Retail education: Training remains priority No. 1

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This special FCNews Retail Education series, sponsored by 3M, is designed to help specialty retailers build their business through proven merchandising and marketing strategies as well as general best practices.



August 14/21, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 5

A flooring retailer stood up at a trade conference and bemoaned the amount of training he was providing his staff. “What if I spend the next year training them and then they leave—maybe even go to the competition?”

Sitting nearby, a second retailer stood up and said: “That may be true but what if you don’t provide any training, and they decide to stay with you?”

Professional training—whether it’s for sales associates or installers—may be a necessary evil in the flooring trade but it is necessary nonetheless.

“Training your employees will give you a return on your investment that is practically immediate—and it never ends,” said Donato Pompo, president, Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants.

Tom Jennings, vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), said training is more important than ever. “The bottom half of most any market is gone whether you are selling flooring or T-bone steaks. For the independent retailer I think their real fertile fields are middle and up, and the customer is going to want more from an associate than what she can find with a national chain. Those who are succeeding are doing so selling better goods, and the better goods need to be sold with the right sales help.”

To that end, the WFCA continues to refresh is training curriculum, which is divided into management and sales modules. The association is working on a certification for its online university so it can “hold people accountable,” Jennings said. “The average retailer does about $2.4 million and not all of those people have had business management classes. You’d be amazed how many people don’t know ‘mark up’ from ‘margin.’”

Following is an update on the various training programs available from several major flooring industry associations.

WFCA University has expanded training programs by nearly 20%, with 46 training modules available online through its subscription program and 11 new destination camps planned in seven locations across the U.S.

The extensive training program offers educational courses for professionals in a wide variety of functions such as sales, merchandising and human resources. The coursework is broken down based on the career path and professional stage. “Upon initial launch of the WFCA University program we saw many middle-, senior- and owner-level executives tapping into the training program,” said Freida Staten, vice president of marketing and communications. “Since that time, the adoption rate of our program has broadened to include many professionals in the early and middle stages of their careers.”

The CFI Institute offers accelerated training and professional certification to individuals seeking to learn how to install all types of flooring. “We created our school and launched the first accelerated carpet installation training course as part of our commitment to tackle the installation problem that touches everyone in our industry,” said Robert Varden, vice president. “Together with WFCA and our many supportive partners, we are working continuously to put an end to a problem that affects everyone.”

Through the proprietary class, CFI can take individuals with no prior experience or knowledge in flooring and—after an intensive, five-week course—turn out certified residential carpet installers capable of completing a highly professional job in a standard three-bedroom home. In addition to the accelerated carpet class, the school offers long- and short-term training programs in every flooring product category for students at all levels.

With polished concrete flooring growing in popularity as an attractive option for large commercial and retail spaces across America, INSTALL—the International Standards and Training Alliance—is are working quickly to produce dedicated training for the installation and finishing process. “There is a surprising amount of care that goes into concrete floor polishing,” said Mark Olson, INSTALL flooring instructor at the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “Untrained installers can miss critical steps, including scratch-testing to ensure the concrete has reached an adequate level of hardness.”

Large installations can have hundreds of pours, meaning multiple rounds of scratch and moisture testing are necessary. Much like hardwood flooring, it is critical that installers use special vacuums to remove all dust and debris between polishings, experts say. If anything is left over, it can easily scratch the floor and the team will have to start over. As an INSTALL subject matter expert, Olson flies to the Carpenter’s International Training Center once a month to develop curriculum that will help prevent these failures from occurring in the first place.

“We are hard at work developing classroom and hands-on training specifically geared toward polished concrete flooring,” he said. “From dying concrete to creating insets with logos, INSTALL will be the only organization with a formal training manual for concrete polishing and resinous flooring. It’s cutting edge.”

The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) offers training for wood flooring sales both in person and online through NWFA University. Since being launched a year ago, more than 15,000 online courses have been completed. Online training, in particular, is extremely convenient because large sales crews can be trained simultaneously. At the same time, individual members can complete the training at their own pace. “It also allows us to provide timely, accurate education in a way that is extremely affordable,” said Stephanie Owen, NWFA director of education and member engagement. NWFA’s training costs $100 per company per year, and any number of company employees can participate in the training even if they are in multiple locations.

Another advantage of NWFA University, according to Owen, is the digital “badging” component. Digital badges are graphic images that represent a learned skill; in NWFA’s case they also contain metadata verifying the recipient’s proficiency with that skill. This metadata includes the date the badge was earned, information about NWFA as the issuer of the badge and the specific skill that was learned and confirmed through testing. These digital badges can be shared publically on social media platforms, websites and e-mails to market the sales associate’s expertise. They also can become part of the sales associate’s life-long digital resume.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) has completed the first year of related content for its Apprenticeship Program. Year one of the two-year online training program consists of 64 courses that serve as an introduction to the tile industry beginning with the basics of cutting, mixing and grouting before moving on to surface preparation, underlayment application and other installation processes.

With 500 enrollments for the first year of curriculum, these courses are intended to support contractors in training by serving as a training resource for employees who are new to the industry or for those who may be affiliated with the contractor’s Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program.

In addition to proper training for new hires, these courses may also serve as continued education for tile professionals who would like to refresh their memory on basic industry knowledge. “When we started developing these courses, I knew very little of the actual tile installation process including materials, tools and all of the steps required before installing tile,” said Becky Serbin, NTCA training and education coordinator. “We worked with experienced contractors and manufacturers to simplify the courses so someone such as myself, who is new to the installation process, would be able to understand industry terminology and apply course information on the job.”

Ceramic Tile and Stone
At Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, Pompo developed a university ( tool featuring online training courses for tile and stone salespeople and installers. The courses are developed with the latest technology to maximize learning and retention. The courses take five to eight hours to complete, and the student can take the course in one night or over a two-week period with 24/7 access. Upon completion, students receive a personalized certificate and a student reference guide that can be downloaded and kept for reference.

The “Understanding the Basics of Tile” and “Basics of Stone” courses are designed to give students the requisite background and technical information while teaching them how to professionally sell using consultative approach. “Students who complete these courses become immediately more effective in their jobs,” Pompo explained. “It gives them knowledge, confidence and credibility in the eyes of the customer. The student becomes confident and feels good about their knowledge, which motivates them and improves their performance.”

UofCTS includes the “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards” (ITS) verification course, which teaches installers the industry installation standards, practices and methods so they can avoid costly failures. The course is available in English or Spanish.

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