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Attracting young artisans to the craft of tile

In our March issue, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviewed Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Grafton, Wis., and Joshua Nordstrom from Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska, for his One-to-One story. 

Amidst all the wisdom shared by these stellar artisans was some advice on recruiting young people into the trade, and how to emphasize the artistic aspects of tile setting to attract creative young people interested in making enduring art with their work. Here are Callewaert’s and Nordstrom’s suggestions and observations. – Lesley Goddin, Editor

Bettiga: What advice would you give to small business owners on how to recruit young people into the trade and encourage them to come work for them? On that same note, you are both artists. How can we reach out to people with an artistic background to make them aware of the opportunities in our industry and what tools should we develop to tell that story?

Callewaert: I think it’s about your mindset. I think of our trade as an artisan craft and project that in my work and in my discussions with customers, suppliers, trade partners, fellow installers, and potential employees. We need to lose the “Tile Guy” perception/image and regain the historic reputation as artisans and craftspeople. The more we project the professionalism of our craft and its place as an artisan trade, the more we will attract young workers. And I see every well-executed and detail-oriented installation as “art.” It doesn’t need to be the large artistic mosaic or cut stone features. I teach my apprentices the importance of every detail and the visual impact it has on any installation. 

When we talk about the skills and attributes we are looking for in an employee, artistic sensibility and background are always highlighted as preferred. Young people don’t just want “work.” They want to feel like they are part of something important and stimulating. Our employees have come to us through various channels but usually because they have heard about the quality of our work and that we do “cool stuff.” One simply responded to an ad after browsing our website. He has artistic skills and was drawn to that aspect of our work. Another heard about us from a trade partner we have worked with. She started her college career in art studies but wasn’t sure where she wanted to take that. This trade partner recognized a potential fit, sent her to our website, and introduced her to us. But in all cases, none were just looking for a “job.” They were attracted because of our reputation and the artistic nature of our work, and yes, the “cool factor.” 

Maybe we need a campaign to “Make Tile Work Cool Again?” We will be adding this hashtag to our social media posts: #youngartisticskillsneededinthetrades!

We should continue to reach out to high schools, trade schools, art schools, and other organizations where young people are considering their career options. Maybe there could be a presentation template that any of us could use to present to these audiences. Maybe some tips on how to approach them. Incentivizing our younger employees to conduct these orientations or work the job fairs is one idea. They are fresh and new and can relate to the audience. It’s the time and organization that might make this more difficult. 

Nordstrom: I have little advice to offer of how small businesses can recruit young people into the trade to come and work for them. I can say with the qualified knowledge of being a tile installer, this is a trade that can be taken with you wherever you choose to be in life and not have a problem finding work. You can make as much or even more in some cases than your college-bound friends, have the freedom of choosing your own schedule, who to work for, and not have the burden of paying off a college loan. 

With or without an artistic background, there are ample opportunities for every job to add something creative. I find that people are always willing to pay a little extra for something that they might not know exists especially if you can make it personal to them and their tastes. We all work every day with a broad palette of textures and colors. You can experiment with a variety of colors or just stay with one and accentuate the grout lines for a tone-on-tone effect. You need to be willing to step out of the square grid of grout lines to push your limits and challenge yourself. 

It’s also useful to be observant of current trends and colors, what kinds of things your client seems to collect or be into, their color schemes, and be aware of what the water-jet guys are producing. People will pay more for something that they can have a part of creating, knowing that it was hand made by an artist. If you are capable of cutting a radius, then the sky is the limit. I found myself starting out cutting stained glass designs. These come already patterned out and just need to be blown up to size. They come in many different varieties. 

Adding artistry into the skill set of being a tile setter will set you apart from your competitors and further your chances of being a successful tile contractor.

6 Questions for Evaluating Your Leadership and Achieving Your Mission

Many years ago, I regularly met up with a group of friends at a local breakfast joint for coffee. It was a bonding ritual for our bunch of diverse, young, high-achieving business types to relax and debrief. Whoever was in town would show up at our usual table, where we would discuss our successes and failures, new interests, and heartbreaks. We offered advice, stories, and, most of all, a safe place to be with a like-minded group of professionals. We bonded over earthy, soothing, and fragrant coffee that smelled like chocolate and promise. 

As much as I enjoyed it, our meetup for coffee was wrecking the one day of the week I had to catch up on my personal to-do list. The coffee caused me to speed up momentarily but crash later, leaving me with little energy to do much of anything. My stomach churned and my nerves were on edge. 

While this time was sacred to me, I had to reevaluate the coffee meetup to get back on track in my personal life. I realized I had to stop drinking coffee to maintain my energy and keep me at my best. The gathering was not about coffee anyway; it was about camaraderie and mutual support.

This is an example of how evaluation serves a critical role in even the simplest parts of our lives. As leaders, evaluation should be a major player in everything you do. Now more than ever, it is strategic to do an assessment of your organization’s, and your own, leadership skills, effectiveness, and style. When you have a full overview of the assets and opportunities for growth for you and your organization, you will be able to lead with clarity, confidence, and commitment. 

There are a few steps to accessing the data for you to be more effective and aligned with your goals. Take some time to review each point listed below. Ask the questions, collate the answers, and use them to advise both your strategic planning and your professional and personal development. 

1. Are your goals helping you achieve your mission? Before any goal is adopted, it should align with the organization’s mission and purpose. Review your goals — what purpose do they serve in accomplishing the mission for you or the organization? If it is a personal goal, have you determined your life purpose, and will this goal align with accomplishing it? Determine first the goal’s coherence with the overall mission before proceeding. 

2. Are your organizational goals clear, well-communicated, and actionable? Are all relevant parties aware, coordinated, and bought into the goals? Are the goals structured so that people know how they relate to their work and how it contributes to the mission?

3. Have you surveyed and gathered input from all pertinent sources, internal and external? In any evaluation, it is important to seek feedback from everyone involved. Each group or individual may have a different perspective, and with the full picture, you can proceed with confidence. Make these assessments a regular process. 

4. Establish an honest evaluation of the culture, systems, and operations of the organization and your leadership. Evaluations are only as good as the accuracy of the data. Ensure that the survey/analysis is done with confidentiality and as minimal bias as possible. If this is your personal evaluation, exercise the same caution, and care in the exercise.

5. How are you applying what you learned to improve your leadership style, strategy, and relationships? The actual applied use of the data to improve soft skills and practical operation is how the gathered information becomes meaningful. This is crucial to not only the organization’s success but also for ongoing credibility, morale, and ability to conduct further evaluations. This same concept applies if this is your personal evaluation, you will only be encouraged to make evaluations a routine procedure if you experience results from previous ones.

6. Upon review of the evaluation, are you comfortable and happy with where you are and where you are going? One key benefit of an evaluation is that you are able to assess your current career and life path. Use this valuable exercise to reappraise what the process showed you. Do you need to adjust your strategy and/or course? Your personal leadership style? Do you need additional training? 

Stepping back to do an overall analysis is very helpful in clarifying the assumptions, basis of operation, and the direction. A clear understanding of the many facets of the business, culture, strategic, financial, marketing, sales, operations, personnel, and customer and community relations will empower and guide everyone involved to work in alignment and harmony enthusiastically.

With proper evaluation, planning, and application of what you’ve learned, you will grow as a leader to better lead the team and your organization to greater success with improved morale and positive community impact.

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. 

Who will replace China – and what will be the damage of COVID-19?

The imposition of countervailing and antidumping duties on Chinese tiles

On May 4, the U.S. International Trade Commission confirmed that Chinese exports of ceramic tile are causing injury to U.S. ceramic tile manufacturers. As a result of this decision, U.S. Customs offices were to begin collecting tariffs ranging from 562.52% to 689.5% for countervailing and antidumping duties. 

In effect, we can expect that U.S. Customs will not collect tariffs from Chinese tile imports because with such high tariffs no importer will consider buying ceramic tiles from China.

In 2018, tile imports from China to the United States were about 690 million square feet, 31.5% of total imports (2,197 million square feet). In June 2019 the U.S. Department of Commerce announced preliminary duties on Chinese tile imports, and by October 2019 such imports were down almost to nothing. As a result of these actions in 2019, tile imports from China were 434 million square feet, 37% less than in 2018. Chinese imports made up 21.2% of total U.S. tile imports by volume in 2019. This was down from 31.5% in 2018, and represented China’s lowest share of U.S. imports since 2008, as shown in the chart on the previous page, produced by Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

Prior to COVID-19 – projecting tile consumption in the U.S. in 2020 at the same level as in 2019 – we expected that the exit of Chinese tile imports from the American market would generate a supply shortage of about 690 million square feet of tiles.

U.S. shipments vs. imports

About 30% of tiles entering distribution channels in the United States are shipped by local factories, while 70% are imported, according to the U.S Consumption of Ceramic Tile chart, compiled by TCNA, below.

In 2019, U.S. manufacturers operated at about 75%-80% capacity, supplying 864 million square feet of tiles to the American market. We expected that working at full capacity these factories would have been able to ship an additional 275 million square feet of tiles, leaving a shortage in the market of 415 million square feet. Such a large amount of tiles would have to be replaced by imports.

In the United States, there are over 600 companies that import tiles. As a result of the tariffs on Chinese tiles, many importers who bought in China began increasing their imports from countries that already sell large quantities of tile to the United States, such as Spain, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. The largest importers from China began looking for tile among low-price countries such as India, Taiwan and Malaysia with the potential of making up the shortage of tiles in the U.S.

Due to the fact that finding foreign suppliers with the right products takes time, prior to COVID-19, we expected shortages of supplies, price increases, and loss of market share to competing flooring products such as LVT, which is not affected by tariffs and quite popular among consumers. 

The effect of COVID-19

COVID-19 destroyed all previous projections. Both new residential housing construction and residential remodeling are in sharp decline. In normal times, about two-thirds of ceramic tile shipments are directed to these two sectors of the tile market. In the first quarter of 2020, due to the lack of imports from China, imports of ceramic tile were 422 million square feet, almost 15% lower than in the first quarter of 2019 (496 million square feet). This was before the impact of COVID-19. 

In 2020, the effect of COVID-19 may reduce the demand of ceramic tile by over 30%, leaving many importers and distributors with large quantities of unsold tiles in stock. Many will try to sell at discounted prices. Hopefully, construction will fully resume in most states in remaining quarters of 2020, but the damage to the economy will be felt in 2021. 

At this time, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we will have to wait until the present emergency ends to be able to have a clearer view of the market. 

How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

7 Leadership tools to inspire and supervise a remote and local team

Globally, over 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to International Workplace Group, IWG. In the US, 40% of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). The current coronavirus contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same — you as the leader.

Ultimately people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will be more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are 7 tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team need to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.

2. Maintain regular virtual face to face communication. There is no substitute for face to face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel that they are part of a team. Virtual face to face meetings provides the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is that they minimize the multi-tasking and reduced attention that may occur in a non-visual event.

3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them, and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring, they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom, and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.

4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.

5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member come to the meetings prepared so that the meetings are time and productively effective.

6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded mail.

7. Show them that you care. Everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and of course you, as their manager/leader. Have regular touch base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one to one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and the future. Happy telecommuting!

Virtual meeting tools, prompted by shelter-in-place rulings, become the future norm for business interaction

As part of their normal business practices, commercial contractors are required to attend weekly status meetings, contract reviews, change orders, etc., but with the advent of COVID-19, an increasing number are now going to the airwaves, so to speak, to communicate with their colleagues and employees. 

What aspects of this video meeting process can be carried forward into the future, after the pandemic is over? In what ways are contracting and industry executives currently using video conferencing and online connection services such as Zoom, BombBomb, GoToMeeting, Google and Microsoft 365 Teams, and what are their thoughts on utilizing these services moving forward?

Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems

According to Shannon Huffstickler, social media community liaison, Schluter Systems, using video conferencing (VC) has currently become a key part of doing business. “I typically communicate with our customers in the online forums or private messages, but with everyone feeling a little isolated currently, I’ve been using VC to create a space where we can have an intimate, live interaction that allows for an even more connected feeling than usual.”

Before the current situation, Huffstickler noted, virtual meetings were usually one-on-one. “I haven’t had need to do much beyond a video call with a single customer in the past, although Schluter has always used VC for internal meetings where face-to-face is not efficient or practical.”

The advantages, she noted, include the aforementioned intimate interaction, which is more productive because the conversation occurs efficiently in real time rather than awaiting return replies. “The disadvantages: not all customers understand or can use the technology easily,” she said. “Also, many are uncomfortable being on camera and don’t participate freely as a result.”

Christopher Walker David Allen Company

Christopher Walker, Vice President, Northeast Region, David Allen Co., and current NTCA President, has said his company has relied on Microsoft Teams as its go-to for intra-company meetings, “This service was always available to us but it has found a new and increased following,” he said. “I’m conducting some phone interviews this week to eliminate exposure or people coming into our ‘closed’ environments. I’ve asked the potential candidates to download the Teams App on their devices.”

Like Huffstickler, Walker did not rely heavily on these types of services in the past. “I would traditionally use conference calls or short person-to-person contact,” he explained. “Now we have people from the same location conferencing from their office most significantly so that we can share screens and update/present information to the group without violating the social distancing standard.”

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile

At Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., the company has adopted Google Duo to communicate as a company. Martin Brookes, founder and president, has been attending many webinars regarding the Paycheck Protection Program and felt that they have given, for the most part, “sufficient information to guide me through the process.” 

He noted he recently attended an NTCA webinar that had record attendance. “I see this continuing for the foreseeable future,” he said. “This is good news in the uncertain times we are living in. Social distancing has its challenges and people are just looking for ways to keep social given that their regular channels have broken down. It’s important for mental health to do this and feel connected to a community of some kind. I believe NTCA provided this. I posted a video in the NTCA Members Only Facebook group when the PPP was released and pointed members toward the paperwork to try to fill out as quickly as possible.”

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Dan Welch, CEO, Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., said the company has been using Zoom for over two years with consultants from out of the country, while BombBomb is new to the firm. “We’ve had it for two weeks and we’re just starting to get the hang of it,” he said. “I have been using Microsoft to finalize our apprenticeship program for six months. All work well and take some time to get used to, and all are being used at a larger level after the COVID-19 outbreak. Zoom and Microsoft are great to record the meeting and make notes when the meeting is over. Both are much better forms of communication because you can see the body language.”

As for the future, Brookes believes we are entering into a new era of how we do work and business, as the “situation has forced us into being creative and making use of tools that we hadn’t adopted previously. Because we are creatures of habit, I believe we will continue to use these tools in one form or another moving forward.

“I’ve come to realize that I can be more productive on my office side of the business and fewer site visits are required when using services such as Google Duo, which is also a free service,” he added. “The roll out of 5G will make these services much faster and will be a game changer, in my opinion. Once quantum computing becomes mainstream, I think we all will be conducting business differently than we have in the past. This COVID-19 situation has forced us into this way of doing business rather than it being a natural progression of technology.”

Christi Williams, demand generation manager, Managed Solution, noted, “As a Microsoft partner, we have been using Teams at our organization for quite some time. The difference now is people are using video more than they used to. Teams has been great, especially for company-wide communication and information sharing. With email, it can get buried or overwhelming. Teams makes it easy for us to share updates, announcements, files, and more.”

Moving forward, she noted, the company has employees at different sites, plus it works with many people outside of the organization, so video conferencing is a great way to stay connected. “Many were not using video on calls previously, but I think this isolation is pushing people a bit out of their comfort zone,” she added. “I hope to continue seeing more people and companies utilize it, especially those that have multiple headquarters or employees partially remote.”

Schluter’s Huffstickler also sees a future that features increased video conferencing. “I fully expect that this format will continue to be the norm in the future,” she concluded. “I presume that remote work – and even shared office meetings – will be conducted on a regular basis in this format.”

Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems, uses VC to stay connected with colleagues and contacts during social distancing restrictions. 

Turning Negative Emotions and Thoughts into Positive Actions

Millions of people out of work.  Family members concerned for loved ones, especially those vulnerable or at risk to COVID-19. Employees fearful of working with co-workers in close proximity of each other, for obvious reasons.  

It is no wonder that an alarming number of people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and even in extreme cases, are suffering from depression.  There is so much negative energy circulating that you just simply can’t avoid it.  

As NTCA Executive Director, I have been on the phone with many members and peers. We all have tried to support each other in different ways. At first, I tried to tell myself that I mustn’t let people see how this situation was affecting me personally and professionally.  But as time has progressed, and more people have been transparent with me and opened up and shared with me how they are really doing, I began to feel it was okay to do the same.  

I have to admit that the situation has at times gotten under my skin. You just flat out get tired from the negative commercials, social media, phone calls, etc. Business starts to become affected. The money dries up. The first thought is that you just want to curl up in a ball, put your hands over your ears, and simply pretend that this stuff is just simply not happening.  

I tried it. It doesn’t work.  

So I started trying to find sources of positive mindsets. People who weren’t surviving in these times, but actually thriving in this environment.  

One video podcast I watched really rang true with me. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative. In fact, stress can be positive. I think about times I played sports when I was young, or when I had to prepare for a large presentation in a big crowd, etc. These were stressful times, but overall they became positive experiences. This has helped me to realize that these times can be the same.  

For instance, I joined some peer groups of other association leaders in both the construction industry and outside it  This was extremely helpful because I gained some empathy and also was able to feed off of their enthusiasm and energy.  

My goal is to turn this negative energy around immediately.  I want to use this time where I am not traveling and really assess changes that need to take place in both my personal and professional life. I want to to instill this energy into those that I work with and interact with. I am excited about it and admittedly a little fearful too. But fear can be a motivating factor, if you channel this the right way.  

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on many of these initiatives.  

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 ti[email protected] or phone 831.588.0417

Other options besides PPP for small businesses

Whether or not a tile or flooring retailer, contractor, or installer was able to secure a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan, they are likely to need additional financial support. Even a PPP loan covers only 8 weeks of payroll and part of a business’s other expenses. There are a variety of other options including Small Business Act (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), SBA Emergency EIDL grants, and the SBA Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program. In addition, states and local cities and counties are offering a variety of loan and grant programs. To check out whether there are programs in you location, go to https://www.zenefits.com/workest/the-big-list-of-covid-19-financial-assistance-programs-for-small-businesses-by-state/.

The Federal Reserve recently announced another option for businesses; its highly anticipated Main Street Lending Program (Program). This Program is designed to facilitate credit to small and mid-sized businesses that were in good financial standing before the COVID-19 crisis. The Program offers 4-year loans to companies employing up to 10,000 workers or with revenues of less than $2.5 billion. Principal and interest payments on these loans will be deferred for one year. Firms that have taken advantage of the PPP are also eligible to take out Main Street loans.

Businesses seeking loans under either facility must commit to, among other things:

  • Make reasonable efforts to maintain payroll and retain workers.
  • Follow compensation, stock repurchase, and dividend restrictions that apply to direct loan programs under the CARES Act.
  • Not seek to cancel or reduce any of its outstanding lines of credit with the lender, or any lender.

Eligible banks may originate new Main Street loans or use Main Street loans to increase the size of existing loans to businesses.

With the rapid pace at which laws, rules and orders are being issued, NTCA is working with other associations to keep members informed and updated regarding their opportunities and obligations during the COVID-19 crisis. The association will also continue to provide important information that may impact members.  Go to the website at www.tile-assn.com for the most up to date information on the COVID-19 crisis. 

Notice: The information contained in this article is abridged from legislation, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion,and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel. 

Do your people know the play? Practice the daily huddle to align your team

It works for (insert your favorite quarterback here) and it can work for you, too. It is, perhaps, one of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal, and takes just a few minutes to execute. But it is rarely used. You should start doing it tomorrow. If you are already doing it, you should work to make it better. What is it? A daily huddle.

You need to tell your people things they need to know to do their job. They want to hear those things. Contrary to popular belief, there are employees at all levels and all ages who want to do a good job. Many of those who are disengaged feel that way because the boss is not communicating with them.

The daily huddle is a fine solution. And it can work in any industry. The concept is simple. Before the workday starts, you gather your team to deliver key information to align them for the day. Are there any special events/visitors/incentives? How about a key training or safety tip? Perhaps you will talk about production or sales targets for the day. All this information gives them direction and helps them to be more productive. You also might toss in some feedback about how things went yesterday. (While this is not a time to single out poor performers, you may highlight some wins from the day before.)

Make sure to ask for input and questions. If the huddle is a new concept for your team, people will be reluctant to share anything initially. But, over time they will see you are serious about the huddle and will work with you to make it better. I have seen, and participated in, huddles that were also a stretch-and-flex period to increase safety awareness and to warm up cool muscles before starting physical labor. It sends a strong message that the company is serious about safety when the boss joins in the huddle and the flex when he is visiting. I have also seen bosses blow off that part – and that sends a message, too! Communication is one of the keys to success in just about any endeavor. I have never conducted an employee satisfaction survey for a client in which the results indicated there was too much communication. In fact, over 85% of my surveys have indicated that communication from management is in need of drastic improvement. The huddle is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to fix a major problem.

Why it works

Let’s look at why it works. First, it is personal. No texting or email is involved. This is direct, eye-to-eye contact – still the most compelling form of communication we have. When we look someone in the eye we know we have their attention and we can see them understand our message. Also, engaging in eye contact shows people they are important, that you want to communicate with them. It conveys the message that you trust them enough to share this information with them. When you ask for their input, you are literally saying, “I want to hear what you have to say. I am interested in you and the value you contribute to our team.”

It comes down to trust and respect. And it educates and aligns people on key business issues. They feel like they are part of the team and they operate from a “we,” not a “they,” perspective. When I interview an employee and he speaks of his firm in terms of “they do… they say,” it makes me cringe. It is as if the employee does not actually consider himself part of the company, but rather some visitor who has little stake and even less affiliation or sense of camaraderie. Keeping people informed is your job. Setting direction is one of the primary roles of a leader. In the case of the huddle, the direction is short-term. We are not communicating the strategic plan of the company; we‘re merely stating the goals of the day.

What‘s the payoff? You get employees who are more motivated and educated to do the job. Does it always work? No, not every single employee may respond to the huddle – but most will. I can guarantee though that starting the day without a huddle insures a workforce that is uninformed and de-motivated. And not even the worst quarterback in the league would attempt that..

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