About two years ago, Lafayette Venetian Blind, Inc. opened the Lafayette Installation Training Center (LITC) at its West Lafayette, IN, headquarters. Originating with custom interior shutters, the school expanded into draperies and soft treatments about a year later and is working on a motorization and specialization course, which will debut for the company's dealers in February 1997.
LITC focuses on hands-on installation techniques during intensive four-day sessions. The course goals are to present real-life installation situations and train students to handle them in a professional manner with 100 percent customer satisfaction, says Dan Kerrigan, Lafayette's national installation manager.
This past summer, a full load of 16 students attended one of Lafayette's shutter installation schools. The class included wholesalers, designers and retailers from nine states covering Michigan to Florida to Texas, as well as this author. Some students were second- and third-generation window coverings professionals.
The students worked in pairs with experience ranging from none to some finish carpentry. Each was equipped with every tool required to complete each repair or installation from cordless drill to touch-up paint. At all times, instruction, guidance, tips and even a little coaxing were offered by the instructors, Kerrigan and Ken Major, Lafayette field marketing manager for wood products.
Through classroom instruction, demonstration and mainly through actual hands-on labor, the course covered measuring, making templates, inside- and outside-mounts, choosing the best product for an application, in-shop and on-site repairs, order forms and nine different shutter installations.
The school's fully equipped workshop featured four-sided installation kiosks, each with several window openings students are likely to encounter -- those with and without frames and sills, those that were perfectly plumb and those that were way out of square. Each team ran the gamut from installing café shutters to full-length bi-fold or bypass shutters on patio door size frame openings. By the end of the course, camaraderie and healthy competition developed among the work groups -- as, for example, when comparing the finer details of the coping cuts needed to make patio door build-outs fit over a chair rail.
But the course also is about professionalism and accomplishment. Students who didn't know a rabbet from a T-post finished the course more confident in their skills and knowing how to present themselves in a professional manner to customers. Each received a certificate of course completion.
Completing the LITC, however, is only the first step in Lafayette's certification program. Full certification requires course graduates to earn 1,000 points by installing shutters in 100 windows -- not more than half of any one shutter type.
The benefits of certification are many. Striving for completion encourages students to continue installing shutters, which adds experience to an installer's skills. Decorators and retailers can suggest and sell shutters with confidence knowing the installation will be done correctly and to the consumer's satisfaction. Completion also means a referral and recommendation from Lafayette.
Of course, it's not only the students who benefit. With better trained, professional installers, Lafayette Venetian Blind expects fewer ordering mistakes and fewer returns to its manufacturing plant. Ultimately, the LITC positions Lafayette as an industry training leader.
The success of the training program is evident in the interest it has generated. In October, Kerrigan said the shutter and drapery installation schools were booked through the end of the year.