Editor’s Note: Information for the following article, culled from archived issues of Western Floors magazine (which later merged with Eastern Floors to become NFT), includes insights and comments from the late Howard Olansky, editor of Western Floors, as well as excerpts from the monthly WFCA column. This article covers the early years of the association, beginning from 1959, along with the transition of the Western Floor Covering Association into the World Floor Covering Association
In the July 1959 issue of Western Floors, editor Howard Olansky penned the words “Will It Get a Fighting Chance?” He was referring to the formation of the Western States Floor Covering Association (WFCA), and the “impossible dream” of 225 retailer and contractor delegates.
The group first met in June 1959 in Reno, Nev., followed by a second conference to establish not only the association’s executive board, but also its main objective of developing a program for simplifying and clarifying the standards of workmanship and materials within the floor covering industry. The handful of people that gathered in 1959 to better the industry has evolved in the last 50 years into the World Floor Covering Association, a group that boasts a membership of 3,000 retailers, contractors, installers, cleaners, distributors and manufacturers.
September 1960 brought accolades with the WFCA’s sponsorship of sales clinics geared “to the smooth and soft surface retailers of the West” that would precede the San Francisco Merchandise Mart’s January market. “Hats off to the Mart and the WFCA for this big step in the right direction,” Olansky enthused. He also questioned whether Western dealers would take advantage of this opportunity. “If they do, and the short course delivers all that it promises, the long-range affects on the Western industry could be tremendous.”
Reporting on the WFCA’s Short Course in San Francisco, in his February 1961 “Industry Out of Diapers” editorial, the excitement of the industry, along with Olansky’s, was evident. “Last month in San Francisco, some 100 members of the industry saw the justification for sticking to the cause. Those 100 dealers, distributors, reps and manufacturers witnessed history in the making. They saw the Western industry shed its diapers. It saw a plan unfold worthy of adoption across the nation.”
On the heels of this event’s success, WFCA president Earl Warren put into motion a second series of educational courses, the first annual WFCA Convention Seminar, set for October 20-22 in Las Vegas.
In 1962, Warren wrote, “The Floor Covering Associations and the Carpet, Linoleum and Soft Tile Workers Local Union No. 1247 in the Los Angeles area pioneered … the development of separate apprentice training courses for carpet installation and the installation of resilient floor coverings.” Essentially, flooring “mechanics” (better known today as installers) would be able to earn “Certificates of Competence” that could help earn them preference in job referrals.
Following the news item from Los Angeles and the recently concluded WFCA Convention Seminar in Las Vegas, dealers in Portland, Ore., lent their support to an apprenticeship program that brought together suppliers, dealers and federal/state labor apprenticeship directors to develop a six-point training program. Word must have gotten around of the WFCA’s efforts locally as well, because the California Conference on Apprenticeship invited the WFCA’s Sherwood Sitz, along with Warren and Dick Payne (WFCA director), to represent the WFCA in the preparation of its new Western Carpet, Linoleum, Soft Tile and Resilient Floor Coverings Apprenticeship and Standards.
Additionally, in a sign of WFCA’s growing influence, meetings in 1962 between the WFCA, the Flooring Division of the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Federal Housing Administration resulted in a change of the minimum thickness requirement for homogenous vinyl tile and sheet from .080” to .0625” (1/16”).
As floor covering dealers began to show a “genuine desire to meet and learn together,” the need also rose for local WFCA affiliates (regional associations). Warren wrote, “Unfortunately, many localities in the West still have no local associations to carry the ball and put on educational programs. While dealer organization is the obvious key, it often takes quite a while to generate enough interest to really get something started. Actually, several of our local associations got started because two or three dealers got together and decided they could do more as a group than as individuals.”
As well as things were going for the WFCA, there were those who expressed negativity towards business-oriented or installation-related training seminars or courses. Olansky took that complacent viewpoint to task in an editorial. “It will be a big wonderful world, one destined to sprinkle brightness, beauty and money down on all of us. All one has to do is sit back and wait patiently. Let the other guy try and do something to either improve his lot from a low position, or move forward from an already healthy level.”
May 1962 proved pivotal for the WFCA - its 2nd annual convention, carrying the theme “Sell for Profit,” had the backing of the industry it supported. “I am the first to admit that the overwhelming support WFCA enjoys for the second annual Convention Seminar…pleases all of us who crossed our fingers last year when the first Convention Seminar was held, a revolutionary plan for our industry and one whose success could not be adequately predicted in advance,” Olansky concluded.
To further add viability, board member M.H. Peterson was appointed committee chairman representing the WFCA on the National Joint Trade Board – established by the Association and the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America. “The National Joint Trade Board affords an opportunity for exchanges of information between the association and the International Union on problems affecting the floor covering industry,” the WFCA stated. With this Joint Board appointment, it was now possible for the association to further enrich and develop the newly established Western Apprenticeship and Training Standards.
Later that same year, the Southern California Carpet, Linoleum, and Soft Tile Crafts Joint Labor Management Apprenticeship and Training Committee was named the first place winner of the inaugural Patterson Award – a U.S. Department of Labor award for the promotion and development of apprenticeships. In its column within Western Floors magazine, the WFCA gave credit for the program’s success equally to the floor covering associations and Local Union No. 1247.
Further, in September, word came that this award-winning program would be issuing certificates of competence and preference in hiring. Though many expressed disapproval of the preferential treatment of certified “mechanics,” the WFCA assured its members by saying, “The new training program for journeymen, enabling them to improve their skill, coupled with a testing program, promises a great deal of improvement for floor covering installations in Southern California. At least in Southern California, journeymen’s training has graduated from the talking stage into action.”
In November, the WFCA noted the testing program would feature another component where “every mechanic seeking employment for the first time in the area must gain acceptance from the Journeyman Testing Committee before he is eligible to be referred for employment.” To qualify, applicants had to pass both a written exam and “manipulative demonstrations” to prove their capabilities. All eyes were now on Southern California’s new program.
An important aspect of the fledgling WFCA was its focus on education and training. In April 1963, the WFCA touted the “opening of new doors” after talking to a dealer from the Associated Floor Covering Dealers of Denver. The retailer asked what could be done if a specified material wasn’t suitable for the particular installation. “Contact the architect and tell him why-he’s willing to learn,” the WFCA said.
With its third annual convention, set for Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 1963, in Palm Springs, Calif., just around the corner, the WFCA announced during a California statewide meeting of the Carpet, Linoleum & Soft Tile Crafts Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committees, that Textbook Writing and Instructor Workshops were being considered for the educational curriculum.
On the heels of its past convention successes, the WFCA decided to bring a new element to its Fourth Annual Floor Covering Industry Convention (Sept. 27-30, 1964, Las Vegas) by assigning “retailers and resilient floor covering and carpet contractors to fill many panel leader roles.” Headlined by keynote speaker Dr. Joyce Brothers, the grouping of seminar topics to particular interests (installation, retail, sales, manufacturing, distribution, etc.) was one of the first such conferences for the industry. More than 400 attended the event.
In his WFCA convention follow-up Olansky wrote, “Whatever the reasons are for 1964 being the year of proof, it should now be accepted throughout the industry that the WFCA Convention Seminar is the leader in industry education.”
Despite the increasing success of the industry gathering, the WFCA soon faced a wake-up call. The federal government (including the Better Business Bureau), responding to an increase in boiler-room operations, threatened to step in and regulate some areas of the flooring industry. As a result, WFCA directors in 1965 voted to initiate an intensive study “in order to find workable answers to the problem of the legitimate retailer inheriting a tarnished image from boiler rooms and the like.” Adequate labeling or identification of materials by the products’ manufacturers, and educating consumers, were encouraged. By late 1965, the Jute Carpet Backing Council was working closely with the American Society for Testing and Materials to draft evaluation proposals of jute carpet backing material.
Despite the inroads to establishing standards, the industry suffered a setback in May of that year, when a Senate Bill (SB 901) was introduced into the California State Legislature that in effect “completely removes the carpet industry from the regulatory authority of the license law.” The WFCA reported the pending legislature in the State Assembly (AB 2244) would dig deeper by “removing all of the floor coverings from the license law, except for the installation labor portion of the trade.” In short, these bills would repeal the licensing requirements applicable to carpet installations.
By July 1965, the bills had “sailed through the Senate and Assembly, much to the regret of the floor covering industry,” Olansky fretted. In the end, however, California Governor Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, Sr. didn’t sign the bill.
With the flawed bills out of the way, the WFCA focused its energy on its upcoming Fifth Annual WFCA Floor Covering Industry Convention Seminar (held in Las Vegas, Oct. 17-20) themed “Profit Prophet,” which, for the first time, featured general assembly sessions. In a nod to the increased specialization of the industry, in 1966, the WFCA created separate Carpet and Resilient councils to furnish information and services to members in both segments of the industry.
As time went on, the WFCA increased its level of education within the floor covering industry. Eventually, the Western Floor Covering Association, merged with the American Floorcovering Association (formerly the Retail Floorcovering Institute) to became the World Floor Covering Association in 1995. (See WFCA timeline for more key industry events.)
Merger talks had been ongoing for about 18 months between the two associations beginning with exploratory talks and then discussions “from warm, to cool, to hot, to ice cold before getting hotter than hot,” wrote Howard. After the merger, WFCA president John Allen noted, “The coming together of these two vital organizations gives the floor covering dealers a stronger single voice in government affairs, industry relations and greater education programming.”
Olansky also welcomed the merger, with words that pointed to his passion for bringing the industry to a new level of professionalism. “This merger does combine important strengths of the two associations – with a membership of about 2,200 – into one very powerful group. With the dollars, talent and commitment available, this could prove to be one of the most significant happenings in the history of the industry.”