August 30, 2014

Five Star Contractor Spotlight – Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble

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Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble, Inc., based in Burlington, Iowa, is a dedicated, tight-knit, family-style traveling troupe of expert installers that comb the country together for months at a time, installing mall floors in the wee hours of the morning wherever opportunity strikes.

five starThis family business got its start when Walter and Erma Rheinschmidt entered the flooring business in 1935. In 1969 Larry Rheinschmidt, Sr. (son of Erma and Walter) took on the family’s first shopping center project in Iowa. Soon after, his customers were dragging him from state to state to put floors in new malls all over the country.

Today the firm is managed by Larry Rheinschmidt, Jr. along with Darya Rheinschmidt, Robert O. Jones, Jr., and Jeffrey Crowner. With the help of their road warrior staff of 130 people or more, they still travel from state to state putting floors in malls.

Rheinscmidt_famiy_1935One of the most unique aspects of this company is the quality and dedication of its staff. These traits may not be unique in themselves, but considering the demands of a traveling contractor, these characteristics are exceptional.

Rheinschmidt’s average projects are four to six months long. Once the job gets started, most of the crews only visit their home once every six to eight weeks. That puts them on the road for more than 11 months out of the year. It is a life in hotels and away from their friends and families. Not only are they away from home, but in the shopping center world, 90% of the work is renovation work, which is all performed at night. Working from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. means rarely getting to see the light of day.

Even though the work is physically demanding, and the conditions difficult, Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble has assembled one of the most loyal groups of hard-working individuals you could imagine. Several of the employees have been working on Rheinschmidt projects for over 40 years. This really means their home has been more “on the road” than that of their postal address.

At one point, most of the traveling employees were from the company’s home base in Iowa. Since the company started traveling, it has been picking up quality setters and helpers from every state where it works. This crew comes from as far Northwest as the state of Washington, and as far Southeast as Florida.

It takes more than the average setter to want to work nights on the road all year long. Because of that, it has taken years to assemble a traveling family this big. However, the company is still growing, and is always looking for more talented individuals. Not everyone makes the cut. The company is known for its quality, so only above-average setters become traveling members of the team.

Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble is a family business in more ways than one. There are six Rheinschmidt family members currently involved in its operation. In addition to that, several Rheinschmidt employees bring their families on the road. However, in the case of Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble, the term “family business” refers to the fact that the people of the company feel like part of the family, related or not. The road warriors at the heart of this company are a family like no other.

Rheinschmidt Tile and Marble, Inc. is a big believer in participating in the NTCA and being a part of the Five Star Contractor program. This program provides access to a great source of technical information, and the Five Star Contractor group is a great community to learn from. Whenever a Five Star Contractor member poses a question to the group, the answers that come back demonstrate a wide range of knowledge and experience, and a great willingness to help each other succeed.

Rheinschmidt-1Westroads Mall, Omaha, Neb.

The Rheinschmidt team recently finished the Westroads Mall project in Omaha, Neb., consisting of over 120,000 sq. ft. of Italian porcelain tile in a pattern that included 18” x 36”, 24” x 24”, 16” x 24” and 12” x 24” tiles from three different collections. Tiles for the majority of the project have a lappato finish, which has some texture to it with a polished look and feel.

The existing substrate was all double-tee precast concrete, which leaves a potentially moving joint every six feet. The substrate was also far from flat enough to handle large-format tile. After the existing tile was removed, the floor was flattened with a quick-setting, self-leveling underlayment, then the entire floor was covered with a flexible, thin, lightweight, load-bearing, fabric-reinforced “peel-and-stick” crack-isolation membrane to handle any movement inherent in the double-tee construction. The large-format tile was installed with a premium, rapid-setting, non-sag medium-bed / thin-set mortar.

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Business Tip – August 2014

What you can learn from my summer vacation

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By Wally Adamchik, president, 
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

Remember the standard, return-to-school “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” essay from our youth?

wally_adamchikThis summer has given me several lessons that have value for you today.

The story begins with a local police officer knocking on my door at 9:00 one night, asking me about my brother, Billy. Of course, you know what happens next – I find out that Billy died in a motorcycle accident a few hours earlier. He was 57, divorced, with no children. He was a floor layer. Just like you and your team.

First lesson: We are in a business of relationships. Don’t let corporate purchasing and hard-bid tactics make you forget this. While price is part of the purchase consideration, the quality of your work and the relationships you foster with your clients, customers, and co-workers are paramount.

I first realized this as word about Billy spread through the grapevine and I received numerous calls, emails, and cards of condolences from across the country. These were unexpected and much appreciated.

I saw it again at his wake. Having worked his trade in the New York area for over 30 years, my brother was well known. On that Memorial Day weekend, we were visited by many of his associates. Not just tile guys, but the foreman from the laborers, and a superintendent from a general contractor, to name a few. There were guys who had worked with our father in the business – and some even remembered when I had helped out on a few jobs, way back when! Connections between people – that’s what it’s about.

Next lesson: How is your health? Construction is hard work, yeah. But it isn’t a substitute for quality exercise and eating. Billy wasn’t in bad shape, but he wasn’t in good shape, either. He loved to eat; cooking was his hobby. He didn’t exercise. And he had coronary artery disease. In fact, he may have had a health crisis that triggered the crash. We don’t know for sure. But we do know that he was not taking care of himself, and now, he’s gone. Are you taking care of yourself? (If not for yourself, then for those who love you.)

Last lesson: Get your affairs in order. “Divorced with no kids” sounds like an easy estate to deal with, right? Well, it would be if:

  1. There had been a will (there wasn’t);
  2. There had been up-to-date beneficiaries on his life insurance policy (his ex-wife is still listed, although that wasn’t his wish; he just “never got around to” changing beneficiaries even though they’d been divorced for several years), and
  3. All his records had been kept in one place (not even close).

Looking through files and folders is never easy, but having to weed through pay stubs from 1986 makes the process even harder.

I realized that my finances and directives are in a similar state of disorganization. I am currently creating what I call the Red Envelope, where all of that information is being placed to make the process easier for whoever needs to deal with it. We need to do this for the benefit of those around us. If you are a business owner or the head of a household, this becomes even more important.

By now, you may be fed up with my personal ramblings. But remember what my brother did for a living. He was a floor layer. He was just like you and those who work for you. I am hoping you can learn from him so your team is better off.

Ask the Experts – August 2014

SponsoredbyLaticreteQUESTION

I have an Absolute Black Granite triangle shape 20” x 20” – 1-1/4” thick that I would like to mount as a corner seat in my shower. Can this seat be mounted in the wall to handle the weight of a 230- lb. person ? No support under the seat. If that is possible, what is the best way to mount the seat in the wall?

mosaic_asktheexpertsANSWER

Our tile installation company installed hundreds of these. Of course, we were also a fabrication company, and we usually installed slab seats that matched the slab vanity/tub deck in the bath that we also provided.

The installation of these seats was very simple, but there was a trick – we would just cut the tile on both walls to accommodate the thickness of the stone and the length of each leg, but in order to get the end cuts tight enough to look good, the triangle of stone had to be installed at the same time as the tile on the walls (we would also be sure there was good mortar contact between the stone and the wall substrate). This required good, solid spacers in the installation for the joints under the seat.  The soft rubber ones didn’t work well. Once the mortar was cured, we would grout the wall tile, but use sealant (a.k.a. caulking) where the stone met the tile, the same as the inside corners in the shower.

Michael K. Whistler, Presenter/Technical Consultant, NTCA

QUESTION

We understand that curing compounds on a concrete substrate can impact the bond or adhesion of the mortar and cause installation failure. We are familiar with the recommendation to scarify or shot blast the floor to remove these inhibiting substances as well. But we would like to know if there is a manufacturer that offers or recommends a specific curing compound or primer/bonding agent to be used with a specific thinset, with proven results? We have a large customer we do work for and this issue continues to occur so we are looking for information we can provide for them.

ANSWER

Many manufacturers are coming out with primers that are mainly designed for tile-over-tile installations, but can also be used for many other problematic substrates. We keep hoping that a primer will be introduced that will have the capability of being applied to a concrete substrate with curing compounds that would not have to be removed. Unfortunately, we continue to be told by the manufacturers that these primers should not be used for this purpose. At this point in time we know of no primer, mortar or adhesive that is approved for use over a curing compound. What is really needed is for specifiers to understand this situation, so they can clearly point out in the design phase that areas that are to receive ceramic tile should be treated differently by the concrete contractor. Concrete substrates where tile is specified should receive a broom finish and have no curing compounds used that in area. That would make a significant difference and save everyone time and money.

Michael K. Whistler, Presenter/Technical Consultant, NTCA

President’s Letter – August 2014

dan welch imageLabor is a significant portion of a tile project. Employing qualified tile installation crews is the name of the game in 2014. As the economy improves, the stress of having enough qualified tile professionals is weighing on firms not prepared for the shift.

This week our managers met to decide how to prepare for the shortage and what we can do to hire and train new people. Our intention is to push up from the bottom. We will hire new helpers to provide a strong back and eager mind. They will learn the trade using our apprentice class and hands-on work. This process requires an entire shift of the company. The current tile setters need training to be able to manage projects on their own and to make sure the new employees are doing the job needed for the apprentice setters. This also requires more supervision and additional staff to manage the handoff of the project.

So how do you do this? Many of our projects are smaller and require less help – such as residential and small commercial jobs. Our answer to those is to pair a 2-3 year improver with a setter on the small jobs to help push the project and get to the next project sooner. This will give the improver needed training and the setter the leadership skills needed to manage people. Larger projects may be able to use more new helpers, but how do you manage spending time with them when it takes so much time away from the setting task? This is tricky and requires good leadership skills. The supervisor needs to divide the crew up into teams. Each team will have a setter as a leader to provide the management of the new helper.

Some of the pitfalls to this arrangement are communication breakdowns, jobsite failures, added cost of redoing work, additional labor on the job than budgeted, more site visits, and a higher cost of doing business. How can you offset this cost and keep a quality job during this training time? My suggestion is to hire quality people first. If you hire wrong, change them out right away! The cost of training new people is too great to waste on someone that’s not going to work out.

Second, take time to decide who has the skills needed for the market section that you want your employee to learn. For example, terrazzo requires a different skill set than residential tile remodel.

Third, communicate and don’t get frustrated. These people need time to learn. Education costs money but before you know it, you have a crew ready for the next challenge.

Embrace this change. Remember, just a few short months ago we were all wondering what we were going to do with our people and how we were going to survive. This trial is much less challenging and much more exciting too.

Dan Welch
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – August 2014

Lesley psf head shot“In beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities.
In expert’s mind, there are none.”
– Shunryu Suzuki (Suzuki Roshi),
author of Zen Mind, Beginner Mind.

Welcome to the green issue of TileLetter. For several years running now, this issue brings you news of new eco-friendly products, development in sustainable materials, LEED and projects that use environmentally-friendly materials, sourced in planet-friendly ways. And we’ve got plenty of this content in the issue you hold in your hands.

This year, I’d also like to explore another understanding of the word, “green,” as in fresh and new – possibly even naive. How can the concept of “beginner’s mind,” and temporarily putting aside everything you think you know, be a positive practice for your business?

You might ask, “Why, should I – an experienced expert in setting tile and stone – think of myself as a beginner?” Stick with me here.

The idea of beginner’s mind or “shoshin” is not to abandon the wisdom you have gleaned over the years. But it does recommend periodically setting all you know aside, in order to be open to new possibilities, ideas and insights. This is an approach that Steve Jobs regularly used to make quantum leaps in creativity and product development.

In addition to the possibilities the opening quote alludes to, the brilliant Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.” That’s because expert mind keeps running on the same tracks without bringing in fresh ideas, or opening to untried possibilities.

Beginner’s mind observes what is, asks questions, invites in fresh perspectives and novel solutions. It’s not so much about learning as it is about questioning what is to come up with never-before-thought-of solutions. It may all begin with admitting that you don’t know, and being open to what colleagues, employees, spouses or your own intuition might say.

There are a lot of “new” products emerging on the marketplace. For instance, take a look at the Large Thin Porcelain Tile story, Part 2, in this issue. This is a new product that it’s difficult to have expertise about. Can you imagine using the openness of beginner’s mind when encountering these new products and the installation challenges they represent?

But taking a green, fresh attitude when approaching a problem is not limited to new products, technologies or methods coming into the industry. It could just as easily be applied to problems that keep confounding your operations, areas where you get stuck in the tendency to “do what you’ve always done,” or “push through” to a solution.

What might happen if you temporarily “forgot” those approaches and looked at the problem as if you were seeing it for the very first time? For more information about how to invoke beginner’s mind, visit these links:

http://tinyurl.com/6roh5hq
http://tinyurl.com/ov4kyz8
http://riskology.co/beginners-mind/
http://tinyurl.com/lpgu4td
http://tinyurl.com/kyejl3s

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

President’s Letter – July 2014

dan welch imageToday I am in the heat of battle, as many of you are each day. But let’s slow down and talk about documentation. Documentation is the single biggest killer of tile contractors today. It seems that tile work is guilty until proven innocent. We are all trying to provide a service the best way we know how.Documentation is just one more item on the list of things you need to do to insure you keep the profit that is rightfully yours.

In the past we have engaged the general contractor and problem-solved a situation until the team agreed with the final decision about a situation on a project. For example: At a jobsite planning meeting, the need for a control joint to be placed directly over the expansion joint in a floor is discussed.All parties agree with the plan to eliminate potential risks. You move forward and complete the project using the correct specifications for the project. Two months later the control joint decision is questioned and placed on a punch list. You discuss this decision with the parties again, but many have forgotten the original debate and its importance. They focus on the esthetically-displeasing result and they form a different opinion.

It’s a no-win situation for the tile setter. You can offer your reasoning for the decision but the person second guessing is the person writing the check. The end result is an unhappy client and your time and resources tied up on the issue instead of on other profitable work. You, as a tile contractor, are hired for your ability to perform a task in the best way possible and your decisions are now “wrong” to someone with little or no experience. You are holding the bag until a resolution is made.

What are you doing to prevent this from happening to you? I have always used the statement that we would install per industry standards. This does little to help your customer’s vision on how they want their tile to look. The contractor and architect are in charge of this expectation. I believe it is imperative to get all post-bid documents to state “all work to be installed per industry standards in the TCNA Handbook and ANSI A-108. The document may add the following, “in the event an owner expectation is not clearly identified in the tile drawing or scope, a change directive will be issued to meet this expectation.”

Another example to consider: You are working with a construction team with a compressed schedule and the contractor hiring you asks you to perform a task outside of your scope of work to speed up completion. You have no responsibility to perform this task as part of your contract. You perform this task in the heat of battle, using an additional work order to track the job on a time and material basis. Years later the work you performed fails and you are stuck paying for it with little knowledge of the work or why the decision was made to implement this work. The work was not clearly specified in any documentation and the people that made the decision are not standing beside you to help. They can blame it on the schedule and expect you to take one for the team.

Tile contractors are constantly placed in bad situations that can get much worse without documenting or setting expectations prior to starting the work. The heat of battle compounds the issues and the end is always clear when you write the check.

I, for one, am not willing to keep doing this for our customers. We are asked to perform a task within a specification and using manufacturer’s instructions. NEVER perform work outside of these two guidelines. If you are asked to step outside of these very important guidelines, RUN! This is a slippery slope and you will fall down.

I have assembled these questions for your staff to ask when bidding or accepting work.

1. Are drawings and specifications clear enough to order all materials without requesting information?

2. Is the scope of work clearly identified without requesting information?

3. Are the materials selected suitable for the application? Do they meet the specification?

4. Have you provided ALL of the submittals for review and acceptance? Are they accepted?

5. Are all verbal conversations, or changes to scope, spec, or drawings documented and communicated?

This new construction environment is tough to work within when you are always asked to specify or give recommendations with little knowledge of the use or owner expectations. Good luck with your battle – I hope my battle offers you some relief!

Dan Welch
President NTCA
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – July 2014

Lesley psf head shot“In my eyes, every day is a celebration. Our love, business, and family are not a result but a constant reminder why we must celebrate this success we’ve built out of passion.“ – Jermaine, quotevila.com

In business, we often talk about cultivating relationships with customers and vendors, colleagues and coworkers. There is value in being amiably connected to people with whom you repeatedly do business. Friendliness and affability can grease the wheels of commerce and contribute to everyone’s success.

I’d like to posit that there is another reason why cultivating relationships with those you work with is important – because, in a very real way, they are your family. You probably see coworkers, crews and teams at least as often as your blood family members, maybe more. You work on problems together to come to solutions, press on toward common goals, assist and support each other, and then take time to kick back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Much of that is what’s done at home with loved ones, even if the goals differ.

Even those of us who do business in home offices have daily or frequent connection with our coworkers and staffs and regular communication with those in the industry we serve. In my case, with parents who live in New Jersey while I live in New Mexico (here’s a shout out to you, Mom and Dad!), I may see my work “family” more often than my blood family due to the network of meetings, events, conferences and trade shows that tie the tile industry all together.

And some of the businesses in our industry are built on actual familial partnerships – spouses, siblings, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons all working together on a business that’s been passed down through the generations.

How would your business change if you started seriously thinking of those in your business as treasured members of your family? When NTCA president Dan Welch was presented with the NTCA Tile Person of the Year award at Coverings in April, he commented that he considered NTCA family, and said “without the NTCA, we wouldn’t be here; we would be out of business.”

The myth of rugged individualism in our country is being exposed as just that – a myth. We all need each other to survive, and to thrive. Education and training is about people helping each other and sharing their wisdom to help others do better – witness this in the Large Thin Porcelain Tile Update story, part 1 in this issue. Contractors are sharing their experience and knowledge with others to help ensure success with this new product category – even before standards are established. In fact, the whole goal of our association is to educate, support, recognize, celebrate, nurture and negotiate what is best for the industry as a whole – the large family of which we are all a part.

I, for one, am very grateful for this tile industry family that I work with and enjoy – from the NTCA staff that I hold in highest esteem and appreciate for their integrity, energy; skill, vision and commitment to excellence; to fellow trade journalists and publicists that form the media and press corps that populate each event – several of whom have become dear and trusted friends – to the contractors, suppliers, distributors and individuals who all contribute in their own way to this industry we call home.

Did you know we have a family reunion planned? It’s called Total Solutions Plus and it brings the industry together for a chance to learn and visit with each other. Mark it on your calendar October 25-28, at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio, and read more about it in this issue. Be sure to attend. It just wouldn’t be the same without you!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Ask the Experts – July 2014

SponsoredbyLaticreteQUESTION

I’m interested in using mosaic tile on an upcoming project. Do you have any recommendations to ensure a successful job?

ANSWER

There are quite a few very important criteria to ensure long-term success for this project.

Use a mosaic that is rated for exterior use. Porcelain is excellent because it is considered impervious. But almost more important is the mounting method for the mosaic sheets. No paper-mesh, back-mounting should be used. Your course of least risk would be to specify a mosaic that could be used in a submerged application as well as for exteriors.

Work with a mortar manufacturer to come up with the best system to suit your project needs, including possible waterproofing and a mortar suited to your climate’s exterior rigors.

Application of mortar and mosaic sheets must be well done. Mortar should be flat-troweled into substrate, additional mortar applied and notch-troweled in one direction, then notches flattened with flat side of trowel. Apply mosaic sheets to fresh mortar and beat in with beating block. This method gives best coverage, minimizes mortar squeeze-up between tiles and gives a flat, uniform installation.

Expansion joints are vital and must be specified into the project according to EJ-171 in the TCNA Handbook.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA technical consultant

QUESTION

Recently an installer removed tile and installed new tile over the existing mortar/thinset. He said it’s a normal practice, and any tiles that are uneven (in terms of height), are within the industry standard of 1/16”. Does that make sense to you?

ANSWER

I think he is only telling part of the story. There’s no problem installing over old mortar, tile, or thinset as long as it is well-bonded and crack free. That does not change the tolerance which is 1/4” in 10’ with no greater than a 1/16” variation in 12” for tile under 18” and an 1/8” in 10’ with no more than 1/16” in 24”. The 1/16” he is referring to is a lippage allowance. Lippage allowance for installation is the height minus (or plus) the actual warpage. That allowance is 1/16” for grout joints 1/4” or greater and 1/32” for less than 1/4”.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, fee-based consultant responding on behalf of TCNA.

QUESTION

Natural stone was installed as part of a renovation at our home. However, now there are muddy spots that appear to be staining the stone. Can you determine what would be discoloring our beautiful new stone and how it can be fixed or eliminated?

ANSWER

Without making a site visit and undergoing extensive testing (some of which would be destructive to the areas that are stained), I will not be able to give you a definitive answer to what is causing these “muddy spots.”

All natural stone has some risk of minerals leaching and or metal oxidation. Metal oxidation occurs most often with softer stones such as travertine. It is caused by iron oxide that is found naturally in these softer stones and reacts to the oxygen in the air or from exposure to water (which also contains oxygen). When the oxidation occurs, usually a reddish / brown color is produced – sometimes orange colors may appear when there are free minerals mixed with the oxide metals and water is introduced. These colors are looked upon as desirable by many that choose natural stone but sometimes they are not wanted. In those cases, a manmade porcelain tile may be a better choice, especially when installed in a wet area.

For more information, check with the consultants listed on our website, since these professional do make site visits and can determine causes and possible prevention measures. Visit https://tile-assn.com/Member/RecognizedConsultants.aspx?mid=125 to view a list of consultants.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA technical consultant

Business Tip – July 2014

mapei_sponsorThree common business screw ups

GoldmanBy Jon Goldman, CEO Brand Launcher

From TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to America’s Funniest Videos, everybody seems to enjoy laughing at people’s screw ups. And at baseball games, all eyes are glued to the giant screens to watch the funny mistakes the players make. But it isn’t so funny when it happens in our businesses, where the mistakes are both embarrassing and costly. But many of tomorrow’s mistakes have been made before. You can learn from the past and avoid making these Big Three business mistakes.

1. No sense of urgency

I grew up sending letters in the mail and waiting a week for a response. But Gen Y grew up with instant chat and texting. They get annoyed sitting in an airplane going 500 mph, and their broadband connection is too slow. This means the bar has been raised for all of us, and you and your team had better respond to prospects fast.

I know of one business that lost $120,000 worth of revenue because it made a potential customer wait a few weeks to get a price quote. In today’s environment, if you don’t respond quickly, other companies will eat you for lunch.

2. Lack of transparency

Do you hold your cards too close to the vest? One business owner I know was so reticent about sharing information that he lost the trust of his key personnel. We’re living in a transparent world, and by holding back, you create a veil of secrecy. This works well at magic shows, but not in the business world.

I want to share a radical idea with you. It’s called “Open-Book Management.”

“What? Open up our financials so our employees can see how much we’re making? If they see how much profit we make, they’ll demand more money.”

I have yet to find a company that was harmed by taking the bold move to open up their books. No, you don’t have to divulge everything, but you should let your key players in on your overall financial situation and your vision for the company. You want them to feel a sense of ownership within your business.

3. Hiring too quickly

Growing companies need to hire new personnel. But often they choose the easiest people to find, rather than the best people for the job. Ultimately, they have to fire them or they remain stuck with staff who doesn’t get the job done.

Sure, you want to build quickly. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford to hire the best people. But you can’t afford not to. If you hire wrong, you’ll end up spending time and money training, only to have to hire and train again.

Screw-ups: we all make them

In some of the businesses that I have owned, we made these mistakes. I wish I had learned from someone else’s mistakes then, so I didn’t have to spend much time straightening them out. Now when someone tells me about having a sense of urgency, being transparent, or hiring the right people, I pay attention. I hope you will, too.

Jon is the author of two works on business and marketing topics, including one that has been translated into Japanese. He is a powerful speaker who was a popular presenter at the 2014 Coverings show in April. Get a FREE copy of his latest e-book, Vendor-to-Expert, at www.VendortoExpert.com.

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