The Floor Covering Industry’s 2021 New Year’s Baby is the National Association of Floor Covering Technicians

Yet Another Flooring Trade Association

Once upon a time bowling was an excuse to go out drinking with buddies and dress in matching team shirts. Now many of the same guys get to creatively write-off similar activities as business networking; within the context of a not for profit flooring trade association. Embedded below for your listening pleasure is Episode #53 of Kyle Hedin’s Floor Academy Podcast in where he interviews glue salesman extraordinaire, Sonny Callaham, the co-founder and Chairman of the Board for the brand new National Association of Floor Covering Technicians. If being a fly on the wall during a salesman gab session is something that interests you and you have an hour to waste, give it a listen.

What is NAFCT? – Sonny Callaham
Floor Academy

This week’s guest is Sonny Callaham. Sonny started his flooring career in 1990 as an apprentice to a carpet installer. After a few transitions within the industry he found his calling on the adhesives side. Now the owner of Divergent Adhesives, he is also the co founder and Chairman of the Board for the National Association of Floor Covering Technicians. Listen in to find out what NAFCT has planned to bring the industry together and make it more successful. We discuss what their mission is, who is helping make it happen, and where the value is in being a member.

WED, 30 DEC 2020 ◦ 67 MINUTES

This episode reminds me of a pre-covid time when I happened to be utterly famished and sat down for a meal inside a restaurant. The waiter greeted me with a glass of water and set some condiments on the table, took my order and proceeded to ignore me for the duration of my visit. I was mocked a couple of times as a large tray of sustenance made its way around, only to wind up being discarded. I never got anything I came in for and I’m not sure what was worse, my unsatiated hunger, bruised dignity or annoyed disposition. To his credit, the interviewer and podcast host, Kyle, does ask a couple of good questions, but ultimately buys the glue salesman’s spiel as a satisfying response. As a natural skeptic, caveat emptor is what I’m thinking and I go on, ad nauseum, to “nitpick” [9:30] at some of the inconsistencies and conflicts in what NAFCT claims they want to achieve and why this flooring installer believes they’re likely nothing better than the status quo.

Employment Opportunities Abound?

“There’s no other industry that has so many opportunities that if you start in one position you have a heads up advantage over other people.”

SONNY callaham – polishing a turd [4:36]

A statement, spoken not from the same orifice that it originated, at about 4 minutes and 36 seconds [4:36], sounds incomplete taken out of context but the gist of the conversation at this point is that the flooring industry values installation experience and it can be used as an advantage to get a stand-up or sit-down job within the cozy confines of the flooring manufacturer’s bosom. Kyle prompts this statement with his assessment that an installer “can go to school, start learning chemistry and be the guy that makes the glue”. Certainly not impossible, but that premise is undoubtedly a bit far fetched. If chemistry is your thing, taking a detour through floor installation to land a career as a chemist doesn’t sound like a “natural progression” [2:40] or most direct path for a scientific mind. Sonny’s statement that “no other industry” compares with the flooring industry when it comes to allowing a person the opportunity to go from mailroom to CEO is narrow-minded and presumptuous. A roof is as ubiquitous as a floor. Of course a roof installer or roofer can go from installing roofs to selling or inspecting shingles.

Employment opportunities for flooring installers within the industry are mostly relegated to sales positions. I’m not considering self-employment, where entrepreneurial opportunities are left to the depth of individual imagination, but rather – where might floor installation experience look good on a resume? Installers gravitate towards manufacturer’s technical and training departments and those are most definitely rooted in sales. The old adage, “those who can – do, those who can’t, teach”, doesn’t always hold true but likely applies to floor installation. When an installer’s body gives out, or their skills are lacking, they might seek out steady employment elsewhere within the industry. Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter how talented or experienced a floor installer is, they’re not getting into sales without the gift of gab, willingness to toe the company line, and talk up a product whether they believe in it or not. It’s much more difficult to name an industry where tactile product experience isn’t advantageous when it comes to selling. This five minute initial exchange probably set the tone for the interview. I felt as if someone was about to make a valiant attempt to sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman with white gloves [25:50].

george bernard shaw

“Those who can – do, those who can’t, teach.”

― GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

The Flooring Manufacturer Shall Not Be Held Accountable

I’ve now sat through roughly forty minutes without so much as an appetizer or adult libation to dull the pain while these two salesmen ramble on about how most floor installers have great hand skills but “suck” at business, aren’t properly trained and need to do things by the book or suffer the consequences. Here’s a quote from Sonny at 22:45, dictating a pathetic flooring industry reality, that material manufacturers are not willing to be accountable for defective product. Referring here to silly flooring installers who may have been successfully making it happen for thirty years [9:00] he says:

“Once you deviate from what that manufacturer recommends, you own that floor, it doesn’t matter what happens. Right, if anything changes, and it could be due to manufacturer defects on the floor, they’re gonna walk in and go nope, you didn’t do that right we’re walking away.
Why would you take that risk? It’s silly.”

Sonny Callaham – NAFCT CHAIRMAN & Glue factory rep
straight from the horse's mouth
The flooring manufacturer shall not be held accountable.

Straight from the horse’s mouth is the first commandment of the flooring industry; The flooring manufacturer shall not be held accountable. Defy their “recommendation” and be held responsible for a flooring failure caused by a product defect. Why would any installer buy into an organization whose Chairman would accept this type of agenda from the manufacturer overlords? If this conglomerate of flooring manufacturer founding members now gathered to call themselves NAFCT is not interested in holding accountable those truly at fault for a flooring failure, why would an installer in his right mind, whether he had a hundred dollars to throw away or not, support people whose agenda clearly conflict with his own interests…no matter how many “free” online webinars, cubans and bottomless mugs they attest to offer. Sonny and Paul (Pleshek the CEO), claim to share the “dream” [8:28] of bettering the industry. If this were true why not make it a goal to change the first commandment to something more reasonable – those who cause the failure should be held accountable, instead of using scare tactics and belittlement to sell their own brand of training?

Here’s an analogy, AAA changes a flat tire for a patron but fails to tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s recommended foot pounds of torque. Six months later the wheels still roll fine but the engine throws a rod. In what world is the tire changer responsible for the blown engine? According to Chairman Callaham – in the flooring world, that’s where. It is the flooring industry trade and inspector associations that are making bank by preaching that the installer must do everything they say, down to the smallest detail or the empire will without a doubt, strike back. In my flooring world this is far from fair or acceptable, and I could never, would never, support such an organization that would let this slide and would devise a way to not make a profit over and above an additional regular living [54:11].

The Industry Needs to Promote Floor Installers

Kyle’s best question:
Are you guys gonna do any advertising, and like, adwords through Google or anything like that to push your directory out there so consumers can find it?

An installer can have a thousand badges and an egregious 50 character NAFCT URL printed on the back of his business card [40:50] in hopes it would sell the customer on using one service over another. Except it doesn’t work that way. The badges should rightly help you get in front of the customer, but once you’re there it’s not badges that will close the deal. It’s the quality of work an installer has done for the people he’s made happy over time, and ultimately whether or not he can provide value within the confines of the customer’s budget. This is where the rubber meets the road, it’s not some badge earned online or in a controlled environment that cements the installer/client relationship. And this, in my opinion, is where flooring installation trade associations are failing horribly. Most of them are not willing to invest in getting their membership in front of perspective clients. Could NAFCT be the one association willing to bypass the middleman (the manufacturer’s prime customer) and support their installer members in a way no other trade association has ever been willing to do? Read on for the answer.

“We kinda have a two step process that we’re gonna do, and how we’re gonna get to market is one, we wanna build the base of the number of certified installers that we have. Right, if we, at the end of the year, we have a hundred certified installers we got no leverage. So, if we get to sixteen thousand that we’re projected to get, which is my plan and I have a strategy to get there; if we get the 16,000 then we can start going back to the manufacturers and say hey look, you need to require a certified installer to put your flooring in if somebody wants uh, uh, a warranty. Not just NAFCT, not just CFI, not just NWFA, but a combination of all of us, then we have enough people, but if we only have a couple of thousand people who are certified in any given flooring category the flooring manufacturer can’t require that, the cost of their goods will be driven up too high and they’ll lose their sale. So, we’ve gotta get the army, is what I call ’em, we’ve gotta get our army of installers who are certified through CFI, through NAFCT, through NWFA, get them all certified, get ’em together get ’em on a platform, to where the consumer can go, or the contractor, or the dealer, or the person selling the job who may be an installer, know that hey, I can prove that I’m a certified, this is where you find the certified installer and it’s all right there. At your fingertips.”

SONNY CALLAHAM – ON HOW NOT TO PROMOTE FLOORING INSTALLERS [46:34]

The man ONLY needed 267 words to avoid the question. Reminds me of the defeated POTUS dance. Kyle’s response is “Ok, I like it”. To be fair he was just hustled by a master of gabble, babble and prattle. The guy talked circles around the question for so long it makes you forget what the actual question even was.

To their credit, it took the CFI 25 years to certify 16,000 installers in-person. As far back as two decades ago they too had the idea of tying certification to manufacturer’s warranties. That never happened, there’s no reason to think this is any different. Sonny’s diatribe is a load of rhetorical refuse. A collection of sixteen thousand certified flooring installers would essentially create 1.6 million dollars in passive annual revenue to provide comfortable salaries for him, his partner and their board of directors. Plus some rotund expense accounts. That’s the bottom line and the real dream. Of course the budding salesman, Kyle, assures us this is not the case [52:40]. People, no one is running away to the Bahamas, he exclaims. I’d certainly like to know how he can be so sure, or is he also satisfying his own agenda by simply trying to sell something he doesn’t genuinely believe in?

The Game Changer?

Is NAFCT different and the game changer [39:24] they are making it out to be? From what I can tell from this convoluted interview these are the top ten benefits Mr. Callaham claims NAFCT will do for the industry (a couple might be a little redundant, as I struggled to get an even ten):

  1. The Biggest Thing – Networking and Professional Relationships [18:55]
  2. Will be offering training but not trying to reinvent the wheel [19:20]. 37 classes to start, 95% of online classes included with membership [55:30], amongst them a tax and business class that are at least worth the price of admission and everything else is gravy. [50:45]
  3. Help installers get off their feet [sic] if they want to, with a career path anywhere within the industry. [8:45]
  4. Fill a void, be like Command Central, be as much as they can to as many people as they can. [56:25]
  5. Bring everybody together. [34:09]
  6. Installers will get a page on the NAFCT website for advertising purposes that displays their badges. [44:45]
  7. This is a Not for Profit Association [39:30]
  8. The largest manufacturer produced webinar library that’s out there. [56:00]
  9. Get new people into floor covering. [56:22]
  10. Affordable and Accessible. [60:10]

How does any of these benefits change the game for a flooring installer?

1. Networking and Professional Relationships

Sadly, NAFCT is leaning on this as their biggest benefit. The problem is, every one of the aforementioned associations provide the exact same benefit. Is Batman or Superman going to show up? If not it seems to be a recycling or repurposing of the same crusty, old (nothing against the geriatric, I am one), self-proclaimed industry bigwigs that make the rounds from one hookah lounge to the next. Why should I pay again for a benefit that I’d be getting if I belonged to some other association? Now, if they put together a consolidated and eternal online community support forum where these industry big boys [60:00] would feel obligated to participate and respond freely and openly to questions and criticism, that might be worth something to someone. Otherwise, it’s not worth a nickel to me but I’d imagine plenty will be satisfied that their money was well spent when Sonny picks up the bar tab. My guess is that running around picking up tabs with the installer’s own money is his “strategy to get there”.

2. Training

Their spokesman claims they are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but you might learn one or two things from their thirty-seven classes [19:39]. Every one of the associations mentioned in this interview already offer their own training, certifications and renewals. Do I need NAFCT’s business and tax classes? The public library has thousands of publications on the subject, both in hard copy and digital. Listen to Dave Ramsey, I’d be willing to bet you’ll get more from that than an NAFCT webinar on business. I’m not seeing what training might be offered with membership that can’t be had somewhere else for little or no cost. Supposedly 95% of these thirty-seven classes, are included with membership. I only heard about two, business and tax, that could actually be one, I’m not sure, it’s ambiguous at best. It probably makes sense to wait and see what’s on the menu before paying.

3. Help installers get off their knees.

This is another one of those things that trade associations naturally just do, it’s the nature of the beast. They recognize specific talent in their membership and act as a conduit to help employ defunct installers. Essentially what they do can be equated to corporate head hunting. But this is not unique. What makes NAFCT a better headhunter than anyone else? This is another redundant benefit.

4. Command Central

I think this might be similar to the information booth at the department of motor vehicles. You walk in, it’s right at the entry, and some weary public servant directs you to the right line. It certainly helps when you may not know where you’re going or what you’re doing. But they don’t charge for this service. You pay when you actually purchase something of value. I’m failing to understand the reason why a flooring installer would pay NAFCT so he could in-turn pay someone else for that association’s specific training and certification? Every one of these associations provide the opportunity to anyone with the qualifications, experience and finances to earn their unique badge. They then all charge an annual maintenance fee. How is NAFCT doing anything beyond adding an additional maintenance fee? Isn’t that called double dipping, charging twice for the same thing? If all these trade associations want referrals, they should pay NAFCT, it shouldn’t come directly out of the installer’s pocket. Marketing should have already been built-in to the cost of each organization’s pricing structure. The industry is constantly screaming at installers to force them to be better and do better. Why should the installers that want to better themselves have to pay for an information booth? Haven’t they been pilfered enough by everyone else looking to make money off of their backs?

5. Bring everybody together.

Is this what’s known as a kumbaya moment, it’s one big sandbox, let’s share type of hippie commune thing? How could this be possible when NAFCT openly supports the overlord’s army of nit-pickers at the ready; those who exist almost solely to deflect accountability? How could it be possible when a so-called trade association of floor covering technicians isn’t willing to promote those same technicians to the patrons they could best serve and be benefited by? This isn’t a benefit, it’s some sort of gospel megachurch rhetoric.

6. A web page for installers to display their badges.

It’s a nice idea. It’s pretty much what we do here at FindaFloorGuy.com, except installer’s have front-end control of their page where they can also, for no or little cost, post photos, descriptions and links to the projects they are most proud. In the ten weeks or so that this website has been live it has already seen credible ranking in search engines, with, if I might add, zero industry support. For a limited time FindaFloorGuy can also build you a home web page for $99 a year. See details here. That’s a hundred bucks better spent. No, we don’t serve alcohol.

The floor dealer understands that Flooring installation is an unrestricted profit center. They are all offering the same products, consequently competition has squeezed their mark-ups to the bare minimum. Custom tailored installation is where the profit lies in a floor covering sale and even though they never touch the flooring they want a big bite of the fruits of another’s labor. An installer directory page on the NAFCT site is yet another redundant benefit that can be found on any and all of the other trade association websites. Fact of the matter is, we don’t need no stinkin’ toothless badgers. Help us get in front of the customer, or at least don’t stand in our way. We’ll take care of the rest.

7. Not for Profit

The idea I suppose is that profits are reinvested into the association. That could mean the Board of Directors or officers can’t give themselves a fat raise or hold meetings in the Bahamas. It’s good that anyone can make a formal application to review certain tax related association documents. I doubt anyone cares enough to make the effort, and associations probably count on that. IICRC publishes a basic annual report of income and expenditures. It doesn’t tell you who’s getting paid what but I’d imagine if you really need to know, there are ways to find out. No one has mentioned how transparent NAFCT plans to be concerning finances. I don’t imagine it would vary much from the status quo, which at best is opaque. There’s no guarantee money will be spent on members. By their own account it appears NAFCT started as a mostly unprofitable [38:35] for profit school [7:34] that taught certifications through the IICRC for flooring inspectors. As a not for profit, 501c6, “COVID side-hustle” [39:30] they now have their friendly big boys donating money to reduce their own tax burden and have a bunch of their buddies sitting on the board of directors, all living the dream and practicing magic. [61:01]

8. The largest manufacturer sourced webinar library.

information booth
‘Have you tried Googling that?’

It’s another one of those information booth benefits. Instead of pointing someone to a company website like Wagner who may produce and host a no-cost product webinar, they instead say, we have Wagner’s webinar right here, give me $100 and you may watch it.

I’m finding it difficult to see any value here when a powerful internet search engine is at our fingertips.

9. Get new people into floor covering.

NAFCT is focused solely on continuously working to provide a solution to the installation shortage the industry has been experiencing.

NAFCT Website
T-rex arms flooring installation crisis
The Flooring Installer Shortage

If they are focused solely on this, where will they find the time to be everything to everybody? The average wage of a floor installer in 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is $42,050 or $20.22 per hour. That’s a hard earned twenty bucks, too. For perspective, the mean annual wage in 2019 for electricians was $60,370, $29.02 per hour. The primary reason young people don’t get into the trade is because there’s no money in it. Even if an installer goes out and earns his badges and proves his worth in the field, those that buy and sell installation can still never quite reach their wallets. I don’t know what magic wand NAFCT is going to wave to make the trade attractive when they’re not even willing to promote the installers that already exist.

10. And Finally, Affordable and Accessible.

A hundred bucks to get in the door. For that you get to look around and watch a video or two. Kyle seems to believe that $100 annual dues is not a lot of money [45:58]. For Kyle it may not be, though that notion is purely subjective. That’s five hours of hard labor before taxes that the average installer doesn’t need to spend and how is any of this accessible if there’s a pay wall?

IN CONCLUSION

I don’t see any value in what NAFCT is offering, I make no bones about it. I’d like nothing better for them to prove me wrong, time will tell. Here’s my list of what they could do better:

  • Ditch the cover charge. You’re inviting us into an empty building. If one day you’re able to decorate the place then you’d have every right to charge something for your efforts. Until then feed off your dream of bettering the industry and the deep pockets of your founding members.
  • Market installers. 1.6 million would go quite a ways for some local radio and tv spots along with a robust internet advertising campaign. I don’t know how this ties into or has anything at all to do with manufacturer’s product warranties, and who really cares. Quit dancing and be transparent.
  • Support and believe in installers. There’s no reason NAFCT can’t look out for the best interest of installers, unless of course they believe their bread is being buttered by someone else. I suspect it is, and with that being the case, it makes them no better than the status quo. Far from being any kind of game changer, that’s for sure.
As of this date I can confidently proclaim – NAFCT sucks. [37:30] Hopefully they can somehow change my opinion but I’m not willing to hold my breath.

Associations Mentioned in this Post

FCICA

The Flooring Contractors Association

The Floor Covering Installation Contractors Association, the resource for premier commercial flooring contractors.

  • Promoting the advancement and continuous development of Certified Installation Managers (CIM).
  • Providing technical education, business support and industry expert networking.
  • Delivering skills and knowledge to enhance the professionalism of commercial flooring contractors.

$500 Contractor Annual Membership Fee

NWFA

National Wood Flooring Association

The National Wood Flooring Association is an international not-for-profit trade association representing all segments of the hardwood flooring industry, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, installers, importers/exporters, inspectors and consultants.

$475 annual membership fee

NFIC

Natural Fiber Installer Certification

NFIC Natural Fiber Installer Certification

NFIC offers a comprehensive training in the area of Woven and Tufted wools, in the U.S and Canada

$1000 for the certification course plus $100 annual renewal

CFI

International CFI Certified flooring Installers Association

The International Certified Flooring Installers Association, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving flooring installation in the residential and commercial fields through training and certification.

$495 certification course per surface and a $120 annual renewal respectively.

NALFA

North American Laminate Flooring Association

North American Laminate Flooring Association

We are the only trade association dedicated solely to the laminate flooring industry, and therefore, we are your source for all things laminate.

Ranges from $249 for a one year dealer membership to $20,000 for a regular manufacturing membership.

IICRC

The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification

The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, is the non-profit certifying body for the cleaning and restoration industry.

Ranges from $249 for a one year dealer membership to $20,000 for a regular manufacturing membership.

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