In an effort to shed some light on manufacturer involvement in training and education for the floor covering installer, FCI magazine went out and tapped the source. Forbo’s Tim Cole, Alloc President Claes Wennerth, and Peter Nielsen of Schluter Systems offer a different look at the role installation training plays in the floor covering industry, and the manufacturer’s responsibility to it.
Tim Cole: We believe that the key to our success in the world market lies in the hands of the resilient installer, which is why we place installation training as a top priority. Our training programs emphasize the importance of believing that professionalism and the right attitude are the keys to being a successful installer. It is not our intention to train someone to be an installer, but (to) take an installer and offer a wide range of installation techniques to better handle changing job site conditions.
Claes Wennerth: We feel it is critical that installers be well informed about proper preparation and technique in order to get the best results. With 70% of our floors installed by professionals, it is vital that we provide them with the training and tools they need to effectively do their jobs.
Peter Nielsen: The short answer is, installer training will be the determining factor of whether or not the tile industry will remain healthy, and whether or not it will reach its full potential. Ceramic tile is an installed product. If end-users are dissatisfied because of improper installation, they will look to alternative surface coverings.
FCI: Installation-related problems represent a large portion of consumer claims. What effect do you see your various approaches to training having on claim reductions?
CW: A good product that is easy to install will by its very nature yield few claims from consumers. Alloc has one of the lowest call-back rates in the industry. In the long run, you can’t solve product problems with installation instructions. That’s why training installers to cope with product weakness is not the right approach.
TC: Over the past eight years, we have seen approximately a 40% drop in claims. In the past four years, we have only seen two claims that involved a Forbo master mechanic. Just for the record, over 98% of the claims we receive are found to be installation- and maintenance-related. This is easy justification for any manufacturer to support installation training.
PN: I am not sure how we compare with other allied product manufacturers, but there is definitely a heightened awareness within the manufacturing community, and many have invested in, or are starting to invest in, training and education. How important is it to train installers in the proper installation of new materials? Vital. The onus is really on the manufacturers. New technologies are only an advantage if people are properly trained in them, and if they have a positive impact on the way people conduct business.
FCI: What incentives, if any, does an installer have to attend a seminar or training class to learn the proper techniques for installing your products?
TC: Gaining knowledge always increases a person’s value no matter what line of work they’re in. To support the Forbo master mechanic, all of our sales personnel request that every specification written for our flooring products includes, “must be installed by a Forbo master mechanic.” All referrals by Forbo are to flooring dealers that have Forbo master mechanics on staff. Many times, other resilient manufacturers seek out flooring dealers with Forbo master mechanics.
CW: Alloc provides certification to installers who attend our seminars. Retail salespeople often recommend that consumers work with certified Alloc installers.
Good installers are always willing to learn, and when they gather in a group, they learn from each other. What they learn in these training sessions gives them a competitive edge, increased speed, fewer call-backs, and also shows them how to increase their profitability. We do not provide specific incentives for participation.
PN: Traditionally, we have put a large emphasis on contractor seminars, which are hosted by our distributors throughout North America. We also work very closely with the architectural community, and sponsor AIA Continuing Education Seminars. But these forums naturally limit the number of people that can be reached, so the next move for us is a larger emphasis on Internet-based training and education. In the past year, we added a number of installation videos to our Web site, and will add more as we produce them.
CW: We support our distributors with regional seminars that are held quarterly. Installers who are interested in a refresher course are always welcome to attend.
TC: Program graduates will take part in ongoing training and education in new products, installation techniques, tools, adhesives, etc. They are included in mailings to keep them updated on the latest product introductions and technical updates. We also offer an advanced course for graduates who desire to enhance their skills even further, and move on to the next level.
Also, Forbo sponsors a worldwide installation contest on a bi-annual basis. This is both an opportunity for installers to show their skills, as well as allowing us to highlight our commitment to, and appreciation of, professional installation skills.
FCI: What can be done, on the manufacturer level, to improve the quality of installations?
PN: Training and education need to be woven into the very fabric of the sales force. This means hiring representatives that have a thorough understanding of the products they manufacture, and a well-rounded education in installation. We try, whenever possible, to hire people with extensive hands-on tile setting experience. Manufacturers need to provide information to every link in the chain between the manufacturer and end-user.
FCI: What is the relationship between your company and the installers who work with your products?
TC: Each installer who takes part in the program is given a list of all Forbo support services staff. This list includes each of the regional technical reps, as well as all office technical and marketing staff, including the manager of support services. We realize that the installer is the key to success, which is why, besides the initial training, the Forbo staff will always be accessible to the installer for any questions or guidance they may require.
CW: There is no direct relationship, except that numerous installers have participated in the development of the learning program we have established. As we receive additional feedback from installers, the program content will be updated to reflect their input.
Our learning program is built on the concepts of motivation; information gathering; comparing alternatives; choosing solutions; and active participation. Our seminars get the participants involved through “installation challenges” involving common technical questions. The seminar leader is a facilitator, not an instructor. Our interaction with the installers is the largest single input for product development, and is extremely valuable to us.
FCI: What do you see as the future of installation training? Will manufacturers be forced to take on a bigger role in order to ensure customer satisfaction?
PN: I’m not sure anybody knows what the future of installation training will look like, but in the last several decades, there has been an explosion in the different types of materials and techniques, which have now become commonplace. Consider, for example, post-tensioned and pre-stressed concrete; lightweight, suspended concrete slabs; gypsum-based screeds; radiant-heated floors; and engineered wood products.
It becomes a certainty that very specific systems solutions will be required to overcome the challenges of our fast-evolving construction industry. So, for sure, manufacturers will be forced to take on a larger role in the training installers in these specialized systems.
Claes Wennerth is president of Racine, WI-based Alloc, Inc.
Peter Nielsen is general manager and technical director for Schluter Systems L.P. He has more than 20 years experience in the ceramic tile industry, and is currently a committee member of the Tile Council of America’s Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation, and the American National Standard Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile.
Tim Cole is manager, support services for Forbo Industries, Inc. He has been involved in the flooring industry for the past 30 years, and represents Forbo as a member of the US Green Building Council, ASTM, and the EOS/ESD Association, as well as in other industry associations.