Fishman Flooring Solutions and the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) partnered in early March to conduct a four-day training event at Fishman’s headquarters in Baltimore, sponsored by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). The meeting attracted approximately 40 installers and covered carpet, ceramic, resilient and wood/laminate flooring installation, along with an inspector’s course. We spoke with Bob Wagner, president of Fishman Flooring Solutions, and Jim Walker, CEO of CFI, about the event.
What was the reason behind Fishman and CFI partnering?
Wagner:What drives us at Fishman is doing whatever we can to delight the installers who are our direct customers so they, in turn, can ensure that the end user is delighted with her or his flooring purchase. We want the entire process to be a great experience for the consumer.
CFI is all about installer education and professionalism. They understand that a more educated installer will provide a better, more satisfactory job, which has everything to do with delighting the end user. So our partnership with CFI is very important to us and we want to continue it and enhance it.
Walker: The support of a company like Fishman means everything to CFI. They have resources and contacts with installers that we simply don’t have. There are many companies and associations that support CFI; if I tried to name them all, I’d probably forget a few, so I won’t try. Fishman has seen the value of installer training for a long time. They jumped on board with CFI almost 20 years ago, when a lot of people wouldn’t give us the time of day.
Do you find it valuable for your company to support CFI training?
Wagner:We absolutely believe that installer training is directly related to the quality of the end-user’s experience. The better trained the installer, the better the experience for the end user, who will want to come back for more or different flooring. That’s what enables us to grow our business, so our return on investment in supporting CFI is high.
How would you both describe the pace of changes in the flooring installation industry?
Wagner:From a distribution point of view, changes are coming very quickly. Mergers and acquisitions are happening at all levels and there seems to be cross-pollination between traditional full-line distributors and flooring solutions distributors. We’re watching these things very carefully.
The pace of new product introductions is also increasing. Along with new products, there are frequently new installation methods. More and more, we’re being asked to provide newer and better products. So we welcome the increased pace in new product introductions.
Walker: Bob’s absolutely right. Changes in our industry are coming faster and faster. Not only is there a steady stream of new and better installation tools and products being introduced, but the techniques for using them are constantly changing. When installers use old techniques with new products, they often end up with unhappy customers. That’s why installer education is so important.
Have installers been able to keep up with all of the changes in products, tools and techniques?
Walker: Unless they’re willing to invest the time, absolutely not. That’s a fact; not an opinion. Let’s use radio-wave irons as an example. Seaming has been identified as the number one carpet installation problem and radio-wave irons can definitely improve seaming quality. Yet, when I travel around the country talking with installers, less than 20 percent have tried to use a radio-wave iron and the rest haven’t even heard of it.
Installers need to understand that investing time to learn how to take advantage of these new tools and products can really help their business. It’s pretty simple. An installer who invests three hours to learn how to do seams with a radio-wave iron will be able to outperform an installer with 30 years of experience who doesn’t know how to use one.
What were your roles in orchestrating this training event?
Wagner:We provided the training facility and our doors are always open to CFI. We hosted the March event at our Baltimore headquarters, but we’ve also hosted CFI training at our locations in Richmond, Va.; Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; and Harrisburg, Pa. We also provide meals, tools and other types of support for the events. It’s our pleasure to do this.
Our regional manager, Jerry Murphy, did a terrific job handling all the details for the March training program. Thanks to him, it ran very smoothly.
Walker: Our job is always the same at training events. We provide the instructors and the tools and the supplies necessary to conduct the training, although many installers bring their own tools.
Right now, we have 76 instructors, who have been certified to teach carpet, ceramic, resilient and wood flooring installation. In addition to having detailed knowledge of products and how to install them, our instructors must have the people skills to work with installers with a wide range of skill levels.
How would you define the future of the flooring installation industry and the role distributors will play in it?
Wagner:We see the distributor’s role changing over time. Rather than being just a provider of products, distributors are going to have to embrace the idea of having the most advanced products for installers to efficiently, effectively and correctly do their jobs. Because the products and technologies are changing so rapidly, distributors will also have to make sure installers know how to use those products.
We also think the most successful installers in the future will be those who exhibit the highest degree of professionalism, and that goes beyond the flooring installation itself. It’s also about the impressions installers leave with their customers. Were they friendly and polite to the customer? Were their clothes clean? What did their vehicle look like? Did they know how to exceed the expectations of the customer?
Walker: I think the future is very bright for the flooring installation industry, because floor covering is, dollar for dollar, one of the best values in the construction industry. The key is whether companies in this industry start demanding qualified installers install their products. More leaders in the flooring industry need to see installation as a skilled trade and not a temporary job. They need to realize a hard worker is not necessarily a qualified installer. If we can raise the bar of excellence for more floor covering installers, I believe nothing can stop the flooring industry as a whole.