Contractor Spotlight: Jeremy Waldorf, Legacy Floors, LLC
For this edition, we sat down with Jeremy Waldorf, owner of Legacy Floors L.L.C. in Howell, MI, who assumed the role of regional business manager at HPS Schönox in May of this year. Waldorf, a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, is also a member of the National Tile Contractors Association and National Wood Flooring Association, for which he also serves as a certified installer and inspector.
How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Waldorf: I grew up in the floorcovering trade as the son of a very influential carpet and flooring tradesman. My dad, James Waldorf, passed away in July of 2017 after a battle with mesothelioma from asbestos in tiles and adhesives. I have a photo of myself carrying a carpet tube when I was about two years old. He trained so many guys in the trade and many of them are successful in the flooring business today because of what they learned from him, not only in the way of skill, but in customer service and management, too. I was of course a carpet “scrappy” when I was a kid, but he really got me started 25 years ago when I was just 15 years old. He knew that the flooring trade was the one place I could make a difference for myself. I started my own company, Legacy Floors, in 1998, and have worked diligently to become one of the most qualified hard surface specialists in Michigan.
What were some reasons for starting your own business?
Waldorf: I’m celebrating my 21st year in business this year at the age of 40. When my dad sold his business to another company, I told my friends and colleagues that I was going to start a company that wasn’t chasing the bottom dollar. Instead, I would follow behind all of the homeowners and clients who have been burned in the past by poor craftsmanship and bad dealings. I would offer the highest level of quality and service, always improving and not being so concerned with getting every job. Since then, I have been charging a slightly higher premium for my services, and over the last two decades, I have built a five-star rated company with multiple installation and inspection certifications, and continuing product education at every opportunity. I remember my good friends and colleagues telling me back in the day, “You can’t offer hard surface flooring without offering carpet, too. You’ll never make it.” I saw that as a challenge and I do only what I love today — tile, hardwood, vinyl plank and self-leveling.
Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Waldorf: When I started experimenting with tile, my dad taught us the very basics, lent us tools and sent us into some production-style new homes to “learn” from each other. I didn’t know any union setters, so we learned the only way we knew how — from the older guys we worked with. I’ll be honest, we all did things the wrong way for a while because as they say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We used red-bagged Quikrete for our shower pans, no silicone at changes of plane and our “waterproofing” was cement board. These were the days of all 12- x 12-inch ceramic tiles and when the biggest trowel notch was 3/8-inch. We would go in and lay down big stacks of DensShield or CBU [Cement Board Underlayment] with no thinset underneath (ribbons of construction adhesive at best). Unfortunately, I still see so many setters today making all of the same mistakes. Everything changed for me when I got my hands on Schluter products. I tried the shower systems a few times and then started going to the seminars. They coordinated a CTI certification at the first seminar and it was a no-brainer for me. I needed to see what I was made of just as much as I wanted the credentials. I became Certified Tile Installer #1185 that year and started my quest for more education and certifications. Today’s tiles are larger, setting materials and shower systems are much more advanced, and in my opinion, there’s never been a better time to be a tile setter. Becoming a member of the NTCA has been an amazing resource for me, in addition to networking on large Facebook trade groups like Tile Geeks and Global Tile Posse. If I ever need the right answers to solve a problem, they are just a phone call or message away.
Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Waldorf: I always reference a complex job I did involving a kitchen and dining room with an engineered hickory hardwood border and basketweave with a limestone inlay. I won an award for that floor, which was incredibly flattering and an honor to my dad’s legacy, in my opinion. That job took everything I knew as both a certified tile and hardwood installer and incorporated it into one precise layout and execution. I’ve never been more personally satisfied to have completed the project to the exact specifications provided by my client. It was a real challenge of mixed mediums.
However, many simpler jobs stand out to me because I’m typically in the business of making clients very happy and that’s one major perk of my job. Often times, I’m coming in at the end of a very long and strenuous process of renovation or building, and the homeowner is just hoping they can keep it together before everything falls apart on them. I have the pleasure of exceeding those expectations and breathing incredible life into their home project with a beautiful and functional tile shower, bathroom or kitchen floor. It’s a very rewarding experience for both my client and me personally.
What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite? How do you overcome them?
Waldorf: Subfloor irregularities and proper floor prep are the most common challenges I must face on the job. Whether concrete moisture testing and mitigation, self-leveling floors or shaving down floor joists, finding the correct solution is essential for achieving success in the flooring trade. Especially with larger format tiles, floor flatness is arguably the most important factor when dealing with common concerns like lippage. Companies like HPS Schönox have brought into our trade options that we’ve only imagined in the past. Fiber-reinforced self-levelers that can go over plywood without the use of galvanized lath have been a game changer for me. Levelers were only good over concrete when I started in the trade and now they are having great success with self-leveling underlayments that can go over non-porous floors and even glue-down carpet. It’s an exciting thing to me when a manufacturer can help us achieve things that as installers we can’t physically do on our own. It makes us better setters and gives us more tools to do our job correctly. That’s a marketable and beneficial thing to our clients.
What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Waldorf: Often times, I’m getting a phone call from someone who is distressed and discouraged because their tile shower is leaking or their grout and tile is cracking. The installations aren’t even that old and they just can’t believe they have to drop a good chunk of money on a project they weren’t quite ready to tackle yet. I find, as both an installer and inspector, this is another important part of my job. I take the time to explain why their floors or shower might be failing, and exactly what products and recognized methods I’ll be using if they choose to spend a little bit more money, and possibly wait a little bit longer, to choose me for their project. Even if they don’t have a situation currently, sadly most people have had a bad tile experience in their life. That’s the sad part of our industry and something that has always motivated me. Because of the lack of qualified flooring professionals, the tile industry gets black eyes all the time. Bad installers make for bad tile experiences, and that’s one of the reasons the tile industry is fighting a battle with products like luxury vinyl plank tiles and WPC [Wood Plastic Composite]. You and I have a hard time forgetting awful purchases, and homeowners are no different than us. The good news is, every time we do our jobs right and use the best products we know, another client has potentially seen the value of tile again and it’s a big win for our industry as a whole. Consumer confidence is built one job at a time and I’m honored to be a part of that process.
If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Waldorf: It’s hard to limit the number of things I could say to a new professional. I feel like I’ve learned so much since I’ve started, so I guess that is a good foundational piece of advice — never stop learning. No matter how long you’ve been in the trade, how good your teachers have been or how much you think you know, you’ll always have more to learn. Products and technology in our industry advance around us with mind-blowing speed. If you aren’t staying educated on products, application and methods, you’ll be left making mistakes and potentially costing yourself or others money and time. I still know installers who are doing the very same things we were doing when we started and have little or no interest in continuing education. Can you imagine having your vehicle serviced or going to a dentist who hasn’t had any training in the last 10 years? Neither can I, but in the tile industry, that’s exactly what’s happening around us. Under-educated (or uneducated) tile setters and YouTube installers are still getting paid, but it’s our responsibility to communicate the value of our services so that clients can have a beautiful and long-lasting tile system in their home or business that will give them many years of satisfaction. It’s been said the most dangerous words in our industry are, “We’ve always done it this way,” and I honestly believe that. Never stop learning.
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.