Installers, manufacturers and distributors were on-hand for the 2017 Installation Summit and the 24th annual International Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI) convention. Both events, in Orlando, Fla., focused on installation—with discussion on how to reverse the deficit of qualified installers entering the trade, to a showcase of the latest techniques and tools aimed at the professional installer.

Installation Summit

This year’s Installation Summit brought together a panel of commercial contractors and industry experts to address the problem of finding new installers. The event was scaled back from last year, with only one manufacturer (Tarkett) participating on the panel. Additionally, rather than two days of discussion and breakout sessions, this year’s event was held as one four-hour meeting where industry leaders shared best practices on how they, individually, have hired and retained installers.

Robert Blochinger, chairman of the Floor Covering Leadership Council, opened the meeting by saying the term “installation crisis” overstates the problem as it is not an issue faced only by the flooring trade. “There is a lack of training and certification throughout the construction trades,” he noted.

John McGrath, director of INSTALL—the floor installation training arm of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America—said his organization has no trouble attracting new installers. “When installers have a pension, health benefits and a 401K, they’re not going to leave when times get slow. We take that worry off the desk of the employer.”

He also spoke of outreach programs for high school students, veterans, minorities and at-risk women to teach them about the benefits of the flooring trade. “We’re getting more women into the trade and mentoring them. The future [generation of installers] is going to look a lot more brown, and include a lot more women.”

Harold Chapman, chairman emeritus of Starnet and former CEO of Bonitz, said another untapped group of potential installers is prisoners who are serving for misdemeanor offenses. No matter where installers are recruited from, “give them every tool they need to make the job easier. Make sure to take care of your people and treat them right,” he said. “In today’s world we talk about needing to hire bodies. Wouldn’t it to be great to [instead] hire the right bodies?”

Robert Varden, vice president of the World Floor Covering Association’s CFI division, put the importance of hiring qualified installers succinctly. “When flooring is a roll in a box, it’s [worth] nothing. You need a professional installer to install it [and give it value].”

Dave Garden, a CFI instructor and owner of Installation Services LLC, said there is tremendous value in training. “Training is what inspired me to get better.” He added that when he was an at-risk teen, installation is what kept him from straying off the path. “I was fortunate. Many of these at-risk kids are lost. I am starting a school [for them]. Since nobody else is leading the charge it means I will have to.”

According to Dan Welch, president of Welch Tile & Marble Co., “Training and certification is a passion for me. As president, my job is to balance customers’ expectations with my employees’ quality of life. You have to create a culture where people want to work for you. Business is about investing, so invest in your people. Hire people who want to do this job. And if you don’t have the right people, get them out of there.”

He added, “Inspire teamwork. Promote certification and qualified labor. Promote flooring as a career. Promote tile as a specialty, not a commodity.”

Don Styka, Tarkett’s director of field services, stressed that manufacturers are a resource, so use them. “We want to be part of the solution. This is an industry problem; we are all connected. If you are trying to convince a customer why you charge more because in the installation instructions it requires a certain type of adhesive, we can help you deliver that message.”

CFI 2017

The two biggest developments at the 24th annual CFI convention were the announcement that the organization is opening a division in China, and that CFI’s five-week classes are getting larger groups of first-time members to the show.

One first-timer, Brook Williams from Cincinnati, won a free trip to TISE 2018 in Las Vegas after his name was pulled out of a hat by FCI’s editorial director, Jon Namba. Williams found out about CFI through a customer that became his boss.

“I was working for a moving company, and the [CFI installer] liked my attitude. He ended up being my boss. I apprenticed for a month, then went into the five-week course. Right now I’m an employee.”

At 26 years old, Williams said his favorite part of the job is “just being able to work with my hands and create something. At the end of the day, I respond to the art side of it. I get to be prideful of my work.”

Regarding the new division in China, Varden stated: “We’ve been doing international trips for a while. China has the bodies but doesn’t have the training program. So we’re opening a new division of CFI in China. We’re working directly with the group that writes the standards for China. We’re doing everything we can to broaden and extend the reach of CFI.”

Technical presentations at the show included LVT Installation & Repair (Armstrong, Congoleum and Tarkett); The Latest Innovation in Floor Finishes (DexArmor); a Custom Rug Workshop taught by CFI’s Jonathan Varden; Heat-Welded Seams (Armstrong and Tarkett); Squaring a Room Made Easy with CFI’s Bob Gillespie, Dave Garden and Jay Zurn; Solutions for Subfloor Challenges (Schonox HPS North America); New Innovations in Tile Installation (iQ Power Tools); AIR.O: Innovation in Soft Floor Covering (Mohawk); and Simplify Your Seaming Techniques (Traxx).

Business-building presentations included Leadership Strategies That Work with WFCA CEO Scott Humphrey; Third-Party Inspections with Blochinger; Are You Ready for an Immigration Raid or Audit? with WFCA’s general counsel, Jeff King; Is My Business Ready for New Technology? with Phil Zolan, executive director of fcB2B; How to Read Blueprints with CFI’s Tom Cartmell; and Marketing to Millennials with Tony King and Kathryn Baird of TK Fusion.

Blochinger recommended installers meet with inspectors to defend themselves, and to do some research on the inspector’s field of expertise beforehand. “We all have different opinions and different training. So research who is qualified in the area to do the inspection. Who’s good in commercial? Residential? Glue down? Stretch in? Etc.”

Cartmell urged contractors to look closely at a project before bidding on it. “Little things can cost you a lot of money. When reading blueprints, I highlight everything that pertains to me. And when I make a bid, I make sure to include a disclaimer of what the bid excludes—moisture mitigation, a bid bond, nights and weekends, floor protection, sound suppression, furniture moving, etc.”

New product highlights

Corey Dickerson talked about the Steel-Flex Strapped Knee Pads carried by Tools 4 Flooring. “These are available in regular and insert models. You can insert them in your work pants and put them through the wash. You never have to take them out again,” he said.

Mark Johnson of Traxx unveiled the Pro 2 model of the company’s KoolGlide tool. “The Pro 2 features improved circuits. This means the tool cools quicker and cycles faster.”

DexArmor from Dexerials America Corp. is a UV-curable floor finish for VCT. According to George Camacho, account manager, sales and marketing, “It’s a very durable one-coat system that also simplifies maintenance. You apply the coating, use the UV curing machine and it hardens as a solid. It’s chemical-resistant, wear-resistant and durable.”

Ray Knapp of Taylor Tools displayed the company’s Accu-Welder butane-powered welding gun. “You turn it on, heat it up, and it provides consistent heat. It’s designed for quick jobs and spot repairs. It’s completely portable and uses standard butane canisters as well as standard tips.”

As owner of Gramps LLC, he also demonstrated a gated, hinged, portable ramp that is designed to make loading and unloading of heavy equipment from a trailer easier. The ramp, which is made of aluminum, can also be converted into a workbench as needed.