Installer Professionalism Hits the Road - Keith Fretzemeyer, an installer for Oklahoma City-based Beckett Bros. Floor Co. for the past 19 years, loads a company van in preparation for the day's scheduled job.

Perhaps the most serious ongoing issue plaguing the floor covering industry is the inadequate supply of competent, qualified installers. Even the hardwood segment of the industry, which is known for its aggressive training efforts, has not been totally invulnerable to the installer shortage.

Despite its humble beginnings, our industry typically has been blessed with a dedicated corps of hard-working, ethically minded craftsmen. But compounding the worsening workforce shortage problem are the inevitable installer retirement announcements that we dealers/contractors are reluctantly accepting. The installers’ well-deserved joy over the prospect of retirement from the working world is, in reality, our sorrow.

Consumers, too, are growing weary of our industry’s installer shortage and have adopted a “buyer beware” policy toward floor installation. Too many have had bad experiences with fly-by-night contractors. Our industry and our hardwoods deserve the very best workforce that money can buy. Today’s highly selective and educated consumer feels the same way.

In truth, you can’t convince the customer of your installation crew’s expertise until you yourself are confident about it. The importance of quality must be instilled internally before you commence installing externally.

With this in mind, I encourage you to develop a comprehensive training program for apprentice installers and simultaneously provide means for your veterans to upgrade their skills and knowledge of current manufacturer-recommended procedures. New hires who profess to have installation skills should be thoroughly screened and, at the very least, accompanied to the job site by one of your seasoned veteran installers who can precisely evaluate their performance. Paper credentials are encouraging, but any new hire will have to deliver several successful field performances to alleviate your skepticism.

Consumers tend to seek out those individual companies that exert sufficient control over their labor forces. Recognizing this fact, dealers/contractors are beginning to lean toward maintaining an in-house installer staff vs. hiring subcontractors on a per-job basis. Ultimately, the dealer/contractor is responsible and liable for the installation even when the labor portion of the contract is farmed out to an independent labor house.

The big-box stores, which most hardwood flooring manufacturers considered to be major players, would probably agree that finding reliable subcontractors who can deliver a truly professional installation is a continuing problem for them. Another obstacle facing the big boxes relates to the training and education of their own sales forces. Employees who work in the plumbing department on Monday and in hardwood flooring the next day are trained, at best, for the DIY buyer.

Indeed, independent dealers/contractors continue to reign supreme with regard to their abilities to provide professional installation for the hardwood flooring industry. Unlike other packaged products that require at least some additional service to perform as intended, hardwood flooring never achieves its full essence until it’s been professionally installed. Our products definitely don’t fall under the end user-friendly category of “some assembly required.”

The bottom line remains the same. We, as an industry, must be capable of receiving, delivering and completely installing any wood flooring product the buyer/consumer chooses. But reconciling our expertise with the customer’s expectations can sometimes be more of a challenge than the installation itself.

Preparing the customer for any hardwood flooring installation should commence at the original point of sale. Delaying this duty can come back to haunt you on the actual day of the installation.

A consumer who has not been adequately informed may interpret even routine installation procedures as a surprise attack by an apparently alien force when, in fact, the courteous and well-trained installers are trying just to do their jobs. Remember, what you may consider to be a normal and routine installation is a mysterious operation to most consumers, who probably have never seen such work in progress.

To leverage our professional skills in both sales and installation, we must be equipped to transform a confused buyer into a confident customer and, hopefully, a repeat future client. Customers love a detailed, organized installation that’s performed in timely fashion.

To increase your odds of delivering this caliber of installation performance, advise the customer of the responsibilities he must fulfill in advance of the scheduled installation date. For instance, the homeowner should be instructed to remove or secure any fragile items at the job site that could be damaged during the course of the installation. Inform the customer about any usage restrictions that may be required until the installation is complete.

Explain that, although care will be taken to minimize wall and trim scratches that result during the course of the installation, some touch-up painting may be required once the work is done. Placing emphasis on your installation warranty almost always increases your customer’s level of comfort with the installation process. And perhaps most important of all, have your salesman or your riding foreman make a personal appearance at the job site during the installation to demonstrate your policy of “service after the sale.”

You don’t have to convince Wood or Wood Knot that you’re good. Just the fact that you are reading this article shows that you care about who you are and what you do. Proving that to your customer may require a little more effort. Good luck in your endeavor.