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Unqualified to qualified conceptional words on whiteboard

by Bart Bettiga

For the past several years, flooring dealers and retailers consistently finding quality installers as one of their biggest obstacles to growing their business.  This is especially true if you subcontract your labor or refer your customers to contractors and stay out of the installation game.  If you maintain your own install crews, hiring and retaining qualified individuals is a never ending challenge.

Perhaps the most difficult flooring category in finding qualified people is the ceramic tile and natural stone industry.  It takes several years to master the skills necessary to master this craft and be reliable for any type of installation.  So if you find good crews and individuals, you better hang on to them.

The National Tile Contractors Association fields many calls related to tile and stone installation.  Many flooring companies call our technical support team with questions related to installation.  We also discuss installer qualifications with them.  I felt it would be helpful to share some common questions we continue to receive when it comes to finding qualified tile installers.

  • Can you provide any guidance for finding qualified tile installers in my area?

Finding a qualified contractor is as important as selecting the appropriate tile for your project.  If you work with builders or remodelers, check if they have tile installers they would recommend.  NTCA recommends you ask for referrals of work done that is similar to your requirements.  Other ways to find a qualified tile contractor is to ask for a recommendation from tile suppliers or designers you  work with. Internet searches for tile contractors can be successful, but again you want to check references.   NTCA offers an excellent source on their website for its members in a Find A Contractor search.  Certified Tile installers can be located on the Ceramic Tile Education website as well.  (NTCA site is www.tile-assn.com and CTEF site is www.tilecareer.com

What kind of questions should someone ask if you want to check their references?

  1. Did the tile contractor communicate with you throughout the process.  Things are always bound to change on both sides in a tile project.  Orders can be delayed and schedules can change. Was the tile contractor up front and honest and did they explain changes to the original agreement?
  2. Was the tile contracting company professional in appearance and the way they cleaned up each day
  3. Would you hire them again for your next project?
  • How important is it to see their work in person? This would be nice but is not generally realistic, and probably not necessary.  They should be able to demonstrate to you their proven track record of success, and through customer referrals.
  • What about Googling? This is appropriate and can be helpful.  However, there are quality tile installers who are not highly active on the internet with websites and photographs. There are many small companies who specialize in certain types of installations, and it may be difficult to develop a strong internet marketing program.  So googling a company is recommended as a tool, but keep in mind that there may be an excellent option out there for you that might not be found in this way.
  • What about qualifications: Certifications to look for? The Tile industry strongly supports tile industry certification.  The certified tile installer program offered by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation is an excellent source for referrals.  We also recommend the Advanced Certifications of Tile Installers certification program, as these individual certifications can provide added confidence in specific installation skills, like shower pans and large format tile applications.
  • What about a contract? NTCA strongly recommends a contract or agreement should be provided to you. This should include the conditions of the project, the type of installation that will be performed and any preparation that will need to be done to get the area ready for tile.  It should include the price of the material and labor and the terms of payment.  The duration or expected amount of hours for the project is also important, as well as a payment schedule.  Every contract is different, and payment terms depends on the relationship
  • Anything else a retailer should know about before recommending a tile contractor?You want to clearly understand the expertise and skills each of your installers have that you can stand behind. You might have someone who has done a lot of floor tile installations but has little or no experience in showers or wet areas.  The same could be true of commercial expertise versus residential work.  You want to make sure you refer or subcontract out the proper workers for the type of installation required.  This is one of the biggest mistakes made in the industry.

These are just a few examples of questions we get asked on a regular basis.  As a rule, quality tile installers should have an understanding of their industry standards and methods. I recommend that all retailers and dealers keep copies of these standards current in their showrooms as a reference tool to ensure their crews are informed.  You can order these standards at the NTCA website at tile-assn.com.

About the Author:

Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association. Established in 1947, the NTCA is dedicated to providing education for the proper installation of tile and its allied products to the ceramic tile industry.