Tile Apprentice Helps Change the Game

Words have a lot more power than people imagine. On a chilly morning at a project site in a typical suburban home, the owner of a tile installation company and the lead installer told me a story that demonstrated how seemingly unremarkable discussions can, in hindsight, prove to be catalysts for big, important changes.

Dude, you've got to let my boss in your groups.

The lead installer first started in the tile industry with this company about a decade prior. As a curious apprentice, he joined online tile groups on social media.

The owner had tried to join these groups, as well, but his settings were so private that admins were suspicious. He recalls listening to the team engage in discussions prompted by group posts. “They’d come in like, ‘Oh, yeah. Did you see Jason [McDaniel, Global Tile Posse] had this big competition…?’ and I’d be listening to them talk about it,” the owner said.

Some of the apprentice’s favorite posts were those asking, “What’s wrong with this installation?” He liked to read through all the comments to try to make heads or tails of what the right way to install really was.

The apprentice said that when he and the owner and other installers finished projects, they always looked incredible, but he suspected that maybe there was more that they needed to know.

Since the apprentice and owner had a great working relationship, the apprentice felt comfortable to scrutinize their installation methods. He asked pointed questions like, “Do you know the purpose of this directional troweling thing?” and offered suggestions about product selection like, “Hey, this thinset might actually be faster…”

At the time, the apprentice thought of himself as “just a helper,” yet noted that the owner was always receptive to such discussion.

Eventually, the apprentice contacted group administrators and said, “Dude, you’ve got to let my boss in your groups.”

The owner explained that joining the tile groups helped him see the tile industry in a broader context. He said, “That’s when I started seeing things.” He quickly realized he needed to take the next logical step to make the right connections and get sound industry information.

We just didn't know better.

The owner joined the National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA), a widely respected, nonprofit trade association.

The apprentice described a light-bulb moment when he and the owner agreed they should strive to meticulously apply industry standards and guidelines every step of the way on every project. As they did, they were often relieved to discover how much they were doing right all along, but also humbled, at times, when they recognized certain mistakes.

“So, when we actually began,” the owner recounted, “we were spot bonding. We just didn’t know better.”

As I listened to their transformative story, I was surprised at the candor of the owner and lead installer. They must have sensed this in my expression, because the lead installer added, “They always say change is good, right?”

Through the NTCA, the owner learned about the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), a nonprofit educational institution that is best known for its Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program. “I took my CTI test and definitely evolved from there,” the owner said. The owner met other industry leaders in his market area who were NTCA members, and there have been many exciting opportunities for collaboration and new developments since.

you're not just another notch in the trowel.

The point here is that the universe presents opportunities to each one of us, at just the right time, to speak up or really listen. When this happens, will you find your voice, like the apprentice? Will you foster a collaborative, solution-oriented vibe like the owner, so that when someone brings a message that may be hard to hear, it all works out for the best?

Remember, your experience in this industry is inherently unique. You’re not just another notch in the trowel. In the tile and stone industry, there are beekeepers, drummers, marathon runners, cat whisperers, orphans, photographers, surfers, mothers, sci-fi nerds, wine snobs, poets, and amateur astronomers. From the day-to-day minutia to how you view overarching concepts and plans, no one perceives and understands things in exactly the same way as you. 

Regardless of professional titles or roles, finding meaning and value (not just monetary value) in our work and in our lives as they relate to our work requires purposeful communication. Pivotal developments in your company may one day be traced back to a handful of such conversations.

Pull up a chair and join the conversation — or start a new one. Give voice to questions and suggestions and pay attention when others do the same. Let’s figure out how we can help each other make progress, reach larger goals, and ensure that everyone involved benefits from collective efforts.

By Alice Dean, Writer, Video Editor, and Content Manager

I help tile installers and other trades contractors to be seen, heard, and understood by creating marketing content that attracts and educates target audiences and sells services.