We sat down with FCI editorial director and industry veteran Jon Namba to ask him about the installation crisis and steps to solve it, and ongoing training from organizations including the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI).
Q: So I’ve heard that NWFA had a very successful event in Mexico City.
A: Yes. Lenny Hall and I went down to Mexico for a three-day intermediate hardwood installation seminar. We had close to 200 attendees at this event, which was hosted by Bostik and brought in both installers and retailers. It was the most enthusiastic group I have worked with for as long as I can remember. Every installer took it to the next level. Whatever we did, they wanted more.
When it came time to install the wood flooring, they didn’t want us to do a basic installation. Almost everyone created some kind of pattern, whether a border or inset. It was an all-around great event; these people were thirsty for knowledge.
Q: So these were installers who live and work in Mexico?
A: Yes. They came from all over the country. They are hard workers, they have the desire and they want to learn. They just never had the opportunities given to them to learn some of the proper methods. They go with what they know, because they don’t know anything else. So for us to go down there and show them the proper techniques—they loved it.
Q: Switching gears, what did you think about the Installation Summit event held in Dallas right before the CFI convention? Did you find any good takeaways from the discussion?
A: One thing the Summit reminded people was that, depending on the market segment and the region, not everyone thinks we’re in a crisis yet. However, it’s still a major concern for the industry, and if it doesn’t get addressed it will continue to get worse. Everyone can see that the pool of qualified installers currently available is small, and the younger generation coming up is not entering the trade and filling those gaps.
Q: Do you think people from minority populations might help fill those gaps? You mentioned how the students in that training class in Mexico were extremely passionate and hard-working, and one of the conversations that came out of this Summit was that the industry needs to reach out to minority communities more.
A: Reaching out to minorities—whether Hispanic, Asian or wherever they might be from—can help fill the gap, but we have to educate them with the proper business and technical knowledge. Another comment made during the Summit was that maybe we’d be better off as an industry having installers as employees. Depending on the installer, I tend to agree with that. A large segment of installers are not good businesspeople. They know how to work with their hands but don’t know how to run a business. I think that’s part of why they get taken advantage of and why prices are set so low. They don’t know where they need to be with the numbers.
“There has to be an incentive...We need to create a future for these installers, whether they go on to become a subcontractor or an employee—they need to have a career path.”
However, if we’re going to have more installers as employees, they need to have a decent living wage first. They need to have benefits. There has to be an incentive. Why would anyone want to work 60 to 80 hours a week and not have much to show for it? It’s been that way for a long time, and look where it’s gotten us—it’s gotten us nowhere. In fact, we’re going backwards. Not only are we not drawing from the pool of the younger generation; we have other industries vying for that same pool. Are we, as an industry, where we need to be in order to entice someone to come into our trade? Frankly, no, we’re not. We need to create a future for these installers, whether they go on to become a subcontractor or an employee—they need to have a career path.
Q: Do you think the industry needs to be better at recruiting installers?
A: Yes, this industry definitely needs to be more proactive. We’ve never really recruited installers, because there was always a pool of installers out there. What we’re seeing now is the degradation of that pool. There are still plenty of installers out there, but they’re not qualified.
We have to address technical skills because that’s where we’re lacking. If we could get those installers that aren’t qualified up to speed, our industry as a whole would be in a much better situation.
Q: Let’s talk now about the 23rd annual CFI convention. [Note: See full write-up of this event in the next issue.] What are your impressions so far?
A: It’s great to still see first-timers coming here. I got to meet a 28-year-old installer who has the desire to further his education and wants to become better. I told him, “You are the future. Looking at you and your desire to prove yourself gives me hope that the next generation is going to do a good job in this industry.” We definitely need more of that attitude.
This convention should be attended by a lot more installers. The ones who are here are all quality installers. They want to learn; they want to network. They understand the importance of all that. It’s also great to see the manufacturers supporting them. I always appreciate seeing what manufacturers are doing for installers.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on how CFI is doing since becoming part of the World Floor Covering Association last year?
A: It’s a new direction. Now CFI has a partner with a group consisting largely of retailers. That partnership gives more legitimacy to both the retailer and the installer segment. It says that both parties are willing to work together; we know we have our differences, but let’s try to make a change for the better. I hope both CFI and WFCA will be able to build on this partnership and create some momentum. I think it’s a positive thing.