Kyle Hedin, host of The Floor Academy Podcast, believes that the United States needs more flooring installation training schools.
He interviewed Paddy McNicholas, Owner of MN Floor Training, a flooring installation training school in Wolverhampton, England, to learn what motivated McNicholas to start the school, the steps he took to bring his idea into fruition, and what the future might hold for flooring installation training schools in the UK and the US.
A Bit of History on McNicholas
A flooring installer for nineteen years, McNicholas started out installing carpet schools, then moved on to residential carpet and vinyl, and eventually, luxury vinyl tiles. As his knowledge and skills increased, McNicholas began creating his own flooring designs, from straight leg floors to diagonal cuts and more complex designs, like herring bone, which is very popular in England. In recent years, he taught himself the art of parquetry panel work, geometric designs, and 3D designs.
McNicholas enjoyed training others, and after an eight-month gig, he was offered a full-time job. He declined, saying that after being self-employed for twenty years, he did not want to go to work for a company. McNicholas said that when he went back to installation there was “a massive call on social media for me to still deliver training.” McNicholas now owns a training center that specializes solely in luxury vinyl tile installations.
Read on for the highlights from the conversation, or listen to the full podcast here.
Kyle Hedin & Paddy McNicholas Interview Highlights
McNicholas: Yeah… You can only really do design work with the glue-down product. There is still a massive call in this country for your click system and your floating floors, but that’s not something I do. I’ve always stuck to stick products.
Hedin: Being able to go and get skills from somebody that’s proven they’re successful is very, very enticing to me and I think it’s something the states need a lot more of… How does [luxury vinyl tile] compare to wood flooring? Because… you used to have to go and get a wood floor in order to have these beautiful, crazy designed floors… So, is this getting people excited about design floors at a cheaper price point? Or are you comparable to what the wood floor guys charge over there?
McNicholas: Yeah… it takes a lot of time… to create the design and obviously you need to take waste into account. So, it’s not cheap… But there is a big call for it… Potential customers are looking…
Hedin: I’m sure you’ve seen the demand grow…
McNicholas: Yes. So, with the design floor, it doesn’t have to be a fifty-square-meter room. You could do it in a little toilet or a little hallway. Smaller jobs obviously are not as expensive… To start out, I wasn’t charging massive money… because I kind of felt like I’m investing in myself by doing work that other people don’t do… By investing myself on previous jobs, it pays off tenfold in the future.
Hedin: There’s an interesting insight… The riches are in the niches as some people like to say. You’ve definitely found something where you can charge a little bit higher rate, but now people only want you. So, before you opened the training center, that was your full-time thing. Did you have any employees or were you just a one-man show?
McNicholas: You know, I’ve always worked alone. I’ve had people with me now and again, apprentices, but I find I’m better off just working by myself. I don’t have to pick up someone and drop them off. I don’t have to worry about them being ill on a Monday or not fancying it on a Friday.
I’m quite particular about the work and how things are done, so, it’s just easier for me to work alone. We’ve got quite good work ethic and worked really hard so. The long hours and the traveling [were] never really [issues] to me… Ultimately the hard work that I’ve put in… especially on design floors, has paid off for me.
Now… I’ve built a reputation where people actually want to come to my training center for me to teach them, which is the dream job for me, really… To train six people every week to be considerably better at their job and give them life skills that they will always use… is satisfying… I’m sort of helping the industry to get better, which is something that I never dreamt of in this position.
McNicholas: I kept getting messages, pretty much every day, saying, “Paddy, will you come and train me?” And I thought, there’s something here that I need to investigate. So, I put a post on social media and was inundated with people saying… they want me to teach them X, Y, and Z… The manufacturers, as well… I was quite taken back by it, to be honest. A lot of them I have never met or spoke to before, and for them to approach me, you know, these big, multi-million pound companies saying they’ll support me. I thought. Yeah, I’m going to go for it.
I know [there are] not that many training centers in the UK to deliver luxury vinyl tile training. [There are] over thirty-thousand installers… There’s definitely a gap in the market…
So, I had two more weeks work booked in. I did that. I cancelled all my other work [and] spent the next 12 weeks building the training center. I did all the decorating, built the training bays, had meetings with manufacturers from all over Europe, and then had a lot of people wanting to come on the courses. I had a lot of help from the industry in [regard] to manufacturers giving me products to train with and branding for the walls. It all came about really quickly.
It wasn’t six months ago that I had the idea of the training center, and I’ve already run, I think, eight training courses… It’s crazy how it’s all came about so quickly, but it all felt right. I had so much support to do it. It was just a case of putting the hard work and obviously the money into getting it up and running…
Hedin: That’s really quick. And I’ve seen you make a couple of posts since we’ve friended each other and whatnot. The work these guys are putting out for a training class is top notch. From what I’m seeing, you’re either the most amazing trainer ever or everybody is coming in with at least a decent set of hand skills. Do you have any kind of… qualifying process or if you need five year’s experience or something like that before they can sign up with you?
McNicholas: No, not at all. I’ve had a lot of people in who’ve never fitted luxury vinyl tiles before. They’d been carpet fitters on my first course… Fortunately, everyone who comes to the training center wants to be better… The results that I’ve had in their work has been fantastic. To be honest …some of them are better than me…
It’s great to see… and know that they’re going to use these skills for the rest of their career in hundreds of different homes and companies… They’ve all done me really proud… A lot of the pictures and the precise work they do generates more work and generates more people coming on the course, which is what it’s all about.
We have six people on a course… The training centers have nine. So, I can spend considerably longer with each person and give them more knowledge and more information… The way I train and the content I train is a lot different and a lot more intense than other training centers… That is partly what’s generating such a high demand for my training courses.
Hedin: OK. So, walk me through… You have two different courses, right? You have a basic and a higher end one?
McNicholas: Yeah… On the Monday morning of the Level One, we go through subfloor preparation. We usually have a manufacturer in to deliver that …course… Sometimes I do it myself, but it’s nice to get a manufacturer and. It sort of adds prestige…
Then, we do straight lay in the afternoon. So, I teach… scribing absolutely perfect to skirting board and scribing around architraves… I just break everything down into real simple terms so that everyone can understand it. Tuesday, we get considerably more complicated, and we use scribing techniques from the Monday to then scribe… forty-five-degree work… which is very challenging…
McNicholas: I’m sorry. Around the door frame at the bottom of the door.
McNicholas: …Different scribing methods work in different scenarios. So, I try and go through as much as possible with them on the course… Also, to me, it’s really important to deliver aftercare… I want them to send pictures of their work [and] message me with questions. You know, if they’re ever stuck, I want to be there to support them, because I was in that position a few years ago and… that meant the world to me… Now, to be able to give that support to all the fitters, it’s nice to be in that position…
Hedin: I would not be where I’m at today if I wouldn’t have found the Facebook groups and met high quality installers from across the country… Even though it’s only click-together floors that I do, for the most part, you still run into situations that [are] one-in-thirty-year situations… I had a lot of questions early on. Just having somebody reliable that’s been there, done that, [who] you know you can call, [and] they’re going to have the answer, it makes a huge difference.
So, the course is a week. What does that cost me to come in and be trained for a week?
McNicholas: My three-day courses are £595.
Hedin: We talked about the intro class… Let’s go through the more advanced class. Does that cost the same, or is it… more expensive because you’re going over more advanced stuff?
McNicholas: No. The price is still the same. It’s still a Monday-to-Wednesday course. Both courses are very intense courses. This way you get value for money. The Level Two course we do entry panel work like you get in old French chateaus. Again, it’s quite a niche market, but it’s something that the competition doesn’t do. Therefore, to have things like that on your portfolio generates interest in your work and also improves your reputation…
Hedin: I think… it’s good to have, honestly. My struggle lately has been I’m sick of laying a rectangle… It’s just rectangle after rectangle… The ability to have one area that you can play and get really artsy breaks up the monotony of what we do. That’s huge for being able to go and give guys and gals that opportunity to get outside the box, do something different for a day or two, and just get them back to why they love the trade. You know, a lot of people get burned out… I think you’re providing an amazing opportunity.
McNicholas: We also do geometric shapes… 3D designs and design borders, all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes and patterns.
Now, I always say in my Level Two course when you start about how much money you’ll earn off the course is how much money the course will earn for you… if you do a few design jobs, a few design borders, a bit of 3D work.
…It’s not the money that you earn doing that job, it’s the money it earns you in the future. When people go through your portfolio where they see that you’re doing stuff that nobody else does, they’re ringing you straight away for a quote. I still get five or six job inquiries a day, which I pass out to people in the area who are local. So, again, I’m sort of helping them, as well.
You want as much peace of mind in your fitter before they come round to work, as possible, and having a portfolio of work that is different to your competitors certainly gives that reassurance to potential customers.
Hedin: I think it’s reviews, pictures, testimonials. They’re all going to push you forward because people want social proof in order to jump on board, so, all that stuff is super important.
We oftentimes from what I can see, struggle to get folks to trainings here in the in the US… I’m sure if I go to your school, I could say I went there, and people know that I know my stuff, but [for US trainings,] you need to get like 10 people together for these things. You can start asking around. You can’t put together two or three that want to do it. It’s like pulling teeth.
I went in January of 2020… to a training in Texas. So, I had to travel to Texas like, I don’t know, eight hundred miles away or so. To do it, you know, buy a plane ticket, run a car, get a hotel. Go back and forth to the class for a couple days and then be able to come home… You know a healthy investment, but there was, you know, I had a buddy come in from Florida. There was a guy from Wisconsin, there was people from, like, Kansas. I think some people from Utah came in it. It took people from all over in order to make this one training class happen. They’re this place is based in Texas, but they’re not filled every week with attendees’ dollars from Texas. That just doesn’t happen.
McNichols: That surprises me.
Hedin: It’s sad. It really is… Is there a different mentality in the UK about getting training, or is it that you have something people really want? …How do you think we can get more people to want training and certification in their life?
McNicholas: I think social media has a big part to play in training. People …look online and they see people who are absolutely amazing. It opens your eyes to how good you can be. It really surprises me that [there are] not many training schools or many training options in America. You must have tens and tens of thousands of floor layers who, by the sounds of it, are not getting much training at all.
In the UK… because of social media, everyone wants to be better. Everyone wants to be better than their competition. This is why people are coming on training courses. If you have a job that goes wrong and you have to replace it, they say it can be three times the original quote to replace the floor. So, therefore, you’re better off getting a bit of training.
…I’d absolutely love to come out to America and deliver some training. I’ve been in talks with someone from Saudi Arabia who wants me to go out to Dubai to deliver training there and someone in South Africa who is raising sponsorships to go there to deliver training, as well.
Hedin: What are the next steps? …Are you going to add in any additional courses? Is there going to be a Level Three course? Are you looking to get into maybe some other types of materials or is this kind of it for now?
McNicholas: I’m always looking forward and looking to improve what I’m doing. At the minute, I’m not getting too carried away looking forward, because I need to build up the reputation for the training center… I am, in the new year, going to look into doing courses for eighteen to twenty-one year olds or eighteen to twenty-two year olds to encourage more youth to get into the flooring trade…
If you’re 18, you go to work every day and you’re not very good. You don’t really enjoy it. Whereas if you can come on a training course [you can] get two or three days intensive training and be considerably better when you leave. You know a lot of people [who] come on my courses can’t wait to go to work on the Thursday to use all the new techniques… And then… Thursday lunch time they’re sending me pictures of the work… They’ve got the pride in their work… They’re investing in themselves…
Hedin: You know, you’re saying that the money you’ll make from the training, you have to focus on what you’re going to get out of it and not put into it. A lot of guys and gals get hung up [on the cost] … like it’s not worth it. You can’t look at… what the cost is up front. You have to look at it as what it can do for your business… the way it can help you market yourself and really advance you forward. You’re always going to make that money back. It just it stings a little upfront, and you’ve got to get over it.
McNicholas: I’m going to do [training courses for] people aged between eighteen and twenty-two at a massively reduced rate. It will be an intense two-day course.
On my first course, when I had that young lad who’d just come out of school, I had to make provisions for him not to cut his fingers off… His boss [messaged] me the week after saying, “Buddy, I’ve got a new kid at work. He’s really hungry. He’s outside every morning, waiting… because he’s not terrible his job anymore. He’s picked up so much in three days. He can’t wait to get out there and do it in the real world…
McNichols: From an employee’s point of view… I know numerous companies around here that if I said I’ve got [people] who’ve been on the course. They want to get into the industry. they’ve had training. They would snap them up in an instant, because if you can get young blood into your company and continue to train them and have them working with experienced fitters, you’re giving them a career.
Hedin: I think it’s very commendable what you’re doing and looking to do, because it will change the industry… We’ve kind of come to our end here… So, how do people find you? …Where can they look at what’s going on with the trading school?
Hedin: Thank you very much, Patty.
McNichols: You’re welcome. Thanks, Kyle.