I spoke with several manufacturers about training approaches, goals and their take on the retailer perceptions regarding the benefits of laminate installation training. Based on these conversations, I¿fve come to learn that manufacturer training programs have as many twists and turns as a barrel of snakes.
The goal of the training is very simple and, for the most part, as common as the generic ¿gsale¿h signs that attract consumers into a retail floor covering store. Manufacturers want to reduce claims and boost sales simultaneously. They extol laminate flooring installation training as the means of meeting these goals ? because it¿fs working! Why? I¿fll answer that question later in this article, but to me the most interesting component of this story is the strategy each manufacturer has adopted for its laminate flooring installation training.
¿gOur Certified Installer Program for laminate flooring was established in response to a market that expects the laminate leaders to provide this education and guidance,¿h explains Tom Nealley, general manager marketing, Armstrong World Industries, Floor Products-Americas. ¿gArmstrong has the size and resources to provide it.¿h
The program, Nealley adds, is a cooperative effort spearheaded by Armstrong and its distributors to identify, entice and educate retailers/installers to invest their time and money in laminate certification. The costs of righting any missteps on the part of installers who have completed the training program are shared by Armstrong, participating retailers/installers and distributors.
Armstrong will provide as much as $1,000 per claim (a maximum of three under the program, and no more than two within a two-year period) for material and accessories. The installer/retailer provides the labor to replace or repair the floor, and the distributor administers and supervises the certification program in accordance with the curriculum provided by Armstrong. The program stipulates the correct use of all Armstrong products, but does not assume liability for subfloor and substrate conditions such as improper subfloor preparation, or the presence of moisture or alkali.
Bill Wiese, field installation specialist with Mannington Mills, provided a unique perspective on who is taking advantage of installation training and why. Bill has noticed that the small ¿gmom & pop¿h retailers are often the most reluctant to send their installers for training. Their main concern: the risk of losing upgraded installers after the retailer has made an investment in time and money (or both) to upgrade their skills.
¿gRetailers that offer full-time employment to installers, and buying groups, tend to sponsor the lion¿fs share of installers who participate in the field training and (Mannington¿fs) week-long hands-on training program for laminate and wood,¿h Wiese explains. ¿gRight now, there¿fs a two- to three-month wait for installers to attend our Salem, NJ school.¿h
Mannington, Wiese says, has recognized an opportunity to expand its capabilities by partnering with distributors who currently provide hands-on training, or by assisting distributors that plan to do so. Mannington¿fs Rocky Mountain distributor, Larson Distributing Co., serves as a model of successful partnership in installer certification for all Mannington products, including vinyl, wood and laminate.
This partnership, according to Larson Distributing Installation Specialist Ed Chilcott, has yielded no installation-related customer complaints in the 19 months since installers who successfully completed the program passed their certification tests. Any participant in the program must be recommended by a Mannington retailer, he adds, and pre-qualify for the testing and evaluation by proving extensive product knowledge and field experience. In addition, participants must pass a hands-on installation test and a comprehensive written test, and they must agree to provide labor for all installation-related claims for the product category that they have been certified to install, for three years.
In exchange, Mannington/Larson will provide $6,000 worth of material for any Mannington/Larson Certified Installer for a period of three years. The Mannington/Larson partnership removes the burden of financial liability from the recommending retailer if and when a certified installer fails to service the complaint. Mannington and Larson will provide, at no charge to the retailer, another certified installer to service the floor. A failure requires the participating installer to undergo re-certification, and installers who encounter no claims need only submit to a refresher course every three years.
Pergo¿fs Endorsed Installer Training Program provides the following guarantee to any participant who successfully completes the intense three-day training course: ¿gShould any Pergo installation by an Endorsed Installer fail due to an installation fault, Perstorp Flooring Inc. will provide replacement Pergo Original and all system components at no cost.
¿gThe Endorsed Installer agrees to furnish the labor to repair or replace any of his installations which fail due to faulty installation techniques. Should an installer have two claims within 12 months, his Endorsement will be reviewed. Endorsement is reviewed annually based upon the excellence of the performance of the Endorsed Installer.¿h
Anthony Palandro, installation specialist and point man of the Pergo Endorsed Installer School for Bayard Sales, had a variety of insights on the value of training based on his two years of experience with the Pergo program.
¿gMost people would be surprised at the caliber of individual who participates in the Pergo program,¿h he says. ¿gThey are all first class, and they genuinely want to learn more and improve their skills.
¿gAnd the belief that installers who participate are only out for financial gain is not true. In fact, most participants are gainfully employed and they seldom discuss labor rates. The school that I teach accommodates eight individuals, three times a month. We generally are booking classes four to five months out.
¿gDoes the program have value for the retailer that commits time or money to it? I think the numbers speak for themselves, both in the number of people that go through the program and the claims rate for Endorsed Installers ? which is almost non-existent.¿h
Joe Tayon, Midwest Region general sales manager for Mohawk Industries, says that while a corporate training and certification program for laminate flooring is being formalized, he has driven his regional laminate sales with training for retailers at mini-markets, through on-site assistance for installers and by providing combined sales/installer training during evening seminars.
¿gIn some cases,¿h Tayon explains, ¿gpeople who previously avoided the sale of laminates now enjoy profits and successful laminate installations because they opted to invest in the training and education that Mohawk provides. The corporate training and certification program that is coming will be second to none, and will only enhance the benefits that we currently offer our retailer base.¿h
According to Ken Peden, Pickering Laminate Floors¿f vice president of Corporate Sales & Marketing, ¿gMost retailers and installers are hungry for laminate installation training. Pickering¿fs Installation Specialist and Trainer, Dalen Gunn, travels five days a week, coast to coast, doing evening seminars, breakfast meetings, on-site training, and even works with our retailers during the day.
¿gIs it valuable? Typically, we see a three-fold increase in a retailer¿fs business after training, over a period of a few months. But¿h Peden adds, ¿gwe had a Dallas retailer increase his business five times in 60 days after on-site training.¿h
¿gSimplicity is the answer,¿h attests Steve Bunch, vice president of Marketing & Sales for Alloc Precision Flooring. ¿gAlloc recognizes the challenges retailers are faced with as installation systems become more complicated and the labor pool for competent installers shrinks.¿h
This situation, he adds, led Alloc to create a mechanical locking system that speeds and reduces installation labor by 50% in some cases, eliminates the need for glue application, clean up and removal that¿fs characteristic of most laminate installations and, has significantly reduced the time needed to train potential installers.
¿gRetailers value all the things our product and training gives them ? especially our ability to cross train installers of other flooring products to a reasonable level of competency with Alloc¿fs mechanical locking system within an hour,¿h says Bunch.
Why is laminate installation training successful, and what are the true benefits to the retailer who invests in that training? Laminate flooring is still considered a new product in the U.S. marketplace, which instills retailers¿f fear of the unknown. Also, laminates are precision products with no built-in margin for error during installation. Of course, patterns, colors, designs, and installation systems can help camouflage or minimize mistakes. But for the most part, ¿gwhat you see is what you get.¿h
Throw in the growing trend of manufacturers expecting shared accountability with everyone involved in an installation (including distributor, retailer and installer), the product category¿fs lack of a history of ¿ggood will,¿h as well as the laminate consumer¿fs knowledge of the product, and you have ample justification for the retailer¿fs willingness to invest in laminate installation training.
My research tells me that manufacturers commit approximately 0.5 % of sales revenue to technical training. As a retailer, you get out of it what you put into it. Speaking as a former retailer, all of my installers (both contract and in-house) were required to attend any manufacturers¿f installation training within a 100 mile radius, period.
I would pay for their travel and all related expenses, including meals. Their sole commitment was their time. An installer¿fs failure to comply with my rules on training meant that he would not work for my store. The result: successful, problem-free installations that never, in more than 30 years, resulted in a claim.
The message to retailers is clear. You control your destiny. Only you can run your business. Invest in laminate installation training and the return will come back many times over via profit, time saved and repeat business. You have a multitude of choices! Align yourself with manufacturers whose products, warranties and installation training best serve your needs.
So, what are you waiting for? Make the move to invest in laminate installation training and, I¿fm confident, time will prove it to be a good decision.