From 25 Years Ago to Now: Lessons Learned in the Installation Trade
For our 25th anniversary, we wanted to take the focus off of ourselves and put it squarely on all of you. After all, if it wasn’t for the industry professionals who find this magazine a valuable and important part of understanding the industry, we wouldn’t even be here. We put out a call through several of the major trade groups to find out what installers, contractors and other professionals have learned in the past 25 years of installing flooring or just being part of the trade. Here are their responses:
Steve Sullivan, labor superintendent, DSB + Commercial Floor Finishes:
“Twenty-five years ago, it was a whole different industry. You could drink beer at the shop at the end of your day. Back then on commercial jobs, we mostly installed broadloom carpet. It was a whole different installer experience because of the leverage this gave the installer. There was no doing a corner of the room at a time. Hell no! The way out of that situation was saying ‘the carpet runs this way’ and I’d roll out the whole thing, thus clearing out the entire area. This was just a part of getting the floorcovering installed and it was a respected known factor.
“Even if on the rare chance you did get a carpet tile job, the contractor didn’t know any better, so you still got the entire area. That’s where the carpet tile installation rates flourished beyond belief, and the floorcovering estimators made a killing.
“Now let’s flash forward to today’s modern era of commercial floorcovering installation. First of all, broadloom is rarely installed anymore, and ALL of the contractors know ‘you install one tile at a time.’ Also, contractors have gotten used to the speed in which carpet tiles can be installed and they don’t have to give you the whole area, so you are literally crammed in there with no time to spare. Every other trade is running behind, so you are all working on top of each other.
“Oh, I almost forgot, the PM is probably still trying to find out what direction/pattern the carpet tile needs to be installed in, to add to the first-day pressure of being on the job. The contractor knows you only install one tile at a time, so ‘starting in that corner over there’ shouldn’t be a problem. Then, as soon as you get something installed, they move all their stuff on top of the newly installed carpet. ‘Because if we damage it, it’s no big deal—you could just change a tile, right?’
“Also, as much as I hate to admit it, the general contractors are learning some tactics of their own. For instance, you might be on the job for one day and they will go to the least experienced installer on the job and ask if the work is going to be finished in two days. Bingo! He gets the answer he was looking for. ‘I don’t think so,’ you respond, thus initiating a massive email chain to the top person of their company all the way down to the assistant laborer. And here it comes: ‘YOU NEED MORE MEN. I HEARD IT FROM YOUR CREW.’ Unfortunately for them (the general), it’s becoming like the boy who cried wolf. It’s almost laughable at this point in time because every one of them does the same thing.”
Don Styka, Tarkett director of field services:
“Over 20 years ago, while I was working in floor covering distribution, I received a phone call early in the morning (around 7 a.m.) from a flooring contractor who was a very good customer of mine. They informed me that their installers had been working in a hospital overnight and finished up around 5:30 that morning. Shortly after they left, the flooring contractor was contacted by the hospital stating that there was a problem with the transition strip used in the elevator lobby area.
“It was reported that a nurse was pushing an incubator down a corridor over the new flooring, and when the incubator made contact with the newly installed transition strip, it was like hitting a speed bump and the incubator flipped over. Needless to say, I was informed that the new transition strip must be defective for something like this to happen.
“I was asked to attend a meeting at the hospital in the same location where the accident occurred. It was a well-attended meeting; representing the hospital were the facilities director, designer, head nurse, environmental services, maintenance, and a few others whose titles escape me. The flooring contractor was represented by the owner, salesperson, installation manager, and installers along with myself.
“The installers had used a t-molding set in a metal track to transition carpet tiles to resilient flooring. It was obvious to everyone present at the meeting that the transition strip used was not appropriate for the thickness of the flooring materials that were installed. The leg of the t-molding was 1/2-in. high and the carpet was only 1/4-in. thick.
“When the facilities director asked why this particular t-molding was used, the designer and flooring contractor could not provide an answer. They turned to the installers and asked them why they had decided to use this particular profile. Their response was, “it’s all we had on the truck.” Given this was night work, they were on a tight schedule and the warehouse was closed, they felt they had no alternative but to use what was on their truck.
“Poor planning on the part of both the designer and flooring contractor led to this accident, which could have been avoided with better coordination and communication. Fortunately for everyone involved, the incubator was empty because the nurse was taking it to the maintenance shop for repair. As a parent of four daughters, I can’t imagine what would have happened if there was an infant in the incubator at the time it hit the transition strip and flipped over.
“This incident confirms that what appears to be one of the smallest and often most overlooked aspects of any installation project, selecting the finishing accessories, can help prevent potentially life-threatening accidents.”
Jeff Johnson, MAPEI floor covering installation systems product manager:
“It might be almost 25 years ago when I happened to be on a commercial broadloom carpet installation project in Texas somewhere. I was working for an adhesive manufacturing company and was a fairly new marketing manager for the product line. The purpose of my being on this jobsite was to see firsthand the challenges facing a flooring contractor and how our adhesives helped or hindered them. That is where I met Cliff Wiggins.
“Cliff was a seasoned flooring contractor wearing a well-worn Harley Davidson t-shirt and tattered jeans as he pulled my multipurpose carpet adhesive across the substrate. Pulling my marketing hat on firmly, I asked Cliff what he thought of my adhesive, to which he replied, ‘It sucks!’ Well, needless to say, I was taken aback; so, I pushed on further to find out why he thought my adhesive ‘sucked.’
“He said, ‘It just sucks. But if you give me a hat and a t-shirt it would be the best damn glue I ever used!’ Cliff got his hat and t-shirt that instant. The lesson I learned that day has impacted me for the rest of my career—this business is more than just a bucket of glue; it’s about the relationships you maintain with the people who use your products.
“It may not always be a hat or a t-shirt, but sometimes just listening to or providing some insights will make you and your products highly valued in the eyes of the contractor. Cliff, if you’re out there, I want to thank you for educating me on this valuable lesson and should you ever need a hat or a t-shirt again, don’t hesitate to look me up!”
Dave Stafford, managing member of DSA (Dave Stafford Associates):
“Over the last 25-plus years, insofar as installation-related things and floor covering, the most outstanding advance began in the early to mid ‘90s—and that was the vertical lifting of various types of modular and office furniture in the occupied office setting. The ‘godfather’ of the vertical lifting technology was Clete Stratman of Certified Sales, but this whole exciting technology was mostly introduced by Brad Barrett and associates at Renovisions.
“This was an exciting system because it solved a big replacement carpet issue, i.e., ‘What in the hell can I do with several acres of existing modular/systems furniture sitting on old, dirty, frayed broadloom carpet? Yes, I have the budget for replacing the carpet, but NOT for moving and replacing furniture, especially when I consider the down-time and loss of productivity while replacement is taking place.’ One of my clients said, ‘Hey, Dave, figure out that furniture issue and I’ll buy from you.’ We did, and they did, to the tune of several million in sales from various clients.
“The instructions state, ‘Slightly lift [jack up] existing modular furniture just enough to pull out the old carpet, sweep out or vacuum the debris, then slide carpet tile in place.’ There is great potential for damage if the wrong equipment is used. In one memorable instance, untrained installers did an estimated $7,000 in damage to existing modular systems during a $5,000 job!”
Some closing thoughts from Laticrete:
“The boom in construction worldwide has been a driving factor in the technological development of tile and flooring installation materials, with sustainability at the core. In the last 25 years, we’ve seen dramatic advancements in flooring installation applications and methods and the products used in our industry,” said Arthur Mintie, Laticrete senior director, technical services.
“The last 25 years have led to many firsts, with products that can be installed faster and more efficiently while providing more attractive, longer-lasting installations that contribute to healthy living—a mission we firmly stand behind,” noted Laticrete Senior Product Manager Jonathan Scott.
Spencer Maheu, Laticrete director of product management, added, “4237 Latex Additive is one of the products that put Laticrete on the map more than 60 years ago, longer than some companies have existed. While we still have many of our core products and use similar installation methods, the knowledge our industry has gained is tremendous, and it has led to significant technological advancements. Thanks to these last few decades of innovation, we can now begin to retire products such as 4237 Latex Additive to focus on the future of building materials and continue to pave the way for what’s next.”