By Paul Stewart—I got my hands on my first glue trowel at the age of 19, right out of high school. At the time I was just trying to get out of busting tires. I thought flooring installation would be a good short-term gig until I landed a delivery driver job with a national food delivery company. Long story short, here I am 26 rewarding years later and I have never left. After starting out as an employee installer and then moving to a subcontractor, I started a commercial flooring company in 1999—which I still own today.
It’s often said that once you get into the flooring industry you never leave. They say it is a vacuum that consumes anyone who dares to come near. I have heard the same story over the years from so many installers, contractors and sales or technical representatives—many of whom came from other industries that some consider more lucrative and distinguished than flooring. Yet, we came and stayed.
Why do we stay? Is there some magical force that keeps us coming back for more? With our industry’s magnetic grip, how can we effectively wield this staying power to attract more talent and solve the biggest issue our industry has ever faced—the installation shortage?
Studies show that the average flooring installer is in their mid 50s. In fact, I know plenty of installers in their 60s and 70s. Most of these installers would retire if they could, but what would they do? If they are anything like I was, it is nearly impossible to replace the earning potential—not to mention the satisfaction you get from a finished project. It is just too rewarding.
This begs a few questions: what’s an appropriate life cycle for a flooring installer?
Furthermore, what is the exit strategy for an installer who is ready to stop laying floors? Personally, I installed for 15 years and felt the pain of the constant up and down, heavy lifting and the knee damage that takes its toll on your body.
There’s a growing sense in our industry that providing more opportunity to the installer beyond their installation years is necessary. Sure, there are already dozens of ways for an installer to get off the floor. The reality, though, is that there are far too few to fill the need. There are only so many sales and technical rep positions available. Plus, those tend to be long-term positions with little turnover. As an industry, we must first consider how long an installer can do the job while maintaining a good quality of life and a clear path for what’s next.
I’ve pondered this succession concept for years with the installers at my company and have had many conversations on the topic. One standout solution involves defining routes for installers to move into properly training industry newcomers in their local area—all under the direction of training entities and the manufacturers. Additionally, equipping installers to enter sales and estimating roles—leveraging their years of installation expertise—would help improve project outcomes and accuracy. This course of action also assists in attracting and retaining new talent into our industry—a job that the NTCA, WFCA and the FCEF have set out to tackle head-on.
We are a resilient industry (pun totally intended). With constructive conversations and the courage to take action, we will tackle these challenges together. I welcome anyone to reach out and explore what’s possible.
Paul Stuart Jr. is president of Stuart & Associates Commercial Flooring, Inc. and founder of Go Carrera, a digital ecosystem connecting flooring dealers and professional flooring installers in meaningful and productive ways.