A Carpet Installer's Notebook: Musings on the New Year
March 5, 2009
Happy New Year everyone! I hope it is a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009 for you and yours. I know you are thinking “Hetts, you are losing it! March, it’s March not January.” True enough now, when you are reading this, but I am writing this January 8, 2009.
Yesterday I had a nice long talk with Rodney Brown. Who’s that, you ask. Rodney is the new director of technical and installation support for Stanton Carpet Mills, you know the mill whose name rhymes with a city north of Wilkes-Barre, PA. In a couple of articles, I was pretty rough on Stanton, with good reason as you may recall.
While, as you may have noticed, I will toss a brickbat at mills when quite readily, I think it is only fair to give a pat on the back when deserved. There is a new sheriff in town when it comes to tech and installation support at Stanton. Rodney is a CFI certified installer who has spent his entire adult life in the installation game (30 years). Actually he probably had carpet fuzz in his diapers; he comes from a family of installers. He has cousins who are installers, and broke into the business working with his Dad. He knows a little more than fuzzy side goes up to say the least.
As you may recall, one of my complaints was no material to trim at the selvage to get a clean edge and make a tidy seam. Rodney brought this to the attention of a decision maker (vice-president), had a sample made with a few rows of filler yarns at the selvage to protect the edge and showed the difference it makes in a seam. The vice-president agreed that what needed to be done for the carpet to be installed properly.
I think in some cases at the mills the people who are making the carpet know about manufacturing, but are sadly lacking in the installation knowledge department. Stanton has addressed this lack of installation knowledge by adding Rodney Brown to their staff. If you have tech questions on Stanton products, call Rodney. He’s a good guy to have your back. Of course this doesn’t let them off the hook for sending out that pattern piece 1 ½ inches short in the width and telling me they had a 2-inch tolerance. The manufacturing arm should have known better.
I was rummaging through my files and came upon some things that bear revisiting. Get a cup of coffee or crack a beer and take a trip down memory lane with me.
In response to a slowdown in the carpet industry, the Orcon Corporation commissioned a report when published was titled “An Analysis of The Carpet Industry” The four major findings were as follows:
• Despite a slowing rate of growth, carpet mills remain capacity-driven rather than market-driven.
• The carpet industry has not embraced the “Total Quality Management” philosophy adopted by other U.S. industries.
• The mills’ primary sales and marketing efforts have been focused on the retailer rather than on the ultimate consumers of their products.
• Despite its importance to profitability and customer satisfaction, the industry places little or no value on the proper installation of carpet products. The results of that report prompted Orcon to commission a follow-up Gallup poll, “The Carpet Installation Crisis” Major conclusions of that poll include:
• The pool of qualified installers continues to shrink.
• Installation-related problems are having a significant impact on retailer and carpet mill profits.
• The crisis in carpet installation is compounded by an increasing number of manufacturing defects in carpet.
• The de-valuation of installation has led many carpet manufacturers and retailers to view installation as a cost that must be controlled rather than an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and profitability.
• Retailers report an average 6% profit loss from installation-related complaints.
When were these studies published, you ask. They were published in 1995, but they still seem timely, don’t they? Want to read the complete reports? The will be posted on the Floor Covering Installer magazine Web site, www.fcimag.com.
I have long felt that everyone in the carpet industry is affected by the current state of installation. Installers can’t make a decent living, retailers can’t find qualified help, and consumers have trouble getting proper installation. If the current trend keeps up the mills won’t have anyone to install their products. It’s a big problem. I suspect that the problems people have experienced with installation have helped the shift to other floor covering choices.
The carpet installation trade is dying. There are less and less young people learning it. You take a young guy out of high school who doesn’t want to, or can’t afford to go to college and ask him if he wants to become a carpet installer. He says, “Hmm, tell me about it.” If you are truthful you will respond (except for the union), “Well, there are long hours and low pay, no benefits, no retirement, no respect, and a good chance you will be a cripple by the time you are fifty.” Followed by his look of astonishment he may respond with something like “I think Mickey D’s is hiring.”
The state of the installation part of the industry is a mess, in a large part I believe, because of no industry-wide installation standards tied to warranties.
Through my column in Floor Covering Installer magazine, I suggested a letter-writing campaign to the mill presidents urging a program with the use of qualified installers tied to warranties.
Beaulieu was the only mill that had the decency to respond to my letter to the mill presidents. According to others who sent the letters, Beaulieu was the only one to respond to them as well, a form letter, but a letter nonetheless. Who am I to complain about a form letter anyway? That’s what I tried to organize. Hats off to Beaulieu; thank you for at least responding. The letter I received was from, according to his title, the “VP Quality Assurance.”
In his letter the “VP Quality Assurance” talked about Beaulieu warranties being tied to strict compliance of the installation standard published in the Carpet and Rug Institute’s installation specification manuals 104 for commercial and 105 for residential installations. Great, but how do you determine the installer is qualified to follow those guidelines? It would be like setting a speed limit on the highway insisting drivers follow it, while at the same time not having any troopers to insure compliance. Compound the problem, making it worse by not having a testing procedure to ensure people have the knowledge to actually operate a motor vehicle, let alone operate it safely. Beaulieu’s warranty, as many other mills have adopted, also says the carpet must be cleaned by an IICRC-certified cleaner every 12 to 24 months and you must retain your receipts as proof or risk voiding your warranty. There is no such requirement to document the ability of the installer to follow the installation rules. I know a bad cleaner can harm a carpet, but worse than a bad installer can? He goes on to say, “installer compliance has always been difficult to insure due to the shortage of well trained and certified installers who have both the knowledge and skills to provide our customers with a quality installation. As a result poor installation continues to be the leading cause of complaints and claims in our industry.” No truer words were ever spoken. Until there is a way to enforce a requirement for proper installation and a reason for installers to seek that training and certification, it won’t change.
When it comes to training, I am not suggesting the mills pay for it. There are training entities ready to handle that as soon as industry-wide installation standards are established. CFI, WFCA, FCICA, the unions and their INSTALL program could be used for installation training, just to mention a few. I not suggesting that this training be free either. If the mills tie their warranties to the use of properly trained and certified installers just like other industries, this would allow the training entities to train and support themselves while doing it. Then a “properly trained and certified installer” would be able to insist to be compensated at a professional level like the auto mechanic or electrician or plumber or HVAC technician. Mr. and Mrs. Consumer would receive the proper final delivery of their purchase, and retailers and mills would experience a higher profit margin from less installation-related complaints. After all, profit is a six-letter not a four-letter word, isn’t it?