It’s fall, and that means a full schedule of association conferences. I had the opportunity to attend the FCICA Mid-Year conference in Las Vegas, October 3-6, and the Total Solutions Plus conference, October 22-25, in Indian Wells, Calif.

Fall is typically a busy time of year for contractors so to see the support the associations have from their members attending these events is great. If you weren’t there, here is some of what you missed.

FCICA Mid-Year 

The FCICA group consists of mostly commercial flooring contractors with a few of the members doing residential work as well. Kim Oderkirk, the executive vice president, along with the staff at FCICA did a great job of providing a full program of education for attendees.

One of the sessions, titled “Winning Strategies for a Successful Relationship with General Contractors,” featured a panel of two general contracting firm representatives (one from the west side of the country and one from the east), as well as several flooring contractors. The discussion centered on how both flooring contractors and general contractors can work together to minimize the headaches we constantly encounter on job sites.

Floor preparation and change orders were a big topic, as well as having a job site that is ready for flooring without having all the other trades on top each other. Also discussed was how general contractors view a bid when it is submitted. The comment from both general contractor representatives was that a detailed and descriptive bid always has a better chance of being considered. And while price is always a major consideration, it is not always the determining factor with a bid.

The flooring contractors on the panel all agreed that building a relationship with the general contractor goes a long way to having a job run smoother and opening the door for future work. One thing all agreed on was the continued need for communication and an understanding of one another’s industries to build that successful relationship.

Manufacturer associates on-hand participated in a session titled “What’s New with You!” It reminded me of the hustle and bustle of two-minute drills in football. Each representative was given three minutes to introduce their new products or information. They were all under pressure to get their information across in the time allotted. They all did a great job, and afterwards spent time with attendees to answer questions about their products at a much less hurried pace.

“Working Together Across Generations” was focused on how to transfer knowledge to a younger generation, communicating across generations, as well as mapping out career paths. One of the panelists—Amy Johnston, project estimator and coordinator for Flooring Services—commented that communication between the generations requires constant attention. The session also had an interactive app that allowed the attendees to answer questions from the moderator in real time over their smartphones. Answers were displayed on the big screen with percentage graphs showing the attendees’ responses.

Total Solutions Plus

Total Solutions Plus, promoted as “Partners in Progress,” is a partnership between the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA).

The conference held at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells resort featured four days of meetings, education, networking and recreation in the form of a golf course and the mostly sunny weather.

The opening speaker, Joe Calloway, and his presentation, “Minds Wide Open,” had a couple of takeaways for me. One was a comment he made of “Sustaining success versus achieving success.” The follow-up comment was “Great companies always get better.” As a small business owner myself, every day is a challenge and an opportunity to improve by constantly making changes.

The sessions were well-attended; in fact the session “Understanding ANSI A137.1 and How to Apply This to Your Installation Projects” was standing room only. The speakers, Noah Chitty and Mark Heinlein, covered the ceramic tile manufacturing specifications of A137.1, including discussion on industry-recommended substrate flatness, lippage, warpage in tile, patterns, installer skill and lighting.

Installers are dealing with more installation concerns than ever before. Just look at the TCNA Handbook over the years; what used to be the size of a pamphlet is now a novel. Noah and Mark covered the specifications for the manufacturing segment and how the tolerances affect the installer’s ability to set tile. Floor flatness, lippage, and warpage are all factors when working with large plank tiles and large and heavy tiles (LHT).

One of the concerns the industry is facing is determining grout joint widths. Installers can get in trouble if they don’t understand the language in ANSI A108.02, and Noah and Mark got this to a level of understanding for the attendees. Installer skills are a major factor for a successful installation—or a failure.

Discussion also included the proper setting materials for installation, the proper mixing of the products and their application techniques.

It’s been a busy fall for me as FCI editorial director, a small business owner, and a board member of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Would I trade any of it? Absolutely not. Networking with folks from all aspects of the flooring and tile industry has given me so much knowledge that has helped us in our business, as well as created lifelong friendships.

I would never have had all of these opportunities had I not gotten involved with associations for the installer, retailer, distributor and manufacturer. If you’re not involved with any associations, my advice to you is: Get involved. It’s worth it!