A Q&A with Robert Varden, CFI’s Newly Appointed Executive Director
Varden also has a storied history with International Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI). He is the group’s immediate past president, a Master-II installer, a member of the certification team, and recipient of the highly coveted Charles Gress Award. To that list of accomplishments and responsibilities is added a new role: CFI Executive Director.
FCI: Have there been any previous executive directors, or is this a new position? What does being executive director of CFI entail?
Varden: The position did exist, but it has been dormant for a while. My responsibility is to expand the membership and develop our partnerships. At CFI we see the importance of developing closer relationships with other associations. You can never have too many friends.
FCI: What would you say are the major challenges facing the installation profession? How is CFI addressing them?
Varden: The biggest challenge is giving the installers all the tools they need to be professionals. Our mission is to better train and educate installers so they can in turn make better livings for their families. That’s the bottom line. Conditions have really deteriorated over the years, and the need for installation professionals with better education and a stronger skill set is more important than ever.
FCI: What are the types of partnerships you would like to build?
Varden: I think there are a lot of synergies we can create. For example, we launched our big resilient program last year with the support of major manufacturers. We also have that big training and certification event, for multiple types of flooring, in Dalton in March. That’s a big deal. We chose to go to Dalton because we felt that our association has run around the country, certified so many individuals, but hasn’t really spent as much time as we could have in Dalton.
One of our other goals in Dalton is to bond with the manufacturers out there. We would love to see manufacturers print on the back of their samples: “We recommend this product be installed by a certified, professional installer.” Notice I didn’t put CFI in that phrase. It’s not just about us. We want this to encompass everyone out there who has a good certification.
FCI: Do you think manufacturers will be receptive to this idea?
Varden: I do. We’ve met with Werner Braun [president of the Carpet and Rug Institute], we’ve met with a few of the manufacturers, we’ve spoken to John McGrath [INSTALL director], and they’ve been very receptive. They agree that this just makes sense. Look, say the manufacturer gets a big claim and the installation is botched like crazy because the retailer just grabbed any Tom, Dick and Harry off the street to install it. If you have that wording on the sample, the manufacturer can go back to the retailer and say, listen, we gave you our advice. Everybody wants to see fewer claims.
FCI: Is there anything you would like to change about CFI?
Varden: I would love to get a brick-and-mortar facility somewhere that really represents CFI. We have some of the most phenomenal trainers and programs, and we do it all on the road. So I would love to have a training center. It could have the logos for CFI, INSTALL, Shaw, Beaulieu, Mohawk … as many logos as we could fit for as many people who wanted to take part in it. Ultimately we all want the same thing, which is a better skilled and trained workforce. And we want installers to be paid as well as the other skilled trades in the industry.
Before I leave this industry, I would love to see a turnaround in installers’ wages. I would love to see this profession better recognized. I would love to see it as well respected as the electricians, the carpenters, the plumbers, and all the other trades. Time will tell.