We recently sat down with Amy Johnston, a project estimator and coordinator for Flooring Services Inc., in Livonia, Mich. We asked her about her start in the industry, her role in overseeing FCICA’s Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program, and where she sees the industry headed.
Q: How did you get started in the flooring industry?
A: I had some relatives who worked for United Carpet in Sterling Heights, Mich. I worked there in my senior year of high school and every summer while I was attending the University of Michigan, where I reported directly to Bruce Reeve. After I got my degree and was waiting to be entered into this big database, I called up Bruce and asked him if he could use me while I was waiting to get my ‘real job.’ My first full day with him was May 1, 1996, and I’ve been working for Bruce 22 years now. When United Carpet got bought by DuPont and then DuPont sold off, we became Flooring Services.
Q: Your title is project estimator and project coordinator, and you also handle project management responsibilities. What other positions have you held with Flooring Services?
A: I started out as an assistant in the warehouse. Then, when we were part of DuPont corporate, I supported their accounting system and the computer side. I’m one of those people who really like steps and processes. I love managing inventory, because I get to think very methodically.
When DuPont sold us off, I went back to grad school to get my degree in accounting. I did get my accounting masters, but I don’t use it. Bruce started pulling me into project estimation and coordination, and I really enjoyed it.
I never intended flooring to be a career. But it is a career, and it would be very hard for me to switch to a different discipline. I’m grateful for Bruce’s guidance over the years. He has not only been my boss but my mentor as well.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the flooring industry?
A: I love seeing all the new technology and equipment to help installers, and how quickly products and designs can change. If you had told me even seven years ago that we would all be installing carpet tile and LVT/LVP, I would tell you there’s no way. All we were doing then was broadloom and VCT. But it’s been so long since I’ve written up a job that includes a stretch-in. We are always learning new skills to stay on top of the changing market.
At Flooring Services, we do whatever we can to get our guys the best product or tool we can to make their jobs easier so they can lay floors longer. We have three ride-on machines and are contemplating adding more. We have GPS locators on them. You can’t be on the jobsite every day and the guys don’t necessarily remember to call you and tell you about the ride-on machine. We can use the GPS to track hours on the machine and can shoot the guys a text if the GPS isn’t moving.
Q: You are on FCICA’s board and oversee the Certified Installation Manager (CIM) program as chairwoman of the CIM steering committee. Can you tell me why you found both FCICA and CIM valuable enough to want to be part of the leadership?
A: If I’m not learning something, I’m not happy—and in this industry you’re constantly learning. A great part of FCICA is that when you talk to the manufacturers and associate members, they take a step back and have very open conversations with you. Yes, they’re still trying to sell their product, but they are also going to be honest about the limitations. That is one of the huge benefits of FCICA—the network you can develop. It’s a wonderful knowledge base.
As for how I got involved in the CIM program, Bruce ran the CIM taskforce which developed the program. In the beginning, I thought I was going to be doing it because he was involved, but it ended up being much more for me. I was the very first CIM and was also the first CIM to renew. I also ended up presenting one of the modules.
I was on the taskforce and when the taskforce was dissolved, I was asked to run the steering committee. Now, I’m a big supporter of INSTALL because whether the guys are from Detroit, New York or Chicago, in theory they’re all going to be taught the same thing. What I like about the CIM program is at the contractor level, it teaches everyone the same suggested best practices.
It’s a great tool for people with lots of experience, and it’s a great tool for people with no experience in the flooring industry. A lot of people are using the CIM program now to train project managers coming right out of college. If you don’t understand the business of being a contractor, whether you’re part of a local company or one with national accounts and a huge network of service providers, you’re going to have issues.
For me personally, the CIM program helps me understand what my guys are learning. I don’t need to be out there mixing floor prep to understand what they’re doing and what they need to complete the job. That makes me a better project manager, and it makes me think of additional training I might want to do on my own to make myself even more knowledgeable.
Q: How do you see the state of the industry right now?
A: We have a professional skills shortage, but I don’t have an answer on how to fix that. I don’t know how to motivate people to want to work for a living. Our local union has gone through quite the process to try and get more people to join the trades. I would love to tell you it’s just the resilient floor layers [feeling the impact] but that’s not the fact. It’s all of the trades.
Tom Lutz [with the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and director of INSTALL Michigan) is working very closely with many people to bring in more vocational programs. As for us, we hold a job fair every year. Hundreds of high school students get bussed there, plus people who are fresh out of college or just need a job. This year we hired two apprentices and both are women. One of them grew up helping her dad, a tile setter. Our other apprentice worked in the fabrication shop for the ironworkers. She wanted something new and more physical than being in a shop.
The flooring industry at the contractor level is still male-dominated. That’s not necessarily the case in manufacturing or sales, but at the contractor level and especially project management I would say it’s true. I went down to a training last February and I was one of two women there. When I was over at a training facility in Vegas, I was the only woman out of 350 people there. So I’m excited that we have two women apprentices now.