It's a deep-rooted problem: The idea that "management" sits, feet up, while "labor" toils endlessly. DuPont's Charlie Nielsen examines the rift between the two factions.



Imagine "Labor" dripping with sweat and working to the point of exhaustion, while "Management" sits clothed in a suit and tie, answering the phone in an air-conditioned office. Two ends of an imaginary spectrum, yet every day in the flooring industry they are seen as the reality.

Labor is often viewed as the necessary evil to contend with after the sale, something that will potentially affect the profit margin of the job, while management is the scrooge for whom attaining the bid revolves solely around beating labor prices down to a bare, often times inadequate, minimum. The consequence of these two opposing views is the development of a large rift in the floor covering community, resulting in poor working relationships, high turnover, and, ultimately, dissatisfied customers.

Most installers genuinely want to do quality work, and deserve the respect that should come with it. It is a labor-intensive job, not a laborer's job. No one will argue the sheer expenditure of energy it takes to get a 25-foot cut up a flight of stairs.

But it is not all about strength. It takes skill, training, and experience to upholster a staircase with balustrades, or flash cove a bathroom. Unfortunately, when consumer advertising promotes free labor and padding, in the customer's eyes the value of the installer is nothing.

And what's wrong with that? It's free, right?

Wrong! Manufacturer warranties demand the use of premium adhesives. The installer will be held accountable if those adhesives are not used. But while the cost of these adhesives have been steadily increasing over the years, rates for installation have actually decreased in some areas during the same time. Installers have to work longer and smarter to maintain a standard of installation quality, let alone provide the income they had in the 60s and 70s. Instead of working closer together, it seems that the gap is widening. How do we fix the problem?

The conflict that occurs is a lack of understanding and appreciation for the respective roles that each area plays. Management often spends months and large advertising dollars to gain customers, only to lose them because of late installer arrival, poor professional habits, etc. Installers, on the other hand, are often left to deal with details such as moving the furniture, overlooked floor prep issues not costed to the job, and other problems too often remedied with the promise of "making it up on the next one."

Solving these re-occurring problems requires a commitment to communicate and visualize the job as a team effort, in which both sides will be rewarded when successful. By removing one player from always having the upper hand (and I don't just mean management), the focus turns to making the job successful. By developing a team approach, installers will be more successful in creating career opportunities for themselves in operations and management.

Businesses that currently utilize installers and their unique insights and expertise as part of the management team are proving this concept continually through higher profits and higher customer and employee loyalty. Less oversights and higher customer retention makes it much easier for everyone to share in higher profits.

As an installer, prove your value through your commitment to quality and service, and become more involved in the pre-job information flow. Your efforts won't go unnoticed, and you will start to see more dollars coming your way. Don't expect it to happen overnight, but persistence will lead to a higher standard of conditions for you and the industry as a whole.