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Where Did All The Pro Installers Go?

This is an article that discusses our feelings on the installation side of the flooring industry.

There have been many changes since I entered into this business 20 years ago—some good, some not so good. I started in this business as an installer, as many in the business today have done. I’m not going to exaggerate and say that back then everyone took pride in what they did and worked efficiently, because that was not the case. However, it did seem that more people, especially younger people, were eager to learn and work hard to make money. As we know, that’s not the case in this day and age.

When I started in the business, the procedure for becoming a professional installer was simple. You’d work as an apprentice or “helper” for a few years and gradually learn the skills required to go out on your own as a qualified installer. Nowadays, there seems to be no such thing as an apprentice. As soon as a helper gets wind of how much his or her mentor is making, two weeks later they’re an installer running ads in the newspaper and making a mess out of customers’ houses. I worked in the union when I was younger. Although union labors do have their bad points, their apprenticeship program was definitely a big benefit. If you were in a union, you did not graduate to installer status unless you were ready and qualified to do so.

I would have to say, honestly, that in my opinion, 50% to 70% of all people calling themselves professional flooring installers should be considering another career! Even some of the ones that have field experience don’t have the skills. The experience they have under their belt may have been obtained by their own trial and error, as opposed to professional training. Some are even ordinary people who may have just decided that their previous job was going nowhere, so they bought some Time-Life ‘How To” books and hit the streets.

There are many things that I feel contribute to the lack of qualified installers. One thing is the added opportunity we have these days. Installing floor covering is hard work. If a young person attempts to learn a trade such as this, and sees how hard the work is versus, say, learning how to work on a computer, then realizes the pay rate is the same or better for computer work, which field do you think they’re going to pursue? One thing that has to change is the pay rate for true qualified installers. In simple terms, it has to increase! Some of the pay rates for this type of work haven’t changed in over 30 years, and some have actually gone down! That doesn’t give newcomers much incentive, and it sure irritates the ones who already have been in the industry for many years. It irritates some of them to the point that they want to get out, or they work everyday with a really bad attitude.

Another contributing factor is that, in many states, counties, towns, etc., there is no license required to do this type of work. Electricians, plumbers and many other tradesmen must be licensed to do the work that they do. In most cases flooring installations run into thousands of dollars—much more than other trades charge for their work. So, why aren’t they required to have a license? This makes no sense. I feel that if a license were required for all the different types of flooring installations, it would weed out the non-professionals. Furthermore, in some states, a license is required by flooring installers on commercial jobs, but that licensing is usually overlooked when it comes to residential work contracted by homeowners.

There are some signs that the industry as a whole is attempting to change all of this. With the introduction of laminate flooring into the United States, and the fact that its popularity is growing at a staggering rate, the manufacturers are taking their own approach to this problem. Some of the larger manufacturers are now offering training classes. They charge potential installers a fee and put them through a training program that’s designed for their product line. They then deem these trained people “Certified Installers.” That’s great, except that these classes are usually one to four days, and then they’re done. I understand that the manufacturer considers them “certified,” but I can’t see how they’d be qualified in that short period of time. This goes back to my feeling on the apprentice programs of yesteryear. One good thing about the laminate flooring manufacturers, though: They are all terrified of developing a bad reputation with the buying public. With that in mind, they have been a bit more forgiving when it comes to approving claims. I’ve seen them approve claims that were installation-related problems and replace them, even though they had no obligation to do it.

What’s the bottom line on this subject? Things have to change for the better, or the industry is doomed. When I say doomed, I’m referring to low profits, bad reputations and all of that good stuff. If you buy a floor made by the XYZ company, and you have a problem with it, even if it’s installation-related, you may not recommend that floor to anyone. Even if the manufacturer was not at fault, you still had the bad experience. Hopefully, things will change for the better. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you do all of your homework before hiring an installer. If you’re considering doing the installation yourself, and you have some experience with this type of work, then I say go for it! You may be more professional than the “professional” you were going to pay to do the job.

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