Technology and the Tile Industry

This month, we received two intriguing and provocative letters from readers. The first one in from tile contractor, and inventor of the Back Butter Buddy and Edge Strip Kits, Phil Green. He writes:

“The times sure have changed. At the age of 24, I was starting the adventure of owning and running my own tile installation business. I remember bringing a few print magazines for my homeowners to flip through while I took measurements and made sketches. If they saw something they liked, it gave us a great starting point from which to create a design just for them. There was no internet or HGTV shows as resources then.

“I would hand-write proposals on three-part carbon sheets, fold them into an envelope, address it, stamp it (I’m not sure how much a stamp is these days), and mail it off. Sometimes it would take a week or more before I got a response to find out if I had been awarded the job or not. People would call my answering machine or page me if they had a question or needed to schedule the work. I would give them a voice call once I found a payphone.

“With the technology of today, everything is instant. We get a text on our cell phone, some with pictures attached. We can respond instantly with an email; sign the job; and with apps like Apple Pay, PayPal, Zelle and others receive a deposit all from our phone in a matter of seconds. YouTube, Houzz, Pinterest, etc., bring millions of design opportunities right into our clients’ living rooms. An iPad is the new ‘yellow legal pad’ and a portfolio of our past projects is now easily shared. Social media has become a non-negotiable necessity to any business. If you do not have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, your company may never be found.

“As I close, let me just say that as wonderful as all this new technology is, personal interaction should never be sacrificed. The value of one-on-one conversation is vital for everyone’s well-being. These are just a few words and observations from a sexagenarian. If you don’t know what that word means you can just Google it...or ask Siri.”

Did Retailers Shoot Themselves in the Foot?

This next letter is from Perry Wright, an NWFA- and Inspector Training Services for Floor Coverings (ITSFC)-certified hard and soft surfaces inspector, and CFI-certified flooring installer. He notes:

“Every time I read articles discussing the hard time retail establishments have in finding quality, reliable and responsible installation professionals, I have to laugh. I can tell you exactly why they cannot find people who are dependable, highly skilled and knowledgeable.

“It all started in 1986. President Reagan signed legislation that allowed more than 4 million undocumented immigrants to get green cards to stay here and work. Those 4 million left their farm jobs and got work in construction trades, and called all their family and friends south of the border to come up. In 1988, here in central Texas, we all heard Tejano music blaring from across the street for the first time, and within the year we were all out of a job as house framers and doing cornice work. Off to the next career. 

“I was soon off on my own, bidding and subcontracting from retail stores. Moving up the ladder at one retail store in particular, I became the guy that got all the model homes and locked down the new home accounts, along with all the hard-to-work-with materials. I was the only person they would let touch a patterned product. They didn’t like it when I asked for more money to do the harder products. It was a one-price-fits-all attitude. By the mid-‘90s those going rates stagnated and in some cases dropped significantly.

“With all my eggs in one basket, I struggled for a few years working 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week to make ends meet. Then undocumented immigrants entered the flooring installation trades like they had the framing trades in the late ‘80s. I bailed from subcontracting as there was no money in it any longer. Replying to do it yourselfers, my e-mail box soon filled with homeowners in over their heads with their flooring—a godsend. I had found my market and set my own value, instead of someone else dictating my worth.

“The retailers did this to themselves. They cannot find qualified, retainable installers because of greed. You are never going to get professionalism, responsibility, integrity and dependability with a the-cheapest-guy-gets-the-job mentality. The cost of living has risen dramatically in the last 30 years, but the going rates for installation labor have stagnated and in many cases gone down. Keep asking the retailers how to solve the problem and it is like dogs chasing their tails.”