Next Stop, The Flooring Installation Highway of Success!

Next Stop, The Flooring Installation Highway of Success!

By Jim Walker, American Floor Covering Institute

Business Insider Magazine reported that during interviews with Uber drivers they were told, “We are making a lot less money than Uber is telling people. It’s not $90,000 per year; that’s quite an exaggeration!” From the interview, it was determined that the drivers were struggling to earn even minimum wage. Some were working 40 hours per week and making from $10,000 to $40,000 per year. After Uber cut the rate by 20% to the customer, they said that the increased demand would offset the lower fares. However, Uber did not decrease their share; only the drivers’ share. Jay Zurn of Wisconsin pointed this out to me and said he uses this illustration to relate to installers the importance of pricing their work for profit.

Uber does not pay minimum wage as the drivers are independent contractors. And how can that be? Drivers must take into account the cost of all operational costs including, commercial insurance, daily gasoline, daily wash, car payments, registration and maintenance. The IRS states that the cost to drive a business vehicle in 2017 is $0.535 per mile. One driver said, “With this last round of discounted fares, I could apply for food stamps.”

It’s time for flooring installers to keep statistics. The only things you sell are time and talent. When you give these away, the dealers and contractors are in your pocket and taking away from your earning potential. I’m not saying this is intentional, but it has been going on for so long that too often it is common practice. This must change or you must find employment with those dealers who understand the value of professional installation. Are you one of the profitable installation companies that understand they must charge for value?

As I was driving on the highway, I saw a rental truck from a local home center. A small truck with big lettering that said, “Rent Me – Only $19.95 per hour.” If you pick up the flooring for free, deliver it for free and return the existing materials to the warehouse for free with two men in the truck, gasoline, insurance and maintenance (remember, the IRS cost is $0.535 per mile to run the truck); then consider if these costs are included in your square yard price.

There are many larger workrooms that can manage your business for you, pay you as an employee with benefits for the opportunity to make a large figure income if you can’t manage for yourself. Perhaps, you are like I was. I provided the best installation and worked as hard as anyone, but managing the business was not my best attribute; I had to learn. It’s time that either you learn your value or go to work for someone who can pay you accordingly. To those who have developed a profitable business, you are to be loudly commended and do share your success with others.

Once again, there would be no installation crisis if the money paid for labor equaled the hours, expertise and cost of doing the job correctly. Think about it, this industry wants you to recruit installers to get into the same predicament in which you have found yourself. There is just not an incentive to enter this trade and that’s a shame. It is a great one. So, I keep writing to help those who want to be successful and if enough of you are, then maybe we can change this industry. It’s for certain after the past 40 years, that no one else is going to do it.

Moreover, dealers receive an increase in the price of the samples, displays, products or cushion; it is passed along to the customer. There is no additional cost to the dealer. The customer pays. What about the increased prices for the installer? Just try to explain that these should also be passed on to the customer. I still don’t get it because in the end the customer is the one who pays. We need sales associates that understand installation and can sell value! There are dealers who are very proficient at this.

Introduction to a Professionally Prepared Price List

As I stated above, I don’t believe most dealers intentionally overlook charges that decrease the bottom line of the installers. It’s just a practice that has been going on for over 40 years and it has to stop.

Installers, when you are interviewing for a new account business, be prepared. First and most importantly, present yourself in a professional manner. Khakis and a shirt with your company name make a statement that you consider yourself a business person. If you have a portfolio of a few jobs that have outstanding characteristics, then it doesn’t hurt to have it available. This folder should also include copies of certifications and any type of training you have completed. Here is where knowledge and the ability to present special conditions to the dealer become so important. If they don’t know about them and what additional costs are involved, then how can they charge for them? Your presentation performance is absolutely essential. It does take confidence, but you can do it.

Also, get rid of the fear. Michael Jordan said, “Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again my life. And, that is why I succeed. I never give up.” Thomas Edison wrote, “I have never failed; I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

When the dealer or contractor asks how you charge, please, do not answer with, “How much do you pay?” The dealer does not pay your bills or operate your business. From this point, you are at a disadvantage. Did you see every sample in the store priced the same? Think about it… one price does not fit everything!

The dealer or contractor may say the company sells both commercial and residential and may think both are installed for the same price. They may legitimately believe all installations are priced the same. This is where great communication skills make the difference. Do you really know the difference in price? Do YOU understand and use the word custom?

You must be able to explain that you will furnish a base price, but every job is custom, and without seeing the merchandise or knowing where and how it is to be installed, you cannot price all work the same. Be prepared with statements that you and your crew are figured at an hourly rate plus the business costs of truck, gas, insurance, taxes and normal operating costs. Those costs are calculated from the time of the arrival at the warehouse until the completion of the job. All of this computes to determine the cost of the installation. Time and talent! You must anticipate that the dealer will not be receptive. This is when you begin to sell yourself, your talent and your exceptional customer service skills.

You are not a handyman. You are a professional and expect to be compensated accordingly. The sooner the dealer, designer, contractor and yes, the manufacturer, understand exactly what is involved in the art of flooring installation, the sooner the current installation crisis will disappear.

It took me years to develop how to represent myself and my company as professionals and set us apart from others who were not in our playing field. When you are negotiating, you may hear something from the dealer like: “In all the years that I have owned this company, no installer has ever presented his pricing in this manner. I don’t know if I can get the prices you want. You certainly presented yourself like the person we want to represent our company, but…” The best thing to do at this point is to thank the dealers for their time and ask them to call you when that difficult job comes up and you promise they will be more than pleased with your work. Leave the door open.

Usually, in a short time you will receive a call. They have begun to question installers who represent them to find out how they are being represented. Now, there is one job that needs your special attention and they ask if you will price the work. This is your time to shine. There is never a job more important than the one in front of you. Never forget that! But, doing it the right way costs more money.

When installers tell me they can’t make any money, is it a lack of skill, confidence or knowledge? Does their quality of work, their attitude, appearance, or customer service skills warrant the extra fees? Do they deliver what they promise?

Time is Important!

“Each of us has such a bank, the name is time. Every morning, it credits you 86,400 seconds. Every night, whatever of this you failed to invest to a good purpose, is written off as a loss. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against ‘tomorrow.’ You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest in it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and health. The clock is running. Make the most of today because you can never get it back. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts.” – Zig Ziglar

Installation of Wall Base

Have you found yourself in a predicament because you did not know what you were installing? It’s not just regular wall base anymore. What about the custom rubber base that is designed to appear as wood and requires mitering. The installation of wall base is like learning to type. When you see someone typing rapidly and proficiently, it really looks easy. What happens when you try to do this? I think I’ve heard it referred to as the hunt-and-peck system. You will get it done, but how long will it take and how good is the end result? Installing wall base is much like typing; it takes time to learn to do it correctly.

I remember Dick Schmidt presenting a seminar years ago and he stressed that the installers must know what they are working with in order to price their time and skill accordingly because this type of product takes skill and definitely more time. He also said he could look at the installation and know immediately if the installers were qualified. If you don’t have the additional tools, such as a miter saw and the skills to use them properly, then you’re lost. But, if you know what is involved, then you can certainly become prepared.

Do you know if there will be a good substrate on which to install the product? Do you know if the sheetrock is finished to the floor to achieve a proper bonding? What if there is a void at the bottom of the base because the floor slopes? Imperfections will telegraph through and at the cost of this product, that’s not going to satisfy the customer. Have you taken time to discuss this with the person who is hiring you? Does their estimator understand?

The consumer pictures a perfect job, no excuses. Can you deliver? You can’t do mediocre work and command a premium price. Pride in your work is part of the job. I once heard a man say, “If you’re not willing to sign your name to your work, don’t do it.” But, doing it right costs money.


Moving furniture takes skill, additional time and is an expensive liability. Are you familiar with the “fast-track manufacturing of furniture that uses press board or “beaver bark”? When it is moved, it will fall apart. You better ask the customer to move this or you will probably be buying something. When you damage one piece, it takes two to three jobs to pay for it. The same goes for antiques: you can’t afford to move them. Also, please don’t price furniture-moving by the room or you’ll lose again. Special equipment, more personnel and more time are involved in the dismantling of furniture. Again, call a moving company and check their prices. This should not be part of the square yard price.

Wall Coverings

You won’t pay to replace a section; you will replace the entire room. Liability is expensive.

Painted Wood Trims

Once again, you will not be touching up a section; you will prep the damage and then paint the entire area.


The cost of removing and replacing doors presents a strong possibility that damage will occur. Sometimes, the solid wood doors are so heavy it requires two installers to remove and replace them. Damage can also occur to the surrounding walls. Are you doing this work for free? What does a new door cost? Again, liability is expensive.

Now, here’s where your negotiating skills are important. You may not be doing the estimating, so it is critical you discuss these and other items with the person who is engaging your services. The estimator should be responsible if problems occur; not you if the dealer is aware of your costs. You cannot assume the estimator’s liability. Discussing these items is a part of doing business. Nobody loses but you. Explain to the dealer that they should be charging for these services ‒ they are not part of flooring installation. I would suggest dealers not quote a price until they receive your cost for the services involved. Dealers should make money on them also, but they cannot be thrown in as part of the job. Surely, everyone understands this. It doesn’t cost the dealer; the customer pays. No two jobs are identical.

Perhaps, you could suggest the customer be allowed to make the decision as to what type of installation they want. A tiered installation price list works for some stores. When offered this, most customers will always opt for the best.

This is why if you are operating a business, and you are, a price list is so important. Explain what the installation of flooring involves; the additional charges and why you must know the type of product and the uniqueness of the home or office. Explain that the estimator may need to contact you before the job is bid to avoid any misunderstanding because you will be charging for anything that requires more time and talent to complete the job to the customer’s satisfaction.

The dealer must furnish the supplies – adhesives, transitions and any product required for the installation according to the manufacturer. If you are doing this, then these costs are additional.

Yes, it will not be easy, but you can do it! You are a professional! You deliver what you promise. Remember, there is no more effort required to aim high in life, to demand success and prosperity than is required to accept misery and poverty.

In 1995, during the early years of CFI, Andrew Aufiero, #220, past president of CFI who passed away too early, wrote the following: “I recently heard a comment about Jim Walker and how things are either Jim’s way or The Highway. Let me tell you about The Highway. I’ve been on it going about 75 mph for 20+ years and not stopping because there was no place to stop and NO EXITS! I would pull over and rest, but it was only a brief one and I was right back up to 75mph again, or so it seemed. My tires were spinning, my engine was racing and I was going NOWHERE in this business. Then I saw it. It was a little sign on the side of the road that said, ‘CFI – Straight Ahead!’”

He added, “Further, It was actually a curving, winding, bumpy road with lots of potholes and road blocks. But with my CFI map, I have been negotiating them quite well. If following Jim Walker’s Highway and sharing his vision for CFI is being fanatical, well, just sign me up. I have seen The Highway and all of its’ thankless, worthless and abusive miles and I know for sure, I’ll take the CFI exit for as long as I am able. Jim will be the first to say that he is not CFI alone; it takes all of us. But be assured, Jim will stand up and fight for the unpopular view as long as it benefits installers. I’m thankful for the exit ramp to a better life.”

Professional flooring installation is very important to me. It is so important for our industry and it’s time everyone understood this. Andrew changed into a professional who learned how to market his skills and he set an example for many.

I sincerely believe the old saying, “Give a man a fish and he will be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It is my wish for you that by reading these articles that you too will find something to put you or keep you on the Highway to Success. “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

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