by Louis Iannacco
Volume 26/Number 21; March 4/11, 2013
New Orleans—The place was filled to capacity as the Flooring Contractors Association (FCICA) gathered here from Feb. 24 to 27. Attendees met to network and learn about the latest developments in installation management techniques, programs and products.
With 154 attendees, the most for the show in more than a decade, all educational sessions were full, according to Christopher Capobianco, sales/technical specialist for Spartan Surfaces and FCICA’s immediate past chairman. “We had to expand the hours for the tabletop exhibit, because we had more exhibitors and attendees than ever.”
In addition, the 31st FCICA convention set a record with 54 first-time attendees, quite appropriate given the convention’s “Get Connected” theme. And that’s exactly what attendees did as the event was highlighted by “Connections,” a speed-dating style program in which contractor members went from table to table getting to know each of the 18 participating vendors. The idea was for members to become familiar with the suppliers, their jobs and their specific products.
Christopher Burke, installation manager for BFC in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., said the program allowed him “to talk with many different people representing products I’ve heard of or sometimes even specified. Getting more information about them was a great opportunity.”
According to Burke, the opportunity to educate himself was a key reason for the first-time attendee to become involved with FCICA. “We’re trying to streamline and improve floor covering installations and we’ve gone through some changes. Because the market is very competitive, we’ve been looking everywhere we can to maintain our edge and take in all the information we can about new products and new installation methods, and this is part of that.”
The networking was also valuable for Burke. “I enjoy meeting other people in my position. Installation managers throughout the country all have the same story about the way jobs are going. It’s nice to come up with different ideas on how to solve problems as well as meeting all the vendors.”
Installation Management Task Force
One of the main initiatives for attending the conference, said Gerry Swift, FCICA chairman, was the new curriculum, the result of the organization’s Installation Management (IM) Task Force. “The IM Task Force is the group that is getting the ball rolling on a new curriculum we’ll be using moving forward. We’ve come up with an outline of an installation manager’s eight primary roles. It consists of everything from preparing labor estimates to completing the project. That includes planning the job, contractual obligations, scheduling and assigning resources, managing on-site conditions, financial budget management, tracking labor materials and managing change orders.”
Eventually, FCICA plans to turn these guidelines into educational webinars, he said. “We’re getting input from our members on how to improve the guidelines. This is the basis of our future educational sessions and programs.”
For Swift, much of the event’s success had to do with the association’s narrowing focus on installation management, educational sessions, and programs, which he noted were right on target. “We continue to see more of our educational sessions highlighting the back end of the business: project management. We’re not into the sales training, legal or succession planning seminars. We took a chance by going in this direction, but it’s paid off.”
Another benefit for the first-time attendees, Swift observed, was how “word is getting out this is where participants can come for their installation management training” and to eventually take part in a certification program, which is FCICA’s two-year goal.
The feedback FCICA received was helpful in determining the conference’s focus, he added. “I’ve even heard people say, ‘A lot of this stuff scares me.’ Just understanding the roles and responsibilities on a more detailed level can be intimidating. It shows all the possible failures if you don’t do things correctly, or what would happen if you overlook something. At the end of the day, we want to train our people to be successful, efficient and profitable.”
Said first-time attendee Michael Webster, president of M&S Flooring in Franklin, Ohio, “We’re in a growth mode. I started seeing some trouble in my operations department and was looking for the right opportunity to give our person the right tools. FCICA seemed to have all the resources and skill sets available for him and for myself. The knowledge and networking here has been key.”
Vendors give ‘thumbs up’
Sonny Callaham, marketing manager at Royal Adhesives, one of the many involved in the show’s tabletop exhibit, witnessed a strong turnout from the contractors this year. “We saw a lot of new attendee tags, a lot of fresh faces. Hopefully they’ll stick around for FCICA. This is my first year as a mentor, and I’ve enjoyed that also—getting to meet some of the new guys.”
For Jeremy Whipple, sales and marketing manager for three-year-old Procedo Flooring, the FCICA convention was a great opportunity to network, “knowing project managers and installers are going to be seeing and touching our products. You also have owners of major Starnet contractors, big-time decision makers, so it’s a great way for us to get our foot in the door with some of the major players.”
Whipple said the attendees who came by during the tabletop exhibit were engaged and wanted to know more about the company. “They’re starting to do projects and bringing over other members who haven’t done projects, so it’s a huge opportunity for us to be able to give one-on-one time with some major players in the industry. The pool of people we’ve been able to meet has been tremendous for us.”
One of the major players at the show was Starnet, which has brought many new members to FCICA, as well as new installation managers—a total of 22—to the meeting.
Deb Esbenshade, Starnet’s vice president of member services, noted one of the buying group’s objectives is to make sure all of its members’ employees are the best trained and educated in the industry. “Years ago we would host our own installation managers’ meeting in Las Vegas in conjunction with Surfaces. We would bring in technical people from our preferred vendor partners. This worked very well, but we realized FCICA is working to accomplish the same goal.
“It wants to train installation managers and it has a network of its associates who are vendor partners,” she explained. “We thought, ‘Why not partner with FCICA and bring our installation managers meeting to [the event], mix into the fold and thereby meet our members’ training needs for the installers?’”
Esbenshade also counted herself as one of the instant fans of the Connections program. “I’ll be very anxious to sit and talk with the Starnet installation managers who are here and see how they feel about the concept. It seems to have worked well. The brief comments I’ve heard here have been positive.”
Along with Starnet, another major player at the show was Spectra Contract Flooring. First-time attendee Bryan Willey, installation manager for Spectra in West Valley City, Utah, said he was surprised [the program] was geared toward installation managers. “You never see that.” Particularly helpful for Willey was talking to others about the challenges in the business, and finding out Salt Lake is not unique in the flooring industry.
Rico Santangelo, installation superintendent for ProSpectra Contract Flooring in Cerritos, Calif., was most impressed with the technology at the show, particularly the software that can be downloaded on measuring jobs. “We have this in our office but I’ve seen portables for field measures here I really like. I’ve been most impressed with the different technologies I’ve seen here as well as the people—they’re very organized and all about knowledge and development.”