KANSAS CITY, MO.—When it comes to being a professional in one’s craft, having technical skills is just one part of the equation. Simply put, being the most skilled does not automatically make you a professional, at least when it comes to most vocations in the business world.
The flooring industry is no different, especially among installers, who were reminded of this during the 17th annual convention of the International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI).
From the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA)- sponsored Leadership Conference that kicked off the convention to the hands-on workshops and educational seminars on just about every type of flooring surface as well as general business topics, the three-day meeting was filled with opportunities for attendees to better themselves in a multitude of ways.
Roy Davidson, who became CFI’s immediate past president following the election of new officers during the convention, said the event, which is open to retailers, salespeople and others in the industry besides installers, highlights the organization’s “original and ongoing purpose—to ensure quality installation through education.”
As such, he commended the more than 175 people, including approximately 25% first-timers, for making the effort to attend. “The industry is extremely fortunate to have individuals like you, who spent their hard-earned cash to attend this convention. You understand how important it is to further your education even in these economically trying times…installation training, learning what it takes to satisfy the end user, people skills, product knowledge, safety and much more.”
Jim Walker, CFI’s CEO, said, “Nowhere is the impact of the accomplishments of CFI members as visible as it is at convention. It is rewarding to be involved in the achievements of the individual members and the enthusiasm they have for being at the top of their careers. It’s impossible to attend this event and not witness how flooring installation could be represented to consumers if everyone shared this enthusiasm and attitude.”
Alan Ellis of Alan’s Carpet & Floors in Council Bluff, Iowa, and CFI’s newly elected vice president, added, “There is nowhere that an installer can go to be involved in the abundance of seminars and workshops to obtain the latest knowledge and update his skills that compares with the CFI convention.”
He added CFI keeps the focus on education with the emphasis of attendees “becoming more equipped for the future of our individual business involvement.”
While there was no official “theme” to this year’s annual event, the underlying mantra over the three days was there is more to being a professional than simply installing the floor right the first time.
It began right from the start with the Leadership Conference featuring former Carpet One retailer and WFCA chairman Tom Jennings, who is currently chairman of WFCA Services, the association’s for-profit, independent subsidiary.
“You expect top wages and to be treated professionally,” he said, “but, ultimately, the results are what you are willing to receive…The rates in any particular city are set by the lowest asking price….If you want to be in control, then you have to take control—too many flooring installers are passive. Quality is never an accident.”
Before getting into it, Jennings was quick to call those in attendance his “heroes,” because they “care and want to do more than the norm.” He pointed out during his days as a retailer he was a “staunch advocate of installation done correctly the first time.”
Unlike most retailers who don’t like having to deal with the installation side of the business, Jennings stressed, “I will fight for you. Many dealers say if they didn’t have to deal with installation this would be a good business. These people don’t really know the industry and shouldn’t be in this business.”
Without installers, he said, flooring is just another product, like paint. “Paint is paint, but are a lot of differences in painters—from bad ones to really excellent ones. So, you need to look at the painter, just like we need to look to the installer to complete the process of transforming her home into her dream house.
Look sharp, feel sharp
While many may cringe at the thought of having to get dressed up, he noted, this “doesn’t mean having to be fancy; it means wearing clean, pressed clothes and being well-groomed. You are in charge of customers’ perceptions. Those first 10 minutes you come in and the last 10 minutes mean everything—the rest of what you do is details.”
Using UPS as an example, Jennings asked, “What do your customers see when UPS comes to the door? In fact, as soon as the truck pulls up to the house, they know what to expect—a polite, well-mannered person dressed in the company’s signature brown uniform…Now, what about when you or your installers come to her house? What does she see; what are her first impressions?”
Jennings walked attendees through a myriad of ways for installers to upgrade their professionalism and perception of themselves with their retail stores and salespeople, and consumers. Emphasizing his advocacy toward installers, he also presented a list of responsibilities salespeople should have to their installers. Most of the items came down to proper communication. “There are more ways to communicate than ever today yet we don’t. I understand that some people communicate better than others, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it.”
While their business-related seminar, “Game Plan for Marketing Professional Installation,” focused on workrooms and if they are right for you, CFI members Ben Boatwright, director of operations for Romanoff Floor Covering, and Dave Garden of Installation Services, echoed many of Jennings’ points about being a professional.
“Look like a pro,” Boatwright stressed, “and look the part everyday. You get only one chance to make a first impression, and first impressions make perceptions.”
“The two most important things about this business are organization and communication,” Garden added. “Have a clean truck; make sure your tools are organized and well maintained. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s one thing to be confident; it’s another to be cocky.”
In the end, Jennings reminded the audience to “always remember, it is her money—she doesn’t owe you anything.” As such, “there is only one opinion that matters to the customer…and it’s not yours.”
While professionals “don’t have to compromise their integrity; don’t be combative” as the customer should always feel as if she has the “upper hand,” he noted. “Shopping is no longer a sport,” Jennings concluded. “The recession has changed the way consumers think and act and, as a result, service is going to be reinstated. There is a whole generation who doesn’t know what service is—look at the airlines, they have totally lost interest in who they are serving. So, in this new economy, those that provide service will win.”