Bill Baptista: “Don’t be left behind; get certified”

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

may-baptista-01One day, shortly after achieving Certified Tile Installer (CTI) status, Bill Baptista, owner of J&B Tile, in Westport, Mass., walked into a high-end tile shop in Portsmouth. He handed the owner a pamphlet explaining industry-recognized  tile installer certification – and that was it. “I’ve been doing all her work ever since then,” Baptista said. He went on to explain that she works with architects who are building multi-million dollar homes. “Because she has high-end clientele, she wanted a Certified Tile Installer. And that opened up the door for me. [The architects] want someone who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t look like they rolled out of the back of a pick-up truck. You have to kind of look the part.”

Baptista’s father was in the tile industry before he was old enough to lift a trowel. In 1988, Baptista opened J&B Tile and since then it has a few incarnations. He started out small and eventually grew to a 15-person shop. But, Baptista said, “Now, I’m small, but people are very happy with what gets done.” And what gets done? Baptista does tile work of all kinds, but specializes in high-end, custom showers.

Baptista credited certification with his success. “When I go in and see a customer,” he said, “I have a little binder that I bring in and show them all of these certifications that I’ve been to. And then I always ask them at the end, because they’re usually getting more than one price, has anybody else shown you anything like this? And they say no. And I definitely get 90% of anything I go and look at. And I think it has a lot to do with [certification].”

Baptista has been in the tile industry for almost 30 years. About the CTI test, Baptista said, “Being in the business that long, I knew most of my stuff, but it’s kind of nice getting it reinforced. I definitely learned some things. Of course, I do things a certain way. When you go to the class you see things done another way. Not that I was doing anything wrong, but I could’ve been doing things a little bit different; more efficient, like I do now.”

Certification has proved especially lucrative for Baptista, who is one of only two CTEF Certified Tile Installers in his area, “and I make sure the customers know that,” he said. “The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation has a download at www.tilecareer.com, under the Consumer Help tab. It’s actually for customers: ‘Contractor Questionnaire.’ I print that out and I give it to my potential customers. And I explain to them, ‘Tile is expensive. It’s expensive to install. Here’s a pamphlet with what you should be looking for in an installer.’ People thank me for it and I usually always get the call.”

Baptista emphasized that the certification is no joke. “There are a lot of hacks in this business,” he said. “And it’s not like, you know, an electrician or a plumber, they have to be licensed. You don’t necessarily have to be licensed in the tile business.”

Baptista praised CTEF training director, Scott Carothers. “He doesn’t just take your money and give you a certification,” Baptista said. “That guy makes sure you know what you’re doing before he gives you that certification. In fact, when I was there, there were two other guys that had been there before and didn’t pass the certification. They were there doing kind of a make-up before he gave them a certification. It’s not just a money grab; [Carothers] is dead serious.”

Certification is important to the industry as a whole. “I’ll tell you,” Baptista said, “At least once a week, a potential customer calls me to come and look at a job that had been done by somebody else. And I mean horror shows. I don’t think they know what a chalk line is, a straight line. They’re not using the right notch trowels. They’re not using the right mortar. They really have no idea what they’re doing. They’re kind of giving the tile industry a bad name.” To all tile installers, Baptista said, “If you’re serious about this business and want to stay in it for the long haul, then you have to go distance yourself from all those ‘ham and eggers’ out there that have no certifications. You have to do something different. And that’s what I do. I go to [manufacturer] classes and when the National Tile Contractors Association comes around and puts on their demonstrations, [I go]. Anything new on the market, I read up on it, look into it. You have to stay on top of things in this industry or you’re going to be left behind.”