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Install to open new Texas training center

Glassboro, N.J.—Install is preparing to host the grand opening of its new Texas Carpenters and Millwrights Training Center in Pasadena, Texas. From safety and technical skills to communication and leadership skills, instructors will train professional carpenters and millwrights to be productive, safe and demonstrate leadership on the job site.

Due to significant growth in the Houston metropolitan region, the training center recently moved to the new 52,000 square-foot facility in the nearby suburb of Pasadena. With six full-time instructors, eight classrooms and significantly more space for hands-on learning opportunities, the center will be home to 485 apprentices.

The training available includes curriculum from Install, the International Standards and Training Alliance. As the floor covering industry’s most endorsed and specified training program, the organization leverages long-standing manufacturer partnerships to bring together in-depth product expertise.

“With the opening of this state-of-the art training center, the Central South Carpenters Regional Council (CSCRC) intends to provide the flooring industry throughout the gulf coast region with skilled, qualified, floor covering professionals,” said Craig Wright, chief of staff, CSCRC. “This venture will only be possible through collaborative partnerships with Install contractors.”

Industry professionals, media and other interested individuals are invited to join Install April 3, from 5-8 p.m. to celebrate. Festivities will include live floor covering, carpenter and millwright demonstrations, a dedication ceremony, VIPs, food, special surprises and more.

For more information and to RSVP visit: ubctexastraining.com/GrandOpening.

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Installation: Flooring dealers grapple with tight labor market

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By Ken Ryan

 

A strengthening economy coupled with an increasingly tight labor market—with unemployment at 4.1% nationally—has exacerbated the installation crisis for many dealers, observers say. The issue has forced some to turn work away because of a scarcity of crews, while others are having to pay substandard mechanics more just to retain them.

While flooring dealers say business is still up in 2018, they believe the installation challenge is stunting this growth. “Our business is being affected in three ways,” John Taylor, president of Taylor Carpet One, Fort Myers, Fla., told FCNews. “First, the shortage of labor is affecting our growth. Second, because of the shortage, our labor prices are going up because [installers] know there is a shortage. Lastly, the quality of the installers out there has gone down drastically, and the workmanship is not where it should be. This will continue unless we all somehow pull together and figure out a way to recruit and train people for our trade. Not everyone is meant for college and there is a great opportunity installing if it is done the right way.”

Such a tough labor market makes finding skilled workers more difficult in sectors like flooring installation. As such, some dealers are forced to pass on certain jobs, unable to fulfill their customers’ needs. In other cases, wages appear to be rising even for mediocre installers. “Unfortunately, I only see this problem getting worse as our labor force is aging—unless we can get the next generation interested in the trades,” said Josh Elder, owner of Gainesville CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Florida.

For Carlton Billingsley, owner of Floors and More, Benton, Ark., the labor market is challenging his business to be more strategic, particularly on the commercial side as he picks and chooses which partners to work with. However, as the backlog grows, his business suffers. Rather than bemoan his situation, Billingsley has a solution he believes will pay off. “We are creatively working with other skilled/non-skilled laborers to learn flooring skills to grow with our business. We continue to invest in training at manufacturer facilities, our facility and in our regional area, too, to diversify the mechanics’ skill set so they can do different types of flooring. This way we can accelerate our growth together.”

Due to the shortage of qualified installers, Tim Schoolfield, owner of CountrySide Flooring America, O’Fallon, Mo., said he is “less confident” these days in spite of an improving economy. “I am less confident we can get flooring installed in a timely fashion or in the ability of new hires to exceed the expectations of an increasingly demanding customer,” he explained.

That sentiment was shared by other flooring dealers such as Cathy Buchanan, owner of Independent Carpet One Floor & Home, Westland, Mich. “It is an uneasy feeling to sell high-quality woven products, hardwood, LVT, laminate, etc., not knowing if you’re going to overwhelm your existing installation crews,” she said. “And then once their knees give way—who do you have? Having a back-up plan just isn’t the case today. No offense to millennials, they just aren’t driven to the challenge of such a difficult job. And when talking about the sales floor, office/support staff, [they] seem to get bored quickly and look for a better position.”

What’s regrettable, Buchanan added, is the flooring retail industry should be primed for growth. “There is so much opportunity in our field of retail—not so much with the shopping centers—because Amazon can’t quite get the touchy-feely experience of buying carpet. People have an opportunity to make a lot of money selling and even more so by installing, and also taking pride in the field of installation. It’s a scary thought.”

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Mission impossible: Novel ways to recruit, train installers

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Reginald Tucker

 

So much has been said about the “installation crisis” that retailers are probably weary of talking about it. Nonetheless, it’s a situation that virtually all facets of the industry must deal with.

Like any problem, different people handle challenges differently. Some are taking a grassroots approach, while others are looking to leverage the scale and power achieved only through partnerships.

Following is an overview of how some business owners as well as associations are tackling the installation issue.

Pay to play
“Quite frankly I’m tired of hearing people complaining about not be able to find installers,” said David Meberg, president and CEO of Consolidated Carpet, one of the largest commercial flooring contractors serving the New York tri-state area. “We hire good installers and we pay them a respectable wage. We have very little turnover with our crews, which ensures we provide quality for our clients.”

Dealers on the residential side are also becoming more aggressive in this regard by being more proactive. “We went out and recruited two of the best subcontractor installers we could find and brought them on board as employee installers,” said Mike Foulk, owner of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa.

Pool resources
The installation problem is such that it cannot be solved by any one dealer, group or association alone. That’s why industry-leading organizations are pooling their resources—which includes intellectual capital as well as training facilities and funding—to address the issue. Case in point is the World Flooring Covering Association’s merger with the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) nearly four years ago. Actively recruiting the next generation of floor layers is priority No. 1, and the groups are developing training programs to do just that. “These programs are really starting to take off,” said Robert Varden, vice president of the CFI. In the past year, CFI has graduated three classes (or 40 people) in Cincinnati and four in Forney, Texas. Some of these students had no previous training in installation; and yet, after five weeks of rigorous course work and mentoring, they were able to graduate and start working.

Welcome veterans
Various industry associations are looking at new potential labor pools for installer candidates. This includes veterans who are returning home looking for work after tours of service. Last year CFI announced a partnership with Legacy Flooring of Raleigh, N.C., to help transitioning veterans find a career in the floor covering installation trade. Under their non-profit entity, Leave A Legacy Foundation, Legacy Flooring’s mission is to assist the CFI with the Next Generation initiative to recruit new installers for the floor covering  industry. How the program works: Their personnel will work with the various military transition offices in an attempt to attract veterans and their families to the training classes.

“Legacy Flooring has always prioritized hiring veterans,” said Ian Durant, owner and CEO, Legacy Flooring. “CFI has been the gold standard for flooring installation training for more than 23 years so it made perfect sense to align with them.”

CFI’s Varden sees this as a big step in recruiting and training installers while at the same time helping veterans transition back to civilian life. “By establishing a network of donated service providers and military spaces, our partner, Legacy Flooring, will help CFI bring students much closer to a classroom. This will help drive enrollment by identifying new training spaces with a focus on underutilized military property.”

Other groups have launched veteran recruitment programs of their own. Last year INSTALL and Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) forged a partnership calling on INSTALL contractors to sponsor veterans with the goal of bringing new skilled workers into the floor covering industry through an apprenticeship program. The partnership has since been actively recruiting veterans in both the U.S. and Canada and has seen tremendous results. (At the outset of the partnership INSTALL and H2H set a goal of enrolling at least one veteran into the INSTALL apprenticeship program per month in 2016. Since April of 2016, INSTALL has entered more than a dozen veterans. Additionally, more than 80 veterans have shown interest in an apprenticeship. To that end, INSTALL is connecting them with some of their contractor members to explore possible career opportunities.)

“Entering the H2H program was a broadening experience,” said Tim Guinns, floor covering installer at Strahm, Fort Wayne, Ind. “I learned new skills and different ways of dealing with people—a sharp contrast from military routine. Through H2H I was put on the fast track in the INSTALL apprenticeship program to become a journeyman and was able to develop the skills I needed to perform in the field.”

Learn online
Industry-leading associations are looking to make training more accessible for potential future installers—as well as experienced floor layers seeking to improve upon their skills and certifications—by offering online training in addition to field work and apprenticeships.

Since the National Wood Flooring Association launched its NWFA University a year ago, more than 15,000 online courses have been completed. NWFA University offers a combination of online and hands-on training for wood flooring professionals.

“The engagement with our online learning platform has been overwhelming,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president. “Having 15,000 courses completed in just one year certainly has exceeded our expectations, but what’s even more impressive is when you realize what that number equates to on a daily basis: That’s more than 40 courses completed every single day. That’s just an amazing level of participation.”

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Laticrete Supercap offers solution to OSHA silica dust regulation

Pouring ECUBethany, Conn.—Independent third-party testing has confirmed that Laticrete Supercap can help contractors and installers comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new workplace standards that reduces the allowable amount of exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust in construction projects.

Fuss & O’Neill, an independent industrial hygiene consultant, conducted the testing at a Boston University construction project. The consultant concluded an installation of Supercap SC500 through the patented Supercap System contributed no respirable silica dust on the jobsite or surrounding areas. Additionally, Supercap SC500 produced no foreseeable exposure to any of the workers involved in the process, thus ensuring compliance with OSHA’s new silica dust regulations.

“For contractors and installers seeking an immediate option for complying with the newly-enforced regulations, the Laticrete Supercap System increases jobsite and worker safety along with its proven time and cost savings,” said Douglas Matchick, Laticrete Supercap president. “It’s an innovative solution for their commercial projects.”

All Laticrete Supercap self-leveling underlayments are pumped into a building using a mobile blending truck, eliminating any dry material from entering the interior of the jobsite and the need for workers to haul and manually open hundreds of individual bags and pumping equipment. Additionally, Supercap now offers self-leveling underlayment ready-mix delivery service, a turnkey service that saves significant costs associated with purchasing, operating and maintaining one’s own pump truck.

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My Take: Installation—It’s time for the call to action

October 23/30, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 10

By Steven Feldman

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.11 PMWe forever talk about the shortage of installers, to the point of often dubbing this the “installation crisis,” but how many of us are doing anything about it? I mean, many retailers throughout the country are finding innovative ways to recruit, train and retain mechanics, but unless you’ve spent the last decade burying your head in the sand like an ostrich, you would agree this situation will only get worse. At the recent National Floorcovering Association (NFA) meeting in Newport, R.I., someone told me the average age of a floor covering installer is 57. If that is true, the situation is more pressing than we think.

Talking to Dean Thompson, president of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, a few days ago at the group’s fall meeting, he feels there is an immediate need for extensive research to be undertaken so we can all gain an accurate handle on the landscape—number of installers out there, average age, attrition rate, number of new people breaking into the field, etc., layered on top of industry growth forecasts. Once the picture is framed, it might be easier for the industry to come together to develop a plan.

The discussion has always centered around where the responsibility falls. Sure, the installer works for the retailer, or the independent installer is commissioned by the retailer. But a dearth of qualified installers impacts everyone across the chain, including the manufacturers. Without qualified mechanics their products cannot be installed properly.

Stay tuned for more on this in upcoming issues of FCNews. But for now, let’s talk about what some retailers are doing. For instance, Deb DeGraaf, DeGraaf Interiors, Grand Rapids, Mich., is looking to develop an internship program for installers. She is attempting to get with the local high schools and recruit new installers because of the need to develop a program to get people interested. Many high school seniors don’t want to go to college and sit at a desk. They want to learn a trade. And we need people to learn our trade.

That’s just one part. There are also veterans in her area who have the GI bill to use, but those funds currently can’t be used for training for anything in our industry. So DeGraaf wants to bring some attention to that and figure out how they can allocate those funds toward our industry. She feels if a program can be developed where young vets who come back from serving our country can be recruited, placed in the field with one of their seasoned installers and get them into a training program, maybe through WFCA or CFI, it would be a good start.

Others are also being proactive. Jim Walters, Macco’s Floor Covering Center, told me the company has had some success in attracting young people into the trade, but it’s been more on the hard surface side. Carpet is still a challenge, he said, because he believes hard surface is better perceived as a trade. Like DeGraaf, the retailer is reaching out to the high schools, but Walters is finding more success in the rural communities as opposed to the cities. He has no idea why. He said it seems like the young people in the rural communities have a great work ethic, surmising that perhaps growing up on a farm, they may have had more experience working with their hands. Whatever the case, he said the wage scale has gone up to the point where it’s a good career for that person who has that skill set to work with their hands.

This is an issue that will not simply go away. It’s time for us all to step up.

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Certified Floorcovering Installers Association goes global

CFIForney, Texas—Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) has expanded its presence in China, according to Robert Varden, vice president. Negotiations to establish a CFI satellite operation in Shanghai have been underway since last summer.

“A year’s worth of planning, negotiating and research has culminated in a partnership with the Shanghai Chemical Building Materials Trade Association (SCBMTA),” Varden said. “Our new arrangement in China represents CFI’s first free-standing overseas operation.”

The new facility, which will be overseen by Chun Yuan Qi, director of the SCBMTA, opened its doors on Sept. 8. Qi will report Varden, who will remain based at CFI headquarters stateside. Introductory installation classes at the new facility are slated to commence in the fourth quarter.

The initial lineup of coursework will include carpet, tile and stone. All classes will be taught by certified CFI instructors who were trained by lead instructors from the United States. The Asian outpost will be offering a full slate of CFI classes in all categories of flooring by the first quarter of 2018.

“CFI has experienced phenomenal growth over the past few years,” Varden said. “We are clearly capturing the attention of the industry and making great progress toward resolving its installation crisis.”

Varden said the critical shortage of trained installers extends well beyond the United States and affirmed CFI’s commitment to addressing the problem everywhere that it exists. “We are very excited about the opportunity not only to work with and train new students overseas, but to also continue to expand CFI’s presence throughout the world.”

For more information, visit cfiinstallers.org, email clewis@cfiinstallers.org or call 816-231-4646.

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INSTALL sees continued growth in Southern U.S.

install_logo_2color_pathsGlassboro, N.J.—INSTALL has recently set a goal of establishing at least six new Southern INSTALL contractors in 2018. Southern expansion has been a key initiative for the organization since 2016.

As INSTALL continues to increase its presence in key markets across the country, it will maintain its focus on council-to-council and contractor support. This relationship provides contractors with the opportunity to enter viable construction markets and establish new offices, allowing for additional revenue streams. It is also an opportunity to bring additional training and certification to the Southern labor pool.

“INSTALL is able to leverage long-standing manufacturer partnerships to bring together field know-how and in-depth product expertise,” said John McGrath, executive director at INSTALL. “For newer markets like Texas, this means contractors will now have access to trained and certified journeymen and will be able to train the next generation of expert installers.”

Expanding into Southern states required significant support from a variety of industry players, including local United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) councils, contractors, manufacturers and individual installers. The expansion into the Texas market was spearheaded by a joint partnership with St. Louis – Kansas City Regional Council of Carpenters, Central South Carpenters Regional Council and Image Flooring, INSTALL warranty contractor.

Kansas City-based Image Flooring wanted to create a presence and workforce in Texas. The company already had a large presence throughout the Central U.S., but without certified installers in Texas it was unable to tap into the thriving construction market.

“Image Flooring and INSTALL approached us to hold training sessions and open houses at several training centers,” said Jason Engels, executive secretary treasurer of the Central South Carpenters Regional Council. “Thanks to their unique relationship with the St. Louis – Kansas City Regional Council of Carpenters, they were able to bring INSTALL certified instructors to Texas.”

Engels added, “It’s been a true partnership with Image Flooring and INSTALL. Building a new workforce in a new state has been a monumental task. You need to provide a trained and skilled workforce to help create market share, and that’s exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

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CFI ‘steps up its game’ as installation issues linger

August 28/September 4: Volume 32, Issue 6

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.56.49 AMOrlando, Fla.—After two years at a Courtyard Marriott in Grapevine, Texas, the Certified Flooring Installers (CFI) moved its annual convention to the expansive Rosen Shingle Creek, an opulent 255-acre, AAA Four Diamond resort with 500,000 square feet of meeting/ event space.

The change in venue was no accident. “It was time to step up our game,” Robert Varden, vice president of the CFI division of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), told FCNews.

Since merging with the CFI three years ago, the WFCA—led by Scott Humphrey, CEO—has championed the installation trade for its craftsmanship and value to the flooring industry. Moving the 24th annual CFI convention to Rosen Shingle Creek was a nod to the CFI’s importance. “This is a phenomenal team, and the core of this team has been consistent,” Humphrey told members.

As it enters its quarter century, CFI is growing and evolving. It is no longer primarily a training and certification body. Given the current lack of qualified installers, CFI is actively recruiting the next generation. It was noted during the conference that the average age of a flooring installer working today is 56 years old. To canvas for new blood, the association has made recruiting, training and deploying new installers a major priority.

“These programs are really starting to take off,” Varden said, noting that CFI in the past year has graduated three classes in Cincinnati and four in Forney, Texas (about 40 in all). Some of these students had no previous training in installation; however, after five weeks of rigorous course work and mentoring, they were able to graduate and start working. “When these students leave they are really proud,” Varden said. “In fact, their chests are about 3 inches bigger when they complete the course. The industry is in desperate need of recruiting and we needed to add to our program and be able to take someone who had no Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 11.55.28 AMexperience whatsoever and turn him into an installer. We have shown significant growth both in the trainings we are doing, which can be done anywhere in the country, and the exposure to the brand.”

On the whole, things are looking up for CFI. “I told our staff the time is now to up our game,” Varden said. “Our vendor participation rate is growing, and attendance at the show is up. We’re trying to attract more segments of the industry here. Our convention is a big deal—it really gives us exposure to the industry.”

Industry observers applauded CFI for its efforts to bring more awareness to this critical issue. “CFI is at the forefront with the installation issue,” said Don Styka, director of field services for Tarkett North America. “CFI has set a training protocol that you’re going to learn the right way to do things. They teach people how to use the tools properly, what tools to use, etc.—and that’s half the battle.”

Other highlights
CFI organizers expanded the scope of its educational programming by moving beyond installation-related matters. For example, WFCA’s Humphrey led a session titled, “Leadership Strategies That Work,” and Jeff King, counsel for the WFCA, conducted a presentation, “Are You Ready for an Immigration Raid or Audit?”

In his talk, King noted there are 27 million foreign-born workers in the U.S. today, or nearly 17% of the workforce; 13% of construction workers, which includes flooring installers, are undocumented. “What would we do without them?” King asked. “You think you have installation issues now? Without them, there would be no installation.”

King said President Trump has committed to adding 10,000 investigators to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) taskforce to go after undocumented immigrants; he noted that the construction industry is a likely target.

CFI announced it is in the process of finalizing a contract to open a new training facility in Shanghai, China. The office is expected to open Sept. 4.

Lastly, CFI announced several personnel changes. Jill Sheets, who served as the association’s training advisor, has left the group for an opportunity outside the flooring industry. Her replacement will handle outreach and recruiting. And in a related move, CFI is closing its Lenexa, Kan., facility and moving all operations to Forney, where its main training facility is based.

 

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Department of Veteran Affairs adopts INSTALL certification standards

By John T. McGrath Jr.

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 10.32.25 AMThe International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL) has strengthened its partnership with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The goal is to ensure floor covering is specified and installed in a way that minimizes product failures in VA facilities across the U.S.

The VA actively strives for the highest level of construction and installation standards across its thousands of facilities. From the foundation to the roof, its facility managers, employees and patients can’t afford costly mistakes.

“Like any other industry that owns and operates institutional buildings, we have a long history of flooring failure,” said Orest Burdiak, principal interior designer at the VA. “From poor floor prep to improper testing for moisture to inadequate moisture mitigation, there has been a laundry list of issues across hundreds of facilities.”

While some of these issues were a result of faulty products, the vast majority of failures were the direct result of improper or substandard installation, research shows. Some of this is also a direct result of cost saving measures. As a government entity, the VA has a fiduciary duty to the American public when it comes to spending.

“The VA was often stuck working with a contractor that satisfied the product and materials specification standards but wasn’t able to do the job right,” said Andy Silins, co-chairman of INSTALL, and a U.S. Marine. “One way the VA has changed this is through a strategic partnership with INSTALL. This beneficial partnership has changed the way floor covering products are specified and installed at many facilities around the country.”

As an association that includes major flooring manufacturers, contractors and professional installers across the U.S. and Canada, INSTALL’s curriculum consists of a comprehensive training and certification program for floor covering installers. It also provides the only additional, extended, free, non-proprietary and third-party installation warranty on labor in the industry.

The quality of INSTALL’s programming and warranty are such that the Department of Veteran Affairs adopted INSTALL certification standards into its Section 09 68 00 Carpeting, Section 09 65 19 Resilient Tile Flooring and Section 09 68 21 Athletic Carpeting. This effectively directs that every VA carpet, resilient tile and athletic carpeting job specified must be completed by a flooring installer that meets/exceeds the INSTALL specifications.

“We might be a non-proprietary organization that doesn’t endorse specific products or manufacturers, but what we do support is specification and performance,” Burdiak said. “From our first meeting with INSTALL at NeoCon to now, we are extremely impressed with the guarantee, training and requirements that members of INSTALL have to meet. This directly impacted our certification standards and specification language.”

The revised VA master specifications language regarding flooring installation underscores the organization’s determination that only a flooring contractor who employs an INSTALL-certified workforce is qualified enough to perform work for the VA. “The fact that INSTALL contractors can show proof of training and certification and, in some cases, offer the INSTALL warranty on labor proves up front that they are working with dependable and professional contractors,” Silins said.

The adopted language for carpet, resilient tile and athletic carpeting requires floor covering contractors to specialize in installation, have a minimum of three years experience and employ flooring installers who have retained and currently hold an INSTALL certification or a certification from a comparable certification program. Additionally, installers working on the project must have completed a Department of Labor approved four-year apprenticeship program and have career-long training, manufacturer-endorsed training and a fundamental journeyman skills certification.

INSTALL contractors are already benefitting from the partnership with the VA. INSTALL Warranty Contractor Master Craft Flooring, for example, has completed multiple projects over the course of several years. The company was recently awarded a bid through a local contractor joint venture to handle a sizable flooring installation in the Veterans Rehabilitation Clinic in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“At the end of the day, we want to get what we pay for,” Burdiak said. “I haven’t heard of any flooring failures on large projects since our relationship started, and while it’s tough to oversee and monitor small projects across thousands of facilities, the benefit to our employees, patients and bottom line has been immediate and profound.”

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system. The sprawling organization includes 1,700 hospitals, clinics, community living centers, domiciliaries, readjustment counseling centers and other facilities throughout the U.S.

With more than 300 master construction specifications for new projects, it is also one of the largest sources of construction spending and job creation in the country. Total major and minor project spending reached $1.855 billion in 2016, according to the 2017 VA Budget in Brief, and there were more than 1,930 jobs available for bid as of spring 2016.

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Laminate: Certified installer programs give dealers an edge

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.08 AMThe upside to laminate flooring’s popularity in the U.S. over the past 20 years is more consumers have become very familiar with the product—from how it’s constructed to the way it is primarily installed. The “downside,” however, is that high comfort level has encouraged more renters and homeowners to install the product themselves, cutting into a profit center for specialty retailers.

Thanks to certified installation training programs, however, retailers have an opportunity to recoup some of that business lost to the DIY customer base. The logic being, homeowners might have a greater sense of security and confidence knowing the person installing their laminate floors has been trained and certified in a particular area.

Armstrong Floors, which offers comprehensive certified training programs for virtually all of the categories in which it operates—laminate included—still believes there’s a need for professionally trained laminate floor layers. To that end, the company offers a combined laminate/hardwood training program conducted over the course of three days. There’s also a one-day laminate certification event held at its installation school in Lancaster, Pa. The company also has distributor trainer partners that are qualified to administer the same certification and training programs.

“Our certification is standardized, whether it’s conducted in conjunction with our distribution network or here at our installation school,” said Todd Weldon, who heads Armstrong’s installation school and personally conducts many of the training classes held at the company’s headquarters. “Basically we begin with an estimating and layout project where we have the participants calculate the material they will need as well as waste. We do that for the material as well as for transitions and for trim. We grade them on how successfully they do that, and we check to see they have the proper amount of expansion.”

Beyond the mechanical skills, participants are also evaluated according to a written test. (Trainees need to earn at least 80 out of 100 points to get certified.) Once they pass, Armstrong provides installers with a laminated card showing they are certified.

That certification is valid for three years; an open book test is required for re-certification.

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.02 AMRenate Keares, sales training manager, Armstrong Flooring, cites the benefits for retailers and their installation crews, as well as consumers. “If an installation fails due to a certified installer’s error, Armstrong will supply materials up to $1,000 for that installation. The labor, obviously, would be the responsibility of the retailer/installer.”

The benefits don’t end there. Dealers who certify their installers are noted as such on the section of Armstrong’s website that lists dealer locations. “The sponsoring dealer gets flagged on our website for that certification, so there’s a benefit for the retailer for sponsoring dealers as well as the installer,” Keares explained. “The Armstrong website is the most trafficked flooring site, so the benefit to the retailer is their site comes up first if they have certified installers. They literally rise to the top.”

Dealers who have completed Armstrong’s certification—not just for laminate but the family of hard surface products—can attest to the positive impact on the business. Kevin Carnes, vice president, McSwain Carpets & Floors, Cincinnati, is one of them.

“Going through the certification process changes the installer’s thought process,” he explained. “When you send a hardwood guy to a laminate certification, he finds he can now do rigid core. That expertise extends to other categories, which is better for the installer and the retailer.”

McSwain Carpets coordinated with a local Armstrong distributor to conduct the installation and certification training program for its crews. The exercise, according to the company, reinforced the importance of ongoing instruction. “I wasn’t born in the flooring industry—just like many young people coming into the industry,” Carnes noted. “That’s why continued education is crucial.”

While Carnes believes consumers may give more weight and consideration to retailers who hire certified installers, there’s more work involved. “Customers definitely use the web in their research. It drives the consumers toward the retailers who have the certification, but it doesn’t necessarily seal the deal.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.49.15 AMOther prominent retailers who have arranged for their installation crews to get certified on Armstrong’s various hard surface products—including laminate—vouch for the influence structured training has on the consumer. At Phoenix-based Baker Bros., for instance, routine installation training for employees and subcontractors alike is the norm. “All the installers we use are Armstrong certified,” said Phil Koufidakis, president and owner. “We also have a field technician who spot checks all the jobs our installers perform. They are our last line of defense, so it’s important to get it right.”

Armstrong is not the only manufacturer that offers comprehensive, structured training programs for its installers. Mohawk, Shaw and Quick-Step, to name a few, also work with their retail partners to provide instruction on a host of products—not just laminate but across the hard surface spectrum.

During a recent National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) meeting, Quick-Step held a special session to encourage its retail partners to make installation a stronger part of their business. “As an industry leader in technology, Quick-Step sets our retailers and installers up for success by featuring superior installation systems in all products,” said Jon England, vice president of independent distribution, Mohawk laminate and hardwood, North America. “As retailers work with their subcontractors to make installation a stronger part of their overall total flooring purchase, the retailers can rest assured the quality of the installation systems in Quick-Step products gives installers everything they need to achieve a floor that’s stunning.”