At the time of writing, we’ve now hit the lull of late summer in the FCI offices. The major trade shows of the first half of the year have come and gone, and we’re taking a breath before gearing up for the rest of the year, when the conventions return in earnest. Rather than shuffling travel schedules and plane tickets for one convention town to the next, I’m able to pick up the phone for long, insight-filled conversations with contractors, installers and other members of the construction trade. These meetings, even over the phone, always leave me energized. So many of you know so much about the industry and are willing to share your perspective on its inner workings, its problems and also its high points.
One of the biggest problems facing the industry, according to what I’ve gathered through these impromptu interviews, is a drain of talent. Those installers with the most notches on their belts, who have been working on their hands and knees for decades, are dropping out of the industry because they simply can’t afford to compete with the lowest-price bids that are taking away their work. On the other end of the spectrum, the fresh up-and-comers are already feeling squeezed by scant earnings, brought on partly by those big boxes and retailers that want to sell installation to the customer as cheaply as possible. In turn, even these youngest members, who with nurturing and training could be our future experts and valued instructors, are leaving the industry for more profitable fields.
What’s going to happen when both the excited newbies and the seasoned old-timers drop out of the industry with no one to replace them? I don’t know, but I get the sense the industry is at a crossroads. Either the people who hire and rely on installers are going to have to start valuing the craft of installation – and the level of technique and technical skill that goes into these projects – with more than lip service, or we’re going to have a self-fulfilling prophecy of showrooms full of beautiful products that nobody knows how to install correctly.
Of course, it might not get to that point. We all hope the industry will self-correct. It is also possible this type of talk is overdramatizing the situation, and it really isn’t as bad as some are saying. What do you think? Is the industry headed for a crisis, or is fretting over the state of the industry a popular pastime and everything is pretty much the same as it always has been? Let me know.