According to Hardwood Floors magazine’s 2021 Industry Outlook, 76 percent of wood flooring sales by NWFA member manufacturers still go to market through traditional wood flooring distributor channels, and 50 percent through general floor covering distributors. Despite the trend toward online and other less-traditional market channels, just 24 percent of wood flooring sales go direct from manufacturer to end-user, and many wood flooring brands are not household familiar brand names.
The reseller (retailer) and installer are most end-user’s primary contacts when selecting and installing a wood floor. These resellers and installers are, however, independent businesses with whom a manufacturer has limited communication and over whom a manufacturer has no control. Each of these businesses greatly impact what the consumer is presented at the point of sale, the installed floor’s appearance, and ultimately whether or not a wood floor meets the end-user’s expectations.
Despite most manufacturers having limited contact with the end-user and no role in the installation, many end-users contact the manufacturer directly when a wood floor fails to meet their expectations. Many end-users assume the manufacturer has a record of their individual flooring purchase, details about their job, etc. In fact, a manufacturer rarely has any of this information, including the identity of the other parties involved, which product the consumer has purchased, what site conditions were or are, installation methods, and in-home maintenance practices.
Even after a manufacturer is made aware of an issue, complete information often is difficult to obtain, and may not even exist, such as complete and well-documented jobsite moisture data. End-users often even assume the manufacturer has authority or oversight over the reseller and/or the installer.
Adding to this challenge is that in today’s social media-driven marketplace, mistaken assumptions by end-users regarding who is responsible for a particular issue with their installed wood floor often result in negative reviews toward the manufacturer/brand on multiple social media platforms, Better Business Bureau complaints, etc.
For manufacturers, resolving complaints quickly and fairly (and cost-effectively) is often best accomplished by commissioning an independent inspection. The NWFACP Inspector program provides an excellent framework specifically tailored to wood flooring. The updated NWFA Installation Guidelines (2019 edition) now provide well-defined responsibilities for each involved party from manufacturer through end-user (pages 26-27), as well as a detailed set of industry standards covering almost every possible installation scenario. Holding each party to these “industry standard” responsibilities and practices can avoid much confusion and help expedite the resolution of any issues.
Useful tip from an inspector:
The NWFACP Inspector program provides an excellent framework specifically tailored to wood flooring.
Installation Guidelines have been abbreviated for the context of this article. Please refer to the complete guidelines located online at nwfa.org/technical-guidelines/.
Most important in any independent inspection is the integrity of the inspection and reporting process. The NWFACP Code of Conduct provides all parties to a complaint assurance of objectivity by the inspector, and a means of redress if there are any challenges to an inspection. Of particular importance in the contents of the report itself are the following standards:
- To remain focused and report only on the problem/concern set forth by the commissioning party.
- Basing conclusions on industry standards (NWFA Guidelines), testing, and directly observed facts, while avoiding opinions.
- To report a complete job history, including a detailed interview with each party involved.
- Equally important is to note any non-responsive or unavailable involved party. Increasingly, we encounter resistance by end-users to accommodate an inspector’s request to interview a contractor through whom the end-user directly arranged the installation.
- Include complete manufacturer and industry guidelines applicable to the problem as defined by the commissioning party.
- Since NWFA Guidelines always defer to individual manufacturer guidelines, it is important that an inspection report reference a manufacturer’s guidelines.
A thorough independent inspection, resulting in a similarly thorough inspection report, is often in the manufacturer’s best interest, and ultimately helps to resolve issues correctly and permanently for the party most affected – our customers.
Anthony Miraldi is an NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector (CWFI) and the director of technical services for Somerset Wood Products Inc. in Somerset, Kentucky. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.