Contractor Spotlight: Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc.
For this edition, we sat down with Martin Brookes, founder of Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc. in Mill Valley, CA, a National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Five Star Contractor. Brookes was recently appointed first vice president of the NTCA, holds seats on the NTCA Methods and Standards Committee and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A108 Committee, and is a member of and inspector for the Institute of Inspections Certification Restoration.
How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Brookes: I started in the tile and masonry business in 1978. I was offered an apprenticeship when leaving high school in the UK. This was a city and guild of London Institute program, which involved a full year at technical college followed by three years of day release, which ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (a very long day). Following the completion of the apprenticeship, I was committed to the sponsor of my program for another year. I then left and became a foreman for a remodeling company, honing my skills in management. In 1993, I relocated to the U.S. and didn't have any contacts for work. I looked in the newspaper’s job openings on my arrival and began work for a masonry company building big-box stores in Northern California. Within a few months, I became superintendent and learned the industry stateside, which was different in many ways than the UK.
What were some reasons for starting your own business?
Brookes: On getting comfortable with the industry, I decided to form Heritage Marble Masonry & Tile in 1997 and Incorporating in 2007. I began the company with a pickup truck, wet saw and one helper; worked numerous hours; and put in the weekends when needed. I built a reputation for good quality work and being reliable. I was fortunate enough to run across Gabriel Cortez, who became my next employee and is still with me to this day. Leo Escamilla followed, and a few years ago, they became Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Certified Tile Installers (CTI) and followed up with Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT).
In 2018, I celebrated 40 years in this industry and enjoy it just as much today as when I started. The industry has been very rewarding to me in friendships, peers and mentors.
Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Brookes: The industry has changed dramatically from the 1970s — moving from a very basic wet trade to being book smart and involving lots of products that require continued education to understand how they work. The system and single-source approach is very helpful if you take up the manufacturers offers of free training and understanding of this technology. This, in my opinion, has been the most significant change. Moving away from simple materials and traditional methods to a more modern approach using today’s technology. It is my opinion that with the manufacturer’s warranty and the high performance of today’s materials, it offers value to the client, and if perfected, will give longevity to the installed products.
Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Brookes: We won the Five-Star Grand Prize for residential tile installation of the year from the NTCA a couple of years ago. This was a project we used glass tile from Fireclay Tile that the homeowner made herself at the Fireclay facility. It was very complicated with curved walls, a soaking tub and an integrated shower stall with a curbless application.
What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite? How do you overcome them?
Brookes: We do a lot of high-rise remodels and these projects can be challenging in a city like San Francisco, CA — all the way from parking to getting materials to the jobsite. This takes a lot of planning ahead of the start date and working with other subcontractors; orchestrating the sequencing is critical to make the project profitable. This takes coordinating with the general contractor on a regular basis and having the employees report back immediately any changes so they can be documented and change orders issued. The introduction of foam backer boards with incorporated waterproof systems has made the process easier to stock the job with materials.
What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Brookes: The customer is made aware of our NTCA Five Star status and that the installers are Certified Tile Installers (CTI) through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and ACT-certified. I explain the process and want them to feel confident that they have hired the most qualified company that cares about the installation and its employees. If it’s a decision based on price, we are probably not a right fit, but if it’s true value and craftsmanship, we win every time. We work hard at maintaining quality and have gained a reputation in the San Francisco Bay area as the go-to tile installation company for high-end challenging installs.
If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Brookes: If you are willing to put in the time and invest in the industry that puts food on your table, the rewards are there. Being in an industry that allows you to stand back and say, "I did that," says something unlike other trades that their work gets covered up. I hope my influence and direction will add value to the membership and that I'm able to offer mentoring to guys who want more out of the industry than just a job.
If you or anyone you know is interested in being featured in a future edition of the “Contractor Spotlight,” please email Heather Fiore at firstname.lastname@example.org.