I had the opportunity to attend the second Installation Summit in Orlando, Fla., August 16, at the Rosen Shingle Creek. This event was again sponsored by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), in the same hotel where they also hosted the annual International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) convention.

Last year’s Summit featured more than 50 individuals from all parts of the flooring/tile industry—that group discussed the need for qualified installers and getting the younger generation into the trades. What the group came away with was the forming of a committee to look at possible solutions. However, instead of any committee updates, at this year’s Summit a panel of successful business owners explained to attendees how they hire and retain installers and get the younger generation interested.

The majority of panelists ran large workrooms, with some having both subcontractors and employees. (None of the panelists really touched on the residential side of the industry.) What were some of the steps these panelists take to hire and retain installers? Dan Welch, president of Welch Tile & Marble in Michigan, said they place value in their people. Investing in people, and creating a culture where young people feel inspired to work and are a valuable part of the team, is what attracts a workforce for his company.

Dave Garden, the owner of Installation Services LLC, another panelist, is looking at setting up a program in his area for at-risk kids to give them a future in the flooring industry. Did the speakers address the shortage of qualified installers and young folks on a national level? No, but I guess one way to look at it is if you’re looking for qualified installers and young folks, you need to start thinking outside the box and figuring out your own way to hire, retain and train to keep your business successful.

Associations are doing what they can to recruit and train for the industry they represent, but they all have limited budgets. As an industry, we all need to look at what we have to offer anyone new coming into the trade. Do we offer a future like the plumbing, electrical or carpentry trades? Benefits such as medical and retirement?

Not often. Instead, we tell the younger generation they will work hard, not be given any medical or retirement benefits, and only be taught on a need-to-know basis so they won’t become our competition after a few months of working for us. Sure, it’s nice to just hire subcontractors and tell them what you will pay them and pocket the money you saved by not having an employee, but what has this attitude done to the industry? Honestly, it’s created a shortage of installers, because many outside of the industry don’t see a future here.

As an industry, we all need to look at what we have to offer anyone new coming into the trade.

So, can anything be done on a national level to fix this? Sure, if the entire industry can show there is a future in the flooring trades—and that means well beyond just the few standout workrooms and retailers who already understand the need to take care of and value their people. For those of you struggling to hire and retain installers, maybe you need to look within to see what changes you need to make, rather than expecting the industry to find the answers for you.

Are you the type of business owner who is always trying to find an installer at the cheapest price so you can put more profit in your pocket? Do the majority of your subcontractors drive reliable vehicles that you would want representing your company, or do they drip oil, look beat up and constantly break down when you need them on your job?

Maybe some of these installers struggle running a business but have great hand skills. How about offering those individuals employment with benefits and a vehicle that that has your company name on it? This solution isn’t for everyone. Will it add costs to your bottom line? You bet. But if you don’t see things getting any better, it’s time to change. Down the road, it may make you more money to invest in that person for the long-term.

I’ve never understood how a retailer who hires subcontractors can dictate pricing but doesn’t know the supplies cost for that subcontractor. Does this contractor only install with premium materials? Do they have a shop with overhead? Do they run a business honestly by paying taxes, licenses and paying their people what they are worth? If so, they can’t compete with those that work out of just a truck and purchase the most inexpensive supplies with very little overhead.

If the contractor knows their costs and runs a good business, you usually don’t see them working for too many retailers—they know what they have to charge to keep their business running, and most retailers will refuse to meet that price. Retailers that do understand the value of a professional installation will figure it may cost more up front, but they can usually count on return business from the consumer who had their floor installed by a qualified professional.

Associations are doing their part, and now it’s time for the industry to do what’s right both for the current generation of installers and anyone that may have a future in the flooring trades. Are you a member of one of the flooring associations? If not, are you part of the industry or part of the problem? Do we all just keep going down this same road hitting the same potholes? Or are we going to change lanes and go down a different path that will benefit our industry and provide a healthy future for flooring?

A note on the CFI convention

Attending the CFI convention this year, I was impressed with the amount of first-time and young attendees. It was great to see their enthusiasm and attentiveness at the seminars. Some installers there had just gone through a CFI five-week carpet training course then attended convention. All the first-time attendees walked away with tools and sundries to help them on their road to success in the carpet trade.

The associate members who exhibited and shared their knowledge about their products also help create a great show, and the support they contribute for the giveaway events is always much appreciated by the installers. With CFI being a smaller convention, installers and representatives can take more time one on one to discuss products.

Conventions are a time where one can learn new things. It’s where old friendships are maintained—and new friendships start. If you haven’t been to one of the many conventions the flooring trade has to offer, you’re missing out on a ton of opportunities to better yourself and your business.