Take 10 installers, add a clock and a judge's critical eye, and you've got the National Installation Contest

The Surfaces 2000 National Installation Contest winners (l-r): Richard Bennett II, runner-up, carpet; Robert Alonzo, first place, carpet; John Elliot, first place, resilient; and Scott Hoover, runner-up, resilient.

United Kingdom Fitting Champion Rory MacGillivray (left) and Scottish Fitting Champion Hugh Mackay observed this year's competition.
Dick Bray checks his watch and smiles, a slight twinkle in his eye.

“They hate it when I do this,” the WFCA technical services manager says as he turns and begins walking down the row of installers working diligently in their booths. As he wanders past each, the same utterance passes his lips:

“One hour left.”

To a man, the response is nearly identical: teeth flashing in a curiously wolfish manner as they quickly glance up at this harbinger of doom before returning their attentions to the task at hand.

WFCA Technical Services Manager Dick Bray (second from left) give the contest judges their final instructions before the hands-on competition begins.

What is it

The Surfaces 2000 National Installation Contest, held in Las Vegas, NV, Jan. 26-27, brings together the installation industry’s elite to compete head-to-head for the right to be known as the nation’s best installer. For two days, 20 contestants selected from regional competitions across the country are evaluated on their overall knowledge and skill with regards to floor covering installation.

“It’s really phenomenal. I’m in awe,” Contest Judge Andrew Aufiero declared. “I can’t believe how good these guys are.”

The Contest is divided into two categories, carpet and resilient. Ten installers compete in two categories, culminating in the top two finishers in each being recognized at an awards ceremony. The contestants are judged on three criteria: a written exam; repair work; and a timed, hands-on project. This year’s competition proved to be a tight race all around.

“Coming in tenth in this group is nothing to be ashamed of,” mused Richard Bennett II, last year’s first place winner in the carpet category.

Contest sponsors spared no expense in providing competitors with all the necessary materials.

Catching an eyefull

The Contest is held in the lower level of the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas. The small project booths in which the competitors ply their skills are set in a neat row, alternating between resilient and carpet, that stretches down one end of the Surfaces exhibition floor. A low riser running the length of the booths allows spectators to look down at the installer’s progress without crowding the competitors.

The hands-on competition sees a steady stream of onlookers, ranging from the curious passerby to the certified installer with a critical eye. The vastly different approaches and installation techniques on display are enough to raise the eyebrows of even the most experienced professionals.

“The way some of these guys approached the installation,” chuckled Contest Judge Ray Thompson Jr., “almost made you stop and wonder ‘what the heck is this guy doing?’”

The Contest is built around a typical work order designed to test a contestant’s full range of skills. Emphasis is placed on how well the installer can handle measuring, coving, transitions, seaming, and sewing, as well as appearance and overall work ethic.

"Let the games begin!"

Changes for 2000

While the 1999 Contest went through a number of changes after the inaugural competition in 1998, this year’s event saw only minimal cosmetic differences, the biggest of which involved time. The 1999 Contest provided contestants with only one day to complete their projects. This year, the WFCA decided to stretch the clock, giving the installers another four hours to work with.

“That (extra) time will allow them to totally complete their projects,” Bray said. “When we hit five o’clock today, we’ll have 20 booths that are completely installed, and that’s important.”

Bray was close. More than two thirds of the competitors were able to complete their projects in full. Marty Chavez of Floor Covering Interiors in Albuquerque, NM, a late entry in the resilient category, finished up with half an hour to spare. So what did he think of his competition?

“I tried not to watch the other contestants,” Chavez laughed. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

An international flavor was introduced to the Contest this year. Hugh Mackay and Rory MacGillivray, the Scottish and English “fitting” champions, respectively, were flown in from across the Atlantic to observe their American counterparts this year’s competition. The Europeans were impressed with what they saw, and spoke at length on the installation industry, regulations, technology and materials in Europe.

“Whenever they come out with something new, they put it through trials in Germany,” MacGillivray explained, “and if the German market will accept it, then usually so will the rest of Europe.”

The Surfaces 2000 National Installation Contest winners are: John Elliot, first place, resilient; Robert Alonzo, first place, carpet; Scott Hoover, runner-up, resilient; and Richard Bennett II, runner-up, carpet. WFCA President Gary Wasmund presided over the awards ceremony.

This year’s first-place resilient award marked back-to-back wins for Elliot, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm at the 1999 Contest was replaced with a veteran’s calm demeanor this year.

“It feels great (to be recognized again),” Elliot said. “They did a really great job this year designing the competition, and I can’t imagine them doing a much better job than this.”

It took eight of the installation industry’s most well-respected experts to make the final determinations. The judges for this year’s Contest are: Ray Thompson, Jr.; Alan Ellis; Terry Weber; Terry Johnson; Ed Castro; Andrew Aufiero; Bill Wiese; and Terry Rickerson.

A number of companies in the installation industry donated both their time and expertise to help make the 2000 National Installation Contest a success, including: Airsled; Ardex, Inc.; Beno J. Gundlach; Carpenter Co.; Capitol USA; Domco Industries; Futura Industries; Laser Products; Marshalltown Trowel; Mohawk; National Carpet Equipment; Orcon Corp.; Roberts Consolidated; Taylor Tools; TEQ 2100 Seam Tape Co.; and Tramex.

The Contest is sponsored by the World Floor Covering Association, and co-sponsored by Floor Covering Installer magazine and National Floor Trends magazine.