Green building health and wellness – ceramic tile in a post-pandemic era

Over the past decade, the focus of “green building” has broadened from environmental issues to issues that also incorporate human health and wellness. From the start, green building codes (such as the International Green Construction Code, powered by ASHRAE A189.1), standards (such as ANSI/GBI 01), and rating systems (such as LEED) had in-depth provisions addressing resource conservation, climate change, and bio-diversity. Increasingly, provisions for occupant health, productivity, and overall well-being have been added. How will technical criteria continue to evolve in light of COVID-19? Much remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that health considerations – particularly related to finishing product selection and use – will continue to be a widely-discussed topic in green building. 

Ceramic tile provides an inherent thermal mass that facilitates the moderation of indoor temperature swings and—in some cases—the possibility of natural conditioning to create more stable and comfortable indoor environments.

Up to now, what role have ceramic tile floors, walls, and countertops played in green building health and wellness initiatives? 

Initial industry efforts focused on educating designers about the inapplicability of various green building VOC emission criteria to ceramic tile. The argument was simple – it was impossible for an inherently-inorganic building product to emit organic compounds (much less, volatile organic compounds) into the air we breathe. Slowly, but surely, LEED, building codes, and major green school and office green construction programs implemented VOC testing exemptions for mineral-based inorganic surface coverings. Now, many of these programs acknowledge products such as ceramic tile as positive contributors to VOC-free interior spaces. 

Green building specifications for eco-friendly cleaning are also relevant to the tile industry. Ceramic tile is stain-resistant and easy to maintain. Often just water alone is an effective cleaner for tile but when more is needed, the ability to use mild, VOC-free cleaners for tile eliminates introducing harsh chemicals into daily living areas, contributing to a healthier environment. 

Ceramic tile provides an inherent thermal mass that facilitates the moderation of indoor temperature swings and – in some cases – the possibility of natural conditioning to create more stable and comfortable indoor environments. ASHRAE criteria addressing thermal comfort conditions for human occupancy, as well as ISO and CEN standards for ergonomics of thermal environments (both referenced by LEED), include compliance paths for natural conditioning through which the use of tile can help meet pertinent requirements. 

TCNA has announced a transformative collaboration to provide an industry-wide Material Ingredient Guide that can be used by representative products for compliance to LEED and other green building criteria. 

Green building’s focus on indoor comfort doesn’t only pertain to air quality; lighting conditions are also commonly referenced by green building standards. For example, a LEED criterion for interior lighting “to promote occupants’ productivity, comfort and well-being by providing high-quality lighting” quantifies light reflectance criteria for interior surfaces, and ceramic tile test methods and standards are often specified by designers.

The emergence of material ingredient reporting demands has become front and center in the green building conversation. Currently, green building health criteria are heavily focused on manufacturer transparency regarding the chemical makeup of products, including associated toxicological ramifications, and special attention is given to interior finishes and furnishings. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) recently announced a transformative collaboration to provide an industry-wide Material Ingredient Guide. The guide will highlight ingredients broadly used by the tile industry, most of which are inert and naturally occurring – materials that construction workers and building occupants can feel comfortable using and living with day after day. The guide will also contain validated and industry-supported data, which can be used by representative products for compliance with LEED and other green building criteria. 

As can be deduced from the points above, early green building concepts of health and indoor “air” quality quickly transformed to indoor “environmental” quality. This way of thinking became more broadly described as “wellness,” with productivity and happiness as major pillars. Green building has come full circle back to toxicological considerations of products through material ingredient reporting criteria and human health remains as the most significant pillar of green building wellness.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic 

Human health is already integral to the overall green building wellness discussion and feasibly, that discussion will continue to grow with much attention being given to the antiviral properties of building interior surfaces. In anticipation of this direction, there is much to learn regarding the technical aspects of COVID-19 before criteria can be developed for products such as floors, walls, countertops, and other surfaces with which we regularly come in contact. 

Besides the surfaces themselves, disinfectants are also likely to be widely discussed. Previously, the main focus on cleaners involved their toxicological ramifications, but that focus could be compounded with questions of disinfecting efficacy when considering a cleaner’s overall “greenness.” 

Furthermore, in the spirit of wellness, anything that can be done to alleviate building occupancy anxiety related to COVID-19 (and viruses in general) will be in demand. Some possibilities might involve using psychologically uplifting colors, incorporating natural ambiances, designing open spaces, and integrating surfaces that can be wiped down and easily maintained per guidelines of health officials. 

The next evolution in green building codes, standards, and rating systems contains a broad range of possibilities. The inherent green properties and design aspects of ceramic tile provide endless opportunities to answer these challenges.

Efforts to alleviate building occupancy anxiety related to COVID-19 (and viruses in general) will be in demand, including using uplifting colors, open spaces, and integrating surfaces that can be wiped down and easily maintained per guidelines of health officials.

TCNA lab adds antiviral testing 

To that end, TCNA remains heavily involved in green building initiatives and committed to keeping the North American ceramic tile industry-relevant as sustainability considerations continue to evolve. One specific example is that TCNA’s Product Performance Testing Laboratory recently expanded testing and research capabilities in response to global health concerns. New services include antiviral testing to determine the survival rates/durations of a host of viruses on different surfacing materials, including SARS-CoV-2, as well as the efficacy of common household cleaners to disinfect these surfaces. 

New TCNA lab services include antiviral testing to determine the survival rates/durations of a host of viruses on different surfacing materials, including SARS-CoV-2, as well as the efficacy of common household cleaners to disinfect these surfaces.

TCNA’s laboratory is already the only laboratory in the U.S. specializing in microbiological testing of floor, wall, and countertop surfaces; this recent expansion makes the lab uniquely positioned to provide testing on ceramic tile and other materials used in public and residential spaces. These tests and additional research will be helpful toward manufacturers’ product design efforts and could contribute toward the future development of standards to protect individuals against contracting and/or spreading viruses from contaminated interior surfaces. 

Today’s green building discussion is dominated by health-related issues. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, human wellness had risen to be equally as important as environmental stewardship. Long after a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and available, it is likely that heightened health concerns will continue to be the new normal, and green building will inevitably evolve to incorporate new codes, standards, and rating systems. Given the inherent properties of ceramic tile and tile’s limitless design potential, the industry can be optimistic as we embark on a post-pandemic era in green building supported by the research of TCNA. 

Falling forward – winning success from failure

“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.” – Kobe Bryant

Patty doesn’t just walk into a room, she takes it over. She stands tall, speaks with confidence and is always well dressed. She is friendly with everyone and remembers each person’s areas of interests and birthday. Is she actually good at her job? No one questioned it; all her colleagues assumed that she must be. Until one day she failed. Her division came in under plan for the year while all the other divisions surpassed plan in both profit and gross sales. Yet in the annual review and promotions process, Patty was one of the two people promoted. Falling forward, that’s Patty.

Do you know of someone like Patty? I worked with Patty early in my career and the lessons she taught me by example have been valuable ever since. Instead of fearing failure, she behaved as if success is hers to claim. She dove into new possibilities, took risks and came out of failure with innovative ideas on how to improve. Here are the key points that I gained from observing her on how to fall forward instead of down:

  • Be prepared – Patty came to work each day fully mentally and physically ready to shine. Confident, well groomed and happy to engage.
  • Be interested in others – you can learn from others, help them, have fun and gain a supportive network in the process.
  • Stretch – Say yes to the new assignment/project and then learn how to do to it. You can only improve if you take on new projects. Seek help and ask questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – the fear of failure can hold you back from taking the risks that can advance your goals. Not trying is a recipe for guaranteed mediocrity in the long run because you can only advance if you move from where you are now. However, be aware that there is always potential for missing the mark, so prepare contingency plans in case they are needed.
  • Admit your mistakes – learn from them and use the insights to help you improve. The sooner you deal with what didn’t go as planned, the faster you can analyze what happened and use the new understanding to leverage the current situation to make things better.

Many people live life based on avoiding making mistakes. They are afraid of falling down, but actually you can fall forward! Patty is a great example of how you can turn seeming flops into winners. Greet each day as another opportunity to grow, improve and have fun. With a mind open to looking for possibilities for the good, you are already ahead in the game. In this autumn season, also known commonly as the fall season, dare to reach for more. You won’t fall down, you can fall forward!

Personal disclosure: I included some of the highlights of what I learned from Patty into my first book, How to Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want. May you too gain from her shining example.

“I’ve come to believe that all my past failures and frustrations were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” – Tony Robbins

Estimating costs and profits to win at the tile game

The problem: underestimating time and costs

It had been dark outside for some time. My stomach was empty and delicious smells from downstairs were making my mouth water. I took solace in the fact that my loving wife was on her way, bringing a home-cooked meal to my jobsite. I would be working late tonight to meet the deadline I had promised my clients.

Once again, I had miscalculated the time it would take me to complete the tile work in this second story bathroom remodel. What’s worse than the extra time it took is that I had a sinking feeling that I had underestimated the cost of materials as well, and being who I was, those miscalculations would only affect my bank account.

Looking back on my early years of being a tile contractor, thinking about the way I priced my work – or should I say, “the way I underpriced my work” – I often wonder how I made it past year one. I suppose all those long days and unpaid weekends kept me afloat. I was always running to the next job, believing the next job would be the one where I saw a profit!

Things only got worse as the size of the jobs I was winning got larger and larger. “Look at this!” I practically shouted at my wife, “My first five-figure job; think of all the money I will take home from this one!” Months later our bank account was in a similar state, but I would fall for the trick again, “Check it out honey! I just won a job over $25,000!”

It wasn’t until my firstborn was here that I actually stopped long enough to think about what was going wrong. It was then that I knew I had to make some changes, if not for me, then for my wife and newborn daughter. How would I turn the ship around and start to estimate timeframes and job costs more accurately?

The solution: calculating direct and indirect costs

To start, I had to break free from my bad habits and learn some good ones! I had to start estimating my jobs based on my real-time history of how long it was taking me on average. 

I had to learn my numbers. I had to learn what my business’s overhead was every single day. Yes, even days I wasn’t installing tile, my business was costing me money! I also learned to calculate a markup that would account for the overhead as well as profit. Because after all, if I was working that hard to just make ends meet, I might be better off working for someone else and at least have my nights and weekends free! 

Every job has direct costs that are fairly simple to calculate. Direct costs are things like labor and setting materials – everything that you are paying for to get that tile installed!

What many contractors forget to calculate is their indirect costs. Miscalculating or guessing at your company’s overhead can be a grave mistake for many. Your business is alive and all living things need something to stay alive – your business needs money! Yes, even the days you are not installing tile, your business is spending money. You have to spend some time to figure out exactly how much money your business needs on a daily average. Only then can you fold that cost into what you should be charging. 

As a business owner I like to pay myself the same salary every single week, whether we installed tile or not, so I consider my weekly salary as part of the business overhead since it never changes, even if I’m on a beach in Hawaii for a week.

So, how does one go about accurately estimating and pricing their tile work? 

The math

Let’s use an example called Bob’s Tile Company. Bob has two employees, one installer and one apprentice. Bob pays his installer $30/hr and his apprentice $15/hr. But that combined $45 dollars winds up costing Bob’s Tile closer to $70/hr due to things like mandatory payroll taxes and worker’s compensation. Bob’s Tile also provides its employees six paid holidays a year, which is accounted for.

Bob is putting together an estimate for a job he is confident will take five days to complete. So he goes about figuring out his estimate like this.

Direct costs for the week-long job:

  • Labor = $70×40=$2,800
  • Materials = $1,200

Indirect costs for the week-long job:

  • Company overhead = $300
  • Owners salary = $1,600

That week-long job (five days) will cost Bob’s Tile Company a total of $5,900. We have yet to add in a markup percentage for profit. 

As a general rule a contractor company should aim to have at LEAST a 30% Gross Profit Margin minimum. 

So for the example above, Bob is going to sell the job for a 33% Gross Profit Margin, to give himself a little wiggle room. The way he calculated this math is to take his cost ($5,900) and multiply it by 50%. (See the Markup Quick Conversion chart.)

  • $5,900 x 50% = $2,950. This is the job’s gross profit.
  • We now have the sales price $5,900+$2,950 = $8,850.
  • You can also arrive at this number using $5,900 x 1.50 = $8,850

If we want to double check the exact gross profit margin of past jobs, just divide the gross profit by the sales price.

  •  $2,950 / $8,850 = 0.33 x 100 = 33% gross profit margin.

Now this is a simplified example and there are some missing elements to the equation. Truth be told, you can make this as simple or as complex as you want to.

If you have loads of work, your phone never stops ringing and you hate math, you might decide to calculate for 50% gross profit which would be the cost of the job x 2. On the other hand, if you are in a very competitive market, your phone isn’t ringing much and you love math and studying, you need to buy and study the book Markup and Profit for Contractors by Michael C. Stone. (You can also listen to Michael’s interviews on the Tile Money Podcast.)

If you would like to continue this discussion, feel free to post a question or comment inside the Tile Money Facebook group.


Luke Miller hosts the industry’s first-ever business-focused Podcast called Tile Money, sponsored by the National Tile Contractors Association, LATICRETE International and Crossville, Inc. For more information, visit www.Tilemoney.com, email [email protected] or phone 831.588.0417

Health insurance: Finding the best plan for your employees

How do you find good health insurance for your employees? It’s a tough question, with answers that never seem to get easier. The challenge is especially acute for businesses with too few people to bargain effectively with insurance carriers. 

“Affordability continues to be a challenge for smaller employers,” said Michael Thompson, President and CEO of The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, Washington, D.C. “They are looking for any solution that can help them sustain affordable coverage.”

Costs rise

The latest figures show the extent of the problem. The average family premium for employer-provided health insurance hit $20,576 in 2019, according a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. That represents a rise of 5% from the previous year, a pace far greater than the 3.4% wage hike and 2.0% inflation clocked for the same time period. 

Employers searching for the right coverage find themselves navigating a confusing and shifting terrain. Making the picture murkier are recent challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal legislation passed in 2010 to solve the health insurance conundrum. 

While the legality of the ACA is currently under review by a federal appeals court, it remains the law of the land. It requires businesses with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) to offer health insurance with mandated levels of coverage. 

“If you do not provide coverage you will be charged a penalty,” said Julie Stich, Associate Vice President of Content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), Brookfield, Wis. “And the IRS has already started sending penalty letters.”

While employers with fewer than 50 FTEs are not required to offer any coverage, they may decide to do so to retain their competitive position as employers of choice for top performing workers.

Share costs

Rising health care costs, of course, can erode the bottom line. Employers are stemming the tide by asking employees to shoulder more of the premiums. “Today’s employees experience a significant dent in their take-home pay as a result of health insurance premiums,” said Drew Altman, President and CEO of Kaiser. “Their cost sharing has been rising much faster than their wages.”

Of the total premiums of $20,576 for family coverage in 2019, employees picked up an average of 30%, according to the Kaiser survey. They also must share the costs incurred when utilizing medical services. The average annual deductible for single coverage was $1,655 in 2019. That represents an increase of 36% over the past five years and 100% over the past decade. “Over 26% of workers have deductibles of at least $2,000 a year, with higher ones more common at small firms,” said Kaiser researcher Matthew Ray. 

In addition to deductibles, employees must usually pay a portion of the costs incurred when they visit in-network physicians. The most common arrangement is a copayment (a fixed dollar amount) for visiting a doctor, although some companies have requirements for coinsurance (a percentage of the covered amount). In 2019, the average copayments were $25 for primary care and $40 for specialty care. The average coinsurance rates were 18% for primary care and 19% for specialty care. These amounts were similar to those in 2018.

Finding a plan

As the above numbers suggest, employers are tackling high health insurance costs by utilizing various forms of cost sharing. They are also considering less costly options promoted by the Trump administration. These include short-term policies, association health plans, and more flexible health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). 

Employers with tight budgets may be especially attracted to the short-term plans that sport monthly premiums as low as $200. However, the fine print of such plans often calls for higher out-of-pocket maximums, less comprehensive coverage and lower benefits ceilings.

“Bear in mind that a majority of such plans does not cover wellness visits, prescriptions, mental health and maternity,” said Jessica Du Bois, an insurance broker in the Washington, D.C., region. A lack of prescription drug coverage can be especially damaging, since drug prices are rising much faster than other health care components.

Association plans

The U.S. Department of Labor is issuing regulations to expand the availability of association plans, another option geared for the needs of smaller employers.

“Association plans let employers pool within similar geographic locations or industries,” says Du Bois. “Spreading the risk over more people generally results in a lowering of premiums.” 

One problem with association plans is that businesses with healthy individuals may end up subsidizing the steep medical bills of others. 

Still, they can be a viable path for healthcare coverage. The NTCA, for instance, offers its 1,600 members a discounted program for health, life, dental, vision, supplemental plans and more through Campbell Petrie, together with BENAdvance. NTCA members and eligible family members have access to a turnkey, blue-chip benefits package at affordable, group-discounted rates. 

Campbell Petrie stated, “Our sole mission is to help our clients attain the best possible employee benefit products that balance features and budget so employers can stay competitive in their industry by attracting top talent, and so employees receive the package they deserve.”

The convenient web-based BEN portal enables NTCA members to shop for benefits at work or home 24/7, get product information and rates, complete applications, obtain binding coverage, access ID cards, make payments and more. 

The unique feature of this plan is that each member or group applying is evaluated individually, not grouped together with other members who may have a history of high medical expenses. 

NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga said, “If you have a good record, you will not be penalized, and can get great rates for health insurance. This is especially useful for individuals or a small shop under five people looking for health insurance. And it offers a good selection of disability benefits, or supplemental programs and lifestyle products for larger companies. Rates are much better than what could be obtained on the open exchange.”

The positive user experience continues after purchase with A-rated carriers such as Cigna, MetLife and Chubb, providing excellent customer service. 

For information on the NTCA-sponsored plan, talk with NTCA assistant executive director Jim Olson at 601.942.2996 or email [email protected] 

For more information about the pros and cons of short term plans association plans, visit https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/association-health-plans.

Health reimbursement arrangements

Finally, employers are taking a look at another option being promoted by the Trump administration. Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are tax-sheltered accounts from which funds are withdrawn to reimburse employees for health care received on the open market. 

“Some employers use HRAs to self-insure a small portion of their healthcare,” says Du Bois. “They increase their deductibles to save on premiums, then give employees HRA funds to supplement a portion, or all of the deductible.”

Despite all these changes in the health insurance environment, the quest for affordability is not likely to end any time soon. “Health care is expensive for most employers,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of Kaiser. “Finding the right insurance remains an ongoing, chronic headache.”

How to future-proof the use of social media for your business

You can combine your business savvy and common sense so that social media supports your overall goals now and into the future.

Whoever coined the phrase “the only thing certain is change” must have been talking about social media. For those of us who use social media to support business goals, it can be challenging to keep up with best practices and strategies amidst all the ebbs and flows across the various social platforms. 

Despite ongoing changes, I come bearing good news! Regardless of nothing staying the same, you can use social media confidently – and effectively – by holding to some key strategies and tactics that never change. You can combine your business savvy and common sense so that social media supports your overall goals now and into the future.

The ideas you’ll find here can be applied to your endeavors on just about any social media platform. These days, our industry is most active on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (maybe in that order), but down the road, that mix may change. Even if it does, these core strategies will likely translate so that you can keep going strong with social media.

Make every post and interaction point to true north (your business goal)

What is your goal in using social media? While there can be many good and reasonable answers to that question, you’re ultimately aiming to get customers to purchase from you. This goal is the proverbial true north, and your “posting compass” should always point to it as you engage with followers and create content for business purposes. 

Every post shouldnt be directly selling something. Social media is about SHARING – not selling.

IMPORTANT: This does not mean that every post should be directly selling something. Social media is about SHARING – not selling. With social media, you’re getting customers to know, like, and trust you, so that they’ll prefer to work with your business now and in the future. And, actually, it’s this subtlety that makes the need to remember your ultimate goal so necessary. If you don’t have true north solidly in mind as you create content, it’s easy to get off course and “post just to post.”

You don’t want to crank out content without purpose or interact with followers without focused intention. Always remember: you’re using social media for the professional goal of earning paying gigs. Social media works best when you opt to show in order to tell!

Go with Inspo, Info, and Get-to-Know content to connect with customers

If you’re wondering what to post on a day-to-day basis, default to “Inspo and Info” posts supported by “Get-to-Know” posts. 

While photos are a constant go-to (this industry is visual; always remember that!), video content also performs really well on social media. Feel free to use both stills and video in your posts, whether you’re sharing inspiration, information, or inviting folks to get to know you.

Inspo – “Inspo” is short for “inspiration” and is a term often used on social media. Inspirational images and videos are great for our visually driven industry. Inspiration posts can spark ideas and get customers’ minds turning as they plan upcoming projects. With ongoing Inspo posts, you can become a resource for tile design ideas – the go-to for designers who seek the unique.

Inspirational post ideas:

  • Pretty tile, of course! – nicely arranged samples, color stories, close-ups to show product details, quick video clips to show play of light over tile texture
  • Real room scenes – images of actual installations – can be pro or amateur shots
  • Theme images – images featuring tile photos that align with/are related to special days (#mosaicmonday, #tiletuesday, #walltilewednesday #fridaysfloor); images that showcase your expertise in certain applications or market segments (i.e. – our top five flooring installations, our most recent master bathroom projects, etc.)

Info – There’s so much to learn about tile installation. By sharing helpful information you can establish yourself as the ultimate expert in the industry – a trusted source for practical and important insights that help specifiers transform their beautiful inspiration into real-life installations. 

Informational post ideas: always includes a compelling image while conveying pertinent content

  • Installation tips – useful insights that help designers work with you as they make specifications, facts/info to help them intelligently and confidently spec the right tile for their projects, tips on what to ask you at various junctures during projects
  • Ideas for specific applications – i.e. – considerations for high-traffic flooring, wall tile for shopping malls, top three priorities for tile in healthcare facilities
  • Did you know? posts – posts that succinctly explain miscellaneous tile terms and interesting tile-related tidbits such as “What is DCOF and why does it matter?”
  • Technical performance features – i.e. – advantages of certain types of tiles for specific applications.

Get-to-Know – These posts are the chance to showcase your personality, as well as the personality of your business. They can be excellent when used intermittently to help customers come to know, like and trust you even more.

Get-to-Know post ideas: considered to be intermittent, filler content – tertiary to Inspo & Info posts

  • Quick intro – a post in which you introduce yourself and explain your role with the company; nice to sprinkle into your regular posts a few times a year, so people can see your smiling face and get acquainted or reacquainted with the person behind the posts
  • Industry involvement – pics from trade shows, workshops, association events, etc. – purposed in highlighting how you are always learning and staying on top of the latest for the tile installation industry
  • Community involvement – posts that showcase participation in local events, activities, charitable happenings that convey you’re someone locally connected who cares about the community at large – making you relatable and “real” to your customers
Focus on Inspo and Info posts, supported by Get-To-Know posts.

Make your socials local

Social media should live up to its name by being reciprocal, conversational, and interactive.

Want to catch your ideal customers? “Fish where the fish are…and use the best bait.” 

That’s an old adage, but it’s a really helpful reminder for the modern age of social media marketing. It’s better to catch 50 “fish” that are likely to bite than 5,000 that are just swimming by. Remembering that the true north for your social endeavors is to get more people to hire your company, you’ll want to employ all the targeting tactics possible to catch your best customers. 

  • Use local hashtags – The social media hashtag is fundamentally a search tool. It was born as a way for people who have a shared interest in a topic to easily find and follow posts about that topic within social platforms. To that end, choose words and phrases in the same way you would determine key search terms for a website’s search engine optimization (SEO). 
  • Be topical, but also be geographically specific in order to increase chances of connecting with people who could actually come into your showroom. For example, “#dallas” has 17 million hits on Instagram, while #dallasdesigner has 88K; however, it’s a pretty sure bet the most targeted audience is following the latter hashtag. 
  • Do a little research to determine the top hashtags being used by your local customers and relevant audiences. Use those hashtags in all your posts – every time you post – to help attract more of the right eyeballs to your content. 
  • Insider tip: Create a note on your phone with your collection of “always include” hashtags. Then, you can simply copy and paste them in your captions each time you post from your phone. 
  • Tag other accounts – Tag brands, designers, and customers any chance you get when posting. This will help ensure that the relevant parties will see (and possibly share) your content. 
  • Include geo-locations – Whether you’re posting from a job site or your office, include your location in the post. The social platforms are typically more likely to “show” content to followers who are in your area, so be sure to include where you are to potentially increase targeted views. 

Make your socials, well, social! 

Social media should live up to its name by being reciprocal, conversational, and interactive. As much as the content you post should hit the right marks, you should also be present in other ways on social media, as well – for best results.

Follow strategically 

  • Find the right fish” – Identify the folks and firms in your area that you know…or want to know, and follow or connect with them. Even if you never posted anything, you could still get lots out of your social media simply by following and then watching what these strategically selected accounts share. It makes for excellent market research; in the marketing biz, this is known as “social listening,” and it can be a great source of ideas and insights to help you grow your business.
  • Be comprehensive – In creating your follows and connections, start local by targeting interior designers, builders, A&D firms, installers, media outlets, design influencers, partner brands (such as manufacturers and setting materials companies), sales reps with partner brands, and regional chapters of associations in your area. 
  • Follow suit, so to speak – Every now and then, take notice of the accounts that your top followers are following and follow those accounts, as well. This is a useful tactic for expanding your targeted circle.

Engage regularly, meaningfully

  • Comment and like – Take a few minutes each day to show some love and pay attention to those you’re following on social media. Like others’ posts. Comment on what they share. Chime in if you have an idea that might be helpful or can answer a question they might have. 
  • Be conversational – Social media works best when treated with the standards you’d expect in an actual, in-person interaction. By keeping a conversational tone that invites response/back-and-forth interaction, you are more likely to keep a connection going and, over time, deepen the relationship. One kind word or question that shows genuine interest and curiosity can go a long way to winning over a customer and earning her loyalty.
  • Share others’ content – See something wonderful that is relevant/fun/offers inspo or info? Share it (make sure you have permission to do so), and give lots of acknowledgement to the account/person that posted it first. People love it when their content really resonates, and they often are thrilled that their posts are deemed “regrammable” or shareable. This is a great tactic to employ when someone has tagged you or the brand in her post; it’s a great, easy way to amplify the message.

Seek support and suggestions anytime

Please feel free to reach out to me if you ever have questions about social media or digital marketing. I have 22 years of experience in the tile industry, and through my digital marketing agency, Msg2Mkt, LLC, I lead marketing strategies for a range of clients. I’m more than happy to offer specific insights. Find me at [email protected].

Why Tile is your ceramic tile education resource

Three years ago, the ceramic tile industry leaders came together to create what is now Why Tile. This initiative is the tile industry’s joint effort to promote the use and benefits of ceramic tile. In the past three years, with contributions from leading industry organizations and manufacturers that regularly add to Why Tile’s already-robust content, Why Tile has become the tile industry’s key educational resource for free informative tools, inspiration and tile related assets.

Kathy Meyer, TCNA’s Director of Marketing, explained that
WhyTile.com offers information on where and how to use tile, explanations on why tile should be selected over other materials; plus, the site is a rich source of design and style inspiration. Meyer added that the Application and Industry tools are produced with architect/design professionals in mind. 

The Why Tile tools can help professionals create designs using ceramic tile for a wide range of purposes. Much of the information is sorted by industries, such as using tile in retail, corporate, and healthcare environments, or by application, such as using tile for the bathroom, kitchen, and roofing.

For those searching for inspiration, Why Tile offers a robust design gallery created to help users envision the beautiful spaces they can create. The ever-growing gallery now boasts over 800 photos that can be filtered by residential, commercial, industry, project, tile style, décor, and color. 

WhyTile.com also offers a variety of case studies and videos to be used by the industry professional. The site showcases over a dozen case studies that detail the advantages of tile in real scenarios, including commercial, industrial and residential applications. The videos include nine videos on ceramic tile as a safe choice, eight videos on ceramic tile as ideal for any application, and seven videos discussing qualified labor. Why Tile also offers a resource library that includes tile maintenance tips, common terms and definitions, tile schematics, and various guides and educational information on topics such as sustainability and EPDs. 

Why Tile Partner Portal

Additional tools are available on the Why Tile Partner Portal. These partners are companies and organizations that support Why Tile to promote the benefits of ceramic tile. Partner tools include tips and tools for promoting  tile, monthly social posts that can be used on partners’ own social channels, and a Why Tile presentation that can be used to help companies promote the benefits of tile. 

Recently, Why Tile added two new resources to the Why Tile Partner Portal. The first is the Why Tile partner badge, that can be placed on a partners’ website. The second resource includes a handout on the phase one plastic-based material (PBM) flooring research results. This research discusses PBM’s popularity with products such as LVT, LVP, WCP, RCB, and addresses marketing claims with regards to waterproofness, mold resistance, DCOF, and scratch resistance.

“This research is important to help educate professionals and consumers about plastic-based material flooring,” Meyer said. “We feel it is critical that buyers and specifiers understand what they are potentially choosing when they select PBM (vinyl) flooring products.”

Meyer also noted that Why Tile is currently developing video assets to coincide with the PBM research. The videos will be available on the Partner Portal. 

Heritage/Craftsmanship tab planned for 2020

Later this year, WhyTile.com plans to revamp its Heritage tab, transitioning it to include information on the historical significance and craftsmanship of tile. The historical portion will discuss how tile has evolved from what it was in ancient Rome to what has become today. The craftsmanship portion will discuss qualified labor, provide links to association partner and training resources, and offer tile career information.

Avia Haynes, Director of Marketing & Communications for the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), said, “We look forward to the launch of the new ‘Heritage/Craftsmanship’ tab. It will help deliver the message that beautiful tile will withstand the test of time when it is installed correctly. Correct installation requires qualified labor.” Haynes and other NTCA staff and members are working with Why Tile to develop content for the new tab.

Meyer encourages professionals who have not used the Why Tile site to take advantage of this opportunity to provide a better service to customers. “All of the resources we offer, including the Why Tile Partner assets, are free,” she said. “We encourage everyone to become a Why Tile Partner, use the website, and promote the benefits of tile.”

Evaluate your team’s competitive advantage

It’s still fairly early in the year, with most of it ahead of you, affording you the ability to make positive changes to take you in the direction you want your company to go in 2020. To assist in that endeavor is the following checklist from Firestarter founder Wally Adamchik. He encourages you to use these questions to assess your business and make course corrections now before heading down the wrong road too deeply into the year.   – Lesley Goddin

USE THIS CHECKLIST TO EVALUATE YOUR TEAM’S COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE IN 2020

Here are a few quick questions to ask yourself to identify potential competitive advantages or areas for improvement.

Check the box if your answer is yes.

ο Have you completed or is your annual planning meeting scheduled for 2020?

ο Do you have your annual kickoff meeting scheduled for 2020?

ο Do your teams consistently improve margins on jobs?

ο Is your overall profitability/ROI above industry average?

ο Is your safety better than industry average?

ο Is safety trending in the right direction?

ο Do you have a clearly articulated vision or mission and values?

ο Do your people understand and buy in to the vision, mission and values?

ο Are you innovating in ways that add to the bottom line and increase customer satisfaction?

ο Are you comfortable with your voluntary turnover or are people leaving that you don’t want to leave?

ο Is your bench strength solid with 75% of supervisory positions having an identified and 75% qualified successor?

___ TOTAL NUMBER OF YES

THE GRADING SCALE –––––––––––––––

• 8 or more YES answers indicate a strong team. Keep it up!

• 6-8 YES answers indicate your team needs to address some key issues.

• Less than 6 YES answers indicate some major concerns.

Need some assistance in reaching your goals? Contact Firestarter at www.firestarterspeaking.com or call 919-673-9499.


Your journey to emotional ownership

Pain and pleasure are such close cousins.  In life, it’s painful not to experience pleasure.  Too often though, it’s the holding on for dear life to familiar pain that keeps us from having what we say we really want.

In 1988 I joined the National Speakers Association, a trade group for professional speakers.  No, I wasn’t a speaker yet, but I wanted to be.  I had closed down my manufacturers’ representative company to accept a position of vice president for my principal manufacturer. Two years later, I found myself without a job.  It was now time to fish or cut bait.  Was I going to pick up another line and go to war with the manufacturer that fired me or was I going after my dream?  I went after my dream.  A decade later, I’m a nationally recognized keynoter on business alliances.

This experience, for all of the pain and pleasure, has yielded a path, my path to emotional ownership.  Since discovering this path, I have interviewed several business leaders and found that my path was also theirs.

Whatever pleasure you seek; there is usually pain in the way of having that pleasure.  I believe this path is also your path to the emotional ownership, of staying the course to having what you want in your life, both personal and professional.

In your personal and professional life you continually have challenges.  Challenges without solutions or answers generally cause extreme pain.  To solve or remove this pain, you must either move into action or simply do nothing and hide out.  Action means possibilities. Doing nothing is a formula for failure.  Doing what you have always done and expecting different results is called experiencing insanity. Nobody intentionally wants to be insane.  You will succeed at what you want through understanding and remaining on your path.

What is your challenge?  What would you like to do you are currently not doing?  What major decision would you like to make?  Your first step will be to think up ideas on how to deal with your challenge.

1. Idea

Some ideas are gold and some are worthless. You must constantly seek possibilities to your challenges.  Earl Nightingale would sit with a yellow pad thinking of solutions to his day’s challenges every morning before the rest of his family awoke. Dr. Robert Schuller’s idea of possibility thinking is to list no less than 20 ways to solve your challenge.  His 20th is how he started the church that is known today as the Crystal Cathedral.

2. Excitement

When an idea crystallizes, excitement sets in. Your view of the challenge is like a world of possibilities.  All is right as you are moving closer to dealing with your pain.

3. Hope

Hope is the apex.  Hope without how will get you nowhere.  From this pinnacle the slow degrade begins.  As the reality of the challenge sets in doubt begins.  Unfortunately, at this point, hope turns into nope!

4. Reality

When the reality of the steps, work and pitfalls involved in creating a solution set in, a feeling of hopelessness is not far behind.

5. Desperation

Many people are living lives of quiet desperation.  Even people who are moderately successful find it difficult to make a new decision that would position them for greatness.  When the pain is at a level so high that anything else must be better, the point of decision is near. This is where tension can help you to mobilize, but too much tension can immobilize you.

6. Purpose

Clarity of purpose allows you to see and understand the value of your struggle.  You must know you are playing in the right sandbox and for the right reason.  Now comes the promise of success.  Through example or belief, you now know success is possible and you can make a decision to go for the success.  If you are off purpose, are settling for less or see your world from the window of scarcity, you might make the decision of indecision and only move toward failure.

7. Decision

The decision to move forward or to make no decision, the choice is yours. Knowing what to hold on to and what to discard is crucial to your well being.  This is where your emotional ownership comes alive.  No decision, no ownership and a continual decline.  Yet, with a new decision, all becomes possible.  Look for your emotional strength and security rather than comparing your self to what is not real. Be cautious of not falling into the impostor syndrome, thinking that you are not really good enough.  Look for your moments of decision. A friend quit drinking, and I ask him about his moment of decision.  He told me that it was one night while he was hanging out his second-story bathroom window, about to fall out and in a drunken stupor and realizing that he should change his life.  He said that he knew if he didn’t make some changes soon, he would no longer have a life.

8. Paying the price and taking risk

This is the truth detector.   This is the point on your journey where you must internalize the intellectual ownership of your decision.  You must be willing to pay the prices.  Nothing good is free.  Having a track record of previous success and concrete examples of other successful person’s journeys will help.  It’s now time to stick your neck out!

9. Getting help

Relationship building at its finest.  Nobody goes it alone.  Every successful person seeks help.  You may end up with some unlikely partners; especially people that can help you connect with your inner strength.  Receiving help connects you back to all your previous steps.  Also, you must accept help in anchoring back to your moment of decision.

10.  Accepting success

Self-confidence and self-worth go hand in hand.  Accepting that you are worthy of success is key. When you have completed your journey to Emotional Ownership, you do it all over, repeatedly.  Additionally, you must realize that you are currently at different steps in different aspects of your personal and professional life.

Every day you are starting another journey in a different area of your life; personal and professional. Your journey always comes full circle; you can never just sit back because another phase of your total life journey is about to start. Enjoy your journey.

Go ahead, Tweet it: seven ways to capitalize on the social power of your satisfied (and not-so-satisfied) customers

We love telling people about our latest experiences, and we love hearing about what others have experienced. But author Ron Kaufman says many companies are missing out on tapping the social power of their satisfied customers.

“Companies should be saying to their customers, ‘If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else,’” Kaufman said. “Tell happy customers to be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.”

Kaufman notes that a lot of customer service is already being done online, customer to customer, through comments on articles, user forums and message boards.  Companies that embrace this behavior can improve their service and save on costs.

Kaufman said customers will “go out of their way to help a fellow customer find a solution, but for companies to do that back-end customer service there would be a cost. By engaging your customers to help each other, you can defray your costs, improve your customer satisfaction, and stimulate a loyal community by encouraging people in your online social space.”

How do you keep your customers spreading great things about your company while bringing their complaints only to you? Read on for Kaufman’s advice.

Make it easy for them to go social. Provide links in post-service surveys where people can share experiences and encourage them to do so. Kaufman’s website, www.UpYourService.com, offers a Spread the Word section that makes it easy for people to share their experiences.

Say thank you. Show a little love for the love your customers show you. Try a message of gratitude that says, “Thank you so much for spreading the word. As one of our happy customers, when you tell other people about us, it helps us grow and serve you better.” Don’t incentivize this behavior; it tarnishes the genuineness of the comment.

Invite them to reach out. Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp and TripAdvisor pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, ‘If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.’ Leave it with the customer after a job, or post it beside the cash register.

Ask how you can improve. Welcome good and bad instant feedback via social media. “Hear them out, provide them with great service, and then THANK them for sharing their experience with others via Twitter, Facebook…” Kaufman said.

Encourage them to recognize great one-on-one service. United Airlines’ “Outperform Recognition Program” encourages MileagePlus members to enter an exemplary employee’s name via a mobile app; both member and employee can win prizes in a random drawing. “Social programs like these boost employee morale, get customers focused on what employees are doing right, give employees another ‘measurable’ feedback for giving great service, and create a lot more ‘social input’ from customers to the company,” said Kaufman. Compliments received during this process can also be used in publicity campaigns.

Funnel customer questions through social media – then share the best answers. Ask customers to post questions on your Facebook wall, and answer them there for everyone to see. This shares useful information with other customers and enables your company to gather information.

Make talking about your brand irresistible. Provide service so great that customers simply can’t resist telling people about it. In a blog post on The Huffington Post, Chris Hurn, CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation, shared how the Ritz-Carlton staff went above and beyond after his family accidentally left his young son’s favorite stuffed animal behind after a recent stay. The staff found and safely returned the stuffed animal and took pictures of its extended stay to show Mr. Hurn’s son what a great time his stuffed-animal friend had while staying a bit longer at the hotel.

“That blog post was seen by a portion of The Huffington Post’s 26 million monthly readers and was then tweeted, retweeted, and posted by many on Facebook,” Kaufman said. “Taking photos of a stuffed animal in funny situations didn’t cost Ritz-Carlton a penny, but it delivered social value in a huge way!”

“Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization,” Kaufman concluded. “Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.”

Synergy amongst the trades: How teamwork makes the dream work

Fast-track construction projects often can be ultra-fast paced and hectic. They require industry professionals across several different trades to blend together for a common goal – getting the project done correctly and on time for the client. 

How well – or not well – trade professionals synergize can directly affect the outcome of most any project. In many instances, the vision of cohesiveness and synchronicity among these different units becomes just that: a vision never to be realized; a goal that never reaches fruition, much to the chagrin of architects and designers.

In what ways can trade professionals come together to make sure the job gets done right, to have “the big picture” be realized to the satisfaction of all? According to Karl Parker, owner/president, All American Design & Construction, Albuquerque, N.M., an eagerness to learn is just as critical as the need to work together in order for professionals and projects to realize their true potential.

In New Mexico, Parker noted, there is a different feel and respect for when work among varying trades overlap. “Big steps have been taken with plumbers and inspectors working with tile installers on complex shower installations. Everyone is eager to learn about these products and excited about the overall outcome of install performance.”

As Lee Callewaert, owner, Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Grafton, Wis., espoused, nothing is more critical to multiple trades working together successfully than the relationships built while on the job. “We’re fortunate to work in a specific market that brings some of the best trades together,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the same people on multiple projects. 

According to Jane Callewaert, this is an example of the kind of enhancements her husband, Lee, is able to add to projects because he works so closely with the other trades. “In this case, the cabinet maker was able to adjust his drawer fronts in advance so Lee could add custom marble insets.”

“When the relationships are built on mutual respect and the various trades are working together for the same goal (making the end result the very best it can be for the client),” Callewaert added, “all the trades involved develop a positive reputation in the market. 

“We have general contractors, architects, homeowners, etc., who hire us and some of the same other trades for all their projects because they know that this group of professionals will make their job so much easier,” Callewaert added. “We will rarely come to them with an issue as we work together and solve the problems ourselves.”

Parker agreed, and noted a specific instance in which an opportunity to join a trade association brought professionals together in the same room for a common cause. “One aspect I can speak about from the trade gap is, being invited to join the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). The depth of this association runs from code (UPC) to reviewing our own products for listing and acceptance for sales.

“From my very first meeting, it was all about open arms and further invitations to run CEU programs for the union and plumbing officials,” Parker explained. “It seems as though the big gap in trade is with officials and actual plumbers.”

Callewaert echoed Parker’s sentiment, saying that when the trades work together, you are better able to achieve a positive outcome for the customer, which is the ultimate goal. “When working together as a team, everyone has that same goal in mind,” Callewaert said. “The projects that involve multiple trades with mutual respect are consistently of higher quality and result in much happier clients.”

Reiterating the relationship theme, Callewaert said both he and his wife/business partner, Jane, teach their staff to get to know the other trades on the job. “Build a relationship,” he said. “Demonstrate respect. Ask what they need from us to make their job easier.

“We’re never too busy for the other trades involved,” he explained. “If they need our help to execute their job well, they’ve got it. Maybe they need to gain access to the space we are working in so they can finish. It might not be convenient, but because it helps them finish, we will figure it out. Respect goes both ways. When we need something from them, they are quick to accommodate.”

As Parker concluded, “we are currently working on filling that [trade] gap and getting everyone on the same page with wet area tile installations. When we all come together for a common goal (industry standards or above), there is a greater understanding and appreciation of everyone’s job.”

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