Ray Kaster of Kaster Carpet Villa in Beaverton, Oregon, was an effective trainer of flooring professionals. This story is a testimony to the educational insight and dedication of one man. How does your employee training program compare with Ray Kaster’s employee training philosophy?

My first job in the floorcovering industry began in 1971 as a retail carpet sales trainee at Kaster Carpet Villa. Ray Kaster was an “old school” master flooring installer. After 25 years as a professional installer, Ray opened his own retail store. His common sense, foresight, dedication and ability to train his staff are the primary reasons for the success he earned as a flooring retailer. He owned the same Beaverton location for 19 years before selling the business to his son.

Ray strongly believed his best investment was to spend his time and money to provide his employees with a quality flooring education. His desire to teach the development of detailed work habits and how to apply that skill to his employees’ daily work was the best investment of his money and time. I was extremely fortunate to work with a person like Ray Kaster when I entered the flooring industry as a 23-year-old retail sales trainee.

While I have been very fortunate to work with some very successful people in my career who also shared Ray's philosophy regarding training and education, I am 100% certain that if I had not received the training and education I received from Ray Kaster, I would not have experienced the level of success that I enjoy today.

Ray’s Way

 For the first three months after I was hired, I came to work in my work clothes and helped the installers load the trucks. Ray provided our three installation crews with high quality 14-foot-long enclosed vans complete with all fuel and maintenance. Ray also provided all the tackless, metals, cushion, adhesive and miscellaneous supplies required to perform the installation work properly.

I went out with the installers and assisted in the removal of the existing flooring, the substrate prep and anything I could do to move furniture, install cushion and help with the layout of the carpet for installation. After five weeks, the installers taught me how to seam with heat tape and how to sew woven carpet. I kept a good upright vacuum cleaner in my car. A primary part of my work was vacuuming the carpet after the carpet installation was completed. I was also instructed to check the installation for any issues that might lead to a consumer complaint. 

Ironically, I started my inspection career without knowing that in the future I would be doing the same inspections as a professional inspector. If the consumer was at the site after my vacuuming was complete, it was my responsibility to walk the person around the installation and see if they had any questions. You can understand why we had a very low complaint ratio. Ray took care of his complaints and only contacted the manufacturer when we were positive the issue was actually related to a material deficiency.

Every morning when I went out with the installers, Ray gave me a floor diagram. During my breaks and lunch hour I would create a seaming layout and cut sheet to fit the diagram for the material we were installing that day.  Every night when I came back to the store, Ray would give me another floor plan to create a similar cut sheet and a seam layout for the same material and bring it back to work the next day. Every Saturday morning (we worked six days), I would meet Ray for breakfast, and we would review the plans and discuss any errors I made and what I should do so that I would not repeat the mistake in the future. I continued to do the diagram thing for the first six months I was at the store. Before I ever spoke to my first customer, I had laid out the flooring material plan, developed seaming diagrams and cut sheet for more than 200 projects.

After the first few months with the installers, I came to the store earlier than the installers. I wore a shirt, tie and dress slacks. My responsibilities were to review that day’s work orders and floor plans written by the sales personnel. I had to make certain everything was in order and all the materials were ready to go to the jobsite. Sometimes I was able to do this the night before. I was still doing a cut sheet and seam layout on at least one diagram every day. I continued this activity for the first six months I worked for Ray.

Once every two weeks, Ray held a meeting with our three salespeople and our three installation crews. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the materials we had been selling and installing to see if we were having problems with any of the products. If we had a problem with a product, we figured out a way to resolve the material and/or installation issues or we stopped selling the product that had the issue.

Ray spent a substantial amount of time training his installers. He also arranged for them to attend installation clinics and paid the fees for those schools. Ray always said educated installers will equal fewer claims and more profit. He always told his employees that if there is more profit then everybody shares in a portion of that profit. I received a profit-related bonus for Christmas all four years I worked for Ray.

When I left Ray’s employ, we were paying our installers $1.75 per square yard for conventional stretch-in installation. We paid $2.25 per square yard for direct glue down plus an hourly fee for prep. We paid $2.75 per square yard plus prep for woven goods with seam tape and $3.25 per square yard for hand sewn carpet. We had very few installation complaints. Remember: in addition to paying a good per yard wage, Ray also provided the work vans, fuel and maintenance and purchased all the installation supplies. Ray paid his installers a much better wage than our competitors. I can’t remember any installer quitting during my time at the store.

After I was in the store full time, my responsibilities included:

  1. Answer the telephone and route calls to the proper person in the store.
  2. While listening to salespeople talk with customers, I would pick up samples and hang them back on the display racks. We had a showroom that was 60 feet wide and about 150 feet deep, with a floor to ceiling glass front. Behind the rear wall was a 5,000 square-foot warehouse. The center of the show room had rolls of carpet stacked two high. Along the side and rear walls were 18” x 27” samples hung on revolving doors. If I remember correctly, there were approximately 70 doors and 140 samples. We quoted only fully installed prices. My final test before I could speak with my first real customer (the story with the lady in red comes later) I had to memorize the name of the manufacturer, the product name, and the fully installed price per square yard for each sample selection on the revolving doors.
  3. For the first six months, my job was to hang around and listen to Ray or salespeople talking to a customer. If a customer came in and the other salespeople were busy, I would talk to the customers, but I would always turn the customer over to an experienced salesperson. 
  4. On a daily basis, I reviewed every purchase order, seaming layout and work order produced by the sales staff to make certain the necessary products had been ordered and all the correct information was on the written work orders, cut sheets and seaming layouts to make certain all of the flooring material was ready for the next day’s installation and that the installers were getting correct and accurate information.
  5. During the week, I had a minimum of a one-on-one meeting with one of our manufacturer representatives. Ray believed in loyalty and selectivity. The rule was the representative could talk to me about the pros and cons of his company’s products, but he could not speak negatively about his competition. It is amazing how effectively a salesperson can sell a product when they are equipped with proper and positive information. Any product negatives that came up during the week would be discussed in our weekly sales meetings or bi-weekly meeting with the installers.
  6. Ray had a measuring system where the salespeople went into the home to measure the area to receive flooring. The salesperson always utilized the exact same measuring system as the installers working at the installation site. By using the same measurement system and our really accurate work orders, seam layouts and cut sheets, the salespeople and installers were always speaking the same language and on the same page. The system created a sense of cooperation, eliminated controversy, and made everyone’s work much easier and enjoyable.

Ray believed in loyalty and selectivity. At any given time, we represented between 10 to 12 mills plus some local distributors. Ray purchased all of his samples from the manufacturers and distributors with an agreement with suppliers that when we reached a certain dollar level in purchases of the sampled product, the manufacturer or distributor would credit back the cost of the sample purchase to Kaster. In the long run, we either developed strong relationships with a manufacturer, or we looked for another manufacturer to replace the less than satisfactory relationship. There was always a line of manufacturers waiting to do business with Ray Kaster.

My First Customer: The Lady in Red

I worked for Ray for six months before I was allowed to speak to a customer. I was ready when I got the chance. My first customer was a lady that had been in the store on numerous occasions looking for “a red colored carpet for her entry way.” Everyone thought it was quite humorous when she was turned over to me to be my first customer. As luck would have it, Hollytex Carpet Mills had just come out with a new multi-level, patterned, loop pile carpet called "Inner Circle.” This quality carpet line actually had two red colors. The lady loved both colors and asked me if I would come to her home and measure her entry.

I figured what the hell. It was on my way home and everyone got a great laugh out of my first sale being an entryway. The laugh was on them. When I arrived at the customer’s house, I discovered it was a four-story brownstone in an old and very exclusive area of Portland. The “entry” was a 22' x 18’ with three wide stairways and landings as well as a fourth floor hallway that was 8’ x 22”. Because of the spindle work and the pattern match requirements, I had to call Ray to help me with the layout. My first carpet sale was an entry costing more than $8,000. That was a lot of money for a stairway and entry in 1971.

The Ray’s Way Result

When I started working at Kaster Carpet Villa, the sales staff was comprised of Ray and two other salesmen besides me. Kaster Carpet Villa sold only carpet, cushion and installation for both commercial and residential installation. Prior to hiring me, his gross sales for the previous year were $1.9 million. During my first year, my sales exceeded more than $460,000.00. Considering I was only selling for 7.5 months of the year, Ray received an excellent return on his investment for the time invested in the training and education of his new salesman.

Ray did no advertising except for the logo and nice paint jobs on the three carpet vans we owned. His best decision was his building. Kaster Carpet Villa faced the end of the exit ramp off Sunset Highway (Freeway 28) and SW Canyon Road. The front of the building directly faced the junction of both roads.

SW Canyon road in Beaverton, Oregon was the main traffic route from downtown Portland out to the major SW growth area (Nike’s campus is about 2 miles from the store’s location). The thousands of cars that passed the site on a daily basis had a direct sight line to the front of the store as they drove by on the freeway. The entire top front of the store had the very large Kaster Carpet Villa logo sign. Ray didn’t have to advertise. During the course of a 60-day period, approximately 70% of the people who lived in the western half of Portland drove by the store location. Many of them multiple times a day.

Ray’s Way Versus Today

Over the course of my flooring inspection career, I have shared my Kaster Carpet Villa training experience with many people in the flooring industry. They are all amazed at the story, and they all tell me this form of training would probably not be possible today. They believe this type of education would not be available today due to the limited dedication and loyalty on behalf of both the trainee, retail management, and the financial cost of investing in overt employee education before the employee trainee becomes a productive member of the sales staff. The primary reason given for the lack of any strong training program was that many people in the floorcovering industry are not sufficiently dedicated and energized to create the much-needed professional training and education programs the industry needs so badly.

I would be very delinquent if I did not offer credit to the people within the industry who are presently working hard to enhance the educational level of the personnel in the flooring industry. There are several dedicated people and a few organizations attempting to improve industry education and training, but there are not nearly enough dedicated souls to make the progress we need to develop the professional salespeople and flooring installers needed by the industry today.

When the retail/contracting portion of the industry finally achieves a comprehensive and consistent education program and develops a professional wage scale that recognizes the value in the improvements in skill level, knowledge and experience, for the individual installers and sales people will the industry ever experience a growing pool of competent professionals. These professional standards will generate even more interest for others outside the industry to become involved in a profession that truly recognizes the value of a professional, educated retail sales and installation staff.