Tuft Talk - July 2012
By Frank Hurd
In the last Tuft Talk, we discussed the myths about carpet, how these factors cause customers to deselect carpet, and how the retailer can address them. In that article, one topic that was not addressed, but one that is a contributing factor to consumer frustration, is installation. The last person to interface with the consumer and the one who will make the most lasting impression is the installer, and he or she is often the forgotten element.
Jim Walker, president of the Certified Flooring Installers, is often called upon to fix installations gone badly and, therefore, has become an expert on the issues related to poor installations. Walker is a strong advocate for installer training and supports a meaningful certification process for installers. His organization has trained over 40,000 installers nationwide, not only on their installation knowledge but also with hands-on training and continuing education. Why is this important? If the installation is rather simple, can’t anyone do it? This has been the general attitude by many dealers, and this attitude has come back to cost them time and money, when an installation performed by a qualified installer would have saved them both. In other words, they were penny-wise and pound-foolish. Following is a synopsis of a carpet installation job gone badly, resulting in costs that could and should have been avoided.
A consumer purchased an expensive, not patterned, plush carpet for three rooms and adjoining hallways from a national retailer. The retailer, as is the usual process, contracted with an installation company to install the carpet, with disastrous results from the consumer’s and the retailer’s standpoint. When the job was finished, there were three distinct issues with the installation:
• poor seaming—large gaps, no seam-sealer, tucked yarns, sloppy adhesive;
• baseboard damage;
• cleat damage—yarn voids, disintegrated backing.
Whose responsibility is it to fix this issue? Well, it may be an installation issue, but the dealer is the one on the hook. The dealer must address each issue to the satisfaction of the consumer, including re-carpeting, if required, which was the case for one room in this instance. As one would expect, the issue was not resolved without finger-pointing between the installer, the retailer and the manufacturer. The fix was very costly. While the situation was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, it left a sour taste with the customer to the point that they are unlikely to recommend this retailer to their friends, and if they have other flooring needs, they will most certainly go elsewhere.
This is not a new issue. It has been troubling the industry for a long time. Ken McIntosh, a 26-year veteran of the Carpet and Rug Institute, has seen many attempts by the industry to effectively address how to ensure quality installation. When asked about industry efforts, McIntosh reported that, “the Carpet and Rug Institute, as far back as 1986, issued CRI 104 and CRI 105 carpet installation recommended practices for both residential and commercial installation. These standards have been revised several times and most recently combined into a single document, The CRI Carpet Installation Standard – 2011.”
Missing from the latest CRI standard, as identified above by McIntosh, are recommended practices for dealers. First among these is a recommendation contained in early versions for the dealer to “obtain the services of a professionally trained and skilled floor covering installer.” Another, and most often violated recommendation, is that, “in order to comply with the Carpet and Rug Institute’s recommended guidelines for improved air quality, the customer should be advised that existing carpet should be vacuumed prior to removal. After removal of the carpet and cushion, the subfloor should also be vacuumed.” Bringing a vacuum or borrowing one from the customer to ensure that these simple but important tasks are accomplished is not common practice for installers—but it should be. The consumer will remember this effort. If customers are removing the carpet prior to installation, the dealer should make it a practice to remind them of the importance of vacuuming not only the subfloor but also the carpet to be removed.
The 2011 standard explains in detail all the necessary steps an installer needs to follow, including an explanation of terminology, tools and materials needed; how to deal with concrete floors; how to condition carpet before installation; how to prepare seam edges; the ins and outs of patterned carpet installation; and how to properly stretch new carpet.
What is next in the journey to instill good installation practices? As highlighted in the June 2012 issue of Floor Focus, the World Flooring Covering Association and the Carpet and Rug Institute have combined resources to develop an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for carpet installation through the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). This is clearly a change from past practices, where CRI was the creator and holder of the standard. A recurring criticism of CRI’s installation standards has been that they were too manufacturer-centric. This effort by WFCA and CRI should go a long way toward eliminating this criticism, as the carpet installation standard will now be open to the consensus process dictated by ANSI.
IICRC was chosen because of its long history as being an accredited ANSI standard-setting body and its close association with the carpet industry. Another reason for choosing IICRC is its track record of training certification to various standards. While IICRC owns no schools and has no instructors on staff, it performs the important function of certifying the training to very specific criteria set forth by the IICRC board of directors. The institute currently does this for 26 different courses taught in six different countries at multiple schools around the globe. IICRC’s track record of training certification is a real plus, and it is hoped and expected that IICRC will add carpet installation certification to the growing list of courses it certifies.
With the new IICRC S600 standard, the industry will have a consensus document that can be used as the basis for training and certification of installers, but that doesn’t mean dealers can sit back and relax and think the installation issues have been solved. It is still incumbent on dealers to hire qualified installers who are trained and certified to the requirements of IICRC S600.
What else can be done to ensure a quality installation experience for the consumer? According to Walker, the manufacturers must take the lead in ensuring that their product is being installed correctly. Many manufacturers require in their warranties the use of CRI certified Seal of Approval (SOA) carpet cleaning products and the use of Seal of Approval carpet cleaning service providers who guarantee their use of SOA products. Why not require a certified installer as well? This is something that the mills could explore once IICRC S600 is fully implemented, and there are training facilities available to make such a change practical.
In the meantime, it is the responsibility of retailers and dealers to vet their installers and hire good ones, not just inexpensive ones. This is the only way to ensure a positive experience for the consumer and, most likely, will be less costly in the long run and will provide for repeat customers and word of mouth recommendations. There is no reason for a customer to get excited about their purchase of beautiful carpet, only to have the installer ruin the experience by not being properly trained. The dealer is ultimately responsible for the customer satisfaction. They must go the extra mile to provide noteworthy excellence. Remember, the installer is the last person to interact with the consumer; ensure it is a good experience by hiring qualified installers. From the customer’s perspective, they represent you.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus