Steve Taylor, who joined Custom Building Products in 1990 as a technical director, is retiring after nearly 30 years of service. While at Custom, Taylor played a key role in developing industry-first products, including SimpleMat, Fusion Pro Single Component Grout and AcrylPro Adhesive. He also held roles with organizations responsible for mandating the quality and guidelines for proper ceramic and natural stone tile installation, such as the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Material and Methods Standards Associations (MMSA), and Ceramic Tile Institute of America.
FCI recently chatted with Steve to get his takeaways from his exemplary career and his forward look for the industry.
FCI: What was your most exciting time in R&D or a product development project you are most proud of?
Taylor: When I started we had just started incorporating spray dried polymers into cement mortar. This allowed for water adds only and eliminated the concern with freezing liquid latex. The polymers first developed were not very good for thin set tile installation mortar. Working with the polymer chemists around the world led to polymers developed specifically for tile installation mortars and grouts. This opened up possibilities for installation of tile in areas that we never thought possible, including the widespread acceptance of porcelain tile. Without that progress we would still be wet setting clay body tiles on mortar beds.
FCI: What drew you into chemistry to begin with?
Taylor: Growing up I was very inquisitive about how things worked and liked to experiment with modifications. Chemistry is all around us, from paint and adhesives to even food. Through chemistry, one can experience different results depending on how ingredients are combined; some better than others. I enjoy finding out what happens when we try new things.
FCI: You've done so much work assisting industry organizations in setting performance and environmental standards for the industry. What is some guidance you can offer to others in terms of getting different people on the same page to get to a consensus?
Taylor: Look at the big picture and do not be afraid to compromise if needed. Sometimes we get hung up on a minor detail, when that detail would have less than a 1% impact on the outcome. To move forward it may be best to accept what you can accomplish now, knowing that you can continue to work on improvements, then waiting for a 100% consensus. It is important to listen to what others have to say, we do not know as much as we think.
FCI: What are some of the key strategies people can use to bridge the gap between technical departments/installation and sales/marketing?
Taylor: We are all in this to make money. The people in technical departments need to understand that a new product does not bring revenue until it is marketed and sold. Scientist need precise established goals and sale and marketing teams need to be precise and specific in what their needs are. Just saying “it should stick this to that” is not enough; they also need to know who will install it and how they will install it, what are the targets, and how important are they. Both groups need to work together to determine when the development is far enough along to commercialize. A scientist can continue to improve forever, just as we see with software revisions and new car models.
FCI: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing installation in the next few years?
Taylor: The biggest challenge is finding qualified labor for many areas of construction. We have many fine installation products today that make it much easier to install ceramic tile and keep them competitive with other floor coverings, but we lack the trained installers.
FCI: What do we have to look forward to in the industry?
Taylor: In the past several years we’ve seen new surfacing materials; manufactured quartz, thin porcelain tile, expansion of glass tile types and even more metal tiles. We are going to need new materials to install these. Sand and cement may not be the best options for these and we need to develop new cost effective options for these highly desired materials. Everyone is looking at sustainability and ceramic tile is one of the most durable and lasting coverings available.
FCI: What do you say to young people who want to get into the installation products industry or work as an installer?
Taylor: We need more young people to pursue careers in the sciences; particularly chemistry. Nearly every industry, adhesives, coatings, cosmetics, food, metallurgy, needs chemists. Developing or being part of the development of a new product can be exciting. It is equally gratifying to install ceramic and natural stone tile on a project. Many see it as a job, but it is much more, it is an art. Every tile job is a one of a kind piece of art and the installer is responsible for how it will be viewed for many decades.
FCI: Could you share with us your retirement plans?
Taylor: I am looking forward to time for myself to pursue my photography hobby. I also have 8 grandchildren who I know will keep me busy. I will never leave the industry and will always want to help others and share the knowledge that I have amassed over the 40+ years in the construction industry.