Informa Exhibitions held an invitation-only Installation Summit last month at the Omni Dallas Hotel. The two-day event, with exclusive media sponsorship from Floor Covering Installer, brought together close to 80 industry professionals to tackle the ongoing installation crisis and find solutions to fix the problem.

The Summit was moderated by Scott Humphrey, president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). He stated, “A lot of people have been working on this issue but they’ve been working independently and not making a dent. This is the first time we’ve brought everybody [across all market segments] into one room. You may think [the crisis] looks bad now, but it will look even more dismal five years from now.”

He said the idea for the Summit originated with the Floor Covering Leadership Council (FCLC), whose members determined that installation was one of three core issues that needed to be addressed immediately by the industry.

Panelists at the Summit included: Mark Shannon, executive vice president of sales, Crossville; Mike Welch, owner/president, E.J. Welch; Tom Cartmell of Mr. Davids; Rob Barnes, president/CEO, Dee Brown Inc.; Keith Campbell, chairman, Mannington Mills; Fred Williamson, executive vice president, Starnet; and Tom Lape, president, residential business, Mohawk Industries.

Also offering their knowledge were Brett Miller and Jon Namba, both representing the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA); Robert Varden, head of the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI); Bart Bettiga, executive director, National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA); and Jim Hieb, CEO of the Marble Institute of America (MIA).

Day One

Shannon said one of the biggest challenges he saw in the field was a lack of qualified installers. “We’re dealing with changes in mortars and adhesives, and these are very complex changes. We have to beef up our technical teams to train and engage.”

Welch said his biggest headache as a wholesale distributor is “the cost of resolving inspector-related claims. I’m also a little frustrated at the lack of attendance for installation clinics and certifications.”

Cartmell said the overall skill level and knowledge of installers is creeping downward as experienced installers leave the field. “The guys with experience are retiring, and the young guys aren’t coming in to take their place.”

Campbell acknowledged that the problem of finding qualified installers has been brewing for 40 years. “We haven’t moved the needle since 1976. The No. 1 issue manufacturers face is installation-related claims and the subject has not gone away.”

Varden added that while the problem hasn’t gone away, it has evolved. “The issues we’re dealing with today are different than the ones from 40 years ago. We not only are seeing installers that lack the experience—there are simply not enough installers in the labor pool to fill these jobs.”

Lape cautioned that no one in the industry should be looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem. “The solution is going to vary whether it’s residential versus commercial, new construction versus remodel/replacement, etc. We do not have a single issue with installation—we have multiple issues, and everybody has a shared responsibility to address this.”

Jon Namba, representing both the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and FCI, said installers need to be shown that the industry values them. “One thing I see is a lack of value for installers from the retailer side. Who controls the pricing? It should be the installer, but the retailer controls the price. There needs to be an incentive for installers; otherwise, why get into this business?”

Campbell noted that professional installation should be a selling point in all showrooms. “We all have something to sell, and that’s professional installation. So sell it. Bring in people who will meet your standards, and pay them.”

Day Two

Following intensive breakout sessions that concluded the first day of the Summit, members reconvened the second day to hash out a plan of attack. The leaders of the Summit came out of the meeting with three items to address. First is the creation of an awareness campaign so more potential installers know that the flooring industry is a worthwhile trade. Second is ensuring that those entering the trade can see a clear pathway to building a career in the flooring industry. Finally, a small group representing a cross-section of the industry will need to be created to brainstorm how to achieve these steps.

Tim Provence, installation and technical services for Armstrong, said that installation is a rewarding career, and it needs to be marketed that way. “Installation can be challenging, but it also gives the consumer a floor that’s functional. It’s a rewarding and challenging craft.”

Namba said the training opportunities are out there; the industry just needs to be better at getting people interested. “Certification programs are already in place but they’re not reaching the masses. Manufacturers need to be a major part of this. They need to be a leader in this process.”

Miller agreed, adding, “I understand that manufacturers are hesitant to support or endorse [requiring] a certified installer, but we don’t have a crisis of floor covering ever going away—we have a crisis in who we’re sending out to jobs.”

Paul Pleshek, president of the National Institute of Certified Floorcovering Inspectors (NICFI) and an instructor for the National Academy of Floor Covering Training (NAFCT), stated, “It’s hard to get anybody to mandate anything, but if we could make a concerted effort to market the importance of certified, qualified installers, we would be closer to solving this. There needs to be more awareness. We need to create a demand.”

Varden acknowledged his frustration at the issue. “What I’m hearing these past few days is this installation crisis is not just an issue in the U.S.; it’s a world issue. And if it is a world issue, we need to lead the way with this. We need to get to retailers and make sure they are marketing [professional installation] to the end-user. I don’t understand why manufacturers will not stand by qualified installers. It needs to be driven from that level.”

Humphrey stated that even those who don’t feel the industry is facing a crisis yet will feel it soon enough. “Those not feeling the pain now will feel it later, and then the crisis will be worse. I don’t think this lack of qualified installers was inevitable. The reason we’re talking about this today is it wasn’t dealt with in 1976.”

He added, “When WFCA acquired CFI last year, we did it because we have high respect for the trade. We even built a school in Texas. You know how the saying goes, ‘Build it, and they will come’? We built it, and they didn’t come. We’re still challenged to get people to go there.”

Varden agreed. “Six to eight months ago I thought we couldn’t open schools fast enough. Suddenly, as we’re moving forward we realize seats in [our classes] aren’t being filled. So now we’ve made our classes mobile, so we can go anywhere we’re needed.”

Humphrey stated that despite all the challenges, he was optimistic that the industry will work together to solve the installation crisis. “This industry for years has operated in silos. However, today there’s communication happening between associations [and across segments] that was not there five years ago.”