Pictured clockwise from lower left: Hoy Lanning, CMH Flooring products; Mary Docker, Halo Floors; Ron Leach, Rafael Floor Covering; Jay McDonnell, Custom Carpet Centers; Kent Goodman, Space Flooring and Supplies; and Ray Colombo, L. Fishman & Son

We asked representatives from all areas of the industry what they would like to change about the flooring business-and we got an ear full.

Perhaps because we elicited responses from every segment of the industry, the feedback was all over the map. We heard gripes about direct-to-consumer marketing, "meaningless warranties," hidden costs, lack of competition among manufacturers and even a demand that retailers demonstrate "an aptitude for business management" before they are allowed to sell a given product line.

The responses touched on prominent issues as well as those that scarcely receive mention. Generally speaking they were thought provoking, imaginative and, at times, passionate. While some answers suggest strained relationships in the supply chain, they all seem to reflect genuine concern and a willingness to address some of the industry's nagging problems head-on.

The answers, which have been grouped by subject areas, offer a glimpse at the issues and concerns shaping the flooring business. We invite your comments. You can send them via e-mail to hiolan@sbcglobal.net or mail them to us in care of National Floor Trends Magazine.

Supplier Relationships, Practices & Programs

Wish List

Kent Goodman, Space Flooring & Supplies, Smyrna, Ga.

Since inventory is a risk, there should be a guarantee in place.

A wish for distributor/manufacturer/relationship: Since inventory is a risk there should be a guarantee in place so if a distributor can't sell a SKU the manufacturer shares in the cost of moving it (shipping it to a hot territory or in the discounting). The distributor should share in the cost of development by paying a year-end premium on fast-moving "A-list" items to balance out slow movers.

Rick Elfman, Flooring Solutions, Livermore, Calif.

I have never seen so much direct marketing and selling by mills.

We've been a commercial dealer since 1990, and I have never seen so much direct marketing and selling by the mills as I do today. They go around dealers as much as possible, sell direct to end-users, property managers and every dealer they can. Dealers are turning into labor-only businesses. The margins are too thin and the risks/liabilities too high for the commercial dealer today. I wish mills would provide more local training focusing on sales, marketing, product knowledge, installation, claims, etc. for new people.

Jeff Cowan, House of Carpets, Modesto, Calif.

There's an attitude and arrogance that says to retailers, "you have to do business with us."

I would like to bring back competition to the mills. Mill consolidation, especially carpet mills, has created (an) arrogance and an attitude that says to retailers, "You have to do business with us." On the other hand, at retail there has been a proliferation of competition -- growth of home centers, specialty flooring outlets (i.e. tile only, hardwood only, laminate only) in addition to specialty stores.

This growth has made retailers smarter and has required them to work harder and give exemplary customer service. A little competition for the carpet manufacturers would be beneficial for all

Dan Hussey, B & L Flooring America, Prescott Valley, Ariz.

We need to change the deceptive practice with a wear warranty that has integrity.

Let's face it, wear warranties are meaningless and provide no value to the customer. They are deceptive and misleading. Industry insiders know they are worthless but consumers are continually misled. We need to change this deceptive practice with a warranty that has integrity and does not force the retailer to lie or be embarrassed for telling the truth.

Product Construction/Quality Wish List

Noel La Berg, Carpet Warehouse, Fremont, Calif.

Sometimes I actually hear the backing crack when I bend it.

I often get a carpet so full of latex that it is literally impossible to properly install it. Sometimes I hear the backing crack when I bend it. To make matters worse, certain mills give neither an explanation for this happening, nor do they provide installation recommendations.

It's clear to me that a number of installation complaints are due to the way certain mills manufacture products. I, for one, will increase my labor charges when I know the difficulty of installing such carpet.

Jay McDonnell, Custom Carpet Centers, Orchard Park, NY

Improve the Quality of the goods.

If I could change one thing in the industry it would be to improve the quality of goods received from manufacturers (primarily carpet and cushion manufacturers). The amount of consumer bad will along with multi-levels of personnel that retailers need to handle the deluge of claims caused by quality problems are probably the two largest hidden costs for business owners. Sadly, those costs continue to rise unabated.

Claims Handling Wish List

Ron Leach, Rafael Floor Covering, San Rafael, Calif.

I wish we could have an industry-wide claims clearing house.

If I had the power to make a change it would be in the area of claims management. I would like an industry-wide claims clearing house where retailers would have a standard claim form for hardwood, carpet, laminate, ceramics and vinyl. The manufacturers would all subscribe to specific time frames for response, inspections, appeals etc. This clearing house would monitor manufacturer response and co-ordinate the claim between the manufacturer and the retailer.

Administering claims has become a major problem. Retailers and manufacturers could each contribute a percent of sales to pay for this service.

Phil Ashley, Bonitz Flooring Group, Greenville, SC

I would demand that only flooring issues would be flooring issues.

We have become the "catch all" for issues totally unrelated to our industry. Concrete moisture, concrete levelness, mold, HVAC operation, uneven wallboard all contribute to a perceived problem with the scope of our work. Architects and general contractors have relegated us to monitor and resolve these issues with their "once you install it, you own it" philosophy. This must change; the responsibility should belong to the trade that is the root cause of the problem.

Donald deMarginy, D & M Enterprises, Shreveport, La.

I would like to see one-cent per yard go into a fund to pay for the independent inspectors.

I would like to see a program that adds one-cent per yard that goes into a fund to pay for independent inspectors. This way the mill would not be paying them and the installer would possibly get a fair shake. All inspectors would be required to have a thorough knowledge of installation not an ex-salesperson who pays $300 to take a test that nobody fails.

Sales & Marketing Wish List

Tom Jennings, Bud Jennings Carpet One, Kansas City Kan.

The industry needs to find a way to shorten the replacement cycle.

We must find a way to be ever more fashionable, yet make customers want to shorten the replacement cycle. Virtually all floor covering fashion trends will most likely lengthen an already too-long product lifespan. With cars, most people want what's new and different before the end of their potential usage. We need people to feel the same way about their flooring. It can be accomplished by increasing consumer awareness of floor covering's newest trends, manufacturers limiting their distribution to a qualified dealer structure and by not discounting the invoice at every opportunity!

Mitchell S. Brown, French-Brown Floors, Dallas, Texas

In Texas, all one needs to become a flooring contractor is the desire and perhaps a business cards.

This varies among the states. In Texas we are "required" to get a business license but very few do and that requirement is very rarely, if ever, checked. Licensing and some degree of liability and comp/health insurance for workers should be mandated by the state. This would help level the playing field for all contractors. (Worker's comp is not mandatory in Texas and many flooring contractors have no liability insurance.)

Rich Swoboda, Northwest Tile and Floors, Couer D'Alene, Idaho

We need more control over who represents our products.

We need to improve our image in the minds of potential clients. We need more control over who represents our products. The industry could qualify retailers by requiring "licensing" as a pre-requisite for product representation.

Licensing would require an aptitude for business management, which could help maintain our profit margins. Manufacturers allowing just anyone to represent their products contribute to devaluation in our industry. If we don't fairly charge the client for our products and services they won't associate value with either one.

Bill Bane, Bane-Clene Corp., Indianapolis, Ind.

Addressing cleaning and maintenance on the front-end of the sale would be refreshing.

Too few retailers have taken the responsibility for selling, installing and servicing. Consumers who are pleased two years after their purchase will likely buy more from the same store. Carpet manufacturers and retailers should tell the truth. Addressing cleaning and maintenance on the front end of the sale would be refreshing.

Mike Lazore, Certified Carpet Corrections, Brockport, NY

Installer/sales education should be mandatory.

The one change that would benefit the industry is installer/sales education. It should be mandatory. Every installer should be licensed or certified by a governing body, and should be required to attend mandatory updates annually. This would significantly reduce consumer complaints and inspections. I think about all the money that is spent trying to correct poor workmanship. Manufacturers should be putting that money toward reducing costs, training installers and educating salespeople.

Ron Katz, Harry Katz Carpet One, Mineola, NY

I wish we could rid the industry of dishonest retailers.

An example: stores that split overcharges with their salespeople. I have seen misquotes by 10 percent or more. Then there's the problem of multi-weight carpets and selling the heavy and shipping the lighter one. There are manufacturers who ship everything, including product with known defects. Cleanup the dishonesty and we will hear fewer derogatory words from consumers when they talk about our industry.

Mary Docker, Halo Floors, Atlanta, Ga.

There's a need to promote the value of the installer.

If I had the power (and the money) I would launch a huge advertising campaign to promote the value of the installer. Most installers are good, conscientious and skilled but nobody wants to pay the price for their expertise. So when floors fail due to wet slabs, not enough subfloor prep etc. - the list is endless - who ultimately pays the price? The manufacturer pays, of course!"

Inspections/Inspectors Wish List

Jeff Bishop, Clean Care Seminars, Dothan, Al.

I would like to see mills and insurance companies demand that trained technicians are present on the job site.

The change that I would like to see is mills and insurance companies demanding that trained technicians are present on the job site when inspections involve their products. Obviously, the training would have to have an independent, non-profit organization verify that training through certification in the subject. Currently, they get what they demand...nothing! Trained versus untrained, trained versus untrained - Hmmmmm, what a tough decision. What a revolutionary idea!

C. Frank Golladay, Technical Floor Covering Consultants, Durham, NC

Monitor and evaluate inspectors.

My wish for inspections: Monitor and evaluate your inspectors. Use the best inspectors available - not the cheapest. Inaccurate reports result in unhappy dealers and disillusioned consumers. Manufacturers should be embarrassed by the poor quality of reports often sent to consumers who deserve accurate, honest, and professional answers to their complaints.

Installer Training/Certification Wish List

Ray Colombo, L. Fishman & Son, Baltimore, Md.

All flooring should be installed by trained and certified installers.

A most pressing change for the betterment of our industry and its image would involve the requirement that all floor coverings are installed by trained and certified flooring installers. The Certified Flooring Installers Association (CFI) has created the base. Now let's get all manufacturers to incorporate certified installations into their warranty requirements.

Tim Thompson, Cronin Co., Kent, Wash.

The most significant area of disconnect is between the installation trades and the rest of the industry.

My wish: to eliminate the "disconnect," the most significant of which is between the installation trades and the rest of the industry. Independent contractors assume that they are equipped to properly install floor coverings. But in many cases, because of the advances in technology, manufacturing and lack of language skills, they are not qualified. I would establish a national education and testing program that installers would be required to attend and successfully complete in order to install floors.

Hoy Lanning, CMH Flooring Products, Wadesboro, N.C.

My biggest concern for this business is the future and present is installation.

We need to maximize our efforts to train and educate installers to be the best in their field. They should be knowledgeable, professional and business minded (they're the last to see our customers). We have a full-time installation trainer, provide weeklong schools at our facility through an accredited course of South Piedmont Community College. But, we need to do more. Some say we need to certify installers. That will require everyone pulling together in that effort.