by Matthew Spieler
Nashville, Tenn.—With nearly 50,000 installers trained and certified by the International Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) over its 19-year existence, its impact on the industry was certainly felt at its annual convention here. The event brought together manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers and installers from across the U.S. and as far away as South Africa.
Kicked off by its annual Leadership Conference, sponsored by the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), this year’s event was dedicated to the memory of Chris Davis, WFCA’s president and CEO who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. During his 18 years as head of the WFCA, Davis was a major supporter and advocate of CFI and its mission.
Jim Walker, CFI’s CEO, said Davis wasn’t an installer but “did more for CFI and installers than anyone else in the industry. He was a lobbyist for CFI and professional installers. He would open doors for us.”
Tom Jennings, chairman of WFCA services and keynote speaker for the Leadership Conference, said Davis was “always proud of his relationship with CFI. To him, the convention was like a trip to the family reunion. He loved being around real, genuine people.”
A key reason why Davis supported CFI, Jennings noted, was “a real desire to see things done better, and he encouraged everyone to work together—manufacturers and dealers, dealers and installers—all for the purpose of satisfying the customer. Chris believed CFI was part of the solution. He never understood why the industry tries to sell the ingredients of floors rather than the finished product. Just talking about the ingredients devalues the final product and your services.”
Like Davis believed, Jennings told the installers, “You are not at the tail end of the chain; we are all a part of it and we all have to make her ‘want to’ get a new floor. The industry has let floor coverings slip into a commodity like roofing or a driveway. We need to sell her her vision of a beautiful home. Take a picture from a magazine and make it real—that’s our job, all of our jobs together.”
Once the convention got under way, attendees were treated to a bevy of educational offerings—from hands-on demonstrations to the introduction of the latest tools and accessories to seminars on how to become professional businesspeople as well as professional installers. Even some antiques were featured as a way to educate the numerous first-time attendees how the trade has evolved over the years.
“The entire CFI convention is focused on education, new products, tools, proper use of existing products and the opportunity to discuss solutions to difficult situations that occur in the flooring industry,” said Bob Gillespie, past president.
Tom Cartmell of Blakleys in Indianapolis, who took part in the hands-on heat-weld workshop said, “There is nowhere you can go and be taught by the quality of the people who were here; they are the best-of-the-best. And, they are great teachers; no matter your experience level, you walk out of there having learned something.”
The class featured Tim Provence of Armstrong, who was selected by CFI’s board to head its Certification Team for the next year; Dick Schmidt of Johnsonite; Bill Wiese of Mannington and Scott Parks of Tri-West.
It was classes such as this that led Allan de Wit of carpet manufacturer Belgotex Flooring to make the 17-hour trip from South Africa for his fifth CFI convention. “The knowledge I have been able to take back over the years has been a big benefit to us and our installers. CFI made us realize how important it is to work closely with installers. We can make the best product, the salesman can make the best sale, but if the installer doesn’t do the job right, the other parts mean nothing. As a manufacturer, we do not have a business without good installers.”
As a result of what de Wit has learned from CFI, the Belgotex Flooring Academy was founded. And, working with the South African government, a national teaching program has been developed. Nearly 40 students, including six females, are taking part in the inaugural one-year course. “We teach the CFI way, and when these students graduate they will be recognized by the government just like any other skilled technician.”
Rod Von Busch, vice president of operations for distributor CDI in Kentucky, brought 11 people from his office “to see the opportunity CFI represents with education. Also, to allow them to see people who take pride in their career and by working together, it can help prevent the next problem. There is tremendous value in showing people the other side as it gives you respect and an understanding of their daily challenges.”
The convention was not all about education, as Jennifer Hughes, conference manager for Surfaces, announced the trade show will, for the first time, host a live CFI training and certification at the 2013 event in Las Vegas, Jan. 29 to 31. “It will be held in a very prominent position, on the first level near registration, in order for as many people to see what it takes to get certified because it’s not just a rubber stamp.”
She added after attending her first CFI convention last year, she came away inspired to find a way for the association and trade show to work together. “Surfaces is a place to come for ideas and to gain important knowledge to help your business. This fits right in.”
Alan Ellis, CFI’s newly elected president, told FCNews the association, with assistance “from our friends and partners in Dalton,” will be setting up shop in the city for a week next March to hold a variety of installation certifications, from carpet to hard surfaces. “CFI is striving to partner with the entire industry. It’s always been that way but now we are making a concerted effort to get close to the heart of the industry, which is why we also hope to incorporate mill tours as part of the schedule of events.”
Because products in all categories are changing so rapidly, he said it is important for everyone to stay up-to-date. “If you’re not keeping up, then you’re falling behind. CFI can help reduce the problem, which is why we want to work as partners to help solve issues. This won’t be just a training event; it will be multi-faceted as we try to reintroduce CFI and its mission to Dalton.”
Between the Dalton event, the Surfaces announcement and some other initiatives the association is planning as it heads toward its 20th anniversary, Ellis said he hasn’t left a CFI convention so excited in 10 years. “This has been a phenomenal show. We made so much progress at this event. It’s a daunting challenge but the people here are up to it.”