Louisville contractor practices unwavering commitment to employees and customers

Vesta Tile & Stone, LLC (https://vestatile.com), based in Louisville, Ky., is a leading regional contractor in the commercial tile and stone market since 2010.  Vesta quickly evolved as a respected regional contractor by inspiring the commitment of its employees and doing the right thing for its customers, which are two of its core values.  As tile products and installation technologies evolve, it has continued to invest in the resources to deliver high levels of responsiveness along with consistent and reliable performance every day.

In fact, as demand for large format porcelain tile continues to grow, a concerted effort has been made to train Vesta mechanics and employ the most advanced installation techniques in this product category. 

Vesta joined the NTCA in 2019 for two reasons: First, for the appealing resources available to members for education, problem resolution, and standards development. Second, the commitment to collaboration with the entire tile industry – contractors, distributors, and manufacturers – was compelling, as well.

“To date, we have enjoyed the benefits of participating in regional training programs along with the manufacturers’ material support offered for training,” said Louis Cristofoli, President of Vesta Tile & Stone. “In the future, we plan to make better use of the business management, technical advice, and marketing tools offered.”

Vesta Tile & Stone, LLC is one of the most recent contracting firms to gain NTCA Five-Star Contractor status. Cristofoli explained that “after significant research and due diligence, we determined that the NTCA’s Five-Star Contractor Program offered the optimal combination of resources that could best support our efforts to address and resolve the constraints often faced in today’s dynamic construction environment. The specification community has shifted more emphasis to ensuring qualified subcontractors are selected for their projects and the NTCA Five-Star designation is becoming a key selection qualifier. In summary, we believe the broad assortment of benefits offers a unique opportunity to strengthen our foundation and fortify our brand reputation.”

One of the requirements for the NTCA Five-Star Contractor credential is having Certified Tile Installers (CTIs) on staff. Vesta Tile & Stone has two employees who passed the exam, held at Louisville Tile in January 2020. “We intend to continue having additional mechanics take the exam and ultimately hope to have all mechanics achieve the CTI designation,” Cristofoli said. “The preparation for the exam was enlightening and attaining the CTI designation will be a mechanic benchmark for progression within our company.” Vesta Tile & Stone takes a tremendous amount of satisfaction in its work. “We are extremely proud of the impact we have on the projects we complete,” Cristofoli said. “The ability to elevate the experiences of our direct and indirect customers in the spaces they live, work, and play provides tremendous satisfaction to everyone in our organization.”

Historic Lexington Courthouse 

Photo of Lexington courthouse atrium
Lexington courthouse atrium containing 24” x 24” marble floor laid on a 45-degree-angle pattern, with 3 cm marble tread and risers, and 6’3” x 2 cm marble wall panels.

This renovation project in Lexington, Ky., presented a unique combination of installation challenges. The products and applications involved included: 

  • 15,000 sq. ft. of 24” x 24” porcelain floor tile – 14 common areas and two elevators.
  • 2,000 sq. ft. of 12” x 24” porcelain floor tile and 4,900 sq. ft. of 2” x 2” mosaics – eight gang restrooms.
  • 2,200 sq. ft. of 6’3” x 2 cm marble wall panels – atrium.
  • 350 sq. ft. of 3 cm marble tread and risers – atrium.

The first challenge was designing a logistics plan to efficiently accommodate the delivery, receipt, and disbursement of the materials. There was no elevator available in the four-floor building so Vesta orchestrated the material distribution throughout the building with a crane and operator utilizing the windows on each floor for material receiving.

Next, surface preparation had to be completed prior to the installation of the 24” x 24” floor tile with multiple elevation variances up to 3 inches. The elevation challenges were successfully addressed with both traditional mud bed and self-leveling approaches.

A third difficult situation related to the 24” x 24” tile installation included the layout of two special event rooms involving 2,000 sq. ft. in each room laid on a 45-degree angle pattern and flowing into an 8’ octagon shaped floor. An extensive effort was exerted to use plan layout in conjunction with laser technology to meet this challenge. The project was completed fall, 2018. 

Republic Bank Foundation YMCA

Photo of tile on YMCA pool deck
The YMCA pool deck featuring a 2” x 2” unglazed ceramic mosaic tile.

This was a new 77,000-sq.-ft. YMCA facility in Louisville, Ky. Selected as the project of the year by Louisville Business First, the doors were officially opened in December 2019. The tile products included:

  • 6,200 sq. ft. of 39” x 39” porcelain tile panels – three locker rooms
  • 4,500 sq. ft. of 2” x 2” unglazed ceramic mosaic tile – five pool areas including deck and three locker rooms 
  • 700 sq. ft. of 8” x 24” ceramic white body wall tile
  • 300 linear feet of 1/2” x 12” ceramic wall tile liners
  • 2” x 2” glass wall tile

The project entailed multiple installation method challenges involving substrate preparation, wet area waterproofing, and elevation transitions.

All pool area and locker room floors were mud set. With the specifications for mud-set applications declining over the last several years, Vesta relied on its experienced project manager and crews to lead its younger mechanics and finishers to deliver an excellent substrate on time, ready for tile.

The locker room walls were concrete block and presented significant planar challenges for the installation of the 39” x 39” panels. With all mechanics having received prior training on large thin porcelain tile handling and installation, Vesta was prepared with the tools, equipment, and mortar product to meet the stringent substrate flatness required.

COVID Contractor Perspective: Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc.

Martin Brookes, President of Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., an NTCA Five-Star Contractor member

On March 16th, 2020 our tile world changed. In Mill Valley, Calif., we went from being overwhelmed with work in a vibrant economy with the labor shortage as our biggest challenge  — to a shelter-in-place order.

I thought I had a grasp on this. I didn’t know the extent of changes that COVID-19 would bring upon us. To prepare, I got jobs stocked with tile and materials,  sent emails to our client base letting them know how we would work responsibly, and had tailgate meetings with my crews daily on the importance of social distancing.

But it soon became quite clear that this situation was going to have far more impact than any of us could have imagined.

The public announcement of government relief available to small businesses added confusion and anxiety. Who would — and who wouldn’t — get financial help to see them through this unknown time period? Uncertainty was an understatement for both the employer and employees.

I thought we could weather the storm with the pre-planning and jobs we had ahead of us. How wrong I was! We worked through the jobs that got stocked ahead of time; then systematically our job sites were closed down. Restrictions got tighter as the local building inspectors teamed with the police to start closing down job sites with the threat of a fine if not in compliance.

I suffered sleepless nights wondering how I was going to be able to ride out the storm, keep my doors open and make sure my hardworking employees could take of their families and pay the bills. I decided that I would pay them to the best of my ability, for the foreseeable future or until all my resources had been exhausted.

I had applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) $10k grant and the Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan for payroll and some other expenses, but was not holding my breath on these programs. I bank with a large institution. The initial application program was not easy and changed frequently, so I thought my chances of getting funded would be minimal.

Since I do all my payroll, bookkeeping and timecards through QuickBooks, it was easy for me to pull reports and paperwork.  Forms 940 / 941 were just a click away, and easy to attach to the required paperwork for what seemed to be a remote chance of being funded.

I’m a small business — I mean a real small business; forget the 500 or fewer — we are 7 or fewer. So I thought, “Who really cares whether I survive or not?”

I was assigned a business advisor at my bank and he supplied me with his cell phone, because due to COVID-19 he also was working from home. We talked and he changed my mind on how I though the bank perceived me.  He was friendly, informative and seemed to care. He reassured me my application was in line for funding and I would be getting an email by the end of the week (yeah, right!). A few days later – nothing.  I sent him a polite but assertive email explaining my banking history and loyalty. I also mentioned that I just might have to reconsider my banking choice, after hearing that my peers had been funded from community banks and credit unions.

He again reached out and told me to hang in there because he was hopeful I would be funded by the end of the week. Shortly after, my bank sent a midnight email informing me that we had been funded. I felt a wave of relief knowing I could take care of my employees for at least the next 2.5 months.

Lessons learned

A few things I have learned from this experience to date is that having access to like-minded business owners through NTCA gave me perspective. I learned that the bank does value me and the business I bring them.  And operating my business with professional recordkeeping allowed me to produce the paperwork I needed to justify what I needed to maintain my business.

I’m hopeful we can all learn and grow from this unfortunate situation – though I’m sure we are not even close to realizing how this situation will change the way we do business, not to mention how it will affect our personal lives.  I’m hopeful that others will have the same experience as I did, and can keep their doors open to take care of their hardworking employees.

Yesterday, as part of the Learning Opportunities offered by Coverings Connected, Wally Adamchick, president of Firestarter Speaking and Consulting offered a session on “Acting on the NTCA Culture Survey – Leadership in the Face of COVID-19.” He quoted an article from Fortune magazine that stated that the three key factors in keeping employees engaged is 1) trust in their supervisor 2) pride in the organization and 3) camaraderie with those they work with. I’m hopeful our hardworking employees will remember how loyalty, respect, and genuine caring is helping build a culture that separates our company from run-of-the-mill companies, and that’s why they choose to work for us. It can be an opportunity for all of us to show leadership – and respect  — for workers bring to the party. And in the long run, it can make us an even stronger team.  

NTCA Five-Star Contractor report

For those not familiar with the NTCA Five-Star designation, this is a group of NTCA member contractors who have demonstrated integrity, professionalism, and craftsmanship, and have a proven track record of success in tile and stone installation and business management. This report is an overview of developments in store for the NTCA Five-Star Contractor membership this year.

One key factor that you find in NTCA members overall is a culture of dedication to the tile industry. NTCA members are companies that love the tile trade, invest in training, and stay connected with current standards and methods. Many NTCA Five-Star 2020 objectives will work to cultivate this dedication. These objectives include the process of reverifying NTCA Five-Star Members, reaching out to artisan tile manufacturers, updating the format of our annual meeting, continuing to promote qualified labor language, and changing our application requirements and process.

The importance of reverifying members

This year the NTCA Five-Star program has started to reverify current members. As qualified labor grows, interest in this group has steadily grown with it. Because the NTCA Five-Star members are a unique blend of contractors of all sizes, labor pools, and specialties, it is important for NTCA to re-verify that they are continuing the practices that are required by the program such as licensing, insurance, safety program, ongoing education, certified labor, etc.

Outreach to artisan tile manufacturers

Artisan tile, while often offering rare beauty to a space, can sometimes be a challenge to install. Because of the unique nature of these specialized tiles, it is especially important that the right contractor be involved in the installation process. With that in mind, a contingent of high-end NTCA Five-Star contractors will take part in an outreach effort to artisan tile manufacturers. By reaching out to the manufacturers, the NTCA Five-Star contractors hope to learn more about their specialized products, be better prepared to install their products, and be a resource for each other.

NTCA Five-Star Partnership Summit

Much of the value of the NTCA Five-Star group is the education and peer interaction it offers. This is especially true at the annual meeting which has traditionally been a NTCA Five-Star trip during the summer. This year, to ease schedules for members and sponsors, the NTCA Five-Star Partnership Summit will take place in conjunction with the Total Solutions Plus (TSP) conference in Palm Desert, Calif., at the end of October. This year’s format and curriculum really elevate it above a mere meeting, and this new name for the gathering represents that. The curriculum for the meeting will expand to cover both the field and business components of members’ businesses and will bracket the TSP conference. 

Sunday, October 25th before TSP starts, the first part of the Summit kicks off with a Foreman/Superintendent Bootcamp. Project foremen and superintendents have some of the most difficult jobs, and represent a key component to a successful project, so this program gives them an opportunity to learn and grow. The more they know and understand about leadership, communication, planning, organization and cooperation, the more value they bring to the project team.

Part two of the Summit takes place on Wednesday, October 28th, after TSP. A full day of business education is planned with a speaker, and time for program sponsors and NTCA Five-Star Contractors to come together to talk about how we can best help each other and the industry.

Specifications and NTCA Five-Star Contractors

From day one, specifications have been a focus for the NTCA Five- Star group since they are key to the qualified labor cycle. The introduction of qualified labor language into Masterspec/ARCOM was the first major hurdle. Then in 2019, the NTCA was able to get the language into BSD SpecLink as well. This new platform has seen steady organic growth – a step in the right direction to help give projects a resource to finding qualified labor in its many forms. When architects/designers and owners’ representatives include qualified labor language, they are signaling that they value the craftmanship that trained labor brings. It shows they do not see our trade simply as a commodity.

That craftsmanship recognition is why as a community we need to embrace the certification process on all levels: at the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) level and the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) level. The ability to demonstrate and quantify basic and advanced skills elevates the trade for all involved.

Changes to the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program

This year, you will see significant changes to the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program. The most notable change is in membership requirements. We have begun accepting applications from non-NTCA members into the program. I am excited to say that the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program has become a recognized asset to the industry. Because of this, I, along with NTCA leadership, feel the program will have an even bigger impact if it is open to both NTCA members and non-members. Non-members will be subject to the same terms and conditions as members, but there is a separate fee structure. 

A final change we are making is we are working to have the application process reviewed by a third party for group inclusion recommendations. We feel these changes will enhance the group and our focus as an association to improve our industry. 

The NTCA Five-Star Contractor group has one clear intention: Do what is best for the tile industry. NTCA is committed to keeping this focus when working on programs for members, with the goal of continuing to bring value to them in many forms.

To learn more about the NTCA Five-Star contractor program, please visit the website at http://bit.ly/FiveStarMembers. If you are interested in becoming a Certified Tile Installer, visit CTEF website at: http://bit.ly/BecomeaCTI.

Midwest Mosaic: from possibilities to an American dream

A selfie with Malcom Campbell’s favorite tools: Sigma, Black Beauty and Suspenders.

Malcom Campbell said when opening his company, Midwest Mosaic, Inc., it represented possibilities. Now, 15 years later, the Toledo, Ohio-based company is still going strong with loyal clients, a customer-focused strategic business model, and a plan for the future.

Campbell began his tiling career in 1987 as a helper at a local commercial tiling firm. In 1999, he bought into a local tile firm, but became frustrated with the company after it went through years of jurisdictional disputes. Campbell then decided to start his own company. “[Midwest] Mosaic represented what could be possible if I just took what I knew and all the contacts I had and just did it my way.”

“Take Your Kid to Work Day” – Summer ‘18.

Midwest Mosaic, Inc. now has a long list of loyal clients. One of the reasons its clients are attracted to the company is that its installers are part of the selling package. “People hire us because they know what and who they are getting,” Campbell said. He makes sure the residential projects are assigned to the right installer for the job, while commercial clients know that Campbell will be their project lead.

Midwest Mosaic offers both residential and commercial installations and has two different teams that serve the different customer types. Campbell said the teams almost operate as separate divisions in the company, with the residential and commercial teams rarely crossing over. Installers on the commercial team may have the opportunity to work on residential projects if they the adopt certain habits crucial to working in occupied homes, such as cleaning up after themselves, protecting the homeowner’s belongings, and not smoking on property.

Testing the custom tile rack for Lourdes Cloister Walk in Campbell’s Toledo, Ohio backyard.

According to Campbell, operating the teams separately was a strategic decision that benefits the way the two customer types operate. “In commercial, time is of the essence,” he said. “In high-price residential, care is of the essence. The least caring thing you can tell a client while they suffer through disruption in their home is to tell them you are leaving because Kroger called and it’s your turn at the next store two states away.”

Midwest Mosaic has been a member of NTCA for the last 10 years, and became a NTCA Five-Star Contractor earlier this year. Campbell said the membership is worth more than its cost. He cited benefits such as regional training, webinars, professional services, and a pathway to Certified Tile Installer (CTI) certification as a few of the highlights of being an NTCA member. “If you are selling skilled tile installation and not a member at the NTCA, you are leaving money on the table,” he said.

Progress photo of Lourdes University Cloister Walk in Sylvania, Ohio

Campbell is hoping to use his recent NTCA Five-Star Contractor distinction to target more premium work. He said before becoming one, he wasn’t sure what to expect from the distinction, but now it is presenting interesting opportunities. He feels the NTCA Five-Star “grapevine” also provides good fellowship, and noted the targeted e-newsletter the group receives from Amber Fox as an additional benefit of being an NTCA Five-Star Contractor.

Campbell himself is a CTI and encourages his team to also become certified, crediting the test with providing necessary preparation for everyday occurrences in the field. He contends that it not only teaches you to work within ANSI standards, it forces you to perform at a high level even with time constraints. “The written test forces you to get educated about how to avoid a whole host of common failures,” he said. “By the time you finish that, you should have a new understanding about bonding, mixing cement, grouting, backer board, duty rating, ANSI, TCNA, the Robinson test and more. And the practical test you must finish. This presents a psychic challenge for all us. Anybody working at a high level will only do high-level work but [within] the time-management constraint.”

Getting dirty with the crew at a Burger King in Flint, Mich.

Campbell’s drive and hard work are factors of his company’s success, but he was quick to also note his estimator, Adrian Grec, as another factor. Campbell said Grec began working for him in 2013. After working with Grec, an engineering graduate, for a while, Campbell decided to train him in estimating. Campbell said Grec has become a champion of their commercial estimating. “He has taken it over and he does a really good job at it,” he explained

Campbell’s greatest joy about being a tile contractor is that it allowed him the freedom to spend time with his children. He has pictures and memories of them coming to work with him. Because of this, he feels is he is “living the American dream.”

Seven stars at the 2019 NTCA Awards during Coverings: two Rock Stars and one NTCA Five-Star.

Allstate Commercial Flooring

“The team approach is simply better.”

According to Gary Sharpe, co-founder and VP of Sales, there’s a guiding principle at work at Allstate Commercial Flooring in Spring, Texas: “The world record 400-meter dash set by an individual is 43 seconds. The world record 400-meter relay set by four people is 37 seconds. The team approach is simply better.” 

The team approach informs all Allstate does, Sharpe says. In fact, one of the company’s cornerstone approaches is to diversify its staff. Estimators focus on estimating. Project managers focus on bringing projects in under budget and on time.

This strategy has helped fuel the company’s success with large commercial projects with an emphasis on new construction. K-12 education is an anchor market for the company, but higher education, hospitals, high-end hotels, assisted living, and high-rise commercial development are among the company’s favorites. Allstate embraces smaller projects too. For example, Allstate does most of the Rudy’s BBQ stores in Texas and the surrounding market ranging into Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The company was born when Sharpe was an estimator for another company and was thinking Tommy Vu would be the perfect complement to his skill set. “Turns out he was thinking the same thing!” Sharpe said. “He actually asked me to partner with him in this new venture back in 2008.” 

Vu himself had a long and luminous history as a tile installer, dating back to 1986 with well-known firms before he started his own, and has been key installer on high profile projects such as the Houston Astros Minute Maid Ballpark, Houston Rockets Toyota Center and Houston Texans NRG Stadium. Sharpe added, “His attention to detail, ability to coordinate with other trades and improve on the overall schedule of a project has won him favor with many customers over the years. In spite of his experience he believes there is always something new to learn.” In 2013, Charlie Adams purchased the company, and is now CEO; Rusty Dennison came on board that same year as VP of operations. 

The passion for learning something new is part of the reason that from day one Allstate was a NTCA member. “Tommy and I knew that the NTCA was the standard setter and bearer for the tile portion of our business,” Sharpe said. “We wanted to stay connected with the latest industry developments. Our budget was small back then but we carved out funds for NTCA membership. 

“Staying up to date on the latest installation trends is a big benefit,” Sharpe said. “Tommy is a stickler for ‘doing it right the first time,’ and the NTCA Five-Star Contractor program provides proof to our customers that we do it right. Going through the process to become one proves to yourself that you are doing it right. We were happy to do that because as it is said, ‘Truth has nothing to hide from inspection.’ There is no shame in finding out you need to tweak something you have done for 20 years when there is a better way to do it.”

Continually credentialing its staff is important to Allstate, which currently has three CTEF Certified Tile Installers (CTIs). Vu was certified in May of 2018. Robert Vasquez and Bill Nguyen were certified in February of 2019.

“We are working with our team to schedule certifying four more before the end of this year,” Sharpe said. “We are proud to include this certification on our proposals and believe – especially in an era where skilled labor is scant around the industry – this is helping our customers and potential customers in their decision-making process about which subcontractor is the best value.”

His company’s work is an ongoing source of pride and joy for Sharpe. “It is a science but it is also an art,” he said. “When you take a project through to completion and get rave reviews from a GC or his customer, there is a lot of satisfaction in that and knowing you didn’t cut corners to get the job or build it – and knowing it will last and your team’s effort is a large part of the reason why. For me personally I felt called to start this business as I was praying about my career.”

See more of Allstate’s work in the February 2019 issue of TileLetter cover story on the University of Houston’s Fertitta Center sports arena.

Allstate projects

Allstate came up with the unique way to lay the restroom wall tile in a pattern that was appealing to the eye yet still achieved the quarter-turn rotation of every three tiles as desired by the architect. Particular attention was given to providing a flat installation to the polished finish large-format tile in the lobby.

Katy Tompkins High School has over 100,000 sq. ft. of tile on it, and – as most schools do – had a tight schedule to work with. Allstate approached this job with utmost efficiency in terms of staging materials and scheduling. Each piece of the 32’ diameter waterjet logo was laid out in a separate location before installing it to make sure it was cut right, then numbered. Each large piece of tile around the logo is trimmed on all four sides in order to provide a clean radial look from the second floor balcony. “There is a reason we have done the last three Katy high schools over the past 10 years,” Sharpe said.

At the Hobby Doubletree, the work Allstate did has stood the test of time. There was a lot of detail to be worked out on the three fountains that incorporated mosaics, thick stone and stack stone. Specific details were needed for waterproofing, level waterfall edge work etc. Allstate also did the granite tops on this project.

The Klein Cain High School project was an over $2,000,000 tile project and included more than 120,000 sf. of tile. Allstate used a combination of in-house employees and subcontractors to get the job done. The project manager, Cecil Zachary of Satterfield & Pontikes, had not worked with Allstate before. Now, because of his experience with Tommy Vu’s attention to detail, Allstate has done four more projects in the last two years with Satterfield & Pontikes.

NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting Offers Education and Connections

NTCA Five-Star Contractors Summer Meeting attendees sharing insights.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the world’s largest tile contractor association, hosted its 2019 NTCA Five-Star Contractor Annual Summer Meeting in Montreal, Canada. The objective of this year’s meeting, hosted by Schluter Systems, was not only to provide valuable education, but also to help the attendees form connections so they would feel comfortable reaching out to one another when advice or support is needed.  

“The NTCA Five-Star Contractor group is grateful to Schluter Systems for their support in this endeavor,” said NTCA Five Star Program Director Amber Fox. “They helped us create a unique experience to connect and to refine and grow our businesses together.” 

The NTCA Five-Star Contractor designation recognizes NTCA members who have demonstrated integrity, professionalism, and craftmanship and has a proven track record of success in tile and stone installation and business management.  

“One of the great benefits of being an NTCA Five-Star Contractor is the custom educational opportunities that come from generous supporters, said Fox. “This meeting creates multiple opportunities for NTCA Five-Star contractor members to come together and work on their business through speakers and from each other.”   

Keynote speaker Mike Moore speaking to NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting attendees.

Keynote speaker Mike Moore speaking to attendees.

Keynote speaker Mike Moore opened the event with a session on how to approach the task of attracting, developing, and retaining inspired motivated employees. Moore’s process will help the NTCA Five-Star Contractors separate themselves from their competitors by creating an organizational culture that delivers a higher quality of work and customer experience. Besides being a professional keynote speaker, Moore is the author of Build Trust and a leadership, sales and peak performance coach. 

While at the meeting, attendees had two opportunities to attend sessions that focused on addressing current challenges they were facing. The first consisted of small peer groups that tackled specific obstacles attendees were experiencing. Attendees benefitted from insights and solutions offered by their group members. The second session was structured as an in-depth roundtable discussion that covered topics attendees had pre-selected via a poll that was distributed before the meeting. The four topics chosen were: 

  1. Growing and improving your labor force 
  2. Customer and employee engagement/communication 
  3. Vendor relationships 
  4. Profitability 

“This year’s attendees returned home with new plans and strategies designed to help them start, manage, and successfully finish their jobs and reinforced connections that will offer them support they need to help their business to continue to be prosperous,” Fox said. 

To learn more about the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program, visit www.tile-assn.com/page/FiveStar 

Creating excellence for Northern California Tile & Stone

Custom logoNorthern California Tile & Stone, with offices in Sacramento, Calif., and Reno, Nevada, has been in business for about 20 years, with a tradition of excellence and high compensation. 

“Like a professional sports team, everyone is highly compensated and expected

Roger Leasure, NCTS President


to perform well,” said Roger Leasure, NCTS President. “It’s not uncommon for the office to be open and people working at 5:30 a.m., or for staff to be answering or sending emails on the weekends. The field operations on jobs are getting things done over weekends because of the size and scope of our jobs. We authorize overtime almost weekly, and the aggressive installers eat it up.”

Northern California Tile & Stone logoThis high-paying company had several tile setters break the six-figure mark on their paychecks in 2018, excluding benefits. “We work to identify our top players and make sure they are happy and content while identifying our bottom players and replacing them,” Leasure added. “We are constantly looking for energetic, well-qualified individuals to add to the team; we like to look at it in terms of building a ‘Super Bowl team’ around here,” he said. 

The company specializes in large, complex, fast-paced commercial projects – mostly mall renovations and expansions, casinos, hotels and resorts, multi-family, government courthouses, spas and high-end commercial workout facilities. NCTS also focuses on thin-brick veneers, thin-panel porcelain, cut-to-fit solid surfaces, and honeycomb slab stone veneers. 

NCTS became a NTCA member five years ago, with a desire to up its game during a period of explosive growth. “We realized we don’t get paid for estimates or how much paper we push,” Leasure explained. “We emphasize that we only get paid by how much tile and stone gets installed on a monthly basis. We use this idea as a mantra inside the company to keep people focused on where we are putting our energies on a daily basis. In that regard I try to put the field workers above other aspects in the company hierarchy because they are your business. If they are not installing a quality product consistently, you are not in business.”

Benefits of NTCA and CTEF

Leasure said The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) are doing a great job of educating owners on the importance of properly training their installers, and of providing the necessary schooling. 

“We saw enough of an impact from the CTEF and NTCA education that we decided to start our own in-house school,” he said. “We tailored our concept based on what we saw in the CTEF courses because one thing is true — when your installers know how to do a quality job and perform well on projects for your clients, your work begins to sell itself.”

In 2018, NCTS joined the ranks of the best of the best, the NTCA Five-Star Contractor community, calling the continuing education that NTCA Five-Star Contractors are privy to, “priceless.” The education offered in Nashville during the 2018 NTCA Five-Star Contractor Summit provided a big boon to business.

“The class ‘How to Put Yourself in a Better Position Contractually’ opened my eyes to how we were leaving beneficial items on the table and not pushing risk off our plate,” Leasure said. “Prior to this class I was resigned to the fact I should just blanket sign every contract a general contractor gave me, and if we performed fast and clean, they would treat us fairly. Since the class I have developed a list of 35 items and clarifications on our proposal that gets incorporated into our contracts as an attachment. We have had great success in crafting beneficial deals, which can take months of negotiation. Although it’s sometimes tough and contentious work, it gives us leverage on the critical items that come up on all jobs like labor rates, change order processing, reasonable billing times on change orders, payment terms, and jobsite scheduling/coordination.”

Leasure added, “It’s easy to get caught up working IN your company instead of ON your company and the time with the NTCA Five-Star team and other business owners allows you to work ON your business. It’s also easy to think you have it all figured out…and that the way you manage your logistics, prep and plan your projects, or even float your decks is the only way. When you talk to other business owners and if you have an open mind you will find they have some slick ideas and tools that you never thought of.”

Increasing excellence

The recently completed renovation of the Cache Creek Spa.

The recently completed renovation of the Cache Creek Spa.

NCTS employs CTEF Certified Installers (CTI) with a goal of identifying 5-10 installers annually, and encouraging them to get certified.  “We started the process a few years ago and we believe that this is a critical part of any tile company that wants to consider themselves as quality,” Leasure said. “This process has benefited our company by setting an example to other installers of what it means to be quality. It sets a standard that others want to aspire to, as long as you focus on weeding out the low performers and adding new blood to the ranks on a yearly basis. Our clients see the quality of expertise and knowledge of the installers. When it comes time to recommend a tile contractor for their high-end or difficult projects, they want you to be that contractor.”

NCTS takes tremendous pride and receives great joy in the art of the finished product. Leasure said, “I just took the wife and kids to dinner at a big casino and was showing them the 1” x 1” glass mosaic, stone counters, and large format floors, with pride. The entire casino was covered in our products. We just finished a large spa in another casino that was highlighted on a local news report. It was fun to see all the emails flying around with links to the story. Everyone gets excited when their work gets recognized, especially when they put in so much hard work in an effort to complete a high-end project with over 30 different types of tile and stone.  

“The fact that we completed a million-dollar scope of work in 35 days and to see the level of quality of the finish product, fills me with pride and confidence that our installers can tackle projects that give the GC and the office staff concern,” he added. “There was a lot of project management and pre-planning before we even started, so we knew we had a challenge with the install on our hands. We love a good challenge!”

Cache Creek Casino Resort Spa

This recently completed renovation of the Cache Creek Casino Resort Spa saw the space expand from 5,000 sq. ft. to over 12,000 sq. ft. NCTS installed over 50 different tiles and stone, including a 12.5 ft. high pink Himalayan salt block wall. Many of the materials had to be shipped from overseas, which was one of the major difficulties.

Cache Creek Spa Cache Creek Spa

Sacramento contractor strikes out on his own after recession; invests in certification

Russell Laird, of A+ Tile & Stone in Sacramento, Calif., (aplustileandstone.thebluebook.com) has made a name for himself in the tiling world, aiming for excellence in his typically commercial, public works projects. 

“Quality is what sets me apart from my competition,” Laird said. “I personally oversee every project and train my employees to do an excellent job so we don’t ever have any patch work or callbacks.” Though his company considers itself a commercial contractor, it applies this same level of quality to residential work for friends and family. 

It wasn’t an easy start. When the recession forced the company Laird was working for to close, he decided to go out on his own. “It was slow going at first,” he explained. “I had to bid very low to land work, but managed to grow each year. Now I am doing large commercial projects for the big reputable contractors like Turner and pricing has bounced back to a respectable level. I hope it stabilizes for a while.”

Laird’s firm foundation allowed him to springboard into his own company in 2010. “I starting doing tile in 1989 for Custom Tile in Oroville where I learned residential (mud work) and some commercial,” he said. “Around 1994 I started working for companies in Sacramento, where I learned larger commercial, which I prefer, and have found my niche today.”

For this pool deck in the San Francisco Bay area, A+ Tile & Stone floated an entire deck that was stamped concrete to make it flat enough to receive large format 12” x 24” tiles. The crews used uncoupling membrane over the entire floor and expansion joints per EJ-171. They finished off with stainless steel edge trim at pool edge and bottom of skirt.

About six years ago, Laird chose to join NTCA, “to be associated with like-minded people who constantly strive to improve and learn. The greatest value from being a member is meeting and learning from other members.”

After three years of association membership, Laird decided to pursue NTCA Five-Star Contractor status. 

“What led me to seek Five-Star is striving to be the best in my field,” Laird explained, adding, “It levels me with union companies as far as some bidding opportunities, and allows me to bid on some commercial projects that I would otherwise be excluded from. It has benefitted my company by allowing me to bid these projects – and I really like including the Five-Star logo on my company shirts.”

Laird is a big believer in the strength of qualified labor, and has made it a goal to get his installers credentialed. “We currently have four installers certified, which is 100% of my full-time installers including myself,” he said. “We all took our test at Surfaces in Vegas, which is about a 10 hour drive for us.” Laird himself is CTI #1091 (See TileLetter’s Qualified Labor story in December 2015, for details), and passed his exam in January, 2015.

“Every year I try to take one person to Surfaces to get certified,” he said. “I took two in 2016, one in 2017 and missed 2018. But I believe I have one ready for this year.”

Being a tile contractor holds many benefits for Laird. “The greatest joy I get from being a tile contractor is I get to pay my bills,” he said.  “Each job is different, so it’s not boring – and I am passing on my knowledge to my two sons so they can take over my company some day when I retire, if they choose. It is also satisfying to see the completed project – which completely transforms the area – and have satisfied customers.”

This lobby at Truckee Public Utility Office features an inlay of Donner Lake with blue tile and river with pebble stone. This remodel had an existing slab that varied 1-1/2“ in elevation, so Laird and his crew ground 1/2” off the high spots and floated everything level to that. They chose this strategy because the elevator was at that elevation and not movable. The floor angled down to the front door to meet that elevation, bending at a grout joint. The contractor employed a tile band saw for some of the radius cuts.


Five Star Contractor Meeting in Nashville

Recently, the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) hosted its Five Star Contractor Summer meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The meeting, sponsored by Daltile, and co-sponsored by Custom Building Products and LATICRETE International, attracted over 100 NTCA Five Star Contractor members and sponsor representatives, and centered on education and networking. The three-day agenda featured a seminar from Ron Meler of RW Meler Consulting, networking opportunities, sponsored programs, and education sessions that focused on contract clauses/risk, scheduling and change order processes.

The last day of the seminar also featured a tour of Daltile’s 1.8-million square-foot manufacturing plant. “It was a great honor to showcase and tour our Dickson tile plant with the elite Five Star members of the NTCA,” said John Cousins, senior vice president, Dal-Tile Corporation. “The NTCA membership feedback was phenomenal, reinforcing the industry support of high-quality and innovative domestic manufacturing for application in both the residential and commercial business. As the industry leader, Daltile is committed to expanding domestic manufacturing, tile and countertops, aligning with and supporting the needs and opportunities of our customers and industry.”

NTCA Five Star Contractors got to tour Dal-Tile’s 1.8 million sq. ft. Dickson, Tenn., manufacturing plant as part of the summer meeting in Nashville.

NTCA’s Five Star Contractor group is composed of dedicated residential and commercial tile contractor professionals that assemble to identify tile contractor challenges, provide best practices, consensus processes and create business opportunities. They work to develop training initiatives and best practices in business and in the field. NTCA members must go through a rigorous application process in order to obtain Five Star Contractor certification. 

“Our application process is based on integrity, professionalism and craftsmanship,” said NTCA Five Star Program Director Amber Fox. “This process only certifies companies that continually invest in themselves and have proven commitment to service, quality, safety and superior job performance.”

If you are a NTCA member and interested in gaining Five Star Contractor certification, contact Five Star Program Director Amber Fox at [email protected]. 

Member Spotlight – June 2018: NTCA appoints Northern California Tile & Stone, Inc. as 2018’s first Five Star Contractor

The NTCA recently announced the acceptance of Northern California Tile & Stone Inc. (NCTS), Sacramento, California, to its Five Star Program.

Founded by president, Roger Leasure, NCTS began in 2009 as a reliable subcontractor specializing in large commercial and industrial tile and stone installations. Leasure​‘s vision was that the catalyst for success was a driven, trustworthy and high-level experienced team, diligently ​working ​on each project regardless of size or scope. Since that time, NCTS has grown to be a major​ ​installer in Northern California and has expanded its services throughout Nevada, as well.

Roger Leasure

In 2014, NCTS set a goal to expand via training and mentoring employees on standards, stewardship and overall ​excellence. In 2016, Leasure put additional training into practice and implemented Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) programs for NCTS installers. CTEF certification is a total ​validation of industry skills and knowledge, offering training and testing essential in promoting industry-recognized proof of each and every installer’s abilities. These programs effectively ensure that NCTS team members are properly trained on quality workmanship, while continually raising the bar on all quality standards.

“Becoming a Five Star Contractor is the culmination of many years of hard work and attention to detail by our team of Project Managers, Superintendents and most importantly our CTIs (Certified Tile Installers),” stated Eric Witcher, Chief of Estimating at NCTS. “Through their dedication, we have positioned ourselves to be recognized by the NTCA with this classification. It is definitely a distinguished badge of honor, reinforcing to clients​ ​just why we are the best contractor
for the job.”

To obtain Five Star Contractor certification, contractors must be members of NTCA in good standing, and complete an application process that includes submitting examples of work, reviews and recommendations from peers and customers. Furthermore, they must demonstrate a proven commitment to service, quality, safety and superior job performance. Five Star Contractors are also required to certify a minimum of 10 % of their installers through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer program or, have completed a three-year apprenticeship program approved by the Department of Labor. 

For more information on the Five Star Contractor program, please contact Amber Fox at [email protected] or phone 619-247-1832.

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