Breed Your Own Installers
“There are no installers out there.” “I can’t get installers.” These are common complaints of flooring retailers. The first statement is partially true. The second is false. Retailers can’t get installers because they have failed to produce them. When I was a retailer from 1960 through 1987, installers were breaking down the doors for work. Problem was most were not the kind of installers I wanted and couldn’t be unless my people trained them.
While speaking at a group awards dinner for Olga Robertson, president of the FCA Network, I asked the installer in the audience who had just won an award if there were other installers among the dozens in the audience who were technically as good. FCA Network is one of the best run merchandising groups in the America. One tipoff is that they included installers at the dinner. His answer was: “Some were just as skilled.” I then asked, “Why were you the award winner tonight?” His answer: “Because my customers like me.”
Bingo! This was the only time in 55 years that someone else agreed with me that the most important attribute for an installer to have is attitude. I never expected my subcontractors to know how to hire and especially to hire other installers or would-be helpers. Heck, 99% of retailers don’t understand that attitude is the most important attribute of success, essential for hiring office staff, salespeople or warehouse employees. For some reason, I learned this early in my professional life, which led me to invent the saying years ago: “Attitude isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!”
One thing most of my readers may not agree with is that floor covering installation is not technically difficult. It is hard work due to the heavy lifting. I am one of the most mechanically inept people ever, yet years ago, I was making $2.25 per yard when the going rate was $1.25. Why? Because it was then that I realized success is predicated on whether people liked you or not. Trust is based on how much people like you. For example, in selling, anything you tell your customer when they don’t like you enough is just another attempt to sell them. It makes you just another salesperson. If they like you, people will hang on every word. Selling is the art of being liked, separating you from the competition. It’s the same in any vocation or profession. Therefore, when I suggested custom touches like stringers, insets or borders, they knew it was because I sincerely wanted the best for them. After a while, shoppers would only buy flooring from a store if they hired me to do the job. At that young age, my attitude drove my sales.
This led me to hire people for my subcontractors to train. One of my subs (Bobby Plunkett) was the son-in-law of Gerry Talty, for whom I worked briefly prior to opening my last chain of flooring stores. He was polite, extremely responsible and more than intelligent enough to know what I wanted. I paid the salary of the new hire until Bobby felt he was good enough to keep as a helper and eventually able to install. Even with the emergence of some schools for installation in the industry, no training is anywhere close to being as good as daily on-the-job training with a skilled craftsman. My wife, who owns her own flooring store, sent our 20-year-old son to the industry’s leading school run by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). Ben was trained by my wife’s best installer, so we asked him if he had learned anything new. His answer was an unequivocal “no,” although he thought the school was very good.
Another problem for retailers, if left with only the choice of industry schools, is that there are nowhere near enough of them to fill the need for installers. Even though I developed my Breed Your Own training program for a different reason (attitude), it is the only way right now for individual flooring retailers to cope with the installation crisis. The complaint concerning finding installers is partially true. There is opportunity to steal them because your competition doesn’t treat installers well or pay them enough. The reason they can’t afford to pay them is they don’t know how to sell. When customers like you, price goes out the window.
The other factor is the denigration of our social fabric in America. Young people really don’t believe they should have to work hard, and this stems from society’s insane coddling of our young people and the “everyone wins” sickness. However, there are still a few young people out there who were brought up with the right work ethic and attitude and are worth looking for. My son, Ben (one of my nine children), had “old school” parents who let him know you have to compete to win in life and was brought up with a work ethic. An extremely good athlete, we knew we were on the right track when at eight years old, he told his coach that if everyone on the team gets a trophy, he didn’t want one.
As a young person, I wanted to work hard and knew that heavy lifting would keep me in shape. Furthermore, I understood that the product we were installing did the most to beautify our customers’ homes in the shortest time for the least investment. It was extremely gratifying to experience our customers’ joy when they saw the final result.
If an installer will work hard, there are very few trades or professions that pay as much. This is the reason I am infuriated at the insane movement to send all kids to college when most college degrees aren’t worth as much as a high school education when I graduated in 1956. Students graduating with an engineering degree can’t possibly make the income of a skilled installer. I say, “breed your own!”