Ten years ago Scott Humphrey became president and CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), the result of a year-long search following the passing of Chris Davis. The organization has evolved greatly not only over the past decade but its role and importance have been completely altered since its formation some 25 years ago. Today, it is laser focused on combatting the installation shortage, among other issues challenging retailers.
Floor Covering News publisher Steven Feldman recently sat down with Humphrey to discuss the current state of affairs.
What is WFCA up to today?
We continue to be focused on two primary issues impacting the industry: installation and technology. We’re doing everything we can to promote the utilization of fcB2B throughout the industry. And then our partnership with the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) is second to none. We are committed to solving the installation crisis, not just for now but for the long term. Somebody has to own this. If we can’t do it through FCEF, the industry will continually struggle with this issue just like we have for the last 50 years.
What is the solution?
Everybody coming together and contributing. We have to be willing to put the money where our mouths are. We must market the trade and remove the barrier of finance from those seeking a trade. We’ve got to be telling our story, and we’ve not done that. We took installation for granted and assumed everybody knew it was there. Now we go to schools and they have no idea it’s even an option. It’s going to take money and it’s going to take effort. The industry wants a solution but hasn’t shown the commitment at all levels to back that solution.
Is the answer teaching kids this trade exists and they can make good money?
Yes, and that they can follow a career path and take control of their own destiny.
Is that part of FCEF’s plan?
So far, FCEF has had amazing success approaching the long term. What Jim Aaron, Kaye Whitener and the FCEF team have done to get a program in trade schools and get that program accredited is nothing short of a miracle. But getting a trade school up and running takes time. By the time we get enough schools up and graduating 6,000 students a year, we’re further down the line of not having enough qualified installers. We need both a short- and long-term solution. And I think the short-term solution is where we’re challenged. Everybody wants to solve a problem that has plagued the industry for 50 years overnight, but everyone in the construction arena is facing the same challenge. They all need people. So, we’re competing with people who have been communicating with these potential employees a lot longer than we have. HVAC, electricity, plumbing, etc. In addition, they are covering all educational costs and guaranteeing placement.
Is immigration an answer?
We believe it can be one answer. We’ve got a lot of people who have crossed the border into the United States. While they’re here, they should be paying taxes. They should be paying for their own healthcare. Why not provide them a trade in the short term while they’re waiting to see whether they get to stay in the U.S. or not? Having the skill will help them either way. I would like to see us give them short-term visas and require them to earn the right to stay.
We have lobbied in Washington on this topic. The problem is it’s very difficult to get anything done in D.C. when each party is worried about how their stand will impact the next election.
What about soldiers coming back from their tour of duty?
We’ve looked at that. The problem is, everybody else is looking at it, too.
What else do you lobby on when you go to D.C.?
In our recent board meeting in D.C., we had three teams made up of our executive and finance committee members who joined us in lobbying on Capitol Hill. We focused on three main issues: 1) Independent contractors and the Department of Labor. When a Democratic administration is in power, they tend to be more focused on controlling subcontract labor. As you know, we’re an industry that is primarily subcontract labor—at least on the residential side. If you tell us we have to make everyone an employee, you disrupt and eventually destroy the industry as we know it today. You create a scenario where only the biggest can survive. 2) Workforce development. We were proposing options that allow us to bring new laborers into the flooring installation world utilizing apprenticeships and grants. 3) Tax deductions. The vast majority of flooring dealers are small businesses that are subchapter S-Corporations or limited liability corporations. As such, these businesses pay no corporate taxes but “pass” as much as 20% of all taxable income through to the business owner, who then pays an income tax on the amount passed thorough. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) established a new tax deduction for owners of pass-through businesses. We would like to see this made permanent.
You are starting a pilot leadership program. Talk a little bit about that.
It is called SEAL certification and it stands for—Seeking Excellence As Leaders. We’ve got a “who’s who” of the industry taking part in the pilot in order to provide feedback and suggest changes. My goal when I came to the WFCA was to see all the associations and entities work together. But this industry is slow to change—even when we hate our current status. I’m convinced that if we can change the mindset of people at the top, we will change the organizations. If we change the organizations, we will change the industry. The way to change the people at the top is to give them the ability to improve their leadership. I want leadership development to be a part of my legacy. SEAL gives us a chance to impact people, not simply procedure and process.
How many people are in the pilot program?
Thirty-six, including the major mills, trade media, WFCA board of directors, key staff members of the WFCA as well as industry leaders. We’ve reached out to leaders that already have a following, already have an impact, real-life influencers. We know they have the greatest ability to be a catalyst for others to take part in SEAL certification when it rolls out in January 2024.
Talk a little bit about the program.
We set out to make this very time conscious. We looked for a partner training organization that was highly respected. The organization we’re partnering with is Integrate Leadership. Chick-fil-A is one of their clients, as well as the Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Pirates and a lot of other organizations. We realize this is the chance to make a difference. The WFCA is the entity in the flooring industry that can offer an industry-wide leadership certification. We would love to see other associations and organizations become involved. Our goal is to influence high-level and second-tier leaders as well as emerging leaders to be the best they can be.
What is the ultimate goal and do you foresee a cost to go through the program?
There will be a cost down the road. We will have a group of pilot participants who will determine the value of the program. The goal is to change lives; it’s that simple. If we simply change the worker, they won’t always carry it home. And I’m telling you, leadership that doesn’t permeate your entire life—home and work—is not leadership.
Talk about how the WFCA has evolved the past 10 years.
The WFCA was attempting to be everything to everybody. It was a great premise. We wanted to do good, but we weren’t able to get any traction until we defined our purpose as focusing on independent flooring retailers and those who rely on them for their success. Personally, the main thing I wanted to accomplish was to get the silos in the industry that were duplicating effort to work together. My second goal was for the WFCA to be relevant. This can be challenging for an association because we don’t have a product that creates revenue. What we do is impact people’s lives. I began to realize that on a very basic level associations exist to find the issues that are having the greatest negative impact on their members and fix those issues. Installation is the most obvious. It’s the reason we, along with others, invested money into getting the research funded to prove FCEF was necessary. It’s also the reason we gave the first $1 million in seed money to fund FCEF and send a message to the industry that we’re all in. By the way, we don’t have a revenue stream. If we’re willing to do this as a nonprofit association, those who benefit from the FCEF’s purpose and can create revenue to replace their investment should be all in as well.
Other issues impacting retailers today and how are you helping?
One of the biggest issues is isolation. Everybody feels like they’re in this on their own. COVID-19 became a great catalyst for our membership. We had 1,200 members when the pandemic started; we are nearing 12,000 today.
How did that happen?
We made the primary membership free. Couple that with our focus on streamlining communication with D.C. and the industry. During COVID-19 the trade media like FCNews and our partners in D.C. were giving us information. In turn, we were analyzing that info and sending it out to our members. This allowed retailers and others in the industry to understand the purpose in being part of the WFCA.
We also have a phenomenal board of men and women who are doers. In fact, at the end of August, we will be gathering with key staff and our executive and finance committees for a Visioning Summit. We will be discussing how we can have an impact now, in five years and long after you and I are gone. We will be looking at what the WFCA will be doing that will make a difference for years to come.
What is CFI up to now?
Great things. Steve Abernathy has stepped in and taken CFI back to its roots and to new heights at the same time. He said, “We’re going to focus on training, because that’s what we do.” Thanks to Steve and the leadership of CFI, this will be the busiest training year in CFI’s history. In fact, new instructors have been trained, local training has been implemented and membership has doubled in the last six months.
Because they’ve made a focused effort to help the members understand that membership matters. I want to encourage everyone to sign up to attend the CFI/FCICA joint convention in Orlando, Sept. 20-22. Go to cfiinstallers.org for more information or to register.
You’re big into books. Give me a couple you’ve read recently that you would recommend to retailers.
I am re-reading “Atomic Habits,” by James Clear. It discusses how very small things we do combine to make an amazing difference in our lives. In your life, what are the small things you could do like drinking water instead of soda or alcohol? Just a replacement for one drink, not all of them, and then you also do a little bit of exercise and combine that with something else. Small, incremental change is the key.
Come 2024, who would be the best president for the floor covering retailer?
You’re going to get me in trouble here. In my mind the best candidate is probably someone we’ve already had simply because he had a business background. President Trump’s problem was using the pulpit like a bully. I fully believe you don’t have to be a jerk to lead. I believe you need someone who has the mindset of getting government out of businesses’ pockets, simplifying the process so companies can be successful, but not seeking the credit for it.
What did Trump teach the floor covering retailer what not to do from a leadership perspective?
Make up your mind what you’re going to do and do it. Don’t be so bound by fear that you’re afraid to pull the trigger. The reality is, we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes. So many leaders are so cautious that they suffer “analysis paralysis.” They just can’t make a decision for fear it will be the wrong one.
What’s worse for the floor covering retailer—inflation or higher interest rates?
In my mind, higher interest rates are worse for floor covering retailers. As a general public, we tend to accept inflation better. The problem is when things improve—like the supply chain, prices don’t go back down. It does give us an opportunity for greater margin on the backside, but interest rates impact new construction and renovation. They hit us at the core. Currently, there’s such a shortage of housing that people are willing to pay whatever it costs to get the house. We are still seeing buyers bidding up the price. But in the long run, I believe interest rates have a greater impact on our industry.
What do you lose sleep over at night?
My life not mattering. It haunts me. I’m 60 years old; let’s say I stay in this position until I’m 65. I have five more years to have an impact on an industry that I love—one that I’m passionate about. When I wake up at night, I don’t go back to sleep. My mind begins thinking about what I could have done differently or how I can make the biggest difference in the time I have left.
Ever have aspirations of running for some kind of political office?
I used to—all the time. I was asked to consider a run for governor many years ago. I was also asked to run for state senator. I was most recently asked to run for a U.S. Congress seat, but I promised my kids that I would not run [for office] while they were still in high school. I was not willing to spend the required time away from them. One has graduated and the others are in college now. I never say never. What I do know is that right now I am focused on helping the WFCA change the flooring industry for the better. I’m not done yet.