The International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) celebrated both its past and future in rousing fashion at its 20th anniversary convention earlier this year in Baltimore. Despite all that CFI has done to raise the profile and expertise of professional installers, the mood at the meeting was not one of members resting on their laurels, but of pushing themselves forward with new techniques and technology.

During the opening ceremony, CEO Jim Walker and his wife Jane walked attendees through 20 years of memories aided by a slide show of early conventions and installation professionals who had left their mark, including the late Pat Fell. Later during the three-day-event, Bob Wagner, president of Fishman Flooring Solutions, would share some memories of Fell while bestowing this year’s Fishman Chapter Award on CFI’s Delmarva Chapter. “Pat walked, talked, ate, slept and drank installation,” Wagner recalled. “We want to honor education because that’s what Pat was all about.”

Fell’s daughter Katie was also on hand to reminisce about her father. “I want just to thank Fishman Flooring Solutions and CFI,” she said. “Thank you for giving my father the opportunity to meet so many great people. This was his second family.”

Bob Turpen, the former director of marketing for Amoco Fabrics and an instrumental early supporter of CFI, was a special guest of the convention. He remembered seeing Jim Walker for the first time at an installation meeting Walker refused to cancel despite an ice storm making travel nearly impossible. “That first meeting in Springfield, Mo., Amoco was looking for people to get involved in carpet installation. This was the ice storm of all ice storms, but Jim showed up. He had some rough edges, but he spoke from the heart, and he had everybody in the audience mesmerized.”

CFI Past President Bob Gillespie said a few words to the assembled crowd as well. “Looking around this room I can see where we’ve come in 20 years. What we set out to do we did accomplish. CFI is a brand name in this industry.”

Walker told attendees he was proud to have seen CFI to its 20th birthday, but also believes that CFI and the industry still have a long way to go. “There are retailers still out there who hire the cheapest installers. We have to get the industry to demand the use of qualified installers. We haven’t succeeded until that happens,” he said.

Product Demonstrations. As part of the event, CFI associate companies were given 15 minutes each to talk about their latest products and technologies. Participating companies were: ArmorLock, Armstrong, Bond, Crain Cutter Co., DriTac, Johnsonite/Tarkett, MAPEI, Pak-Lite, Personna, Powerhold, Powernail, QEP/Roberts, Royal Adhesives, Taylor Tools/GroutMatch, Traxx Corp. and Wagner Meters.

ArmorLock showcased a new product for carpet installation, a specialized seam tape that features pressure-sensitive adhesive flanked by two strips of galvanized metal teeth. Shane LeBlanc, president, said the product was first being revealed at CFI for a reason. “We’re not worried about sales, manufacturing or marketing. Installation comes first.”

Armstrong’s Rick Herr, installation services manager, and Tony Pastrana, installation training & services, showcased several products, including a new underlayment with pre-applied adhesive for LVT.  Herr and Pastrana brought out the prototype product to ask the installers their opinions on it. “It’s for Alterna right now, and it’s still new,” Pastrana explained. “You don’t have to spread adhesive – just bring a utility knife. The pre-applied adhesive gets stronger over time. It’s also a moisture barrier.”

“We ran this through a lot of testing,” he added. “We looked at a lot of locking systems out there, and we came up with something that we think can make it easier for LVT installation.”

Brian Milnes, president and owner of Bond Products, showed off a range of products, including portable carpet binding equipment, a carpet cove base cutter, turf seaming tape and the company’s line of kneepads.

Byron Fulton, Crain Floor Covering Tools sales representative, explained the benefits of the company’s signature No. 001 Model A Tile Cutter, a 12” cutter for vinyl flooring. Fulton noted, “We are always looking for innovative tool ideas and are dedicated to quality.” He also showed the Hardwood Plank Jack and Toe-Kick Saw.

DriTac’s Dave Cima, mid-Atlantic regional sales manager, discussed DriTac 6200, a pressure-sensitive flooring adhesive for engineered wood, parquet, LVT/LVP and cork tile and underlayment. He also talked about Eco-5200, a pressure-sensitive adhesive for fiberglass-backed sheet vinyl and carpet tile.

Dick Schmidt, Johnsonite/Tarkett technical specialist, passed around a sample of his company’s multicolored rod for heat welding, and discussed the VET (Vinyl Enhanced Tile) line. He stated, “Any time you get a product you’ve never had your hands on before, don’t assume you know how to install it. With VET, what you’re used to doing when working with VCT doesn’t change – but the adhesive does.”

He also helped lead a hands-on seminar on heat welding, complete with demonstrations of several groovers and welding tips. “At the very least, buy a manual groover to get into heat welding,” Schmidt said. “What I’m looking for when grooving is two nice, equal pieces. Don’t start and stop.”

Gary Waldron, MAPEI sales representative, spoke about his company’s Planiprep line. “Say you have a slab with adhesive residue. You can shot-blast and mechanically abrade it, or use the Planiprep surface preparation system which includes AR (adhesive remover), SA (scouring agent that etches the slab), and ET (epoxy treatment). Now you have a starting point.”

Later during the show, Jeff Johnson, MAPEI Floor Covering Installation Systems business manager, gave a short presentation on “Adhesive Science 101.” He explained the basic features and chemistries of pressure-sensitive adhesives, reactive ones such as epoxy, as well as multipurpose and thermoplastic (hot-melt).

“When you see a package that says 50 percent solids, that means 50 percent of it is the good stuff,” Johnson said. “The higher the solids content, the better the performance.”

Pak-Lite’s Bob Cummings ,OEM flooring products, discussed his company’s Blue Hawk four-in-one underlayment. “Blue Hawk features moisture and vapor protection for all floating floor applications, excellent sound properties, and inhibits the growth of mold and mildew,” he said. “It also offers excellent thermal insulation.”

Robert Varden, CFI executive director and a technical advisor for Personna, explained the finer points of the ArmorEdge blades that can be used with LVT, as well as the Fixed Blade Utility Knife. “When I started working at Personna, I told them you make some of the best blades but you don’t have a knife I’d put in my pouch. We worked on it for a few years. It’s full aircraft aluminum, and will hold the blade securely in place.”

Fishman Flooring Solutions’ Bill Mabeus, vp, and Jerry Murphy, regional manager, explained the benefits of the Powerhold line, including the cushion back cutter, stair tool, shears and snips, knives and blades, and high carbon steel staples for pad, underlayment, carpet and hardwood.

Gene Jarka, Powernail’s central sales manager, showcased a range of Powernail tools including the Model 2000 pneumatic 20-gauge cleat nailer, the 18-gauge 50P Flex and the PowerJack 500, designed to push or pull hardwood flooring tightly together for nailing.

Ralph Richins, southwest sales manager for QEP/Roberts, talked about the Roberts 616 Conventional Carpet Trimmer and the company’s revamped line of adhesives. “What we’re finding is that all the backings are so specialized now. You’ve got to know the job better than ever. Multipurpose adhesives still have their place, but for residential and light, light commercial only.”

Royal Adhesives’ Sonny Callaham, product marketing manager, discussed the company’s full line of adhesives including Signature Series multipurpose, the Fusion series for resilient and the Millennium Series for hardwood. He also talked about the EMC (Easy Moisture Control) product, available in both acrylic and urethane formulations.

Ray Knapp, technical sales representative, demonstrated the Hotshot hot-melt glue system from Taylor Tools and the Groutmatch caulking system. “Groutmatch uses the actual grout you’re working with,” he explained. “You simply squeeze half of the Groutmatch into a plastic bag, add two level scoops of grout powder, then add the rest of the Groutmatch. Just knead and squeeze it until it’s mixed, and it’s ready to be used like any other caulk.”

Traxx Corp.’s Michael Lassetter, southeast sales manager, and independent marketer and FCI columnist Michael Hetts displayed several technologies, including the Koolglide system, Seam Master seam tapes and glue sticks, and also discussed tack strip, carpet shims and underlayment.

Wagner Meters’ Jason Spangler, Rapid RH product sales manager, shared some of the features of the new Rapid RH DataMaster tool. “It gives you all the information on the screen, including the internal relative humidity and temperature of the slab via Bluetooth technology. It also extracts the serial number of the Smart Sensor. Data is stored on SD cards, and can be uploaded to a secure website if desired to help ensure proper data documentation and integrity.”

Industry Issues. Kathy Sibbald, compliance officer for CB Flooring and former Internal Revenue Officer, led a discussion with Roland Thompson, president of the CFI Delmarva Chapter, and Chris Adams, president of the Maryland Northern Virginia Floor Covering Association on the issue of classifying a worker as an employee or a contractor.

Adams said a few years ago he was slapped with multiple fines and received a citation for over 50 misclassified workers. He said the state did very little to reach out, and he fought the charges. “They are going after installers,” he warned. “You are immediately on shaky ground. They will make you go back three years, and you will have to pay back wages, workers comp and maybe even civil liabilities. It will take you out of business.”

Sibbald said there is no easy answer for this issue. “The states and the feds are cracking down on this. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor, the IRS, the state and even different agencies within the state all have different ways of testing whether someone should be classified as an employee.”

However, she said there are a few guidelines one can follow. “If they’re dependent on one paycheck, they’re your employee. If their service is integral to your business, they’re your employee. If they get reimbursed for any expenses then they definitely look like your employee.”

She also noted that the person must be free of your direction and control. Thompson gave an example. “You can put out a note saying I’m going to offer training, but you can’t tell them they’ll be penalized if they don’t show up. They cannot be forced to participate.”

Pride in Membership. Kelly Huddleston, a Master II floor covering installer and certified inspector, said being part of CFI has been a boon both personally and professionally. “If I get into trouble with an installation, I can call anybody here at the drop of a dime. There isn’t one CFI guy out there who won’t help another. They’ll fly people in to help me if need be.”

Jack Racine, US Installations Group director of technical standards, believes CFI is one of the pinnacles of the installation industry. “I go to workrooms all around the country and teach hundreds of installation teams. The guys know that CFI is something they definitely should be involved in. You have your Jon Nambas and Jim Walkers walking around here. This is the cream of the crop of professional installation.”

Varden succinctly summed up the mood of the event. “It’s almost more a family reunion than a convention,” he stated.