By Ken Ryan
What do you get when you have three leaders from the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) discussing arguably the most pressing issue in the flooring industry today—installation—during the monthly FCNews Marketing Mastery webinar series? A record turnout of flooring retailers with a 50% increase in attendees from the previous webinar.
Scott Humphrey, CEO of the WFCA; Tom Jennings, vice president, member services, WFCA; and Robert Varden, vice president of WFCA’s CFI division, joined Jim Augustus Armstrong, FCNews Marketing Mastery columnist and marketing/customer service expert, in a full-throated discussion on “Conquering the Installation Crisis.”
Some highlights from the discussion:
- There are three essential problems with installation today—an overall shortage of people, a paucity of truly skilled mechanics, and the challenge of how and where to recruit the next generation.
- The shortage of installers today is not a flooring-specific problem, Humphrey pointed out; it is an issue that confounds the entire construction industry. The fact that today’s younger generations, in general, would prefer to use their minds rather than hands in the pursuit of work is another factor.
- Humphrey and Jennings both agree the industry does not value the installation trade as much as it should and that out of desperation retailers will use installers who may lack the credentials to carry out a difficult job. “We ought to build this trade up and make it a differentiator,” Humphrey said. He wondered how many installers would proudly tell their neighbors they are installers, noting they should be proud of their craft.
- The recession that started in 2006 produced a double whammy. Many journeyman left the field for good which also meant they were not around to train the next set of apprentices when the economy started turning around. “We lost one generation as well as a generation that would apprentice the next,” Humphrey explained.
- Jennings noted just as “all politics are local, all problems are local” as well. “Most dealers, both large and small, have been in denial on the impending shortage of installers,” he said. “Many need to look themselves in the mirror. Inspect what you expect. Maybe you don’t expect much. For some reason installation has been a cost savings” rather than deemed a profit center.
Varden said there are young people out there who do want to work with their hands, but “we just haven’t done a good job finding them.” The International Certified Flooring Installers’ (CFI) first training school in Forney, Texas, has been a step in the right direction. Classes are offered in “bite-sized” pieces of one to two weeks for hardwood training and five weeks for carpet instruction. What’s unique about the five-week course is CFI trainers will take inexperienced, raw individuals and turn them into job-ready installers when they graduate.
How it works: A flooring retailer who wants to send an employee to the training school pays $5,000 for the five-week course, plus expenses (hotel, transportation, food, etc.). If a dealer thinks $5,000 to $8,000 is too big of an expense, Humphrey suggests an owner think of it this way: If you were looking to hire a senior-level person, you would pay an executive recruiting firm at least that much money—probably a lot more. Having a trained mechanic on staff gives a retailer the confidence to pursue jobs, knowing the end result will be completed correctly.
So far, the results have been positive. “It’s absolutely amazing to think of the impact this five-week training course had—and will continue to have—on the lives of the two students I sent to the school,” said Lonnie Presson, owner of Lonnie’s Carpet Max in Rockford, Ill. “I could not be more thrilled.”
Of note, the WFCA sponsors a trade scholarship of $500 that is available to its members. It can be applied toward CFI certification and new school installation classes.
Subcontractor vs. employee
Next to the great recession purge, in which upwards of 25% of independent flooring dealers went out of business, the installation issue threatens to wipe out another significant percentage of dealers if it plays out, Humphrey warned. The gravity of this Department of Labor reclassification is not to be taken lightly. Humphrey and WFCA lobbyists have met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on this issue and while some politicians are sympathetic to the plight of small business on this matter, many more believe there are “crooks” out there looking to take advantage of the subcontractor issue. Now, government agencies are going after the violators. As well, subcontractors are seeking remuneration through class-action lawsuits.
Humphrey said the states that are particularly aggressive on this issue are California, Washington, Oregon, Maryland and Illinois. The interpretations on this measure vary by state as well as agency. In other words, the IRS may view the independent contractor (IC) issue differently than the Department of Labor. To that end, Humphrey encourages dealers to join the WFCA, which works on behalf of flooring retailers.
In his book “Independent Contractor,” WFCA counsel Jeff King included an entrepreneurial test to help retailers ascertain whether their subcontractors are truly ICs or would he be considered employees.
King recently said the government is looking for ways to bring new revenue out of the hides of small businesses and plaintiff lawyers are sniffing around looking for examples where a corporation was guilty of misclassification. “The IC issue can be costly; it is spreading rapidly and it is not going away,” he noted.
Humphrey added, “You better be on the right side of this thing.”
For more information on this issue, visit wfca-pro.org.
A replay of the entire webinar can be found at http://marketingmasterywebinar.com/replay.
Editor’s note: Varden will be the guest expert on the next Marketing Mastery free webinar, “How to Generate Massive Profits with Your Installations,” on Thurs., June 16, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Visit fcnews.net to register.