Washington, D.C.—With negotiations around the debt ceiling encapsulating this city, board members of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) went to Washington to meet lawmakers regarding issues important to their own businesses—including independent contractor issues, the Marketplace Fairness Act and the Working Families Flexibility Act.
The meeting on Capitol Hill took place the day before WFCA’s annual board meeting and provided retailers and suppliers with a glimpse of Congress at work. “We had great audiences—they listened to us,” said Scott Humphrey, CEO of the WFCA. “They see [flooring retailers] as Main Street. You are individual votes to them.”
WFCA counsel Jeff King, who has spent years lobbying on behalf of the flooring industry, called the meetings “highly successful,” adding, “We’re getting on [lawmakers’] radar. This is just the start of it.”
Joining WFCA members on the visit was Rhett Johnson, government relations manager for Jones Walker LLP, the influential law firm that lobbies for WFCA on important matters.
The growth in advocacy is among several initiatives WFCA has spearheaded in the last decade—since Humphrey took over as CEO. In that span, WFCA has been an agent of change for the flooring industry—taking over and funding the Certified Flooring Installers (CFI); founding the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF); bolstered the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF); purchasing fcB2B; creating awards programs to honor flooring dealers (Luminary, Tom Jennings Champion Award); providing guidance on PPP loan forgiveness during the COVID-19 crisis; and many other endeavors.
But as Humphrey pointed out to members: “If all you are known for is what you used to be … you have a problem.”
Therefore, with a focus on the future, WFCA’s mission continues. For example, it is offering a leadership program starting this summer billed as the S.E.A.L. (Seeking Excellence As Leaders) Certification, which is designed for all levels of retail management. Randy Gravitt, speaker, teacher and leadership coach, will oversee the program—which offers 72 course modules and culminates with a boot camp—where successful leaders can earn a master certification degree. WFCA will cover the cost of S.E.A.L.
“This is for all people you want to lead,” Humphrey explained. “It’s an investment in your organization as we’re hoping to grow industry leaders. This is what I would like my legacy to be about.”
So much of the last 10 years of the WFCA has focused on the installation issue, primarily the shortage of installers today and the need to recruit and train the next generation.
The annual meeting of WFCA board members discussed a number of key issues impacting retailers and suppliers, notably installation. As such, executives representing both installation-focused organizations addressed members at the board meeting.
Jim Aaron, executive director of FCEF, provided an update on the group’s progress.
A few highlights:
• FCEF announced that CFI and the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) will offer credit toward students completing FCEF’s Basic Flooring Installation program, which is being offered at several technical colleges.
• Recognizing that training must be local, FCEF is looking to set up six training sites and asking retailers for help. Some have already obliged. DeGraaf Interiors, for example, is hosting a five-week course in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June with help from distributor All Tile. DeGraaf visited local high schools along with Dave Garden, director of education for CFI, to seek out interested students. Four of the high school recruits signed up as a result of the meeting. The $5,000 fee for the class was split evenly between DeGraaf Interiors and FCEF.
• In another example of retailers working the local angle, Adam Joss, owner of The Vertical Connection Carpet One in Columbia, Md., contacted Minah Woo, vice president of workforce, innovation and strategic partnerships at Howard Community College in Columbia about FCEF opportunities.
• In two years, FCEF has awarded 144 scholarship totaling $258,430, but more needs to be done, including funding, Aaron said. “I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done in two short years, but at the end of the day if we don’t have gas in the tank, we’re not going to go anywhere. We have too few suppliers, too few retailers supporting us.”
Steve Abernathy, COO of the WFCA, is serving as CFI director. While the previous director spoke about a vision for CFO, Abernathy looked back at the history of CFI and was struck by how much was missing, specifically the fundamentals. “There are things we have to do well before we can move forward. We didn’t have the blocking and tackling down.”
One focus is on reversing the multi-year downward trend in membership—with a goal of growing membership 20% in 2023. At the end of 2022, CFI had 481 members, down substantially from just a few years prior. However, as of March 31, 2023, CFI was back up to 641 members, a 33% growth rate. “It’s an ongoing constant job to keep and recruit members,” Abernathy said.
CFI is also looking to expand certification of existing installers and to rebuild the trainer network, placing qualified trainers throughout the country. In 2022, CFI closed its Forney, Texas, installation training facility and switched many training classes to Wichita, Kan., with Grand Rapids and Louisville, Ky., also being used for installation training.
In other news, CFI is partnering with the FCICA for a joint convention this September. The goal is to leverage the synergy between the organizations. “FCICA is made up of commercial contractors—businesses that hire installers,” Abernathy said.