The last couple weeks have been very interesting with an extreme upsurge in incoming calls for a range of different tile remodeling projects. Everyone gets a timely call back and the first question, the one that eliminates most prospects, “When would you like this project done?” Invariably, the answer is yesterday!
One call had me thinking and inspired this article. It was from a fellow small business owner who wanted a floor done. She informed me that “All the tile is here and ready.” This is usually a red flag for me. A big part of our success and our countless high-quality finished projects, is that all our customers follow our process. That includes allowing us to handle the acquisition of tile. Believe it or not, tile acquisition is not as simple as just picking it up and bringing it to your house. There’s determining the quality of the tile, is the dye lot consistent, do you have enough extra material, did you measure the space accurately? Our experience has led us to be wary of getting involved in a situation with customer provided material. By wary, I mean, maybe one job a year, that invariably has complications.
So, my antennae were up immediately. This person informed me that “Nobody wants to work, nobody will show up to see the job.” I understand the sentiment, I hear that all the time. So, here comes the big question: “When do you want this done?” The answer was sooner than our traditional 90 day waiting period. That’s fine! We want to do all the tile work in our local area, but the reality is that we are two people, and it’s not physically possible. I said I would send her over a rough estimate, anyway, if she decided she wanted to wait for quality oriented, experienced, trades men. I did that and the response I received back was a bit insulting.
It basically said she didn’t want to wait (fine and expected) and that they usually do background checks on the people that work in their house anyway and “good luck it seems like you need it.”
Of course, I thanked the person and moved on, but that response irked me a bit. Anyone who cares deeply like I do and internalizes events in their life, is going to wonder. It’s a weakness of mine, Jason constantly tells me not to let things like this bother me.
My response was dismissive at the time and I don’t know what this person was thinking or what the intent was behind what they said, but it pushed me to reflect.
For starters, I’ll confidently say, Jason and I likely have the cleanest records and lifestyle--- in all of construction.
Additionally, I want to break down why it pays to wait for the right tile guy.
1. You are more likely to get a craftsman, an artisan.
With a traditional business, when you hear the word “back log” that comes with some negative connotations. “What you guys don’t work fast?” The short answer is no. If you were to hire the top portrait artist in Atlanta to paint you, do you think there would be a wait? Yes, tile is an art form, as well as a functional finish and we are at the top of our trade in our local area. “Well, you should just hire more people, you know, take on an extra guy, train him for 30 days and send him out in the field!” That outlook is boldly naïve because of the skill involved in residential remodeling and what our customers expect from us. Our customers don’t expect a random stranger in their house or a person who hasn’t been properly vetted, over the long term. Many builders will line up a guy on short notice they found online, that is not the type of company we are running. Hiring a tile installer is not like hiring a delivery driver. A delivery driver job, all you need is a license and a background check and you’re in! No experience necessary! No, an artisan craft like tile takes years to train someone up, and there is a huge amount of liability involved.
Sometimes we get stuck in the fast food mindset. We want what we want, when we want it, NOW. I want to be the first to start conditioning Americans to the fact, that as a country, we are in the hottest market in years, good people are working, and if the person you hired for next month is not working, you probably don’t want him in your house. We must change how we do things, labor isn’t sitting around waiting for a phone call, get used to having to plan long term.
Tile is not a commodity, much like the custom portrait I mentioned earlier. It is a luxury. If you are having a custom boat made, you should expect to wait for that. Custom tile is no different.
We know most of the high-end tile installers in our area. Kris Nardone, Alex Bergland, Cain Curtis – All of these guys have a similar wait time as we do. You certainly can hire a bigger company who will send a multitude of anonymous white vans, with unidentifiable men inside to complete your job. You’ll have no idea of their experience and standards, no clue who they are, or where they come from. We sell the opposite of that. We are an owner operated outfit, the guy who’s doing your work owns the company and his name is on your project.
2. You are more likely to get a person with an established reputation.
Having a reputation for quality work is something we protect and cultivate. The idea is to find someone who’s proud of what they do, proud enough to create content and have an extensive presence in the community and online. These people are sought out because they take the risk out of remodeling. You can verify what you’re getting.
Businesses large and small will follow a ‘growth model’ like our economy in general. Business will constantly expand, being able to gobble up more work and make more money. Taking on more people without an established reputation and bringing them into their company that has one. Until those guys, like the guy who sleeps on your neighbor’s couch, starts to destroy that reputation with shoddy work. The possibility of that happening is especially pronounced in the tile business because of the proficiency involved in the work and the high stakes nature of bathroom remodeling.
We do not participate in the ‘growth model’ Not to say we won’t grow, but at this point it’s simply not worth it for us. We are ultimately satisfied with having one crew and doing high caliber work. Long term, we’re looking to keep it small, it’s much easier to control outcomes that way!
3. You are less likely to be ‘shuffled’.
You’ve probably heard of, or you may have experienced, being ‘shuffled’. It’s when a company shows up and starts a job and moves on to another job, before yours is done. We don’t do that. We do one job at a time, every home gets our full attention. It’s first come, first served. If we have 5 jobs and you schedule with me today, you become the 6th job. Being shuffled is possibly the worst thing that can happen during a remodel. Sometimes it’ll happen because the company you hired doesn’t have enough money in your job, and they move to another job to get additional cash flow. More often it will happen because you inform the company that you desire your job be done sooner, and in order to make you happy and book the job, they’ll start your job while doing the other jobs on their schedule. We don’t do that, and a real craftsman is not going to do that. 100% of their passion, focus and energy will go into the project they are on. That’s how it should work. Multiple jobs going at once burns a tile guy out, frazzling his brain. A fatigued tile guy is a careless tile guy and with a permanent finish such as tile, carelessness is catastrophic!
4. You have the necessary time to plan for success.
I know most of the people who pass on using us for their work because of the waiting period, end up waiting anyway. They just end up waiting for someone else who sells the wait more effectively or offers a better price that justifies the wait. I could be more incremental with letting people know about the delay. The truth of the matter is, it takes a lot of time to put all the moving pieces of any bathroom remodel together. The problem I’m seeing, time and time again, homeowners are tearing out their bathrooms without a plan of who is going to put it all back together. DON’T do that!!! It’s a recipe for disaster because you’ve put yourself in a position where you need a person now and it’s an emergency, especially if you have a big family and one bathroom.
Part of the planning involved: Selecting your material. This is something you will live with a long time, so thinking it over for a month may not be a bad idea. Getting mentally prepared for a remodel: there’s a lot of upheaval involved in your day to day, I know for me, change takes a certain state of mind!
Two quotes for you:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
The company you are using for your remodel will also need to plan. In my experience when I take on a short notice job, I don’t have the necessary amount of time to plot and prepare to do a great job. A bathroom remodel is much more than gluing tile to a wall. Don’t just look for someone who’s going to do what you want and show up tomorrow, collaborate with the people you are using and follow their established system for success. You’ll be glad you did.
5. You will appreciate your new tile remodel that much more.
When you are patiently waiting for the right remodeler, keep things positive by contemplating how incredible your new space will be. The comfort and luxury of that new shower, the grandeur of the new back splash, the improvement of the new floor compared to your old.
We somehow tend to value things we wait for much more than things that come to us immediately. We had a recent customer who waited about 12 years to have their bathroom done. It was a failed shower and they just never got around to fixing it. They had other bathrooms, no real rush. We came in and redid the space, we came back about 6 months later to look at something else, and that bathroom looked exactly like the day we left. We have never seen people take care of their bathroom like that. That indicated to me they really value their new space.
Not every person that wants something done in their home is someone we will work for. With the amount of people who want us to do work for them, I’ve come to realize that. We have a very clear vision of who we are and what we do and the people who do value craftsmanship come to love us. I suppose the phone call that was the impetus to this article was just a misunderstanding. I know I put off the impression of being a bigger business than what we really are and that’s the point. I suppose the best question would have been, “Whose job on my schedule do you want me to cancel so we can come and do yours?”
The lesson I learned from the interaction was that I will continue to be honest and transparent and confident in who we are, in regard to our sales. It has worked up to now and if the only people who get upset are the folks we never actually do work for, things are going okay. When the folks we work for are unhappy, we have a problem!
If you’re after reputable, dependable, ethical, conscientious, owner operators to work in your home get on their schedule early. I hope this blog post is a reminder that having to wait for a couple months is not uncommon in the world of artisan tile and it should be seen as a great a thing. You just so happened to run into a company that is desired in the market and I guarantee there is a reason for that!