Michael Miller finds satisfaction in start-to-finish project management
Tile Innovations, based in Charlotte, N.C., is owned and operated by Michael Miller, who takes pride and joy in managing primarily residential installation from start to finish. His specialty is bathrooms, and tub-to-shower conversions. “I do everything myself or rely on my network of contractors to keep everything underneath my one company,” he said “Unlike most bathroom renovation companies, I’m able to bring a truly high-end and professional tile installation to the project that you will not typically find with most bathroom renovation companies.”
Miller started his company in his early 20s, but he wasn’t installing ceramic tile – he installed self-adhesive vinyl tiles! After about a year, he took a position as a tile helper with a commercial contractor, making the switch over to ceramic and porcelain tile. “By my mid 30s I was up and running on my own, doing commercial and residential work all over the Charlotte area,” he explained. But he tired of commercial work and made the leap into residential renovation.
Setting commercial tile rarely allowed Miller to see the fully completed project and the “full vision” complete. With residential tile, “from start to finish, I’m capable of being an active participant, and that makes it a lot more mentally and emotionally satisfying,” he said. His company handles the entire bathroom renovation, and outsources the parts he can’t or doesn’t want to do. “That allows me to still have a lot of control over the overall direction of the design, but it also allows me to offer my customer a single contractor to run their entire project without having to go through a general contractor or be worried that they are sacrificing the quality of one or more parts of their project,” he added.
Miller has high praise for NTCA, of which he’s been a member for about two and a half years. He and fellow North Carolinian and NTCA member Matt Welner discussed it a few times. Once he had the opportunity to attend a workshop, he said, “Honestly I was simply impressed by how much effort the organization puts into the educational aspect of our trade. I loved the focus on promoting proper techniques. Even the amount of education I was able to receive from just that one workshop sold me on the usefulness and need for the organization. Personally I think anyone who truly has respect for our industry should be part of this association, because it protects the integrity of what we do by ensuring that we are all providing the highest quality product, and that in turn reinforces our entire industry.”
Of particular value to Miller is the education and ability to network with other industry professionals. “I can’t separate those two things because the education comes not just from the association, but by networking with others in the organization at the same time,” he said. He expects his membership to grow his business, become more profitable and increase the quality of his installations.
“I don’t even know where to start with the number of ways that it has already affected my business,” he added. “It has definitely helped me reorganize my business approach in a way that’s allowing me to be far more profitable. I have learned more in the last few years about the technical end of how to do my trade than I honestly think I did in all the other years that I was doing it.” He said he gains education on every job site by using industry manuals, implementing techniques learned from other members. All this allows him to work, “smarter, safer and faster.”
Miller plans to test his skills against industry-recognized standards by seeking his Certified Tile Installer credentials next year. “I’m confident it will positively affect my business in lots of ways,”
And as other tile contractors have reported, COVID-19 has had a positive effect on his business. Miller already employs a very “stay-out-of-my-work-area” approach to operating his business with dust barriers and keeping the work area isolated, so he didn’t have to make many adjustments to continue working during the pandemic. And since his client base stayed employed and had fewer costs associated with work or travel, they had more disposable income to invest in their homes.
Miller’s enthusiasm for his work centers on “being able to take an idea that’s only in somebody’s head – a glimmer of a vision – and turn it into something that they can physically touch and see and use,” he said. “That’s the magic of what we do! It may seem really dramatic or even romanticized, but what we do literally touches people’s lives day in and day out.”
The client for this large bath was intently focused on the smallest details. Their material selection from the travertine tile on the floor – which required self-leveling 140 sq. ft. – to the subway style shower tile that had an outward bowed curvature all presented many obstacles that tested Miller’s skill level and provided the opportunity to use new techniques and methods, as well as installing a linear drain. In addition, this was the first time Miller’s apprentice worked with travertine and a pebble shower floor – which was all set individually. The shower system itself was completely foam, which is Miller’s go-to system. “I’ve been continually pushing myself the last several years honing the finer details of our trade, so this project definitely gave me the opportunity to test myself,” Miller said. “The client was very, very happy with the outcome.”
Man cave bathroom
This “man cave bathroom” was a particularly fun project for Tile Innovations, which had complete control over the design. The shower floor and bathroom floor both employed an uncoupling membrane with a heated system running off a touchscreen thermostat, which was Miller’s first time using this type of system. Miller converted the bathroom to 6.5″x3″, from the standard 5″x2.5″ shower in the original. Geometric Carrara marble accent walls in the shower made a dramatic statement. For the bathroom floor, Miller chose a very large porcelain wood-look plank tile in blue/gray grains and tones that complemented other materials selections, especially the Live Edge Red Oak vanity tops. The plank’s high gloss reflects all the various light sources in the room. Balancing all the statement pieces so that no one piece overwhelmed the others was a big challenge, as was working with a new range of materials for the first time. The entire project was completed without outside help, other than tying the electrical into the breaker panel for the heated system.