Have you ever wondered – when you got involved with something – where it would take you in life? Today, I am the Training and Development manager for Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., the chairperson for the NTCA Training and Education Committee, and I serve on the NTCA Technical Committee. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would have this much responsibility, I would have told you that you were crazy.
My journey in the tile trade started about 27 years ago at a flooring store in Port Clinton, Ohio. There I learned about diverse types of floor coverings, including carpet, sheet vinyl, and of course ceramic tile. Tile wasn’t the focus of the business, but it was enough to spark my passion for the trade. As years went on, I started my own business after marrying my wife Jenny and moving away from my home town. In my company, I provided carpet, vinyl – and of course ceramic tile – but again it was not the focus of my business. I took every tile project I could and learned along the way. I soon realized I needed more training. This is where my journey with the NTCA starts.
I attended Coverings in Orlando, Fla., in 2007. I must have gotten on the NTCA’s mailing list because I started to receive the TileLetter magazine and began reading about the NTCA and what it had to offer. Being a small company, I initially didn’t think it would work for me, but I was wrong. I joined in 2009 and started using the benefits of the association by requesting technical advice and attending workshops whenever I could. When I wanted to get more involved, I was offered the opportunity in 2011 to serve on the Board of Directors, and attended my first Total Solutions Plus in Naples, Fla.
This is when I realized the true value of the NTCA. I can still remember sitting in on my first Technical Committee meeting and hearing James Woelfel ask if any of the contractors in the room had any comments. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I then realized that I had found what I was looking for and why I was a member of the NTCA. The association made it easy to make friends and get involved. I took every opportunity I could to lend a hand, from helping design the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) shower test, to assisting CTEF’s Scott Carothers set up demonstration modules, to becoming a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) evaluator. My wife always teased me that I went on these trips to relax and sit by the pool, but that was never the case.
As I got more involved with the association, I got to know more and more people – especially a contractor from Grand Rapids, Mich. named Dan Welch. I remember calling him a few times looking for technical advice, then working with him to develop the ACT shower test. After a while – and a few trips to NTCA functions – we started to talk more and more about technical issues as well as what happened that day and life in general. Dan was generous with his help, so I made trips up to Grand Rapids to learn what I could do to grow my business. And I traveled with the Welch team in 2013 to install the temporary flooring at Coverings in Atlanta. Along the way, I’ve had some unexpected adventures, from changing an alternator in Dan’s truck along the side of the road, to tiling the inside of a shipping container at coverings in Chicago. When Dan says “So, I’ve been thinking…” you know it’s about to get interesting.
As Dan’s and my friendship grew, I realized that my calling was not to be a business owner – but I felt I would make a great employee. So, I shifted gears and started looking at different opportunities in the industry for employment, including working for Welch Tile, but the distance always seemed to be a hurdle, or maybe I just wasn’t ready. In the fall of 2015, I helped Welch Tile as temporary labor on a project in Kalamazoo, Mich., and became convinced that I wanted to abandon business ownership and be part of a larger company that offered camaraderie and support. Dan and I talked about it in December 2015, and I revealed I was ready to make the leap away from self-employment the following year. A week later, while driving home from work, Dan called with his signature, “So, I’ve been thinking…” greeting – then offered me the opportunity to run the training program at Welch Tile.
The week after Christmas 2015, my family and I made the trip to Grand Rapids for an interview. It was a tough decision for my family to make, but we focused on the quality of life we had as a family, going back to the adage that “You don’t know until you try!” January 25, 2016, marked a new start to my career and a new way of life for my family in Grand Rapids, with Welch Tile.
Remember the question I asked at the beginning of this letter? I would have never dreamed by becoming an NTCA member I would be where I am today. If I never made that first trip to Coverings in 2007 and hadn’t joined the NTCA, where would I be today?