NTCA member expands outreach on social media with positive family message
Tom Habelt of Habelt Custom Tile in Albany, Ore., has created quite the stir recently with a fast-growing social media group called Dad’s Dinners. Tom is a tile contractor and NTCA member who specializes in custom residential installations. He began his career in 2008, like many people who enter our trade, with very little or no training. After learning how to not do it right, Tom (who exudes energy and enthusiasm), realized he had a passion for the ceramic tile industry and threw himself into learning everything he could about the trade. He opened his own company in 2012.
Owning and operating a tile contracting business is a challenge in and of itself; but Tom is also a father of four young children. After going through a difficult divorce several years ago, Tom was awarded custody of his kids and has to juggle being a single parent along with running his company.
I met Tom several years ago at a trade show and instantly was attracted to his personality and energy. After seeing an increasing response to a Facebook Group called Dad’s Dinners that Tom launched, I joined the group and started observing him interact with people on this platform. More importantly, as a father who helped raised three children of my own, I was mesmerized by the positive interaction he was having with his children while they created family meals together and gave us a glimpse of their home life through social media. I also noticed how others were reacting to his message. I caught up with Tom to see how he is able to manage all that he has going on and to find out what else he has in store for us.
What do you like best about installing tile?
I was exposed to all types of flooring while working for a property management company, and immediately fell in love with tile. And I was good at it too. I am an artistic-type person so I just needed the technical skills and knowledge to go with it. I am now a Certified Tile Installer (#1359) with the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, and I take a lot of pride in that. I specialize now in very high-end, custom residential work. And I love what I do. It allows me to combine my love for art into a rewarding career. How cool is that?
What are you working on now?
I love doing very unique projects. Right now, I have a bathroom using 3D glass tiles with translucent grout that has glitter in the back. I love new technology and I like to interact with my clients to offer suggestions on how we can take their project to the next level.
What do you like best about putting yourself out there on social media?
Even before Dad’s Dinners, I was active on the social media groups for tile installers. As a sole proprietor, I have traveled to other parts of the country and worked with other installers, and I have been able to find people in my area when I’ve needed help through this platform, too. It is great to have a group of people that understand what I go through every day as a tile contractor.
How did the Dad’s Dinners group get started and where is it headed?
I went through a tough time. I was married with four great kids. I had a successful company with a storefront and I wanted to expand. I had the family, the house, the company, and the future looked bright. Life threw me a curveball though, and I went through a divorce in 2018. It really threw me for a loop. I went through deep depression, and the divorce was very difficult. I lost my company and I lost a lot of money, but what did come out of it was I was awarded custody of my children. I couldn’t even burn water, yet alone know how to cook. Having to be a single parent and open a new company has been very life changing. We were eating fast food and going out to eat every night, and it was draining us at all levels. One day, I looked at my kids and I said, “Something has to change.” We were all unhappy. So we started cooking at home. I realized pretty quickly that the bond that was taking place between my children and me was absolutely phenomenal. That’s how this thing got started.
You have a large following on Dad’s Dinners. Where does it go from here?
At first, I was just posting these videos of me and the kids cooking on my personal page. But one day someone added me to a cooking group. I posted my meals in the cooking group, and it went viral. In 10 minutes I had 20,000 likes. That is what led me to Dad’s Dinners. In only five months, I have more than 21,000 followers. Over 500 people are joining every day. The positive energy is awesome. You know what else is really cool about this? People like me who didn’t know how to cook are starting to try these recipes. And I am getting tips from followers on new dishes to cook for my family. My kids are happy and love being a part of this. We are now launching on YouTube and getting a good following there. We cook live every night and that bond sitting down at the table has touched our lives and others. People from all over the world are reaching out to me on this platform. It is really awesome!
How do you manage this new lifestyle of yours?
My kids are 13, 11 and my two youngest are twins and are 9. I don’t really get a chance to sit down very much. I do have to say I get great support from my parents too, and that makes a big difference. But I don’t usually sit down until about 9 p.m. We have established a good routine. It took me some time to develop that, but that really helps. It’s also great that the kids are now able to go back to school instead of having to take classes virtually due to Covid-19.
You mentioned that you went through a difficult time before hitting your stride again. What advice can you give to someone who might be going through a rough patch like you did?
In every situation, I always try to stay positive. Some days, I was like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” But I had friends and family to call to help pull me out of that mindset. Through all of this, I would get up and say, “Take it one day at a time.” But it was hard, because some days I would say, “My life sucks! This is not fun, and I don’t want to do it anymore.” And someone said to me, “Your life is about to get amazing.” I didn’t believe them, but they were absolutely right. Bad stuff happens but it passes with time. Focus on the positive and amazing results can and will happen.
Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association and Publisher of TileLetter. Bettiga is a member of the Board of Governors of Coverings, one the largest tradeshows in North America. He has over 30 years of experience in the tile and stone industry and has served as the NTCA Executive Director since 2002. He is a well known speaker and author on ceramic tile and natural stone distribution and installation. He oversees the financial operations of the NTCA, TileLetter and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.