International Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI) recently welcomed more than 100 flooring installers, dealers, manufacturers and inspectors for four days of training and certification at Ryman Hall in Dalton, Ga. Many of the classes, which covered all types of flooring as well as inspection, were standing-room only. Attendees traveled from across the U.S. and Canada to attend the meeting.

Jim Walker, CFI CEO, said the support and response to the training and certification was typical of Dalton. “We always get a good response when we come here,” he said. “There are lots of CFI members right here in Georgia, and it’s not just installers who are interested in installation. The retailers are interested in it. The manufacturers are interested in it. I would say we have just as many people from the carpet mills as we have installers.”

Walker noted that proper training helps elevate the installation trade. “As an industry, we should focus on quality installation. Retailers should request the qualifications of an installer before they’re hired.” He also believes understanding the ins and outs of installation should be part of any salesperson’s arsenal. “In my opinion, a good salesperson would know everything a good installer would know. We have a saying in CFI: Good installation starts at the time of sale, not when the installer arrives.”

Walker is blunt when it comes to assessing the state of flooring installation. “Using a scale of 1 to 10, I would say that right now, the skill level of carpet installers in the United States is about a four. So there is a 60 percent chance that your job is not going in correctly. Everybody should be certified.”

John McGrath, director of International Standards & Training Alliance (INSTALL), agreed on the importance of training. “Experience is a good teacher, but if it’s your only teacher, you’re limited. Products change. Techniques change. You have to keep up to date with them,” he said during the event.

CFI instructor Tim Provence, Armstrong installation & technical services, said installers are also attending training events simply to stay competitive. “They’re all looking for tools and techniques that let’s them be ahead of the game, instead of behind it.”

S600 Standard. One topic of discussion among many attendees was the upcoming S600 installation standard, officially known as the BSR-IICRC S600 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Installation. The standard, which recently went through a public review period, would give specific guidance for the proper and recommended procedures for both residential and commercial carpet installations.

Walker said the standard has the opportunity to ramp up training efforts across the industry. He posed a hypothetical situation. “Say it becomes mandatory that if you install a flooring product, it must be done by someone with a reputation that proves they use quality products and install to the manufacturer’s specifications. I would project that the industry, under the leadership of the carpet mills, would give the retailers 36 months to get their people trained and certified.”

McGrath noted that the standard proves “the industry is definitely going toward recognizing and valuing certification,” adding, “People need incentive. Right now, the press for certification is largely internal. If mills and manufacturers create the incentive, it’s more tangible, and has a more direct effect on the jobsite.”

Skills. Despite the healthy turnout for the Dalton event, CFI Executive Director Robert Varden said his organization is only scratching the surface. “We have more time to train unfortunately than we have individuals to train. At least if the manufacturers get behind certification and drive it, the retailers and dealers will suddenly realize, wow, there is a level I have to get these guys at in order to be where the manufacturer wants me to be.”

One area in which many installers are lacking is basic business skills, according to Varden. “A guy doing well in this business has both good hand skills and good business skills. We try to teach them how to market themselves.”

He also says basic installation skills are sometimes new to installers. “The things we really try to focus on are the basics, like power stretching and seam sealing. Some of the most basic elements and principals of installation are unfortunately some of the things we have to hound them on the most.”

Walker added that installers should be as well-rounded as possible in both business and installation skills. “Most installers right now do not have enough business skills to run their business. They’re hard workers, they’re diligent, but I worry that they could be taken advantage of.”

Provence believes installer training helps manufacturers, whether or not they know it, by reducing claims. “Even a small amount of claims is too much. If you have an unhappy customer, the next time they have disposable cash they’re going to buy something other than a floor.”

Overall, he sees the skill level of professional installers only increasing. “The installation business used to be highly segmented, but now it’s becoming so installers who do resilient also do carpet and hardwood. It requires an investment in tools and training to be able to branch out into other categories, but it’s an investment in yourself.”

For more information about CFI, visit www.CFIinstallers.com.