Rob Benson, owner of a small flooring and furniture retail shop in West Virginia, recently wrote a letter to us about how the installation crisis is affecting his business. It’s a sobering letter, but also an important one that brings to light the business cost of this shortage of qualified installers.
“We have been in business for some 33 years and over that time have had around 15 crews we have used. Now we are down to one licensed installer. In the past we had several installers retiring from the race of Georgia and Florida and [moving] to our area, but that line has dried up.
“A month or so ago, a man who had left our area years ago to install with his brother in the Deep South stopped by the store and we chatted a bit. I asked him if he was still in the profession and he told me he had gotten out of the business years ago. When I questioned why, he told me he couldn’t make a living competing with [undocumented] immigrants, who weren’t licensed or insured, and were doing the job for half of what was needed to survive. He told me of one instance in a development where he and his helper were working. A van pulled up and eight [undocumented] Mexican immigrants jumped out and went into a nearby house. Five hours later, they moved to the next house. By 7 p.m. they were working on their third home. And he said the thing was they did pretty good work. The next day, he talked to what he referred to as their handler, and found out the eight men lived in an old house sharing costs and would send most of their weekly pay home. It was apparent to this man and his helper that their days were numbered as installers, so they moved on to another field. As I write this letter, we have already planned our exit strategy from the business over the next 20-plus months, with the main reason being not just a lack of, but no qualified installers available.”
It’s one thing to hear trade organizations talk about the installation shortage as a problem that is slowly on its way to being solved, but when you hear the day-to-day struggles of a business owner who has kept his doors open for 33 years but now plans to close up shop, it makes you realize the enormity of the issue. Any time you can put a human face or a human story to a concept, it makes that concept much more resonant. What do you think about the business situation for installers right now? Do you ever see it improving? Let me know.