One-to-one exclusive with Dave Gobis
Industry icon and NTCA Recognized Consultant
As a leading trade association of tile installation contractors, the NTCA is constantly asked for recommendations for individuals who are qualified to perform inspections of workmanship and performance. The list of who we can consistently rely on for this work is very select. NTCA Recognized Consultants can be found on our website at www.tile-assn.com. They possess a unique skill set that takes years to develop, especially if they are to be trusted for complex and large-scale projects.
One such individual is Dave Gobis. Dave is the former Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and was a successful tile contractor in Wisconsin for many years before becoming one of the tile industry’s leading consultants. He also generously donates his time to offer advice to many consumers and industry professionals. Many excellent consultants like Dave are nearing the end of their careers in this important sector of our industry, so I caught up with him to gain insight into considerations and training one should take if they wish to venture into this area of work. Part I of our interview is presented here; Part II will be published in the September issue of TileLetter.
As a former tile contractor, how did you transition into consulting work? What specific skills did you have that qualified you to become a consultant, and what steps did you take to educate yourself about codes, standards, proper inspection reporting, and writing, etc.?
Given I am in the process of retiring and not actively looking for work, I am going to be a little more candid in my response than I would normally be.
I would ask that readers consider my comments not offered as a road map, but rather how things worked for me. I have always been a technically-oriented guy. Early on, I even lost accounts because I was “too difficult” to deal with. One of the ironies of that was years later, as my competitors bit the dust, I didn’t appear so difficult.
I have always been a voracious reader and always wanted to know why something did or didn’t work. In the mid-80s, I joined NTCA and was an active member, attending all the shows and blocking out time for back-to-back technical seminars on the front end of the show. NTCA and trade shows also allowed me to meet and interact with all the industry players. Relationships I developed years ago are still active today and have always served as a resource over the length of my career.
Learning codes and standards are a bit of a challenge. You have to endure some very dry reading and learn how to deal with frustration. You also need to understand them. I personally read each industry-related code or standard a minimum of two – and occasionally three – times. I have had to refer to TCNA methods or ANSI standards since taking a job at CTEF in 1998, so after 22 years of near-daily referencing methods and standards, I know what they are and where I can find what I am looking for most of the time. Plus, the benefit of serving on various committees is that I get a chance to review and sometimes vote on changes.
In terms of proper inspection, that is certainly a quagmire. If someone hires me to look at a job and figure out a problem, I absolutely have to be able to do what it takes to determine a cause beyond a reasonable doubt. This often means deconstructing the installation.
For instance, in my most recent project, the client said a liquid-applied crack-isolation membrane was used over concrete and the floor tented in various areas. We can assume there is a lack of expansion joints, but there has to be something else. As long as I have been doing complaints I have never seen a floor fail based on a single issue.
My client was averse to doing any demo. The manufacturer already denied the claim based solely on no soft joints. I’m not willing to risk my reputation on that speculation. They relented and gave me three areas to remove tile, which showed a silky smooth slab.
End of search? Not quite. It was also very green and the drops I put on from my water bottle went nowhere. Then we had to core the slab. Analysis of three cores showed the slab was burnished to an average of 3/16” deep. That is what it took to figure out the problem. Something like coring the slab I hire out, though I used to have a core drill In addition to regular old tile tools. I have a fair amount of additional specialized equipment I use in failure analysis. I want to use the least intrusive means to fully examine the installation, but it must be thoroughly examined. If you make an incorrect diagnosis, your future is not so bright. News travels fast.
I have yet to meet anyone who likes inspection report writing. I spent years developing my format. Writing is an art form in itself. You become a content writer. Like a good novel, readers hang on your every word. There will be those who love it and those who hate it.
Reports must be accurate and without speculation. When speculation is unavoidable – which is rare – the steps needed to resolve it, as a matter of fact, should be explained. There are many things we may think we know but don’t have facts to support them. There is usually some type of test that can provide facts to support your opinion, however, in some instances, the testing protocol can cost more than the claim. Still, it should be offered in the report if you are speculating based on your experience.
You also need to keep away from assigning responsibility, which is for judges and juries. It can also create a liability issue for you if you end up being wrong. Your job is to either find or identify the cause of the problem, not to assign responsibility for it. That said, the majority of my clients want me to do just that, and I simply won’t. The specifics of the report writing process are quite lengthy. It is more than a short article but probably less than a book. Just remember, whatever you write is a matter of permanent record. If it goes into litigation, any errors will be used to discredit you, making the report worthless to your client and possibly producing a negative result.
We have many installers and manufacturer and distributor representatives who aspire to be inspectors or consultants. What advice would you give them as they get started?
You really need to be the go-to guy before you start, not after you start. It is not an occupation where you just decide this is what I shall be and hang out your shingle. It is also not one full of riches, as many are surprised to find out. This is particularly true when you start out with no track record. I am currently charging five times what I was when I started, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I have a track record, having done 2,864 inspections. Second, I am trying to retire; otherwise, it would only be four times as much.
You have to like flying. I have done probably fewer than 12 inspections in my home state. For the first 10 years, I flew to a different city every week, did my inspection, came back and wrote my report, and moved on to the next one.
The other consideration is: what is it you think you know better than anyone else? You need to have some type of knowledge that sets you apart. Anyone can be the “doesn’t-have-any-expansion-joint guy.” That doesn’t pay much either.
Where are you going to sell your services? Because you and the manufacturer are buddies does not mean he is going to send you his work. Manufacturers are not going to allow you to control their customer or budget. I have heard more than once, “We don’t call you because we can’t predict what you’re going to say.” Manufacturers will also not open the door to finding they have a defective product, which is rare, by the way.
Distributors operate on razor-thin margins, which they make by associating with a select group of manufacturers, so not much chance of work there either. The only time either one has given me work is when they are ready to “burn the bridge.” That means they are prepared to lose the business typically from a contractor, who is about to find out that liability insurance doesn’t cover in-place work.
The other thing that amazes me about people wanting to get into inspecting or consulting is that many have never been involved in any technical aspects of the industry. Recently, I had a project where the guy’s qualifications were attending Schluter, wedi, and MAPEI schools. It’s great to know how to install these products, but it takes more than that. Inspection and consulting really need to be career goals, not something you just one day decide you want to be.
Join us next month for Part II of One-to-One with Dave Gobis.