How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Hughey: My girlfriend’s dad at the time was the main subcontractor for a tile franchise near us named Century Tile. He gave me a job working for him as a helper and he showed me all the ropes. It was a decent paying job out of high school and I didn't like the warehousing job I had before so I decided to try it out. Then eventually I became a full-time installer and started doing jobs on my own.
I went to work for another contractor after a few years and I learned tons from him as well. He's been in the industry for more than 30 years at this point. I always wanted to own my own business, so when I saw the opportunity I took it. With that, my company, RH Floor & Tile Co., was born in May 2018.
What were some reasons for starting your own business?
Hughey: Basically I was tired of working for other people and making them a lot of money. I didn't feel I was being compensated to the degree which I should have been. I felt like I was not getting what I was worth. Also, I felt like I was underappreciated. When a longtime friend had a serious conversation with me about starting my own business, I was extremely scared. I thought, ‘What if I run out of work, what if I fail?’ It was a very scary thing to do. When you're the boss, you can't blame anyone else for anything. If there's no work, it's because of you. If a customer has a problem, you have to deal with it personally. It was a big decision and so far I've enjoyed the journey. I'm very curious to see where it goes from here.
Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Hughey: When I first started, installations were very basic — 12- x12-inch square patterns were the norm. Now, especially with all of the different patterns and different materials on the market, it has definitely changed. I've seen a lot people request large-format tiles and it seems like they just keep getting bigger. Bigger tiles can be harder to install on ceilings and walls because it's more challenging to make them stick since they're heavier.
Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Hughey: A job that stands out most to me is one that wasn’t very successful. It was very far from where we normally work; it was almost a two-hour drive. It was new construction — a house — and it was close to when I first started. I was using a bent level on the job (new tile setters, please never do this!). I was on a time limit and I was in a rush. When I drew all my lines with the level and made the cuts in the tile, they kept getting smaller and smaller as I went up the wall, so the overall pattern looked like a knife blade. It started even and then got smaller and smaller as I went up the wall. Obviously, it was not acceptable. When I got to the end, I knew I messed up and I knew I had to fix it. I had to buy a new level and new tile to go out there on my own free time and fix the whole thing for free. In the trades, we believe in the school of hard knocks. Needless to say, I was so mad at myself I don't ever think I've made a huge mistake like that ever again.
What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite? How do you overcome them?
Hughey: Every job is different. This question is hard to answer. Every jobsite and every tile material presents its own challenges and there could be a hundred different challenges on any given job. A pretty common issue is when walls and floors are out of square and out of level. This makes it harder for me because I have to compensate for this in my build. If you don't know how to do this and you just set the entire surface like it's a perfectly square or level wall, it can come out looking horrible, which has definitely happened to me before. I would say this issue is pretty common. Also, it’s really common that homeowners don't understand the process of remodel, from start to finish. During my initial estimate, I try to educate them the best I can and explain the process from the beginning so they understand what's going to happen in the next few days or weeks, depending on how big the job is.
What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Hughey: I give them a very detailed explanation of how the process works and make sure they understand everything that goes into it. A lot of the time, the salespeople where they buy the materials from don't give them the best materials or they recommend things they don't need, so I may have to educate the customers and I will even go return stuff for them that they don’t need. Nothing against the salespeople, but I think it would benefit them to actually learn about how a job is actually done and I think that would help them be able to better help customers in the store. The customers trust the salespeople, as they are the customers’ only resource, because usually the customer doesn't know anything about tile or flooring and that’s why they are there in the first place.
If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Hughey: The best advice I can give someone getting started is quality is greater than quantity. It's good to get installations done fast, but I would rather the new guys focus on getting something done right and doing a good job, rather than worrying about how fast they are getting something done. Speed will come with time. They should focus on perfecting the installations at first. Also, if you ever question, "Is this good enough?” or “Should I fix a part of this?" just ask yourself, "Would I let this go if it were my house?" Because if you wouldn't finish it in your house like that, do not put it in someone else's house; they're trusting you to be professional.
If you or anyone you know is interested in being featured in a future edition of the “Contractor Spotlight,” please email Heather Fiore at email@example.com.