Contributing to the lively show floor at The International Surface Event (TISE) held in Las Vegas were the sounds of installers hard at work. They were attending demonstrations at the Installation Showcase, learning about new products at theFloor Covering Installer (FCI)-sponsored Tool Alley and participating in training and certifications from groups including the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) Program, International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI), the International Standards and Training Alliance (INSTALL), International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI), Natural Fiber Installer Certification (NFIC) and more.

For installers from around the world, TISE is an annual opportunity to connect with industry peers and experts through education and training sessions, see what’s new on the market and in many cases, gain installation certification that will further qualify them in the ever-evolving floor covering industry.

“I have been doing this since I was 15 years old, and I truly love this job, this career and this trade,” said Nate Hall, a self-employed installer from Wisconsin and a Natural Fiber Installer Certification (NFIC) instructor. “This industry has bought me a house, raised my children and put my daughter through college, so I come here to give back and show my appreciation, and to see what’s going on in the industry.”

For installer Phil Green, creator of tools including Edge Strip Kits and the Back Butter Buddy, TISE is an opportunity to promote his products and broaden his network. “[TISE] is a great opportunity for anyone that’s in our flooring industry.”

Green, who attended TISE with his son Brett, had the opportunity to showcase his products in the Installation Showcase. Facilitated by Jon Namba, FCI’seditorial director, the Installation Showcase provided a space to address common flooring installation issues and new techniques and processes, as well as a place for product and installation demonstrations.

Father and son duos were common on the show floor, as many of the installers have passed the trade down from generation to generation. “I’m so blessed to have my son, to teach the trade to him and pass it on,” Green added.

For John and Michael Porter of Classic Stone & Tile in Phippsburg, Colo., their attendance at TISE was about more to them than just earning installation certifications; it represented the father and son’s official return to the industry after a forced hiatus due to the plummeting economy.

“I left the industry for six years when the economy crashed,” said Michael. “I went underground in North Dakota and worked in a coal mine. Now that things are picking back up, I can finally get back into laying tile. It feels very good to be back.”

State of the Industry

While some installers like the Porters were forced to step away from the industry until the economy showed improvement, others stayed the course and went through the trenches—even while times were bleak. “The guys that sustained and went through the low spots are very busy now because they had the staying power,” said Green.

Staying power is what’s kept installer Darin Compton of Deanza Tile Co. in Fresno, Calif., in the industry for 27 years. Compton, who came to TISE to earn ACT certification, believes certification opportunities at TISE are vital to keeping him in business and taking his work to a higher level.

“A lot of architects are looking for installers who are certified to do a higher level of installation. Only companies with guys that are certified will be able to bid on their work, so this helps us beat out the competition,” he said.

Slowly but surely, Compton sees the installation industry going back to what he experienced prior to the fall of the economy. “As the economy improves, people can afford to do the things they like to make their place stand out so it’s getting back to that, slowly.”

Though the economy has seen improvement over the past few years, installers are still hitting roadblocks as consumers continue to readjust. “The biggest challenge is educating people on why we charge what we charge,” said Michael Porter. “There’s a reason why we aren’t the cheapest guys out there.”

Classic Stone & Tile addressed this problem by creating an educational company website for customers. “Our website teaches people so they can understand why one guy might be half the price—he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” added Porter.

Education is Key                                                               

Across the board at the show, installers said education is the solution to today’s flooring installation industry problems. “I’m here to do training and to promote professional installations. I’m tired of all these hacks—they’re bad for our industry,” said Efren Llamas Jr., CFI senior certifier.

Llamas, who recognizes that installers often pass tricks of the trade down to family members and industry peers, stressed the importance of professional training and education, in addition to apprenticeships. “Just because I’m an installer and my son is learning from me, that doesn’t mean he’s now a professionally trained installer—he’s just learning whatever I’m showing him.”

As installers retire and a new wave of installers come on the scene, properly educating them on all aspects of the industry is imperative. “The first thing installers need to know is the proper way to deal with the materials that are out there. A lot has changed in the industry and they need to be aware of new technologies,” said Daniel Bennett, inventor of the Seamer Down Now tool.

Bennett credits his growth in the industry and as a professional installer to the continuing education he’s received from NFIC. “That’s why I got involved with NFIC—education. I took the classes and it was a little bit of an investment, but it was well worth it because I learned stuff that I didn’t learn from the local guys.”

According to Llamas, education for installers is critical for today and tomorrow. Aside from education and training on industry-related topics, installers need to be educated about 401K plans and other day-to-day business topics to ensure they are set for retirement long after their careers.