Anger, frustration and hope. Those are the moods that coursed through the conversations in our first Installer Forum. We asked former and current installers to speak their mind about the issues plaguing the industry, what can be done about them and why they choseinstallationas a profession. Some have been in the industry 30 years or more. Some are just starting out. All of the people we interviewed are passionate about installation and the direction this industry is heading in.

“I’ve been installing floors since the ‘60s,” said Louis Popp, vice president of Lou’s Carpet and Vinyl Service, Kenosha, Wis. “I can remember back when we used to get a sample book and if we sold 40 yards off it we’d get that sample book for free. Now every time a manufacturer changes something, we have to pay for the display before we can even sell the job.”

He stated the economic downturn was merciless to installers. “I’ve never seen such turnover in my life. These flooring people don’t seem to understand that we are the people who helped make this country, and now they’re cutting the hell out of us.”

 Albin Pacos, near Buffalo, N.Y., also started installing in the ‘60s. “I cut my teeth on linoleum. Back then we used to get paid fairly. Then people wanted to keep bringing costs down. I was fortunate to have a career for 20 years installing.”

He said with costs continuing to go up and profits continuing to shrink, he moved into a different career. “The last 22 years I’ve taught floor covering as a vocational instructor at the New York Department of Corrections. It’s hard to attract new installers. It’s hard work. I’ve had both knees replaced. I’ve had carpel tunnel. It takes its toll, but I still think it’s a great profession. Unfortunately, the financial incentives these days just aren’t there.”

Lewis Dunn, an installer in Lubbock, Texas, said the problem with finding quality installers is the result of three issues: installers who don’t have the incentive to learn, retailers who are trying to get the price down as low as possible, and mills that don’t do anything to ensure a product is being put in correctly.

“If you’re looking for a quality job, you’re not going to find it in today’s marketplace, and the customer will always be the one who ends up losing. Most carpet installers don’t even know about power-stretching or latexing the seams. Everything is about getting it in fast, and taking as many shortcuts as possible. If they don’t take shortcuts, they’re going to lose money big-time.”

Dunn believes the only way to fix the problem is “having store owners who champion their installers. We need to show people why professional installers deserve to charge more. We need testimonies. We need to make sure we really promote these installers so customers understand.”

Carmino Petracca, Jr., president of retailer CAPjr Flooring in Lake Mary, Fla.—and speaking as someone who began in the industry as an installer—doesn’t see any quick solution to the current installation problem. “Consumers want cheap labor, period. They will spend on materials but not labor. Now with the box stores, online sales and Lumber Liquidators, you may soon see the end of the independent retailer.”

He said these big box stores will “sell to anyone who walks in the door. In turn they dictate to the installers what they will pay for installation. You also have all the independent installers out there trying to feed their families and taking work from the retailers.”

Petracca stated he pays his installers better than most stores in the area, but it still isn’t the solution. “There are stores out there that will cut me by as much as 20 percent because they pay crappy wages and will worry about it later if there is a problem. The manufacturers will not ever take responsibility for defective products—they blame it on the installation because they know the installer can’t afford to fight them.”

This climate results in “no motivation to do quality work. What you get now is good enough to get by. I even discouraged my two sons from getting into the industry, and I’m glad I did. It’s back-breaking work with little reward.”

Lance Rossetti, owner of Aloha Flooring in Boise, Idaho, said part of the reason for poor installation lies with unconcerned manufacturers. “If carpet manufacturers would void any warranties when the product isn’t properly installed with seam sealers, stretchers or some type of certified installer, we would see an increase in labor prices. Luckily for me I am an owner-operator with my own showroom, and I can help offset the labor cost with material. But I don’t see how installers can do it.”

Ken Ballin, owner/installer for Skryo Floors in Tuckerton, N.J., said he loves installation and learning about new tools, techniques, materials and “generally anything having to do with the industry.” However, he is also frustrated by the attitude he sees in the field.

 “I am all of 32 years old.  I live at the Jersey shore and since Hurricane Sandy it seems like everyone with a pickup truck thinks they’re a contractor. I have bid against old-time floor guys as well as knuckleheads who have never even seen a moisture meter, and the thing that makes me crazy is hearing ‘I’ve been doing it this way for 40 years’ or ‘I’ve never had a problem doing it this way before’ or my favorite: ‘You’re still learning.’ Shouldn’t we all still be learning?”

He added, “I crave knowledge, but as much as I would love to invest and go to a National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) school or INSTALL or anything of the sort, I just can’t afford it right now. Not only monetarily but time-wise as well. It’s very difficult to step away from my crews and my commitments.”

Mike Masterson, owner of MJM Flooring in Plantation, Fla.—and a certified installer for Amtico, Ardex, Forbo and nora products—said he wishes certification were more valued. “I own my business but have also been working for the past two years for a large flooring installation supply company. One of my first requests was to start sponsoring certification programs, but I was told people would use us for certification and still buy from our competitors.”

Masterson still finds plenty to enjoy in the installation profession as well. “I do a lot of custom LVT work on mega-yachts, mostly with Amtico. There is a classic pattern called teak and holly that is very popular. I like doing custom borders, and the last two projects I did had curved walls. I figured out a way to make it look like I bent the wood grain to follow the curves. A couple of months ago I also installed 1,300 sq. ft. of rubber tiles on a 135’ glass-bottom sightseeing boat. I had to wrap everything: floors, walls & benches.”

Mark Olsen, INSTALL flooring instructor for Carpenters’ Training Center—Southeast Wisconsin, said he wishes all new flooring installers were required to go through a four-year apprenticeship. “You can’t learn this trade in three months or one year. I’ve been in the trade for 30 years and I’m still learning.”

He noted the biggest issues facing the industry are “training, [substrate] preparation and moisture. Training is consistently evolving and at INSTALL we are consistently updating and reviewing our four-year training program. As far as prep and moisture, we need to get all installers qualified to be able to evaluate these issues. It will lead to a lot fewer failures.”

Bryan Kear, an INSTALL installer based out of Pittsburgh, said he loves the installation trade. “Installing floors has been extremely rewarding. The job always provides new challenges, and I am always learning as well as teaching others on a daily basis. Industry hours also frequently allow for ample time with family.”

He added that the industry needs to agree on standards. “It should be the goal of the installer to match the needs of each consumer to the manufacturer’s recommendations. However, without standards the installer has one less tool to ensure the best quality installation. INSTALL certified installers have the training of installing a variety of products to the manufacturers’ recommendations.”

Ben Coplan, an INSTALL installer for Minnesota Interior Systems 68 in St. Paul, said he loves that the industry is constantly evolving as it keeps the job fresh, but it can also bring confusion as well. “It seems there are new products and rules all of the time. If you don’t keep up with the glue bucket labels or the new installation instructions, it can be hard to keep up with today’s fast-paced trade.”

He understands fast-track construction is part of the job, but wishes more time could be allotted to complete the job. “During most commercial jobs, the contractor is behind, but when it comes time for flooring installation the completion date on the job does not change. As a result, the contractor expects us to complete the job faster. If the job runs into a problem there isn’t time to come up with the right solution. It’s ‘let’s do a quick fix so we can be done on time.’ I think that sacrifices a lot of quality for the customer.”

He offers this advice: “First, get yourself a set of ProKnee [kneepads]. Second, learn how to do multiple flooring surfaces. Last and most important, never stop learning.”

Doug Mannell, an instructor for Kansas City INSTALL Training Center in Greenwood, Mo., said he loves the “daily demands” of a good installation. “I not only have to be physically fit to complete the installation tasks, but there is the mental aspect of project management. The mental aspect requires me to perform layout procedures while managing materials.”

One thing he wants more installers to be aware of is potential exposure to silica dust. “It is my wish that our installers, both union and non-union, be made aware that this exposure can lead to the disease of silicosis, which is irreversible and has no cure. The use of personal protective equipment and the implementation of engineering controls can lower the risk of exposure.”

One of the most memorable projects he has been involved in overseeing was the installation of a basketball court at the Des Moines Carpenters Training Center. “The court was to be installed in an area that did not meet any of the standard dimensions for a basketball court. This required the apprentices to first scale down the dimensions of a college basketball court to fit the area. The VCT on hand were remnants of different colors, which meant the apprentices had to determine the patterns for the court. The apprentices completed the project from start to finish in two and a half days. I am very proud of the effort these apprentices put into this project.”

Offering advice to upcoming installers, Mannell stated: “Always show up ready to work at least 10 minutes before starting time. Learn as much as you possibly can about the different materials and installations. You should never be found standing around with nothing to do—either know what is going on with the other installers or ask the foreman what you can do. Finally, work hard.”

Mike Roesner of Just Floor Covering, based in Rohnert Park, Calif., has been in the trade for 37 years. “I’ve installed everything from the smallest projects to a 110-room hotel. I’ve seen many fellow installers quit because they say it’s not like it used to be. I say move on.”

He said he loves the variety of materials and installation techniques, but wishes the industry held “more training seminars closer to where installers and salespeople live. I say salespeople as well because the two groups do not communicate together too well.”

His advice is “to have a positive, professional attitude. Show respect to your customers and any other trade working with you. If you make a mistake, don’t blame someone else. Deal with it.”

Duey Johnson, owner of the Rug Rat in Bismarck, N.D., has been an installer for more than 40 years including certifications with the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI). He said the industry needs to become fairer in how it compensates professional installers.

“It is so sad that most people charge a standard rate for installation. It’s not fair when someone who is extremely good at what he or she does has to justify their price when so many installers only care about ‘fuzzy side up.’ When you cannot make money at what you are doing you will find something else that will.”

He also believes in the importance of continuing education and training. “It’s a must because you cannot install the same way now as you did five years ago. Technology is forcing us to change our practices. Retailers, flooring mills, the trade people as well as installers have to get on the same page.”

Johnson noted that finding qualified people is difficult. “I have a son who is one of the best installers in the nation. He will be taking over the business in the near future, and what scares me is he will be limited for growth and expansion because of the lack of a strong supporting cast.

He added that professional installers need to be more confident. “When I go out and train installers I cannot impress enough that if they are to succeed the number one thing they have to do is believe in themselves. Fear will limit them. They have to be able to ask for more money if they are deserving.”

Scott Terryberry, a CFI-certified installer and owner of Rocky Mountain Floor Design in Kremmling, Colo., said he loves how the profession allows him to install “everything from carpet to all types of hard surface products, doing work for the common family to the very wealthy. It is a joy to work with all the customers and get to know them.”

He wishes more installers took pride in their work. “I am tired of going to a customer’s home and seeing poor installations, and the customer asking what went wrong. My best advice to young installers is to keep learning. You can never have enough knowledge. Go to every type of flooring seminar or convention you can and talk with as many people as possible. Get a network of knowledge so you have someone you can call for help or advice.”

He stated to always promote yourself and your skills. “Just the other day, I had a longtime customer recommend me to one of his friends. This friend could not stop saying how much praise I was given by my customer. If you go in and do a great job, you will have a base of customers forever.”

David Garden, CFI-certified installer and operations manager for Installation Services in the Greater Detroit area, said installation is unique in that it gives installers a chance to put their personal stamp on someone’s home. “Whether it is carpet, laminate, hardwood, ceramic or any combination of the above, flooring installers are the last step in transforming a house to a home. What I like the most is the look on my customers’ faces when they see their staircase when I’m done. They look in vain for the seam they expected to see.”

He believes one of the biggest thing installers can do to help themselves is change how they view themselves. “When I look at the people who work our trade, I see people who work their tails off but do not understand they are a business. Installers simply do not understand they are constantly marketing themselves. How you present yourself to others matters. Heck, it even matters how you drive your truck.”

He also thinks the industry needs to do more to inspire younger talent. “How do we do this? By getting into trade programs at the high school level. We have a generation of kids who, if exposed to our trade, could do something with it. I believe the future talent is there; we have good people to instruct them.”

Garden recalls with passion the project that made him realize installation was not just a job but a career. “The first Axminster I worked with is one I will never forget. I was a 22 year-old installer who was still trying to find my way. The shop I worked for got a piece in that nobody would touch. I had no clue what I was doing but I took it on anyway—30 square yards; took me all day. My knuckles were sore and my fingertips were completely raw. However, when the project was complete it changed my entire outlook of my own ability. It was the first time I saw myself as a skilled tradesman.”

Kjell Nymark, an NWFA regional instructor and owner of Precision Hardwood Floor Services—an inspection and consulting firm in Coquitlam, British Columbia—said education is essential for an installer to evolve. “The industry changes very rapidly with new products and new ways to install them. It’s important installers keep up with the latest products and techniques so they don’t get left behind.”

He noted the industry needs to focus less on color and cost and more on quality materials and quality installers. “When the focus is on color and cost, everyone loses. The quality is not there for the end-user and the installers start competing over who can install the products the cheapest.”

Nymark stated the best way to approach this profession is with the mindset of always improving. “The moment a person believes there’s nothing left for them to learn, what has happened is they have chosen not to learn. No one knows it all, and it’s important to realize that. Learning new things keeps the work fun and interesting.”

Another NWFA regional installer—Michael Dittmer, owner of Michael Dittmer Wood Floors in Putnam, Ill.—said his favorite thing about the industry is “the variety of projects and that every job has its challenges to solve.”

One area he says is confusing to installers is keeping up with the latest governmental regulations. “From lead laws to VOC regulations to workers compensation, we almost need a bi-yearly review of all the changes that are happening.”

His words of advice: “Invest in yourself. Take every class you can to increase your skills. This increases your value, which also makes you more in demand.”