Focus energy on growing, improving personally, professionally and as an industry

President’s Letter – April 2017

It’s April and Spring is upon us. With Spring comes the Easter celebration and all of nature reminding us that there are opportunities for new beginnings, personally and professionally. Regardless where you have been or how you have been running your life or business, today can be a new beginning.

The ideas of professionalism, craftsmanship, integrity, and customer service are values that we esteem and hold in high regard. Yet they don’t just happen — we must choose to invest our time, energy and resources to develop these values and see them integrated into the fiber of how we are personally and professionally.

Once a month our company gathers during the lunch hour to discuss and learn from each other. We call these gatherings “Forums” and they have been a transformational event in the success of our team. We spent all of 2016 discussing  the aforementioned ideas as the core values of our company.

Professionalism – This means being knowledgeable, informed and competent, and well trained to complete one’s job or trade. There are some who say it takes 5,000 hours of practice to be considered a professional. That’s about 2.5 years of full time work required at a specific task to master it. How are we pursuing the knowledge and training to be professional in our jobs? Did you learn your job from a mentor or were you hired and “thrown into the deep end of the pool” and forced to learn it on your own? Regardless how you started out, you have the opportunity to gain the knowledge needed to be a professional tile setter, finisher or business owner —  and you owe it to your customers.

Craftsmanship – While the traditional meaning is directed towards the product of skilled hands, we took a broader view of the term to include the skilled performance of any task by any of our team members — whether the skilled estimator, warehouse delivery person, accounts receivable or payable person, admin assistant, project manager or superintendent. Ultimately though, the skilled craftspeople installing tile and stone on projects are what keeps the rest of us employed. Therefore, we must make training and education of our craftspeople a very high priority. If we don’t, we won’t be in business very much longer.

Integrity – This is the quality of being honest and fair. To quote the proverb, “Keep your word and do what is right, even when it hurts.” We found through our discussions that this carries over to what we think and believe of ourselves and others, which determines how we treat them. If we don’t respect others, we will not treat them with integrity. If we want to be professional and successful, we must treat our customers, vendors, suppliers and team members with integrity.

Customer Service is meeting the customer’s expectations. We are only able to do this when we are properly educated, trained, skilled and treat others with integrity. Here’s what I mean: when you possess these qualities, you will help your customer set the appropriate expectations for the service you are contracted to perform. Without these qualities, you will leave your customer to create their own expectations and you may never be able to meet them.

I encourage us all to take the reminder of Spring, that each day is a new beginning. Let’s focus our energy on growing and improving personally, professionally and as an industry. If we do, the future will be bright and full of opportunity.

Thank you to all the DAC team for helping me learn and see these values more clearly. Keep on tiling!

Martin Howard, NTCA President
Committee member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

The NTCA logo: the mark of excellence for Best in Class tile professionals

President’s Letter – February 2017

According to several industry sources, the more than 1,300 members of NTCA account for only a fraction of companies working as tile and stone installers in the U.S. market. My sincere hope is that all 1,300+ members of the NTCA have joined because they are committed to being a best-in-class tile and stone professional. There are many benefits of membership, including a free annual copy of the NTCA Reference Manual, free technical advice, discount programs for shipping, insurance, vehicle purchases, safety programs, marketing templates and many more. The Partnering for Success voucher program allows each member to individually choose vouchers for free or discounted products with a total annual value of $2,000, far exceeding the cost of membership.

Collectively, these programs are more than enough reason to join the NTCA, but for me personally, the most important benefit of being an NTCA member is the right to use the nationally recognized logo on all my business communications.

One of my goals as your president over the next two years is to ensure that every member has the opportunity to increase his or her skill as a professional installer – and also grow as a professional business owner. I want the NTCA logo to be recognized by architects, designers, building owners and the public as the mark of excellence in the tile and stone industry. They should have confidence that when selecting and hiring a contractor member of NTCA, they are getting a “Best in Class” professional. Obviously, the NTCA is limited in its ability to ensure that all members are committed to this goal. However, we can make sure that we provide all the tools necessary to assist all members as they endeavor to grow their skills and business acumen. If this craft is providing the opportunity for us to succeed, we should be motivated to invest in expanding our capabilities and skills.

This comprehensive goal will take time, but I’m proud to share with you that due to the vision and dedication of the NTCA staff and volunteers, many of these tools exist today and are at your disposal. I encourage every member to invest in NTCA University, which allows every employee to have personalized access to a wide variety of educational opportunities. Access includes the new and developing Apprenticeship course, and the entire Business Plan section with over 50 classes that include  accounting, marketing, interviewing and hiring, business ethics, negotiating contracts,business continuation planning strategies and more. Over 30 live webcast seminars with the accompanying PowerPoint presentations are also included.

By definition, “professional” means that we are never finished learning, growing and improving our ability to be the best. I challenge every NTCA member to think about 2017 and what you are doing to continually educate and train yourself and your team. Spend some time looking at what is offered; tell us what we are missing and how we can partner with you to become a Best in Class tile and stone contractor that proudly displays the NTCA logo.

Sincerely,

Martin Howard, President NTCA

Committee Member, ANSI A108

[email protected]

A new year, a new president, and a new opportunity for success

President’s Letter – January 2017

The new year is here, and the holiday season and the election cycle are behind us, so it’s time to focus our attention on identifying our goals and developing a strategy that will help us succeed.

I am grateful to serve as the new president of the NTCA. I’d like to acknowledge James Woelfel, our past president, for his clear and determined leadership for the last two years. James will continue to serve in the NTCA as chairman of the Board. Thank you, James, for your tireless efforts to improve this great organization.

As I step into my new role as president, I am eager to get to work. For the last eight years I have served on the ANSI committee, NTCA Technical Committee, and contributed to the TCNA Handbook Committee. I’m grateful for the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from working with the best of the best in our industry; it has been rewarding both professionally and personally.

As we prepare for the new year, let me encourage you to take time to refocus your attention on identifying goals and developing strategies that will help your companies become more profitable and successful in 2017. The company I work for, David Allen Company, has greatly benefited through our participation in NTCA – most notably, from the ability to learn from the most knowledgeable individuals in our industry; from manufacturers of tile and setting materials to installers and business owners. In the past few years NTCA has become the largest and most influential tile contractors’ association in the world. As the “voice of the contractor,” we have earned a seat at the table where our collective voice is respected, and our knowledge sought out and often invited.

I hope to increase the value of membership by improving the educational opportunities at Coverings, Total Solutions Plus (TSP) and TISE West/Surfaces as well as bringing more craft training to members separate from our Tile & Stone Workshop programs.

My goals for NTCA are as follows:

  • Increase the quality and professionalism of our trade through education
  • Provide more craft training and certification opportunities at trade shows
  • Expand our international outreach by collaborating with our industry partners abroad
  • See our NTCA University Apprenticeship Program completed with Two-Year Finisher and Two-Year Mechanic certifications

The NTCA staff, Executive Board, Regional Directors, and State Ambassadors have been working hard these past months to chart this course. Total Solutions Plus in October proved to be a huge success with many important committees producing outstanding goals with some aggressive timelines. We have the opportunity to see our trade recognized as the noteworthy profession it truly is while gaining the respect it deserves. We’ll be able to retire the old stereotype of “unskilled thin-set jockeys” where tile was only used in utilitarian applications, save the occasional office lobby.

Events surrounding our industry are coming together to produce rapidly-expanding manufacturing technologies and increased complexity of installation methods and materials for tile. Add this with a rapidly-growing public desire to use tile with greater design variation and flexibility and we could see artistry and craftsmanship in high demand for those willing to embrace it.

When I’m not working for NTCA or ANSI, I’m the executive vice president of David Allen Company in Raleigh, N.C., where I have had the privilege of working for the last 24 years. I’m very grateful for the support I have received from David Allen Company as I have needed to put more and more time into industry duties. It is only because of the fantastic teams supporting me at the office that I am released to serve this great industry.

Thank you to the NTCA staff, Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and all the members of the NTCA for putting your trust in me.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my wife, Judith, for allowing me to be away from home much more than usual. If it weren’t for Judith, I would not be the person I am today.

I hope to see many of you at TISE West/Surfaces in Las Vegas this month. I encourage every member of NTCA to get involved, attend a workshop at your local distributor, join us at TISE West/Surfaces, Coverings, or TSP, and sit in on committee meetings to see the new endeavors NTCA hopes to accomplish. Most importantly, we want to hear from you and benefit from the years of experience you have in this industry. Come and take advantage of the many opportunities NTCA provides for its members. I can guarantee, you will get back far more than you give.

Respectfully,
Martin Howard
[email protected]

President’s Letter – December 2016

JWoelfel_headshotWow! Those two years went by quickly. I am writing my last President’s Letter and it is not a sad moment, but an appreciative moment.

Two years ago when I became president, I laid out what I thought were some important goals, like the NTCA taking its rightful place as the tile industry’s most important association, looking to domestic partners, and international conversations and meetings.

I believe we have attained those goals. We are now more than 1300 members strong, our voice at national installation standard meetings is valued and respected, and our international dialogue with manufacturers, installers and associated industry partners is being developed in a very positive way.

Next year is the 70th anniversary of the NTCA and our association is stronger than ever going into the future. At the same time we are looking to our past to affirm our values, training and education, quality installations, qualified labor, and continuing to be professional tile contractors. These values should never be lost. In fact, these values need to be shouted from the mountaintops to gain the attention of home builders, general contractors and owners, so that this or the next installation done for them is by an NTCA member.

board-officers

(L to r) Board advisors John Cox, Dan Welch and Nyle Wadford; outgoing president/chairman of the board James Woelfel; new NTCA president Martin Howard with 1st vice president Christopher Walker.

Before I ride off into the Arizona sunset, I want to say how fortunate the NTCA and its members are that Martin Howard of David Allen Company is the next president. I have sat with Martin many times at NTCA, TCNA and ANSI meetings, watching him save tile contractors money and grief. Martin is a fervent defender of tile contractors and of industry standards. He wants to maximize our membership value for all of our members. He will be a great president.

I would like to thank the NTCA staff for all of the help and guidance for the last two years: Bart, Jim, Mark and everyone else have been wonderful. I want to thank the Executive Committee for taking a chance on me and then giving me their full support – it means a lot. I want to thank my parents Butch and Mary for keeping the doors open while I bounced around the country the last two years. Thank you to my son Preston, who let Dad go out and play with his friends knowing there was less time for him. I am so proud of you.

Thank you to my wife Chris. As you know, she has battled cancer this last year, yet she has supported me 100% and has represented our industry with class, dignity and immeasurable strength. She is my foundation – I love you.

Thank you to all of you who read my letters. I know how valuable your time is and I appreciate the feedback.

Respectfully,
James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman, NTCA
Technical Committee
480-829-9197
www.artcraftgmt.com

P.S. I am still chairman of the Technical Committee; I look forward to seeing you all in the future.

President’s Letter – November 2016

JWoelfel_headshotIn the last month, my President’s Letter from September has generated a lot of feedback. In fact, Bart Bettiga, our executive director, has told me it has generated the most feedback he has received regarding any President’s Letter. That is great news. That particular letter was written to generate dialogue between distributors and tile contractors, and it has.

When there’s a lack of discourse, dialogue is more important than ever. Good people can disagree, but if you can discuss an issue in an intelligent manner, solutions are likely to be found. It is absolutely necessary for the entirety of our industry to be on the same page and support each other. This makes everyone more successful.

The reaction to the letter was mostly positive, but there were a few people who were not in agreement. I didn’t expect everyone to be. I have learned that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. But, as I have said in the past, I am a tile contractor first and foremost, and I will always defend the tile contractor when given the opportunity.

The reaction, emails, kind words and some not-so-kind words all tell me that people are reading the President’s Letter. That is great news! It also tells me that it is imperative for the president of the NTCA to take actual positions on matters that have an effect on tile contractors and the industry in which we are involved. Our past, present and future presidents are not potted plants – nor should we be. We have opinions, ideas, and solutions as well. Our membership and our industry profits from our association president taking on difficult issues, and taking a stand on these same issues as well.

I want to thank each and every one who shared their opinion with me, even the opinions that did not agree with me. This gives us a chance to do better and to find solutions for our tile contractor members.

Respectfully,
James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman NTCA Technical Committee
480-829-9197
www.artcraftgmt.com

President’s Letter – October 2016

JWoelfel_headshotAs president of the NTCA it is very gratifying to see our membership grow to almost 1,300 members – in fact it is amazing! The NTCA is the best investment I have made in my business, and I hope most of you feel that way as well.

One question I would like to pose to our contractor members is: “What would it take to get more of you to attend our annual meeting at Total Solutions Plus (TSP)?” We do not get a lot of attendance from our members. We have constantly sent out surveys and asked questions at other tradeshows trying to get more participation for this conference. In the past we have waived the registration fee, given product away and advertised in different media, trying to reach our contractor members. These have not worked very well. Our goal is to have 15-20% of our contractor members attend TSP. This would mean 150-200 contractors.

Some of the most common answers I get from contractors who do not attend are cost and timing.

In terms of cost, a lot of members think that the registration, hotel and traveling expenses are too costly. And members have also told me the time of year is bad; that earlier or later is better for them. Some contractors have told me that Coverings is a better fit.

These reasons and more are all understandable, but I would like to address some of them and give reasons why you should at least try to attend TSP one time.

The educational and leadership opportunities are second to none as pertains to tile contractors. The educational tracks are designed around the tile contracting trade, and address everything from dealing with distributors to documenting issues on job sites.

Networking with the leaders from the distributors and manufacturers of products tile contractors use every day. You get to meet the CEOs and presidents of these companies in a setting that is a lot more intimate than huge trade shows. Receptions and parties are designed that enable you to talk one-on-one with these leaders. You can make contact with them and get a heads-up on new products, and try them before they are introduced to the public. You can even share your thoughts on their products.

The time of year question is interesting. TSP is planned out 12-18 months in advance and we try to distribute the conference in an East, Central, West fashion to hit all parts of the country. The dates are such that they are not too close to Thanksgiving, but also we have to give the manufacturers time to get back from Cersaie (Italy’s tile show) at the end of September.

In terms of cost, we have tried to lessen the cost by using overflow lodging at less-expensive venues similar to the Coverings model. Registration costs are put in place for a couple of reasons, to offset the speaker and food costs. Plus we believe that people need to have a little investment in their education. Attending this show is not a last-minute decision; it has to be circled as a date on your calendar.

The most important reason I attend TSP is to network and learn from other tile contractors. There have been at least two occasions where conversations with other tile contractors dealing with my business have literally saved five figures in business losses – this is not an exaggeration at all. Being at TSP saved me big money.

Lastly, as I look back on over 16 events I have attended – nine Total Solutions and seven Total Solutions Pluses – I realize that I would have never had the chance to meet so many like-minded people, mentors and benefitted so much from their knowledge. I never would have had the opportunity to grow as a person or a leader without this conference. Frankly, I don’t think I would have ever had the chance to be president of our great association if I had not attended TSP.

It is worth your investment in both time and money, so do yourself a favor, make plans to attend TSP 2017 in Washington, D.C., November 4-7 at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park hotel.

Regards,
James Woelfel, NTCA President
Chairman, NTCA Technical Committee
480.829.9197
www.artcraftgmt.com

President’s Letter – September 2016

JWoelfel_headshotI have just had the worst experience in my career when it comes to dealing with distributors on a single project. Three different distributors each quoted the architect my contractor pricing. One of the architectural reps even gave the architect their estimate on the installation price. I understand this is now becoming commonplace in a lot of areas and it is seemingly getting worse.

My question to distributors is, “Are the pressures of sales so important that you are willing to cut the tile contractor out of their needed profit? If so, do you think that the tile contractor has any loyalty to keep your specification?”

I believe many distributors have no idea what my costs are on my installations. I am responsible for Medicaid/Medicare taxes, Social Security taxes, local, state and federal taxes as well as job-specific liability insurance (which includes things that could happen on the job, or damage that could happen because of a poor installation). In addition, I am responsible for workman’s comp, site-specific safety costs like personal protection equipment, job-specific safety plans for each new project, safety orientations on each new job. My job costs have to include new equipment like saws, grinders, new cutting equipment, diamond blades and core bits. My overhead includes electricity, computers, building payments truck maintenance, gas, forklifts and insurance on my building and equipment. My costs also include my financing of the tile we pay for when starting a new job. I also pay for my people to sit and wait at the distributor while they figure out where they have put my order.

Do I sound bitter? I am getting there. I understand fully that I take all of these costs on to be involved in my profession, knowing I better be making a profit to overcome these costs. Distributors sharing my prices with the architect, general contractor and end user create another obstacle for me to make a fair profit. In fact, one of the distributors said, “Just mark your labor up more.” What a moronic statement; obviously this person has no idea how a business is run.

If we are in the age of transparency in our industry, then I think that the distributors need to share their cost of material from the factory, and then have to justify their profit. I fully understand the costs of distributors; they have to mark up their materials to cover their costs, including salespeople and architectural reps. I also understand that they spend money to obtain these specifications.

Until now our company has been known for keeping distributor specifications and being loyal to them for their hard work. I am now questioning that process; a lot of distributors here in Phoenix have now lost my loyalty. It is my opinion that when distributors lose a good quality contractor’s loyalty, they will have a lot more job problems. As I have said many times over the years in seminars, good tile contractors need to find and associate with good distributors. I believe this is very true, but two of the three companies that gave the architect my pricing were “good” distributors, or so I thought. It is now my belief that tile contractors need to look out for themselves, and if distributors are going to go down this road, then tile contractors should feel no remorse breaking a specification or changing out products to their own trusted supplier. All we are doing is learning our lessons in loyalty from distributors.

P.S. A lot of distributors may balk at what I am saying, but at least I did not call out the names of these “reputable” distributors!

James Woelfel
President, NTCA
www.artcraftgmt.com

(Editor’s note: Interested in sharing your perspective? Please send email comments to [email protected])

President’s Letter – August 2016

JWoelfel_headshotThose of you who know me know I am not a tree-hugger, but I also believe that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. At our house we put the recycle bin out at the curb full of plastic and paper and we also collect aluminum cans.

As a tile contractor, how can we create a sustainable jobsite? We can use our water more wisely, we can recycle the cardboard and paper we use, we can tile with recycled materials and mortars and grouts that have some recycled contents as well. These are all good ways to be sustainable, but as a tile contractor, there is one thing we can do that I consider the ultimate in sustainability. And that is to install tile correctly the first time. When we install tile correctly the first time we have created a finish that can last 30, 40, 50, up to and over 100 years. The lifecycle cost of tile is the lowest in the flooring industry when installed correctly. By not having to replace poor or failing tile installations we save valuable resources like new tile, new mortar and new grout. It also means we are not trucking in additional materials, which saves fuel.

Tile is also the most environmentally friendly flooring finish. Tile itself contains no VOCs, and tile mortars usually do not contain VOCs either. This means that the interior air that our customers breathe is cleaner and better for you than most of our flooring competitors’ air.

Tile is also more hygienic than carpet, as fluids do not absorb into porcelain tiles like they do with carpet. I have seen tile finishes that are being developed that actually kill bacteria and make our air cleaner. These technologies can be used to make a great product even healthier.

When I speak to architects, I explain to them that if they want truly sustainable projects, then the tile needs to be installed properly. As I explain to our members, we make the most money and have the least amount of headaches when we install tile properly. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to help the environment. By using quality, qualified labor and a little common sense, you can go a long way in protecting both the environment and your bottom line.

Regards, James
www.artcraftgmt.com

President’s Letter – July 2016

JWoelfel_headshotWhat is wrong with our thinking?

A few months ago, I wrote a letter about saying no. I received a lot of positive feedback. Since then I have been getting a lot of communications that deal with tile installers accepting a job and then when their scope review is being done, realizing they have a problem or that the job is a lot more complicated than they previously thought. Or they visited the job site and the existing conditions prevent them from installing the tile either by industry standards or by manufacturer proprietary systems.

This becomes the moment of truth. We all have egos and the belief that our abilities can solve problems, but I am telling you right now: our abilities can only go so far. Our egos must be kept in check by reality. I have fallen into this trap more than once, and usually I have lost money on that particular job. After the job was completed I stepped back and thought to myself, “What was I thinking?” Obviously, I was NOT thinking.

In the past six months we have turned down work, some even when the owner said “Money is no object.” Wow, does that hurt – or does it? We, as installers, seem to have a mindset that if we turn a job down we just passed up a huge payday, or we will be labeled as hard to get along with or to stubborn to work with.

Buck Collins, a Five Star Contractor out of Northern Virginia, said it the best. He asked me, “Do you know how long it took me to get my reputation as the tile guy that does great work? A long time. Do you know how fast I can lose that reputation? One bad job.”

That reality smacks you in the face. We have to learn a new mindset, one that says it’s OK to turn down work, especially if the thought of a failure enters our heads. Sure, it’s easy for me to say it’s a business decision. I say this all the time, even though I understand that no work doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. But I also have been around long enough to know that there will always be a new job to bid that does not put my livelihood at risk.

Tile installers/contractors need to think with a little less ego and a lot more common sense. Our intuition is usually right. If you get in that room or on that job site before you sign that contract, empower yourself to be able to say, “I don’t think we can do this job the way it sits right now.” You need the proper substrate and materials to do the job correctly and you need to be able to express this in an intelligent way. If you can’t, then you need to have the ability to say this isn’t the job you want, or that you’ll take.

I know I am rehashing the point I made a few months ago, but based on the calls and emails I am receiving, it needs to be addressed again.

James Woelfel,
President NTCA,
www.artcraftgmt.com

President’s Letter – June 2016

JWoelfel_headshotGiving credit when credit is due

One of the great things about our industry is the finished product when we are done installing. Some of these projects are literally a work of art. This is a true feeling of accomplishment, not only to installers but to tile contracting company owners, employees, staffs, and even spouses and children.

I think this deserves a pat on the back, a “great job,” or even a cold, frosty beverage. As tile manufacturers, distributors, mortar manufacturers, etc., great work is a special way of showing off your product as well. General contractors, home builders and home owners can also share in the fact they helped to facilitate these fantastic installations. At the end of the day, great installations show off the professionalism of our industry.

For the truly special, technically-perfect or unique installations, national industry awards are the prize.

However, the flip side to these recognitions or awards is the fact a lot of great installations are not credited to the installer or installer’s team. This happens when people are not doing their due diligence, being lazy or just flat-out taking credit for other people’s hard work.

This problem is not an isolated incident. I have read a lot of trade magazines where the stories or the advertisements acknowledge manufacturers, designers, construction companies, etc., without recognizing the installer or installation companies that put it all together and made it look gorgeous – and who did it correctly, so it will perform for years!

My own company felt a little of this sting at Coverings this year, when the tile and setting material manufacturers were recognized in one of the booklets for the Installation Design Showcase, but all of the installation companies (Welch Tile & Marble, Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Grazzini Brothers & Company, and our company, Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co.,) were left off the page. It kicked me in the stomach.

Quite a few installers have told me this issue happens all of the time on the internet, especially with social media. This is WRONG: the installers and their companies need and must be recognized. Installers are called out when the installation is bad, but when an installation is special enough to be shown off, the recognition and credit needs to be given. If you are a manufacturer, architect or designer looking at an installer’s website, I implore you, if you see an installation that involves your materials, just ask permission before you use it elsewhere. Most of the time you will get a yes. Please don’t just list it to show an example of design, architecture or product without giving credit to the installer.

At the beginning of a job, you have boxes of tile, bags of mortar and grout, buckets or rolls of membranes, but the installer puts all of that together to create beauty. Without good professional qualified labor those boxes, bags and rolls will look better in their pre-installed state than on the walls or floors. All I am asking is that as reputable manufacturers, distributors, architects, designers, construction companies and home builders, do right by your installers and their teams, and give credit when credit is due. It will buy you good will and may help you earn a good installation partner and a customer as well.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
480-829-9197
www.artcraftgmt.com

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