Stephen Perrera, Owner Of Top Floor Installation Co. and native Tucsonan since 1955 has been in the flooring trade for over thirty-two years. He is licensed, bonded and an insured state of Arizona Flooring Contractor and detailed troubleshooter who performs moisture testing and floor failure analysis, installing a variety of floor coverings. Top
Kissing Frogs and E-tailers
Quote: "The beginning of the end of the floor covering industry came when retailers took to dictating labor rates for installers".
It all started as a never ending discussion on a social networking site where one retailer asks the formidable question; "How Much Do You Pay Your Carpet Installers?" A phrase like this raises hairs on the back of my neck and probably thousands of independent installers as well. This question could be paraphrased in a statement such as... I would never pay an installer as an employee like the people in the store, because those guys are "independent contractors", even though I like to dictate their labor rates.
For installers such as myself who went through all that krappola back in the 80's when some genius found a loophole in the tax code for contractors, it gives me great pains in the stomach. No, I am not going to go through all of the technicalities about who is legally a subcontractor vs. who is not. I'll just state that no one is ever truly a sub unless they are dually licensed, bonded and insured in the specific trade like we are in AZ and California. Yet these yahoos like to still dictate labor rates. In most states anyone can call themselves a "contractor" without even knowing what the true meaning is, which presents another problem.
The beginning of the end of floor covering installers came when retailers took to dictating labor rates. Not only did they do that, they also said, "I will not provide a van marked with my store on it, nor will I match your taxes like all of my other employees in the store. I will not provide you with workman's comp, health insurance, and paid days off either. But I will make you pay for and wear my T-shirts adorned with my stores logo".
And so the battle began. The person who started the thread was the highest paying out of all of the responders. The rate from the great northwest to the south went from $4.50 a square yard to a measly $1.75 a square yard.
The post that really struck a nerve with me though was from a prominent flooring columnist who represents himself as a professional educator, writer and speaker and is regularly featured in one of the flooring news magazines. He swears his installers loved him so much that they flocked to work in his store. He also states "Although all of our installers were subs, they worked 100% for our stores". Wow, yet another tax code infraction. But as he said, his installers loved him. He continues "When I opened my store I had to kiss 60 frogs before actually seeing an installer who even knew the basics. Therein lies the problem of having standardized wages, it lifts the know-nothings up to a level with the professionals".
I must admit that I've never seen anyone kiss so many frogs. Maybe he should have tested their competency first on a drop room or asked them some technical questions. Retailers constantly complain that installers ruin jobs yet they do not want to pay for a foreman to watch over the crews. Usually it's the ole "Load'm up and get'm out" kinda shop. If a job goes south then that's the time we will address their competency. This begs the question of whose fault is that, installers or retailers?
When another poster who has been in the business for over 35 years was saying this discussion has been ongoing forever, this so-called expert responded "Great comment Mr. Crenshaw. It's like the guy years ago that told me that I'm my own worst enemy. Installers have been crying about the same issues for years because of their own insecurities. One of my wife's installers who we are friendly with according to one of my sons who works with him still cries that he doesn't make enough, is the only one who knows anything and blames all problems on the people in the store when in truth I've never met an installer who understands quality, why different constructions require different handling or anything about the industry beyond his current job".
Another Wow! Let's read that again; "when in truth I've never met an installer who understands quality, why different constructions require different handling or anything about the industry beyond his current job".
Not sure, but has this guy been hiding in a basement all his life or what? And yet he has followers who blindly read his column. He even had the gall to tell me that if I hated the industry so much, I should look to another retailer to work for and maybe get certified. Had he simply clicked on my profile he would have noticed that I was certified R-II and haven't needed to rely on retailers for work in over 20 years. Most of my work today involves installation of hardwood, laminate and tile along with inspections.
As if things couldn't go further south he continues with "Don, this started out as one of the most interesting discussions ever and I participate in ten groups or more. Installers have always had the reputation of little complainers, jealous of the salespeople and owners, but this goes beyond the pale. I loved to install. Nothing I could do could change someone's home into a thing of beauty in so little time as installing wall to wall in a family's home. There were few things more gratifying than doing a walk-thru with the homeowner after the install and her telling me just how beautiful it was. What's to complain about? I felt like a million bucks.
If these whiners hate installing, do something else. No one's stopping you. No one cares about your problems, in fact many are glad you've got them. I know we are."
I am at a loss for words, "no one cares." Therein lies the problem and the truth is exposed!!
Enough of this self-proclaimed expert. We merely have to go back to the late 1990's when CFI published a breakdown of what it costs an independent installer to profitably run his business with cost of living increases to that date in their monthly newsletter. The labor rate for carpet installation should be $9.00 a square yard! That was well over 10 years ago and the last time you would ever hear CFI talk about labor rates for installers.
So now if you tell retailers they are manipulating installer's wages and taking advantage of them you get responses like; "If you hate the industry so much go elsewhere". "Get certified" "Stop crying".
"There is a reason why installers do not show up for seminars, they cannot speak or read English very well." That was said by an old well-respected installer/retailer who works in Vermont. Is he right? Is this group the only ones left who will willingly subject themselves to the pitiful minimum wages paid by retailers? Is that all they got left? When you add it all up at the end of the day, if these sub-contractors are getting even the highest rate bragged about by retailers, after taxes and the sundries they must supply, splitting it up with another installer or two, it still ends up being minimum wage.
It was said that retailers can only pay the "prevailing wage". I say that is all retailers are willing to pay and would gladly pay less if they could get away with it. Manufactures of carpet certainly would like it as well for it means getting more carpet installed and makes it more competitive to hard surface flooring.
The old saying is you get what you pay for. I for one am sick of hearing about retailers and the mills complaining about not being able to find qualified installers after paying out billions of dollars in claims. You made your own bed, live with it for another thirty years.
Here is my last word on this subject. When e-tailers and places like Prosource finally realize there are many qualified independent installers out there willing to take on their sales, help their buyers install the floor and get it installed better than the average Joe's Hack-a-Billy store (because we all know they're all not DIY'ers), if the e-tailers of the world connect with us, then watch out brick-n-mortar stores who love to dictate installation rates.
Edited by Admin 8/2/2012