Business Tip – June 2012

Are you a “vendor” or a “craftsman?”

By Steve Rausch, USG Corporation

How do you run your business, as a vendor providing tile and stone work, or as a craftsman creating beauty? There is a HUGE difference in compensation and the methods of doing business with your customers.

A vendor is someone who exists just to sell stuff. Nothing else matters except delivering the goods (may include installation) and getting paid. You can expect (negotiate) the low price, sign a contract, and get what you ordered. You can also spend many hours discussing the details of the terms and conditions, etc.

What happens with a craftsman is far different in many aspects. One element of doing business with a craftsman is that the price issue (or low bid) loses its luster. People seek out craftsmen for their skills and talents to create a beautiful statement with their efforts on the customer’s behalf. Price absolutely becomes a secondary by-product of most of those discussions. Time also changes; you don’t rush art by deadlines of time but rather by finishing the look or feel desired.

As we watch our industry still losing businesses to the poor economy, it becomes even more apparent that craftsmen will survive while vendors have a large chance of being pushed from the scene. Just look back over the past two or three years and recall how many businesses have already left the scene. Those companies that ran large crews to do anything and everything quickly and cheaply are mostly gone today; they were the worst offenders in this downward spiral of moving toward the bottom price. Without profit you just cannot stay in business and the very success that drove them to the top of the vendor pile was what did them in.

I ask you to stop today, take time out from “doing” your business, and study your business to see where you are on this scale of vendor versus craftsman. If most of your work is still “low bid”-driven, then you are on the vendor side. If, however, you have chosen to position yourself and your company as a craftsman firm, then you will, I’m confident, be around a long time in this business.

Steve Rausch represents the Substrates and Specialty Products Division of USG Corporation out of Alpharetta, Ga. He’s also the author of the Rausch Ravings blog about business and non-business related topics. Contact him at [email protected] or visit the blog at http://rauschravings.blogspot.com/

Ask the Experts – June 2012

QUESTION:

I am a new member of the NTCA and I have an upcoming small project that I need help with.

I do mostly interior residential remodeling. Tile is probably 60% of my projects. I have a client with a concrete porch he would like tiled. The problem is the broom finish has been sealed with an “oil-based” sealer he purchased and applied himself from Lowe’s. As the broom finish is quite deep I don’t think it could be ground down. I can’t find anything in my TCNA Handbook that addresses this.

ANSWER:

This is a good question. Many contractors fail to determine that a substrate has been sealed and end up with problems down the road. Both TCNA Handbook methods and ANSI require that a substrate be free of contaminants, curing compounds and sealers. Exterior tilework, which requires the highest performance level of any type of tile installation, requires the best bond, as well as 95% mortar coverage and appropriate movement accommodation. Any sealer on a substrate will act as a de-bonding agent, and give less-than-optimum bonding ability.

You may want to call the technical department of the mortar manufacturer that you want to use and ask them, but I believe they will give you the same answer that is in the TCNA Handbook and ANSI, that you must mechanically scarify the concrete (grind or shotblast) until the contaminant is removed and you have a clean surface to install tile over. Any other method is risking a potential failure.

On your concern that the broom finish is too deep to grind, there are some very aggressive grinders with vacuum attachments available that can cut quickly and in a dust-free fashion.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA Tile & Stone Symposium presenter and trainer

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