In his opening remarks to kick off the 29th annual CFI Convention & Expo, held here, Scott Humphrey, CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), CFI’s parent company, declared: “It’s a new day for CFI.”
Indeed, it is a new day—and chapter—for the industry’s installation group as it transitions from long-time executive director Robert Varden to Chris McKee, its new president, and Dave Garden, who was appointed to the newly created position of executive director of education.
McKee, a longtime flooring executive, brings extensive executive leadership, business development and strategic expertise to CFI. He is looking to grow the impact of CFI across all the industry’s so-called stakeholders—from manufacturing to the consumer. “Quite frankly the industry needs us,” McKee told audience members at Rosen Shingle Creek. “We’re going to expand, we’re going to grow and we’re going to improve.”
McKee once ran an installation workroom and is well aware of the disconnect that often exists among manufacturers, retailers, installers and customers. He said it is imperative to bring the industry closer together as it tackles decades-long challenges in installation—from the sheer lack of new blood to ongoing education, training and certification. To that end, McKee said he is excited about new initiatives like CFI Fulfillment Centers, which are slated to launch in select retail stores in the fall.
While gathering input from industry stakeholders “it became very clear that one of the best things we could do for members and the industry as a whole is to bring components of the industry together to enhance communication; product flow,” McKee said.
That led them to fulfillment centers. The hope is that CFI certification will resonate with flooring customers the way Goodwrench did with General Motors, which required each GM dealer to adhere to a set of service delivery standards, according to McKee. In this case, flooring retailers will be able to tell their customers that their installers are CFI certified.
This initiative is just the start for what McKee said he hopes will elevated the CFI brand. “I came to CFI because I want to make a difference,” he explained. “The reason is the future of our industry needs us. Our goal and our mission is to be indispensable. Everyone in the industry should say I need CFI in my business, and we’re going to get there—but we can’t do it alone.”
WFCA’s Humphrey agreed, adding, “The vision Chris has laid out will take us to a whole other level.”
FCEF stakes its case
With an average age of 56 and annual attrition rate of 5,000 to 6,000 installers, the flooring industry has its work cut out to keep pace. That’s why the Floor Covering Education Foundation (FCEF) was formed. During the CFI convention, FCEF met with installers to discuss FCEF’s role and to identify solutions to a crisis that won’t be rectified in a year or two.
Jim Aaron, FCEF executive director, said one thing his 18 months on the job has taught him is that the flooring industry faces an enormous awareness issue. “People simply don’t know it is a career that exists,” he said.
Aaron told a story of speaking to 35-40 students who were attending a technical school with an emphasis on construction-related fields. “When I asked what trades they were in, every trade was mentioned—with the exception of flooring.”
To make a difference, the flooring industry—retailers in particular—are going to have to do it at the local level, Aaron urged. “Attend job fairs, trade shows, talk to your local high school guidance counselor,” he said. “We’re competing with the other trades; every other trade seems to be better organized, better known and better funded.”
FCEF’s marketing efforts have included promotional videos from the likes of Crystal Sims and Marquis Wright, installers who represent the next generation. Nineteen-year-old Darius Baccus, who is employed as a certified installer, said he, too, sees the importance of the up-and-coming generation of installers. “We’re the next wave that’s going out,” he said. “We can make a difference.”
Leap of faith
Attendees were captivated by the miraculous story of Darrin Harrison, a flooring retailer, who—despite having no flight experience—landed a small plane in Florida earlier this year after the pilot had become incapacitated mid-air. The event in May 2022 drew national attention after Harrison took the controls of the plane as it was returning from the Bahamas. Harrison, who credited his faith with helping him survive the ordeal, said there was no time to panic.
Harrison, who works for Sunshine Interiors in Lakeland, Fla., also addressed the plight of installers. He recalled that when he got into the business 23 years ago his dad made him go to jobsites with installation crews to understand what they had to go through. “You’re all winners,” he told them.
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