Today, if you look at the availability of training, it is almost nonexistent. Wholesalers are left to finance installation training seminars with little or no help from flooring contractors or others in the installation community. Manufacturers have also spent time and money developing training programs but they too get little or no support beyond their wholesale network. To quote Tom Peters, author and motivational speaker, “Our investment in training is a national disgrace. That should come as no surprise. Despite lip service about people as our most important asset, we value hardware assets over people, and have done so for the last century.”
Some years ago, I wrote an article titled “The industry needs to invest in training instead of complaints.” In it, I made a few observations on how to develop a top-quality installer. As I reflect on our current situation I believe they are more important than ever so allow me to recount some of the steps involved.
Make a commitment. First, make a true top-down commitment to quality installation. It should be part of the firm’s corporate culture from upper management all the way down to the part-time warehouse helper. Then, get a commitment from your suppliers and manufacturers to help develop training. If they won’t go for it you should look to those more attuned to your (and our industry’s) needs.
Figure your costs. If you need motivation, evaluate your current costs of handling a claim or simply administering a complaint. The cost of looking at a complaint, before doing anything about it, is typically between $250 and $300. That’s just lost time and productivity and does not even include the cost of rectifying the problem. All of these costs come right out of your profits. And also consider the intangible cost of a dissatisfied customer bad-mouthing your operation to neighbors and friends.
Evaluate your situation. Take a hard look at your current installation staff (or the sub-contractors you call on) and ask yourself if they are truly meeting your expectations. If not, make the necessary adjustments. This is not an easy task, especially if there are no installers available. But remember: installation should not run your business; your business should run installation. Invest the time and money for training to meet your current and future needs. Don’t get caught up with the idea of simply throwing money at a problem. Establish a program that works. Consider, for example, what you could get accomplished if you doubled your training budget.
Cultivate talent. Develop an entry level training program. For example, hire truck drivers and warehouse personnel who aspire to work as installers. Treat your installers as potential career employees and try and promote from within. Offer and require regular attendance at training sessions, seminars and clinics. If this costs you money, look at it as an investment. Also, develop an on-the-job training program that enables you to bring new installers into the field to replace those who leave, retire, etc. (Obtain a commitment from new hires so that when they are trained they have an obligation to your organization.) And remember: management must be involved in every training program-from beginner to advanced -and there must be strong communication between your sales team and your installers.
Plan ahead. Make certain you have adequate staff for your busy seasons by training when business is slow. Don’t cut training budgets during slack periods. By the same token, continue to schedule training even in the busy season.
Make a report card. Do a regular evaluation of your training investment to determine how much bang you are getting for your buck (Are complaints down? Is your word-of-mouth business on the rise?). Also, ask around and access how your competition addresses installation. Are they exceeding your commitment? How do they handle this vital part of our business?
We all know that customer satisfaction is the key to a successful and profitable business. And the key to creating a satisfied customer is to always sell the correct floor for its intended use. That happens when you install the floor properly and professionally. And that, in turn, comes from putting a strong emphasis on proper installation, starting with training. To accomplish this goal the industry must expand and improve its training to ensure a sufficient number of knowledgeable, skilled installers.
Train, train, train. Everything I have seen in my years in flooring supports the case for training. The successful businesses that have been around for a long time almost always have well-developed installation programs. The flooring contractors that come and go have no commitment to training.
When I perform inspections, the problems I find are usually not the result of installers who don’t know how to cut and fit flooring materials, but from the installer’s lack of the technical know-how. No one taught them how to deal with changes in floor preparation techniques, underlayments, adhesives, seaming techniques and/or material changes in floor covering.
With proper training, this industry could dramatically cut the number of complaints. It is mostly a question of seeing that installers are up-to-date on products and procedures. Today it takes on even more significance because we are seeing technological changes occurring at such a rapid pace. There are moisture and alkalinity issues, VOC regulations, indoor air quality issues, special types of substrates, technically advanced adhesives, environmental (green) changes in materials and adhesives, along with, of course, the ever-changing technology of the floor covering.
Lack of knowledge leads to costly job replacements and hampers installation and sales productivity. It also leads to unhappy customers.
We need a change of attitude in the industry. I have watched manufacturers and distributors spend a lot of money on installation training. They have tried everything to attract installers with multiple formats: multiple-day schools, day-long schools, evening seminars, even weekend seminars. Still attendance falls short. The excuses from flooring contractors are almost always along the lines of: “I’m too busy and too short-handed to let my personnel away from the store that long.”
There has been a huge emphasis on certification by manufacturers to develop the already experienced installer. This has been a good success; however it has changed the focus to the upper 20 percent of the installation community where there are minimal problems. We still need to focus on developing the new installers starting with the rudimentary skills through the technical skills.
On the positive side, there are the flooring contractors and installers who can be counted on to show up for training. It is no coincidence that these are the people who usually have the fewest installation problems and customer complaints.
These are the installers who take pride in their work. They know and follow installation standards. They are representing both themselves and your business. With training, installers are able to solve problems at the job site and know how to interact with customers to make them feel good about their flooring purchases.
Often, installers are the last salespeople on the job. It’s up to you to make sure they are qualified for it. Make no mistake, they will bring along their talent. You simply have to nurture it.