Mutually assured destruction: fight it with product testing, investing in training, and hiring quality installers
Mutually assured destruction. This is a pretty ominous statement, but a very provocative statement as well. Among manufacturers, distributors and installers, in my opinion, we are headed down this road.
It seems every day we are being introduced to new tiles, thin tiles, plank tiles, recycled-content tiles and so on, and it seems that a lot of these tiles have not been tested in real-world applications. Thin tile and its installation does not even have national installation or manufacturing standards yet. Plank tiles are getting longer and longer, and their warpage and lippage tolerances are still based on a manufacturing standard last updated a few years ago. Recycled-content tiles that contain glass, porcelain and other materials have hit the market, and we installers are the guinea pigs on what type of setting and grouting materials we need to use to set these tiles.
In short, new tiles introduced into the marketplace have inadequate testing and the tile setter is trying to learn on the fly how to set these products without problems.
Some distributors are pushing these products out into the marketplace and getting tiles specified even though they do not understand all of the installation issues that need to be solved in order to have a successful installation. These distributors are putting sales numbers in front of success numbers, and this damages the industry. Some of these same distributors are also failing to vet their recommended installers on their qualifications. More than once in discussions with various distributors, the first question to me is “Why are installations so expensive?”
My response is, “I train my people, I certify my installers, I take money out of my bottom line to go to various training courses, both for installation and business. It takes my hard-earned profits to do this.” My other response is a little less political, “Am I not allowed to make money? Is it unfair for me, the installer to make money on the installation as well?” Sometimes I think these distributors forget that we as tile contractors are taking the installation liability on, and we need to be monetarily rewarded for this liability.
As installers, our companies have to do a better job of training our employees. If you sub-contract your installers or if they are paid by the hour, training is the number one priority. In our industry, we have CTEF/Certified Tile Installer certification, Union apprenticeship training and ACT certification. These classes and certifications need to be fully attended and we have to educate our people to install tile properly. The manufacturers and distributors have every right to call installers out when there is a job failure due to poorly trained people – and we tile contractors have to spend money to train our people.
Our industry thinking and the way we do business has to change. Manufacturers need to test their new tiles more effectively and be more open about real-world testing in real-world applications. Distributors need to be more focused on long-term success and need to partner with qualified quality labor. Both manufacturers and distributors need to invest more in the training of installers because without proper installation our industry will NEVER achieve its potential and we will continue to lose dollars and market share to inferior products like VCT, carpet, LVT, polished concrete and so forth. Tile contractors have to invest in their people. Numerous studies have shown that training your employees builds better attitudes and retention. And installation failures need to be reduced drastically.
If we, as an industry, do not change our mindset we will condemn ourselves to a smaller piece of the economic pie.
James Woelfel, NTCA president