CFI at 25: Has Anything Changed? You Bet it Did!

By Jim Walker, American Floor Covering Institute

CFI at 25: Has Anything Changed? You Bet it Did!

Today, we know that flooring installation is more of a recognized trade than it was before 1993. Professional installers certainly do not receive the credit that I and many others feel they should; but acknowledgement of the skills required for the installation are more well-known and appreciated today. Installers who have taken advantage of adding many flooring certifications to their careers and have learned how to charge according to time and talent, report that the trade has become a viable revenue source for them personally.


The beginning of CFI started in 1990 when a group of independent installers in Kansas City, MO decided it was time to stand up and be counted as professional flooring installers. The meeting was attended by 122 members of the flooring community and then, the first local chapter was organized. The organization met monthly with the support of retailers like Bernie Madden and distributors, including Herm Claussen and Nick Nichols. Our motto was PRIDE (Pride, Responsibility, Integrity, Dependability and Education).


CFI members could be described like the optimist who fell out of a 10-story building. As he passed the second floor, he yelled loudly, “Safe so far!” Together, we made a difference because we thought we could.


Those in my office, John McHale (whose motto is “who says you can’t?”), Ed Braile (who has answered more tech calls than you can ever imagine), Janet Emerson (who worked 24 hours a day), Mark Mohler, Duane, Carmen and Judy Baker and others who volunteered made it happen for our team of CFI Certifiers. Later, it was Jill Sheets and Whitney Scott who were always there to help members and today, always ready to help you are John McHale, Robert Varden, Jonathan Varden, Chloe Lewis and, Erica Ozymy.


It was a combined effort of so many people that contributed to the success of CFI. I remember when our local CCS distributor, Herm Claussen, traveled to Springfield, MO with me in the worst ice storm ever to hit the area. We slid most of the way, but we couldn’t cancel the seminar because we had no way of contacting those who might be attending. Guess what? Over 125 installers were there waiting on us. This is also where we met Bob Turpen of Amoco Fabrics and Fibers (Propex). Amoco sent him to find out “just what is this group trying to do.” He stood out in the back of the room in his suit and tie — we knew immediately he was up to something.


What if we had cancelled that trip? It was the beginning of not only a great friendship, but the coming together of an organization and a corporation intent on making a difference in the flooring installation world. Amoco spent thousands of dollars to sponsor educational and certification events and Bob was always present! He made it possible for CFI to receive numerous donations from the industry and to introduce us to major players who became a viable part of the organization.


Jim Benson, business manager of Local 1179 in Kansas City attended the first meeting and soon was a very active board member. Like myself, he was interested in promoting quality flooring installers. Working together, we engaged speakers from OSHA and the EPA who assisted us in organizing our members to be informed and involved in the regulations of both entities.


CFI introduced standards that had been available for years, however; most were not aware they existed. CFI members became well-informed as to how to work safely and with knowledge. Together, we developed the first OSHA flooring installation manual and assisted OSHA in creating the Hazardous Communication Program. In November 1991, Benson, who passed away at an early age, reported that most local members from his group had graduated from the program. It was working. Installers were becoming more knowledgeable.


In November 1992, Hiroshi Tsujio brought the first Japanese coalition to Kansas City. I wrote in the newsletter, “I do believe our paths will cross in the future.” They did and remember the two Japanese-American flooring competitions? How much fun. We correspond often and today, CFI is all over the world because of this beginning in sharing installation techniques, pride and professionalism. Another friend, Lawrence Chan from China, wanted to bring CFI there and now, it has happened. Allan deWit of Belgotex of South Africa is committed to spending thousands of dollars to create training programs and schools throughout the region and has also organized a CFI chapter.


In 2015, Marc Van Camelbeke, through Beaulieu spent thousands of dollars to bring CFI team training to Brazil for carpet, carpet tile and LVT installation. CFI has since returned for ongoing training. Jorge Lema of Sodimac (Chile) provided two weeks of training to over 100 installers in wood and carpet. We can’t forget that earthquake experience during my presentation when all the students ducked under their seats.


Nationally, the first CFI Chapters included Midwest CFI KC; Sioux Falls, SD (Doug Amundson); Detroit, MI (Vince Palazzolo); and Kalispell, MT (Mike Norvell). The development of chapters happened all over America by sharing information and education with their members. They continue today and are an important part of CFI. To those who are involved, your time and service is appreciated, especially Roland Thompson (Delmarva) and Tony Buckhardt (Fort Wayne), Jay Zurn, Gary Goessl, Nate Hall and Brett Chaltry  (Wisconsin) and Rod Von Busch (Kentucky) who is busy promoting installation training to every organization he meets.


CFI has certainly changed people while providing numerous opportunities for many others. I must share a story about the first CFI Certification Team meeting. I knew if we were going to be successful, the Team had to learn how to communicate. I put together an exercise where each member was given one minute to sell the Team a certain tool which he could select from a group on a table. Would you believe that not one was able to do this without stuttering and stammering? It was hilarious. They used these tools every day. We did the same exercise the following year and we couldn’t “shut them up.” I still stress that Communication is one of our greatest gifts.


On September 18, 1993 in Sioux Falls, Bob Gillespie (MO), Doug Amundson (SD), Ken Hay (SD), Ron Wulf (SD), Vince Palazzolo (MI), Glen Hartson (SD), Mike Norvell (MT) and I met and set the wheels in place for what you know today as the International Certified Flooring Installers Association. We were dreaming BIG – “International” – “Flooring” – “Certified.”


We thank Karastan again for the first Certification test, as I had developed the Karastan Certification Program. David Duncan allowed us to adapt some of the program to our needs if the uniqueness of the Karastan curriculum and training was not compromised — and it never was. It was revised to meet the requirements of CFI installers. How many times has this been changed and new flooring programs (wood, laminate, resilient, ceramic) added? Numerous volunteers were determined to make the program one that would provide education and vital information. We worked closely with other organizations providing training, but never infringing on their programs.


In October 1993, with a membership over 175 and with the assistance of associate members, the first CFI Certification was conducted for chapter members in Kansas City, followed a few weeks later by the first open event. CFI Certification took off. In the beginning, our KC team of Al Brown, Terry Dollinger, Bob Gillespie and Jackie Jones, John McHale, Jimmy Walker and the Sioux Falls’ guys, Doug Amundson and Tim Sheridan, visited more cities than we ever thought imaginable. Many thanks to them for the time, talent and the money they spent. And….many thanks to my son, Jimmy who always arrived on time in every part of this nation in all types of weather, driving a truck loaded with tools, flooring and supplies. Back then, Certification was a three-day event and there were times, we missed our flights and didn’t arrive home until Monday morning. By the way, remember the time that John McHale (you may know him) “did” the Indianapolis 500 through Chicago and got us to the airport on time against impossible odds?


Some of the first CFI Certified Installers were:  #1 Bob Gillespie (KC – And he never lets anyone forget), #2 Jim Cunningham (KC) #3 Ron Wulf (SD), #4 Ed Braile (KC), #6 Vince Palazzolo (MI), #8 Doug Amundson (SD Deceased), #10 Ken Hay (SD), #11 Jim Walker (KC), #12 Al Brown (KC), #13 John Stover (MI deceased), #15 Jackie Jones (KS), #25 Jim Rank (KC), #26 Roy Davison (KC), #28 Ralph Richins (FL), #29 Herm Claussen (KC), #30 Michael Hetts (PA), #37 Tim Jolly (MI), #60 Ray Knapp (SD) and #72 Jim Benson (KC-Local 1179)


Kudos to Mohawk Industries that donated and shipped carpet for every event and still does today! After attending the first open certification and competing for the highest scores, Michael Hetts and Ralph Richins were telling distributors coast-to-coast to get involved. At the beginning, Capitol Adhesives, Fairmont Cushion, Para-Chem, Roberts and Taylor Tools donated enormous amounts of testing materials and supplies. Many more manufacturers became involved later.


This quote from Volume I 1993 of THE FLOORCOVERING PROFESSIONAL, “You wouldn’t believe the assistance, and to date — we haven’t asked for anything! This is unbelievable! We can’t fail! We can only grow! We have too many folks to thank for CFI’s success! Certify many more in ’94!” The CFI motto: “If it is to be; it is up to me!” The goal from the beginning was that individual installers from coast-to-coast could make a difference, and make a difference, you did!


Today, the world knows some of the most knowledgeable instructors from that first CFI Chapter, like Bob Gillespie who is always up-to-date; as well as Jim Rank and Roy Davison who know everything about every flooring product and installation procedures. We remember Roy as the quiet guy who drove nearly two hours from Chillicothe, MO to every CFI Chapter meeting. He lives in a small town and wanted to learn as much as he could about flooring installation. Learn, he did! They just don’t come any smarter or more meticulous than Roy. He grew from the intense listener, to become a CFI instructor and Certification Chairman who revised and updated every training manual and from whom everyone learned so much. Once he became ill, he still wrote articles and participated on the CFI tech line.


It didn’t take long before the trade press saw what was happening and thanks to them, CFI was in every issue spreading our message. Shortly after, Kenny and Darlene Miles, Andrew and Cynthia Aufiero, Don Styka, Dick Schmidt, Ben Boatwright, Alan Ellis, Tom Cartmell, Leon Harrison, Kelly Huddleston, Michael Hetts, Jerry Miller, Charlie Gress, Daris and Karen Mulkin, Jon and Suzy Namba and Andre Southworth (Oh, what trouble the Utah folks caused!)  That list kept growing until there were over 100 individuals willing to donate their time to help CFI become the organization it is today. We haven’t thanked you enough!


Back then, we would purchase 10 airline tickets under any name and when we got the team together for an event, they could fly under anybody’s name! Oh yes, we did! Times have changed. Kenny Miles said the other day, “Those were great days. We met so many people; helped so many installers and worked so hard; but had such a wonderful time being together and spreading the word about CFI.”


Later, I met Chris Davis of WFCA at a convention in Chicago where the CFI booth was next to his and he asked, “What are you giving away? You have too much traffic.” He took me to a three-hour lunch and the rest is history. It became the beginning of a long friendship with financial contributions that made a huge difference. There were so many of you that did so much to help CFI as we continued to become a well-known entity.


There are three ways of trying to win folks over. You can preach at them – that is a hook without a worm. You can say, “You must volunteer.” – must doesn’t get it. Or you can tell them, “You are needed!” – an appeal like that hardly ever fails. That’s what CFI said, “We Need You – we can’t do it without you.” You can make a difference in your neighborhood and that is what thousands of flooring installers did and are still doing today. I bet you remember who the first person was to tell you about CFI and the one who certified you. They made a real difference!


The first Convention was held just three months after we organized in August 1994. I remember trade magazine publisher Howard Olansky, who took me aside and said, “I am giving you some really good advice don’t start an installation association; I guarantee it will fail.” Remember when Tom Durkan, owner of Durkan Carpet, spoke at one of the first CFI conventions? He was bold in his efforts to help us and made this known at many CRI meetings to which he took me.


At the second convention, the Charles Gress Award was initiated. It continues today in remembrance of Charles Gress (PA), who donated time and materials to CFI in the beginning years. It is the highest award given by the association. Remember Charles’ hand stitches that were meticulous – we found out why – he was also a mortician.


It wasn’t long before installers could contact the technical service departments of the mills to seek assistance. Once they identified themselves as CFI; there were always answers for their situations. Soon, many of the members of the carpet mills’ technical divisions were also CFI Certified and volunteered at events. Remember when Ken Kennedy (Masland) and Tom Durkan (Durkan) sent us those beautiful CFI rugs. One proudly hangs today on the wall of the CFI office.


CFI initiated the first large training event to prepare individuals for a career in flooring. It was sponsored by Goodwill Industries of Atlanta in 2015. Shaw Industries donated all of the flooring at the two-week hands-on course and for several more events that followed.


Many things have changed for CFI, but one remains the same and will never change – YOU, the proud professional who makes the difference in your area. Don’t forget it. Robert Varden and WFCA are committed to continuing the programs and educational events. This must never stop! The entire industry benefits from your talent and knowledge. Keep CFI strong and never waiver from your commitments.


This year the CFI, International Certified Flooring Installers Association, celebrates 25 years of making a difference in the industry. It certainly doesn’t seem possible. Many of you can remember when the organization was considered “a joke, a flash in the pan, another organization that will fail,” and other adjectives that they won’t let me print.


We were told that certification was absolutely wrong and there could not be certifications in the industry. Have you checked lately just how many certifications there are to identify flooring installers according to skill and knowledge?


Young installers will never understand that no one recognized the skills and knowledge of flooring installers years ago. We were once described as, “necessary, untrained and a poorly uneducated entity.” Did that ever change!


It sure wasn’t easy being laughed at. Remember, CFI’s past president Andrew Aufiero who was the first CFI Certified Installer in New Jersey? He was at the distributor and went outside to find that all his tires were flat and installers were laughing and yelling, “See If I Care?” He was so proud of that logo he had earned. His personality and that incident only made him work harder until he and his wife, Cynthia were responsible for one of the largest certifications of 94 installers.


There have been many “Andrews” along the way and they are still being developed today. But, that’s what it took back then to bring CFI to where it became the highly respected organization it is today. It took each person to stand up at their distributors to talk CFI; to schedule a certification in their area and most importantly; to always provide the quality and craftsmanship for which CFI installers are known today. It only takes one spark to light a fire – someone to say, “let’s do it!”


The entire industry has benefited from CFI – YOU made a huge difference! I once heard, “Pessimism leads to weakness; optimism to power.” Boy, did we have the optimistic spirit and it paid off because tough times never last; but tough people do. We believed and acted as if it were impossible to fail. Remember, those laughs and fun times at dinner after the certification events? I don’t remember the words “fail” or “we can’t do this” ever mentioned in the conversations.


Someone once told me that CFI stood for, “Certified Family of Installers.” People have scratched their heads in amazement at the success of CFI. Cynthia Aufiero once wrote, “We’re not in this because of money, we’re not in this for a golf outing or a fancy dinner or recognition nor for a free ride! We do this because of LOVE. How else do you explain a highly skilled group of professionals leaving their beloved families, giving up work to work REAL hard helping other installers – FOR FREE? How do you explain that? Do you know of any organization in the entire industry that has done this as long as CFI? Plus, we’ve only become stronger if you’ve been paying attention.  I call it LOVE.”


Nothing will ever equal the satisfaction of those phone calls, texts or emails I receive saying, “You really helped me; you made a difference in my life.” Money can’t buy that. I’m sure many of you have heard those same words. But, it was YOU who made the difference! YOU are CFI! Here’s to 25 more exciting years! It will always continue because you will remember “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

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