Contemplating the new century started me thinking about the old; where we came from, where we are, and where we’re going, from an installer’s point of view, of course. It’s been said that there is nothing new under the sun, and that history is destined to repeat itself.
When I came into the trade in 1970, it was the end of one era and the start of another. The carpet market was exploding. Sales were beginning to be dominated by small carpet specialty stores. The previous leaders in carpet sales were the large department stores. The change in marketing carpet from the department stores to the specialty stores also changed the way carpet was installed.
The installation environment consisting of workrooms with many crews all but disappeared. These workrooms had provided a place where young installers could learn their trade working alongside older, more experienced mechanics. The smaller specialty stores instead hired individual installers as sub-contractors to help keep down costs and alleviate themselves of the responsibility of retaining installers as employees.
This change in the training structure of our trade, coupled with the introduction of double jute-backed shag carpet, was a huge blow to the level of quality in our profession. Without the nurturing environment of the workroom to help young installers develop their skills, the installation arts began to disappear. Adding to the problem was the low skill level needed to install the shag carpet of the day. People came into the trade for the quick money. You know the type: three months as a helper, buy some tools, and they’re off (“Yesterday I couldn’t spell installer, now today I are one.”).
This brings us to the present. We have an installation crisis. Not just a lack of quality installers, but a lack of installers period. Young people are not entering our trade because there is no infrastructure in place (with the possible exception of the unions) to ensure either proper training or a future.
The cycle is completing its turn: workrooms are returning, although in slightly different forms. The first to desire and support the resurgence of workrooms are the big box retailers. They have found it is just too difficult to try and manage installation crews on an individual basis. Floorcovering retailers are merging into buying groups, and as these grow into nationwide name groups they are finding, as the big box stores did, that consistent installation quality becomes more and more important to their national image. Installation is starting to be viewed as a product in itself, and with that there is the desire for a reliable source of quality. Workrooms, properly operated, can create the structure and support for installers to reach their full potential, both financially and professionally.
Now for the tips. I learned the first from my friend and CFI Master Installer Dick Schmidt. We were installing graphic pattern, which is very hard to see. While cutting the seam, it was difficult to tell if we were getting the exact spot on the pattern. When we lined up the seam, Dick cut from a scrap a piece about 3 feet long (running across the width) and 3 inches wide. Laying this piece across the seam, in line with the pattern, gave us an instant gauge to see if the pattern was cut correctly.
The second is a trick I use to make moving furniture easier on your back. Fold your 25-foot extension cord into fourths (photo 1), creating a 6-foot “hump strap.” This allows you to pick up and move heavy objects, like this hide-a-bed (photo 2), with less strain on your back.