The installer is vitally important to the success of a flooring project. And yet, these skilled craftsmen are underpaid, overworked, and given little respect by contractors and clients.
During housing’s boom years in the early 2000s, it was not uncommon for a top installer in the Cincinnati metro area to make more than $100,000 per year. But the story has changed today.
When the economy collapsed back in 2007/2008, the housing market was hit particularly hard. Home sales ground to a halt, banks wouldn’t lend money to builders, and homeowners defaulted on their mortgages by the tens of thousands.
Installer rates crashed and have yet to recover.
The other day, Katie and I were reading an excellent story in “Floor Covering Installer” magazine (May/June 2015 issue). According to this article, Installers’ Forum: Speaking Up And Speaking Out on the Industry, it appears that the high wages during the boom years was unusual; the long-term trend nationwide has been downhill for installer pay.
The article quoted Albin Pacos of Buffalo, NY, who started as an installer in the 1960s. “I cut my teeth on linoleum. Back then we used to get paid fairly….I was fortunate to have a career for 20 years installing…The last 22 years I’ve taught floor covering as a vocational instructor at the New York Department of Corrections. It’s hard to attract new installers…Unfortunately, the financial incentives just aren’t there.”
Over the years, many people with other employment options have opted out and left installation for more lucrative fields. It’s a simple matter of economics – who is going to do something if they’re not paid fairly?
It’s our understanding that Cincinnati has a special wrinkle. Here, it appears that several of the biggest flooring retailers have cornered the market on installer rates. In the old days, installers charged separate rates for tear-out, installation, appliance moving and hook-up, and furniture moving. Now, several of the largest companies pay only a slightly higher rate than the old installation rate, but they require the installer to do everything for that on one rate.
As one local candidate for one of our contract installer positions told us recently, “You can’t make a decent living at those rates.”
During the Great Recession, this rate reduction was probably necessary for the flooring companies and for the installers to continue working. But even though the market has largely recovered, the rate in Cincinnati hasn’t budged for many installers.
Installers are key to a project’s success. It’s the installer who is in the client’s home for days at a time. The installer is the person the client interacts with the most and comes to know. The installer is really the face of the flooring company.
For consistent operations excellence, all the “stakeholders” need to win. The homeowner needs a beautiful, quality floor expertly installed at a fair price. The business owner needs a price that enables the business to meet its commitments and honor its warranties. The installer needs a labor rate that provides a healthy, prosperous lifestyle for his family.
Katie and I seek out the best installers we can find. Our rates follow the pre-2007 rate structure. Just like in the old days, our rates include a rate for tear-out, for disconnecting/reconnecting appliances, for moving furniture, and a rate for installation.
We believe the benefits of paying well outweigh the cost. We have access to the best talent: the professionals who are inwardly driven to perform top-notch work. And these installers, being well paid, feel they are valued, and they respond accordingly.
And how is that working out for us? Occasionally we do lose a job because of price. But we don’t compete on price. We compete on expertise and quality. And that makes sense: adding flooring to your home is adding to your real estate.
Does a homeowner really want the cheapest thing they can find, or do they want something that will hold up, that is a good real estate investment? In most cases, flooring is a long-term investment.
And our philosophy has worked pretty well for us: we are A-rated on Angie’s List. And every year we’ve been eligible, we have won Angie’s Super Service Award, which is given to just the top 5 percent of providers in each category. We boast an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau.
Installers are key, and we value them.
* * *
Jim Fitzgerald is the director of marketing for Floor Coverings International, Cincinnati East, Inc. If you live in the Cincinnati metro area and are looking for expert, unbiased help in choosing the type of flooring that is best for you, please call our 24-hour appointment desk at 513-729-7499. If you are in another part of the country, there is probably a Floor Coverings International near you. Go here and click the Book today! button to find a location in your area.