July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4
By Reginald Tucker
The upside to laminate flooring’s popularity in the U.S. over the past 20 years is more consumers have become very familiar with the product—from how it’s constructed to the way it is primarily installed. The “downside,” however, is that high comfort level has encouraged more renters and homeowners to install the product themselves, cutting into a profit center for specialty retailers.
Thanks to certified installation training programs, however, retailers have an opportunity to recoup some of that business lost to the DIY customer base. The logic being, homeowners might have a greater sense of security and confidence knowing the person installing their laminate floors has been trained and certified in a particular area.
Armstrong Floors, which offers comprehensive certified training programs for virtually all of the categories in which it operates—laminate included—still believes there’s a need for professionally trained laminate floor layers. To that end, the company offers a combined laminate/hardwood training program conducted over the course of three days. There’s also a one-day laminate certification event held at its installation school in Lancaster, Pa. The company also has distributor trainer partners that are qualified to administer the same certification and training programs.
“Our certification is standardized, whether it’s conducted in conjunction with our distribution network or here at our installation school,” said Todd Weldon, who heads Armstrong’s installation school and personally conducts many of the training classes held at the company’s headquarters. “Basically we begin with an estimating and layout project where we have the participants calculate the material they will need as well as waste. We do that for the material as well as for transitions and for trim. We grade them on how successfully they do that, and we check to see they have the proper amount of expansion.”
Beyond the mechanical skills, participants are also evaluated according to a written test. (Trainees need to earn at least 80 out of 100 points to get certified.) Once they pass, Armstrong provides installers with a laminated card showing they are certified.
That certification is valid for three years; an open book test is required for re-certification.
Renate Keares, sales training manager, Armstrong Flooring, cites the benefits for retailers and their installation crews, as well as consumers. “If an installation fails due to a certified installer’s error, Armstrong will supply materials up to $1,000 for that installation. The labor, obviously, would be the responsibility of the retailer/installer.”
The benefits don’t end there. Dealers who certify their installers are noted as such on the section of Armstrong’s website that lists dealer locations. “The sponsoring dealer gets flagged on our website for that certification, so there’s a benefit for the retailer for sponsoring dealers as well as the installer,” Keares explained. “The Armstrong website is the most trafficked flooring site, so the benefit to the retailer is their site comes up first if they have certified installers. They literally rise to the top.”
Dealers who have completed Armstrong’s certification—not just for laminate but the family of hard surface products—can attest to the positive impact on the business. Kevin Carnes, vice president, McSwain Carpets & Floors, Cincinnati, is one of them.
“Going through the certification process changes the installer’s thought process,” he explained. “When you send a hardwood guy to a laminate certification, he finds he can now do rigid core. That expertise extends to other categories, which is better for the installer and the retailer.”
McSwain Carpets coordinated with a local Armstrong distributor to conduct the installation and certification training program for its crews. The exercise, according to the company, reinforced the importance of ongoing instruction. “I wasn’t born in the flooring industry—just like many young people coming into the industry,” Carnes noted. “That’s why continued education is crucial.”
While Carnes believes consumers may give more weight and consideration to retailers who hire certified installers, there’s more work involved. “Customers definitely use the web in their research. It drives the consumers toward the retailers who have the certification, but it doesn’t necessarily seal the deal.”
Other prominent retailers who have arranged for their installation crews to get certified on Armstrong’s various hard surface products—including laminate—vouch for the influence structured training has on the consumer. At Phoenix-based Baker Bros., for instance, routine installation training for employees and subcontractors alike is the norm. “All the installers we use are Armstrong certified,” said Phil Koufidakis, president and owner. “We also have a field technician who spot checks all the jobs our installers perform. They are our last line of defense, so it’s important to get it right.”
Armstrong is not the only manufacturer that offers comprehensive, structured training programs for its installers. Mohawk, Shaw and Quick-Step, to name a few, also work with their retail partners to provide instruction on a host of products—not just laminate but across the hard surface spectrum.
During a recent National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA) meeting, Quick-Step held a special session to encourage its retail partners to make installation a stronger part of their business. “As an industry leader in technology, Quick-Step sets our retailers and installers up for success by featuring superior installation systems in all products,” said Jon England, vice president of independent distribution, Mohawk laminate and hardwood, North America. “As retailers work with their subcontractors to make installation a stronger part of their overall total flooring purchase, the retailers can rest assured the quality of the installation systems in Quick-Step products gives installers everything they need to achieve a floor that’s stunning.”