January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15
By Ken Ryan
As the floor covering industry’s largest advocacy organization, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) represents flooring dealers, installers, manufacturers, distributors and cleaners among its 3,000 members.
“Our goal is to be more relevant and visible to let people know who we are and get our message out,” Scott Humphrey, CEO, told FCNews. “Relevancy requires visibility; therefore, you have to be out there.”
Humphrey said he spent 140 days on the road in 2014, speaking to members, listening to their concerns and attending conferences. “We exist to ensure the success and profitability of the pro flooring dealer.”
The ranks of flooring dealers have thinned over the years, making the advocacy work of the WFCA more important than ever. Citing U.S. census data, Humphrey said there were more than 15,000 businesses in 2003 that identified themselves as flooring dealers. That number fell to 14,614 in 2007 and 11,418 in 2012, the last year for which data was available.
The WFCA would like to do its part to stem that tide and help specialty dealers stand in an increasingly competitive environment. “For us to be relevant we have to be a pain relief for the industry.”
Installation ranks as the
No. 1 issue impacting the flooring industry today—both in terms of the quality of installers currently working and the dearth of installers for the future. “In talking to key players, the biggest nightmare around the corner is installation,” Humphrey said. “We’ve lost two generations; it is a problem now and [will be] a major problem in the future.”
Rather than start something from scratch, Humphrey said the quicker, more effective way to improve installation is work with an existing group like the Certified Floorcovering Installers (CFI).
Throughout 2014 WFCA sponsored a series of installation workshops run by CFI instructors who provided hands-on training in carpet (in accordance with the upcoming ANSI S600 Carpet Installation Standards), carpet installation inspection and hard surface products. “We’re committed to S600 because we believe the industry needs a single standard for the carpet industry,” Humphrey noted.
Membership gain, lobbying efforts
Direct membership in the WFCA grew 15% in 2014, with association membership up as well. In addition, WFCA added its first Canadian member last year as well as a new affiliate in British Columbia. “We see a lot of opportunity for expansion,” Humphrey said. “Obviously the places to expand first are Canada and Mexico.”
Also in an effort to expand its voice, Humphrey said WFCA’s extensive lobbying efforts focus on any topic in which undue regulation can hurt small business. One such issue is the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which would force online sellers to collect taxes on their retail sales. Humphrey and other key representatives of the WFCA lobbied top members of Congress last year to support the proposed act. Humphrey calls it a “vital step in leveling the playing field” between online dealers and brick-and-mortar stores.
“There are three strikes against the brick-and-mortar retailer every day vs. online. The online dealer doesn’t have property tax, sales tax or upkeep to worry about. Anything we can do to help our brick-and-mortar members we will do.”
Despite 39 governors favoring passage, the measure stalled in Congress. Humphrey said the WFCA would continue the fight in 2015. “It is not fair to enforce it on one side and not the other.”
Other notable lobbying efforts involved objections to proposed new rules involving crystalline silica, which is present in flooring products that are sourced from sand and stone, including tiles, glass, concrete and grout. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) based its new regulatory proposal on studies of the cumulative effect of crystalline silica inhalation on miners, quarry workers and others who have been exposed to the hazard daily for more than 20 years.
WFCA’s comments to OSHA expressed how flooring installers are exposed to crystalline silica dust only occasionally, such as when they cut tile or stone flooring, repair concrete or remove grout. If the proposed new standards were applied to the operations of independent flooring retailers, those dealers would have to incur substantial costs for new equipment, continuous medical examination and air monitoring, and extensive record keeping, according to Humphrey.
At Surfaces, WFCA will introduce “Beating the Box,” an online program for members to help them compete effectively with big box retailers. The program contains seven 10-minute training modules custom tailored for dealers.
Humphrey said the program is ideal for Saturday morning sales meetings. “Beating the Box will show what the big boxes do and how [the independents] can counter it. We want to simplify things for the dealer and stem the tide of market share going to the boxes. That is our focus.”
In addition, the WFCA-CFI partnership will continue in 2015 with an extensive lineup of training courses spanning the country, covering every flooring surface as well as estimating and inspection workshops. WFCA members receive a $200 discount for each installer that participates in a class.