Insights from Wallcovering Installers Association Convention

H.J. Holtz & Son paper hangers Shane Legano and James Draine went to the annual Wallcovering Installers Association convention in September knowing they would come away with helpful information.

“I asked questions for jobs I knew were coming up,” James says. “We usually know in advance when we have a big, specialty job coming. That [convention] is a good place to ask questions, because there are a lot of people there who are doing the same kind of work we do.”

Both Shane and James have attended multiple WIA conventions, but this is the first in-person gathering since 2019, due to pandemic disruptions. The two agree that meeting in person adds to the experience.

“You’re getting input from all these different wallcovering hangers from all over, their tips and techniques,” Shane says. “We’re learning from each other. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, you’re always learning. There’s always something new.”

James adds: “When you work in such a small industry, you don’t meet a whole lot of people who know what you do, especially the high-end wallpaper work that we do. There are probably 15,000 plumbers in Richmond, but maybe 10 high-end residential [wallcovering] installers. At the convention, there are 150 people who all do the same thing: hang wallpaper. It’s a wealth of knowledge.”

This year’s convention was slightly different from past gatherings, which typically offered multiple sessions in a single time block. This year, sessions were held one at a time, so participants didn’t have to make decisions about which to attend. Another benefit of the new schedule was flexibility: James and Shane could skip sessions geared to business-owners and instead spend time with their colleagues.

“The secondary chat – just talking with people in the hallways – is really important,” James says. “You can have conversations about something you heard in a class, where someone else says, ‘I did that a different way,’ and you can talk about what you’ve done. You can figure out different ways to handle different situations.”

The first day of the convention was devoted to best practices. In addition to the instruction, each participant was given a three-inch, three-ring binder divided into sections for every aspect of hanging wall coverings, from liners to adhesive to matching patterns to QR codes for future reference. “It’s everything you would ever need,” Shane says. “That binder, hands-down, is my favorite thing I got from the convention,” James says.

Another highlight of the meeting was a video tour of the headquarters of Adelphi Paper Hangings, a New York company that reproduces historic wallcoverings using the same methods and materials as in the 18th and 19th centuries. Because the Holtz & Son team has worked with Adelphi papers in the past, in Colonial Williamsburg and private residences, it was especially meaningful to see the company’s process, James says.

“They take a big roll of paper and cut it down into 3’-by-3’ sheets, which is the size that was used years ago, because they didn’t have big paper rolls,” James says. The tour showed how designs were created, from brushing the background on the paper to making the paints that are then used in the screen printing process. “It was really cool to see how they made those types of historical papers,” Shane adds.

Shane and James agree that their conference attendance makes them better at what they do. “Every year is different, so there’s something new to learn every time,” Shane says. “We’ve picked up so many tips and tricks [over the years]; because of what I see there, I’m willing to try it here. Rick [Holtz, company president] lets us go and takes care of everything, which is great. It has really opened doors for us.”