CFI: Group redoubles efforts to tackle installation

Jim Walker, former executive director of CFI, spends time with young installer Darius Baccus.

In his opening remarks every 29 . to kick offe annual CFI Convention & Expo, held here, Scott Humphrey, CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), CFI’s parent company, stated, “It’s a new day for CFI.”

Indeed, it is a new day — and a new chapter — for the industry installation group as it transitions from former Executive Director Robert Varden to Chris McKee, the new president, and Dave Garden, who was appointed to the newly created position of executive Director of Education.

A longtime flooring manager, McKee brings extensive executive leadership, business development and strategic expertise to CFI. He wants to increase the impact of CFI for all so-called stakeholders in the sector, from manufacturing to consumers. “Frankly, the industry needs us,” McKee told Rosen Shingle Creek audiences. “We’re going to expand, we’re going to grow and we’re going to improve.”

McKee once owned an installation workshop and is well aware of the distance that often exists between manufacturers, retailers, installers and customers. He said it is imperative to bring the industry closer together in tackling decades-long installation challenges — from the sheer lack of new blood to continuing education, training and certification. To that end, McKee said he’s excited about new initiatives such as CFI Fulfillment Centers, which are expected to launch in select stores in the fall.

While collecting input from industry stakeholders “it became very clear that one of the best things we can do for members and the industry as a whole is to bring components of the industry together to improve communication; product flow,” said McKee.

That led them to fulfillment centers. The hope is that the CFI certification will resonate with flooring customers as Mr. Goodwrench did with General Motors, requiring every GM dealer to adhere to a set of service delivery standards, McKee said. In this case, floor sellers can tell their customers that their installers are CFI certified.

This initiative is just the beginning for what McKee said hopes it will elevate the CFI brand. “I came to CFI because I want to make a difference,” he explains. “The reason is that the future of our industry needs us. Our goal and mission is to be indispensable. Everyone in the industry should be saying I need CFI in my business, and we’re getting there, but we can’t do it alone.”

Humphrey of WFCA agreed, adding, “The vision Chris set out will take us to a whole other level.”

FCEF puts its case

Darrin Harrison (left), who flew a plane with no prior training, talks to Scott Humphrey, WFCA CEO.

With an average age of 56 and an annual staff turnover of 5,000 to 6,000 installers, the flooring industry has to keep up with work to keep pace. That is why the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) was established. At the CFI convention, FCEF met with installers to discuss FCEF’s role and seek solutions to a crisis that will not be resolved in a year or two.

FCEF Executive Director Jim Aaron said his 18 months on the job taught him that the flooring industry faces a huge awareness problem. “People just don’t know it’s a career that exists,” he said.

Aaron told a story of speaking to 35-40 students who attended engineering school with an emphasis on construction-related areas. “When I asked what profession they were in, every profession was mentioned, with the exception of flooring.”

To make a difference, the flooring industry, especially retailers, will have to do it on a local level, Aaron insisted. “Go to job fairs, trade shows, talk to your local high school counselor,” he said. “We compete with the other professions; every other trade seems better organised, better known and better financed.”

FCEF’s marketing efforts include promotional videos from the likes of Crystal Sims and Marquis Wright, installers representing the next generation. Nineteen-year-old Darius Baccus, who works as a certified installer, also says he sees the importance of the emerging generation of installers. “We are the next wave to go out,” he said. “We can make the difference.”

leap of faith

Those in attendance were enthralled by the astonishing story of Darrin Harrison, a flooring trader, who—despite having no flying experience—landed a small plane in Florida earlier this year after the pilot became incapacitated in the air. The May 2022 event attracted national attention after Harrison took control of the plane as it returned from the Bahamas. Harrison, who credited his faith to help him survive the ordeal, said there was no time to panic.

Harrison, who works for Sunshine Interiors in Lakeland, Florida, also spoke about the plight of installers. He recalled that when he got into the business 23 years ago, his father had him go to construction sites with installation crews to understand what they had to go through. “You are all winners,” he told them.

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