Web exclusive: Retailers react to sub installer crisis amid COVID-19

Home COVID-19 Web exclusive: Retailers react to sub installer crisis amid COVID-19

By Ken Ryan

There is fear among industry observers that sub installers may not be around after the COVID-19 crisis has ended.

When the coronavirus pandemic is in the rearview mirror, and business is back—and perhaps booming from pent-up demand—will flooring dealers have the installation crews to do the work? That’s a big question these days.

Most installers on the residential side are subcontractors, meaning they are independent and can work for themselves. While the freelance aspect of the job may be welcome in good times, it isn’t now, as there is fear among industry observers that they may fall through the cracks. That possibility could further exacerbate an installation shortage that has permeated throughout flooring retail, and has been cited by many as the industry’s No. 1 problem. At least until COVID-19 came onto the scene.

While the new $2 trillion stimulus package looks as though it will be signed into law, it could be at least two months before checks start coming to those who are eligible. The fear among some flooring dealers is that sub installers might not be around. “If you want them when this is over, you need to help them now,” said Mike Foulk, owner of Foulk’s Flooring America, Meadville, Pa. “If not, I am afraid you will lose them to other things they can do for money immediately.”

Denise Fike, an owner at Fike Bros Carpet One Floor & Home in Selinsgrove, Pa., has been lauded for her work with installers over the years. She said she believes her business will be “slammed with work” when the shutdown ends. But until then, she, like everyone, fears the unknown. “We have been communicating with our employees and subcontractors almost daily in regards to any updates and also to offer emotional and financial support as needed. As an employer, I feel my biggest responsibility at this time of crisis is to my people. I have been seeing a lot of goodwill offerings, such as extended payment terms from vendors. In turn, I feel compelled to pay it forward by working with all my employees and subcontractors in offering as much help as needed. I would hope others [feel the same way.]”

In Houston, Venetian Blind Carpet One & Flooring has had to cut staff by about one-third and shorten operating hours. However, Gary Touchton, general manager, said he is trying to lessen the pain for his installers—at least the employee subs. “We have tried to distribute what little work we have as evenly as possible [to our employee installers],” he said. “Unfortunately, we have not done anything for the subs. We are in survival mode. This is frankly a very bad situation for all parties concerned. I wish the industry could do something for the hard-working subs—they deserve our assistance.”

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