“Struggling company? Just ask for help!”
Basilica Tile of Virginia, LLC (Harrisonburg, Va.) was born from Riddle Builders, LLC: a small, family- owned, class A residential building company. My wife, Melody, my son, Micah, and I worked to get our company off the ground in 2019. As Riddle Builders, we focused on brick and block masonry, having about 12 years’ experience in that trade. However, as I turned 50 years old, my body demanded that I find a trade that was less rigorous, so, of course, we chose to enter the tile trade!
We started our first tile job in November of 2020. We had been to a few manufacturers’ training events and felt like we could do this work. We finished the job and the customer accepted the work, but doing this project taught us we had a lot to learn.
The first half of 2021, we searched for information on the internet and found some helpful advice. But the more information we gathered, the more questions arose about installations. We discovered that “Coverings 2021” was taking place in Orlando, Fla., in July of 2021, so we went to see what we could learn.
The first morning of Coverings, the first person that we met was Scott Carothers (Director of Certification and Training for Ceramic Tile Education Foundation/CTEF). Scott introduced us to Bart Bettiga and Martin Howard. What struck my wife and me was the fact that these three men – who are well known and key contributors to the NTCA – were willing to talk to and encourage the two of us who were just starting in the trade. My wife and I spoke to numerous NTCA members during the course of Coverings 2021 and we became NTCA members. It has been the best decision that we have made for our company!
The biggest thing that we needed – and still need – was training and coaching on how to do proper tile installations. Returning to Virginia after Coverings, we began writing questions to [email protected]. (If you’re a member and have never used this address, start today!) Scott, Mark Heinlein, Robb Roderick and the other trainers that receive our questions are willing to give us feedback and insights on how to do the best job on the project at hand. Often, we receive multiple emails from the trainers and even phone calls to talk us through what we need to do. This kind of support has been invaluable to our company.
In September of 2021, Micah and I attended the weeklong training that the CTEF offers for tile installers at its facilities in Pendleton, S.C. Learning how to use the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, the lessons on troweling, mortar, grout, shower pan construction and the hands-on aspect of the class pushed us to a level of knowledge and understanding that we could never have learned on our own in the same amount of time. It was another positive reason for us to join the NTCA.
This past April, my wife and I attended Covering 2022 in Las Vegas. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with NTCA members. The funniest part was when people read my name tag, their reaction was, “You’re the one that writes all the questions to Technical!” Yes, I am! And I will continue to do so.
As a new installer, we write many of our questions to the Technical Team BEFORE we do our installation. It saves us from asking how to fix our mistakes AFTER the installation. The beauty of the Technical Team is that they never seem to grow tired of our questions. Each team member continues to tell us, “Keep asking your questions; it is what we are here for!”
Through the NTCA, we have also received help on not just the installation side of the trade, but also on the business side. We have sent business questions (pricing, bidding, estimating, etc.…) to the NTCA’s main office and gotten responses from some of the very best in the trade! We, as a small start-up, have received calls from John Cox (Cox Tile) and Dan Welch (Welch Tile and Marble) who have been willing to coach us through some of the business questions we have had.
Our goal as a company is to become known as the “go to” tile company in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and one of the best in the state. My goal is to eventually earn my Certified Tile Installer (CTI) number, which would set us apart from all others in this part of the state. We are the only NTCA members within an hour’s drive of Harrisonburg.
It has not been easy for us. We know the standards that we want to live by with our installations and it means that we take more time and use different products and methods than other installers in the area. That generally means that we are more expensive, and general contractors don’t like that! So, we miss out on a lot of jobs.
Recently though, we have been encouraged by several different contractors even though we didn’t get the projects. The first mentioned that in his 13 years of building houses, he never knew there was a TCNA Handbook, and the information that we gave him about a huge tile installation was more than he had ever heard! Another contractor said that he does not know of any other tile installer in the area with more technical knowledge than us. It is the fact that we don’t have as much experience as the others that hurts us. But if we already know more than others, we can catch up in our experience level. That is just a matter of time.
In short, we know that we have a long way to go to reach our goal. The key is that we have the support structure to assist us in getting there. The NTCA, TCNA and CTEF are all a huge part of that structure. Our company would have folded by now without the help of these organizations – that is the truth. As it is, we continue to work, and struggle, and to move forward. We are not alone, and that gives us hope. These groups of people are ready and willing to help you and your business also. All you have to do is ask.