCA, a nonprofit trade group supporting independent specialty retailers. Send an email to kwhitener@wfca.org to learn more about membership or the Build My Future: Flooring Edition program.

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Al’s column: Clarity on real estate deductions

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Roman Basi

 

It’s been over a year since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed, and the IRS is providing the final pieces of clarity for the infamous section 199A deduction, which allows owners to avoid paying tax on 20% of the qualified business income. This article addresses another component of the 199A deduction—rental real estate enterprises.

The IRS in Notice 2019-7 states a rental real estate enterprise—whose primary form of income based on rental properties—will be treated as a trade or business solely for purposes of section 199A. The courts have often found there is a simple test whether a taxpayer’s activity qualifies to meet the level that constitutes a trade or business, the test being: regular and continuous conduct of the activity, which depends on the extent of the taxpayer’s activities; and a primary purpose to earn profit, which depends on the taxpayer’s state of mind and good faith intention to make a profit from the activity. By meeting these requirements with your rental property, you should be in line for the 20% qualified business deduction.

Additionally, it will be imperative the taxpayer meet the IRS’s definition of rental real estate enterprise in order to qualify for the safe harbor. Per the IRS, the definition is, “an interest in real property held for the production of rents and may consist of an interest in multiple properties.” For consistency sake, the IRS has decreed taxpayers must either treat each individual rental property as a separate enterprise, or treat all of them as a single enterprise. However, commercial and residential real estate may not be part of the same enterprise. Finally, taxpayers may not pick and choose enterprise variations year by year unless there is a drastic change in facts surrounding the properties.

For the sole purpose of section 199A, a rental real estate enterprise will qualify for the 20% qualified business deduction if the following are met within that taxable year:

1. Separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise;

2. For taxable years beginning prior to January 1, 2023, 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental enterprise. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2022, in any three of the five consecutive taxable years that end with the taxable year (or in each year for an enterprise held for less than five years), 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental real estate enterprise;

3. The taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records, including time reports, logs or similar documents, regarding the following: hours of all services performed; description of all services performed; dates on which such services were performed; and who performed the services. Such records are to be made available for inspection at the request of the IRS. The contemporaneous records requirement will not apply to taxable years beginning prior to January 2019.

If you have questions about what qualifies as a rental service, following is a list of services the IRS has deemed as rental services: advertising to rent or lease the real estate; negotiation and executing leases; verifying information contained in prospective tenant applications; collection of rent; daily operation, maintenance and repair of the property; management of the real estate; purchase of materials; and supervision of employees and independent contractors.

But there are some exclusions. Real estate used by the taxpayer (including owner or beneficiary) as a residence is not eligible for the 199A deduction. Neither is real estate rented or leased under a triple net lease.

 

Roman Basi is an attorney and CPA with the firm Basi, Basi & Associates at The Center for Financial, Legal & Tax Planning. He writes frequently on issues facing business owners.

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Al’s column: Creating a culture of winners

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Irene Ross

 

Motivated employees are not just good to have; they are good for business. A showroom work environment is even more important, because those employees create the consumer’s first impression of your company.

This is particularly critical for people who operate flooring stores. After all, flooring can be a big investment, and motivated salespeople can make all the difference. “That means you’ll want your showroom employees to be enthusiastic, motivated, knowledgeable and well trained,” said Sean O’Rourke, director of merchandising, Art Van Furniture, with several stores in Chicago and Michigan.

Why is employee morale so important? Research shows just one bad experience can change the mind of someone planning to make a purchase. The firm Gladly recently surveyed 1,000 consumers, of which 92% said they would change their mind about buying after three or four bad encounters. However, 26% said they would also consider stopping after just one unpleasant visit.

“You can have a lot of leads and potential customers, but it doesn’t mean a thing if your employees are unmotivated, uninterested and untrained,” said Lyle Sapp, general manager of the retail division of Carpets N More, Las Vegas. “If they only come into work for the paycheck, they might make a sale or two but they won’t get referrals, and those are the lifeblood of any business.”

Ensuring employees remain motivated is a top priority for dealers such as Jeff Perez, general manager, TF Andrew, with showrooms in New Rochelle and Elmsford, N.Y. That’s why he makes it part of the hiring and ongoing training process. “We’ve found it easier for an employee to align with our company goals if we’re very clear about them from the beginning,” he said. “It also works in their favor because we can spot opportunities in the company for them.”

Employee motivation isn’t just about working hard or completing assignments. It comes from multiple sources, including the ability to make more money, the possibility of promotion, the desire to meet personal/professional goals or just plain satisfaction from the work. Sometimes a group outing, a bonus or even a simple “thank you” will do the trick.

Following are key strategies to keep in mind:

Maintain transparency.“It’s important for employees to know about the company,” Perez said. “Although the sales team sees figures every month, we also show them to the entire staff on a quarterly basis. We want people to know they are working for a financially sound business.”

Focus on education. Chris Quattlebaum, a manager at Bradenton, Fla.-based Manasota Flooring, believes an emphasis on training helps develop and retain employees. It also conveys confidence to the consumer. “Our employees are charged with gaining PK,” he said. “We qualify them on carpeting so they know all the different fibers and styles.”

Quattlebaum isn’t alone. Contract Furnishings Mart, with stores in Portland and Seattle, conducts weekly training sessions and PK classes to improve RSA morale. “Once or twice a year we also send our reps to facilities to learn how a product is made,” said Garrett Anderson, director of marketing. “It’s not just about PK; it solidifies relationships between our sources and employees.”

Make it fun. At Contract Furnishings Mart, managers try to foster a fun workplace to keep employees happy. “We are a family-owned business and we promote that type of environment,” Anderson said. “Balance is important. We don’t want our employees to think about work 24/7 or stay up all night sending emails.

 

Irene Ross is a marketing and public relations specialist/copywriter at IFR Communications. She writes frequently on issues impacting floor covering retailers.

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Al’s column: How exactly does working capital work?

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Roman Basi

 

Working capital is an important concept for every business to understand. At its heart, working capital is defined as the amount of a company’s current assets minus the amount of its current liabilities. More simply, it’s a company’s available capital for daily operations at any given point in time. Thus, working capital provides a measurement to determine a company’s operational efficiency and short-term financial health.

At the basis of working capital is the calculation, which is generally the difference between the current assets
and the current liabilities. Current
assets can be converted into cash
within one year or
less. This would
include assets such as cash equivalents, marketable securities, accounts receivable, inventory and prepaid expenses.

Meanwhile, current liabilities include short-term debt such as accounts payables, accrued liabilities and other similar obligations. Subtracting the current assets by the current liabilities will provide the working capital figure. This figure is “positive” when there is an excess of current assets compared to current liabilities. However, a working capital calculation not only plays a role as a financial measuring tool, but it can also figure in merger and acquisition transactions.

While the working capital calculation is fairly straightforward in most applications, it can be vastly different in cases involving mergers and acquisitions, where the formula will be dictated by the asset or stock purchase agreements. Some transactions will involve cash or debt in the working capital calculation, while others may exclude certain assets. Some transactions may exclude certain liabilities, thus creating an impact on the seller that can vary on a wide spectrum. When the working capital determination is made, a target will be set and the operations of the selling company prior to the target date can have a drastic impact on the closing funds.

For example, the working capital language of an asset purchase agreement may state, “a purchase price of $5,000,000minus the amount by which the working capital as of the closing date varies from the six-month trailing average of the working capital.” The agreement will then go on to describe the calculation methodology of the working capital. Therefore, a working capital target is set by a 12-month average trailing the transaction’s closing date. If the working capital at closing exceeds the average monthly working capital balance for the 12 months prior to closing, the seller generally walks away with more funds at closing.

However, if the working capital at closing is less than the average monthly working capital balance for the six months prior to closing, then the purchase price may be reduced by the amount equal to the difference of the 12-month working capital average.

The purpose of such clauses in asset purchase agreements is to ensure the buyer and seller are both getting their due pricing. Imagine buying a company that initially shows solid working capital, but upon looking at the averages over time it shows a steep decline. This may indicate you are buying a company that is hemorrhaging money. Requiring an adjustment of the purchase price based on average working capital ensures both parties are protected in the transaction.

Working capital is a key component to analyzing the efficiency of a company. The general rule of thumb is a company with positive capital is typically in good shape for expansion. However, it is important to remember that some businesses operate with a negative working capital due to the nature of their business.

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Al’s Column: Change is right in front of you

March 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 21

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

 

Have you ever looked in the rear-view mirror of your life? As I move through life, I realize I have less time in my future and more in my past. Yes, it’s scary, but I’m realizing I shouldn’t waste my time on meaningless things. Whether I clean up my desk or not today really doesn’t matter. I need to focus on the change necessary in my life to continue moving forward.

I recently spoke at the Starnet meeting in Las Vegas. The two-day conference included presentations from their vendor partners. In addition to vendors showing their products, they talked about how they could help by supplying blogs and video content. The group had such energy and curiosity about building their businesses.

Eric Boender, vice president of business development for Starnet, kept the group on track and provided useful information. I was impressed with the group’s positivity and time spent brainstorming and sharing ideas on how to acquire more business. He suggested members work closely with each other and their vendor partners. He also suggested a couple of motivational books. I came back psyched.

How often do you measure your success with past accomplishments? That’s when we start talking about the “good old days” and “how we used to do it.” No, change is not behind; knowing we are capable of success can move us to change. If you could do it when times were tough, you can do it now.

We get inspired by seminars and often come away with good feelings. The environment itself can be inspiring. Motivation is often controlled by the environment, who you hang out with and the books you read. The more we surround ourselves with people who are on our same track the better. The key is to figure out how to take those positive bursts of motivation and keep them going. To keep this momentum, we must design an environment that sparks self-motivation and gives us energy from others. Research says it takes 66 days to form a habit. When something is a habit we don’t have to think about when we do it—we just do.

I believe we spend too much time thinking about what might happen. What’s the absolute worst that could happen with anything you try? Yes, it might not work but history is filled with people who failed their way to success.

If change is what you want, define it and determine how it fits into your core values. If it’s more business, ask yourself, “What am I willing to do to make it happen?” What about this goal will enhance my life? If being successful is on your radar, you will have to see life on a continuum and keep changing.

It’s easy to get caught up in negativity, especially if you surround yourself with people who are too frightened to make changes. That’s why you need a support network, a tribe of like-minded individuals who will support your effort and help move you along the way. Take baby steps and celebrate the daily wins. I know, it’s slow and hard. Try to imagine the outcome and not make the process stressful.

Change can happen a little bit at a time. If you think of completing the entire task at once you will get overwhelmed. Think about life as a game and a big puzzle. As the pieces connect, the task gets easier.

 

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business, or to schedule a consultation at your store, contact her via email at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Al’s column: How to pick your next leader

March 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 20

By Keith Martino

 

Ron is one of the most polite individuals you’ll ever encounter. You’ll never feel intimidated by Ron’s presence. He answers your questions as smoothly and predictably as the captain of a cruise ship. Within minutes of meeting Ron, you’ll know why he was recently promoted within a large French holding company.

Ron is pragmatically aggressive. He picks his battles carefully and is only aggressive in business endeavors when he sees a clear course to the winner’s cup. Then, and only then, does he press full throttle ahead. Ron prides himself in preparation so, just in case, there’s always an adequate stash of life vests onboard.

But wait—before you rush out and hire Ron to be the captain of your ship, don’t forget to consider Rob. He may be just what you need.

Rob’s persona is larger-than-life. He works fast and loves trading sports cars. In a crowd of construction CEOs, he can come across as a big, lovable teddy bear. However, when a casual conversation with Rob turns toward business strategy, Rob will magically morph into a hungry grizzly. He’ll show you how to eat your competition for lunch.

Should your next leader be someone who proceeds circumspectively like Ron? Or are you looking for someone who is a natural born hunter like Rob? Hint: If you need Rob but hire Ron, you’ll likely be seriously disappointed. Your patience will be exhausted. On the other hand, hire Rob and you’d better hold on to your hat.

Rob will enthusiastically and methodically pass every other car on the track. He’ll interject an energy you didn’t know was possible into every employee who is able to hang on for the ride. At the end of the day, Rob will have created new business opportunities you never thought possible.

Sure, Rob will occasionally break something, but when he puts your stock car back together it will run so much faster than before that you will be among the first to forgive him. Rob takes aggressive chances and then makes smart decisions based on the way the market appears to evolve. His ability to plan and execute simultaneously is uncanny. He shifts gears without flinching and leans into the turns. Ron, on the other hand, intuitively reaches for the caution flag.

Although their names sound similar, their styles are vastly different on a practical level. They each get the desired results when matched with the appropriate assignment. That’s why absolute clarity about which style of leader your business will need is so crucial.

Here are a few questions to ponder that may help you consider various leadership styles:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish with your company?
  2. How important is creativity/innovation in your business?
  3. Which is more important to you: growth, stability or something else?
  4. Do your key processes need incremental improvement or a complete overhaul?
  5. How much risk are you willing to accept to achieve your top objectives?

Another thing to consider when changing/hiring leaders is knowing your corporate culture. You want your corporate values to be firmly entrenched when you pass the torch.

Bottom line: Consider not only the qualities of the candidates you’re interviewing and/or screening, but also look at the needs of your business, survey the current climate and anticipate changes that might impact you in the future. In short, don’t hire Rob if who you really need/want is Ron.

 

Keith Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy that customizes leadership initiatives in the construction, renovation and remodeling industries. The author of “Expect Leadership,” he has a passion for helping contractors and family construction business owners achieve stellar results.

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Al’s column: Consumers who play contractors

February 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 19

By Scott Perron

 

As our industry evolves and the playing field continually changes, our leadership team tries to predict the future outside of the world of statistical analysis. In the wake of a new breed of customers intent on becoming their own contractors of sorts, we see unique perspectives on a daily basis and an increasing challenge with failed installations.

Interestingly enough, the consumers we see most often fall into one of the following two categories:

The academic or tech-savvy consumers. These folks spend countless hours, days and sometimes even months researching online in an attempt to find an angle that will allow them to bring all three characteristics of any flooring job into play—good, fast and cheap. The latter is the operative word as more inexperienced consumers feel they’re going to be capable of reducing the cost of a flooring project by posing as their own contractor. In a few cases they are successful as this particular endeavor requires finding a quality installer who will not overcharge, steal money or simply do a lousy job.

The construction-savvy customer. Aside from the professional builders who most often focus on their profit margin, this consumer is usually much easier to close as they speak a similar language. They tend to negotiate prices less than the academic but focus more on the process and desired result. In addition, they typically research the cost of a project, budget for it and execute once they begin to shop within seven days.

During the last week of January we saw two of these home contractor failures, which will likely result in the two customers spending a collective $21,000 to fix issues caused by improper installation. Both customers found their pros on Craigslist and did not research them other than calling the value-priced advertiser. In one of these cases, the so-called cheaper route actually cost the customer 20% more than we would have charged for the same job at full margin through our full-service entity. (Now their floor must be replaced.)

The other person hired a “bucket-and-trowel” contractor to put vinyl plank floors in several rooms of her home. All the rooms are running in different directions, the materials have started to separate due to improper installation of the tongue-and-groove system and the installer put an unnecessary sealer over the top of the vinyl material, embedding debris in the surface.

As retailers it may sound like sour grapes when we discuss these challenges with our customers during the shopping experience. However, we must do our best to provide documentation and pictures of these failed installations so we can assist them in understanding how much liability they’re assuming and the incredible price tag this may come with.

In the years to come, we’ll all see a dramatic increase in younger consumers entering the market. As a result, these challenges will likely become a bigger concern as they oftentimes take the online word as gospel without understanding the mechanics of construction or the installation procedures that accompany most products. This uninformed consumer becomes yet another target for unqualified installers or online purveyors who skirt liability in the pursuit of a quick sale.

My advice is to train your salespeople to tactfully broach these challenges with consumers during the sales process, utilizing statistics or anecdotes to support their case.

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Al’s column: How to keep your debt in check

February 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 18

By Scott Perron

 

During my 20s in the early 1990s I went through a very sobering financial experience along with my family that permanently etched a painful scar in my brain. Since that time, I have probably taken a more cautious than normal approach to increasing debt for fear of ever repeating that scenario.

I am fortunate, however, to have learned many valuable best practices from other owners (Russell, Mitch, Doug and Brad) along the way, which has helped get us to where we are today. Our commercial property purchased in 2013 has a mortgage after renovation equaling 25% of the property value, and we have a small loan with a financier that we will pay off in the next 24 months or sooner. Outside of that, all of our equipment, inventory, samples, vehicles and hard assets are paid in full. Although it could be even better, our overhead is vastly less on average than that of our competitors, which allows our new company to be aggressive against the most seasoned dealer or big box.

Over the last 10 years, business has been steadily recovering and, for the most part, we all are benefitting. Without trying to sound alarmist in any way, this was exactly what occurred prior to the recession of 2007-2009—a time most of us would like to forget. The objective of this column is simply to advise you to take a long, hard look at your to debt-to-asset and debt-to-income ratios and prepare for the future.

In the event you have not purchased the property you work from, it would make good sense to lock in the best lease renewal options and make sure to leave yourself a reasonable escape clause during that period should you need to upsize, downsize or perhaps buy your next location. My advice is always to purchase rather than lease, as it is usually the first or only saleable asset of a flooring company. Due to the current acceleration in pricing, it is becoming a challenge to find commercial real estate at a value. Typically, even in good times like these, the hard assets such as FF&E, inventory and vehicles sell for a fraction of their true value during liquidation.

In addition, take a long look at any inventory you have that is over 180 days or a year old and decide why it’s still there. I know many of you hate to sell bad choices at a lower price or even a loss, but unless you are extremely wealthy or only desire a savings account filled with antique inventory for your older years, I can promise you the best move is to turn it into cash. Most who hang on to these assets never count the cost of carrying it along with the rest of your overhead, so in reality it becomes less valuable to you on a daily basis. Take the proceeds from the selling of bad decisions and use it to purchase items that turn quickly or help promote your business.

Next, get your best performance numbers in front of your banker and negotiate any debt reduction, credit line increases, merchant services and refinancing of long-term debt to a fixed rate where possible. Get prepared to have the proper capitalization even if you don’t need it now; you might need it eventually.

Finally, be careful not to put yourself in the position of being personally liable for some or all of your liabilities tied to the business as you may be setting yourself up for disaster in the event of another correction. Do your best to separate business and personal assets or liabilities by consulting your CPA or tax attorney.

 

Scott Perron is the president of 24-7 Floors and Floor4Pros based in Sarasota, Fla. He is also an industry trainer and motivational speaker. He can be reached at scott@24-7floors.com or 860.250.1733.

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Al’s column: Chargebacks—A thorn in retailers’ sides

January 21/28, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 17

By Scott Perron

 

I want to focus on an issue that will continue to become a much bigger liability to retailers of all kinds: customer chargebacks.

I have been in this industry for more than 30 years and have only had three chargebacks out of tens of thousands of sales. In two of the cases, the customer cited “materials not as agreed” and in one crazy instance a customer purchased and picked up materials, stopped payment with her credit card company and told us a former employee of ours owed him money so we could get it from him. (The sheriff swiftly changed his mind and he made good.)

During the third and most recent sale, however, we had a client who claimed after our job—that entailed floor leveling, moisture mitigation, installation of 2,600 square feet of luxury vinyl plank plus new painted and primed wall base—they began experiencing a smell in the home that was making their family sick. One quick call to their credit card company and without warning they withdrew $10,000 from our operating account. After seven weeks, they have not produced one shred of evidence to support such a claim and yet the issuer of the card is backing the cardholder.

Upon my research with Chase Paymentech—that has now taken many hours and regardless of the fact that we have supplied the customer with every possible MSDS sheet, floor certifications and testing—we were still not able to get Visa to credit our account pending any investigation. The Chase advisor told me chargebacks are on the rise with many consumers learning how to maneuver the system with fraudulent claims and the merchant’s chances of winning a chargeback are becoming increasingly more difficult.

Many retailers think our contracts have a dramatic amount of weight to them, but in reality the major credit card providers are the ones who make the final decision—and typically it is to protect their customer, even if it’s at the peril of a merchant with good intentions.

Some key points to keep in mind:

  1. A customer needs only to make a simple phone call to his or her credit card company to dispute any charge. Meanwhile, the average merchant does not have the processes in place—or the wherewithal—to refute the refund.
  2. Include in your contract and process paperwork language that states clearly that the consumer has received and has accepted the quality of the materials and/or labor performed. It must be signed and dated at time of delivery or installation. This is by far the most important document you can provide when dealing with a chargeback.
  3. Make sure your contracts are in keeping with your state’s individual consumer laws and that the language clearly explains the expectations and possible scenarios, including cleanliness, unforeseen issues, payment arrangements prior to delivery and installation as well as the need for signatures when materials have been delivered or installed.
  4. Most merchants do not realize that when you charge a credit card and pay the fees associated with using this payment vehicle, those fees are non-refundable. In addition, if you have a chargeback and reuse the same payment form after settlement you once again pay for your credit card merchant fees and, in many cases, a chargeback fee from your processor.

Protect yourselves and consult your local attorney to make sure you have these guidelines in place so you can mitigate the possibilities of this occurring in your business. Failure to do so may result in a very expensive lesson.

 

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Al’s column: Getting to the heart of the labor shortage

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Paul Stuart Jr.

 

At the risk of sounding and being cliché, unless you live under a rock you have certainly heard about our great nation’s skilled labor shortage. However, I think all is not lost. By working together, we can explore some possible solutions.

I’m going to start with a quick story: In early 2000, I was the lead installer for a middle school project in Kansas. Our crew was installing a complicated pattern with VCT down a long classroom corridor. A small portion of the corridor and attached classrooms were still in use—I assume for a summer course or something of the sort. Anyway, the pattern had waves and circles with several different colors. This installation not only took hand skills but also standard mathematics and geometry, blueprint reading and an understanding of the specifications to get it right.

After the layout was complete, we glued it up and took a break while waiting for the adhesive to dry. I went to use the bathroom and while walking by one of the classrooms I overheard the teacher telling her students, “You better apply yourself and pay attention or else you will end up like those guys out there.” All my guys and I cared about was doing a great job and making a living. We took pride in our work and we simply didn’t deserve to be talked about as if our trade was disgraceful.

So, there you have it, the very basis of what is one of the biggest issues: the degrading of the skilled tradesman. This mindset supports the false idea that there is something wrong with being in a trade and getting a little dirty doing your job. I believe this helped create the culture that college is the only path to happiness or career fulfillment, but unfortunately not every high school graduate wants to (nor should) go to college. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with college so long as it produces knowledge and a degree that will enable one to make an honest living.

Additionally, with high schools nationwide taking shop class and other vocational technology curriculum out of their course offerings, we are in need of training resources. There are great organizations out there like FCICA, NTCA, CFI and others that do a fantastic job, but they are limited to the number of trainings and outreach.

Lastly, there are many flooring installers who have gone into business for themselves as independent installers. The issue again is training. These guys need access to training just as bad as an in-house installer does, and I hope the trade organizations can find a way to reach this demographic of installers because our industry depends on it. If the independent installer does a poor job, it reflects on the entire industry.

While online training is good, we have found that hands-on training is the best. On a monthly basis, we gather our crews (both independent installers and in-house installers) for a training that is performed by our senior installers (typically one of our in-house guys) who are certified and knowledgeable in the particular training. The goal for these trainings is to demonstrate proper installation techniques and provide the hands-on application of these techniques. Each training is focused on a particular technique. For example, we recently had a training on outside corner boots for integral cove resilient sheet goods and how to weld these areas as well as the cove portion—this being the most problem areas on resilient cove projects.

 

Paul Stuart Jr. is the president of Wichita, Kan.-based Stuart & Associates Commercial Flooring, specializing in all applications and products for the commercial flooring industry. He is also the founder of GoCarrera, an app aimed at matching installers and qualifications to the right project.