In this edition, we sat down with Erin Albrecht, principal and executive vice president at J&R Tile, Inc. in San Antonio, TX, which is a National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Five-Star Contractor and Ardex Choice Contractor. She leads the continuous education and certification parts of the business, as well as pre-construction and designing roles. A certified Wedi installer, Albrecht is the founder of the Texas division of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and the state director of Texas for the NTCA. As an active member of the NTCA, she serves on the Education & Training Committee and Thin Porcelain Tile Subcommittee. Albrecht is also a member of the Natural Stone Institute’s Women in Stone, Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA), Construction Specifications Institute, American Institute of Architects, International Interior Design Association, Department of Labor, Texas Workforce Commission, Alamo Workforce Solutions, and Texas Veterans Commission and Vistage.
How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Albrecht: I've been involved in the industry from a young age. J&R Tile, Inc. has been in business since 1984.
Are you a company owner? If so, what were some reasons for starting your own business?
Albrecht: I am an executive in both, and have interest/equity in J&R Tile, Inc. and J&R Project Solutions. J&R Tile is strictly contracting and Project Solutions involves working with other contractors, architects, developers and owners as a consultant in pre-construction, with assistance in writing warrantied specifications and projects sourcing new technology, and specifying qualified labor with appropriate language. Subcontracting work is not an option for our company, so the demand in pre-construction happened from requests of projects not able to perform, and to set up for success in pre-construction and connecting with the right contractor to minimize risk.
TILE: Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Albrecht: The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and CTEF have made a significant impact since 2007. The Certified Tile Installer (CTI) certification began in 2007 with an industry recognized certification that is both hands-on and written. This is a key differentiator, assuring there is a foundational knowledge of standards and the fortitude to apply those fundamentals in a challenging hands-on assessment. J&R Tile, Inc. is a proud member of the NTCA Five-Star Contractor organization, meaning we employ CTIs and are held equivalent to the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) and International Masonry Institute (IMI) "Trowel of Excellence" in specification language, stating both have the "highest level of quality installations, demonstrates integrity and superior business practices and is committed to the betterment of the ceramic tile industry." The year 2017 was a milestone as well with ANSI A118.09 standards passing for Gauged Porcelain Tile (3 1/2 to 6 1/2 mm).
TILE: Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Albrecht: We have utilized our training and skills as a company with 6-mm-thick Gauged Porcelain Tile (GPT), specifically in remodeling existing applications turnkey directly with owners saving time and money. J&R employs Advanced Certified Tile (ACT) installers, which you must first pass the CTI test by the CTEF to qualify, and I'm proud of our team installing tens of thousands of square feet over existing finishes. This doesn't just save time and money compared to traditional demolition and replacements of substrates and finishes, but also shows environmental integrity and responsibility by eliminating waste to go into local landfills. Pink granite is all over Texas and with the proper preparation can easily be veneered with porcelain; it also meets the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1/2-inch requirements. Some examples can be seen at www.jandrtile.com/design-builds.
We have also recently had a great demand for porcelain countertops over foam substrates for multi-family developers in lieu of granite. It is my belief, and others, that 6-mm-thick porcelain over an approved TCNA backerboard method is an exciting new technology in the industry. It is now connecting fabricators with tile contractors, in working together to accomplish seamless shower systems, as well as countertops. In recent months, I've made great new relationships with the SFA and we've enjoyed learning from each other and how we can work together as an industry to remain profitable and utilize each other’s strengths. I am excited for the future of the NTCA and SFA working together. I recently attended the largest SFA event in history at Perfection Connection in Carson City, NV, which was hosted by James Donaire, with an emphasis on GPT and foam substrates. Connecting with Mark Lauzon, James Donaire and others has been a pleasure. I'm grateful to have joined the SFA and met the "other side" in Carson City.
TILE: What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite? How do
you overcome them?
Albrecht: Traditionally, when construction schedules are behind, acceleration and schedule compression is passed on to the finishing trades. Another common issue is that substrate tolerances are not within the limits of commonly specified large-format tile (or any, for that matter). We combat this by educating the general contractor and Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) well before framing, walls and concrete is poured, in writing, so that Change Order Requests (COR) can be referenced. We also never sign a contract without giving our number of days needed on the schedule. If a schedule slips or extra work needs to be performed, our foremen check jobsites utilizing our construction project management software by documenting the issues with 10-foot straight edges. This cloud-based software enables an easy communication between the office and field, and instant documentation to be sent to the project manager for either back charges or CORs. We also always put the number of extra days needed on the schedule when extra work is performed. This communication helps keep the other trades accountable and educates the general contractor to manage proper predecessor trade activities affecting the finishes. The fabricator community thinks we are "geeky," but they are learning that we have to be technical experts to protect ourselves and companies because of the aforementioned. I am now looking into some of their scanning technology they have shown to make these jobsite visits easier utilizing three-dimensional technology they use for templating for intolerances more efficiently.
TILE: What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Albrecht: We always start with the end in mind. Listening to the customer's needs is paramount and our expertise in technology that they may not know shows value. Ceramic and porcelain tile is typically the answer, showing the least amount of maintenance and longest lifecycle. Educating the consumer based on their needs shows credibility and is one of the most valuable things you can do when offering any service. We also give job-specific maintenance recommendations and plans for each application to ensure their investment will remain intact for years to come. I would say we value engineer most projects, based on education for best value and suggestions based on needs or antiquated specs or plans.
TILE: If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Albrecht: Create a culture, have a growth mindset and be involved in your industry. Never stop learning and training yourself and your staff, and connect with others in this industry to utilize knowledge, training, and new methods and ideas. If you do not have an apprenticeship in place for your company, I highly suggest you look into it. In late June, the Department of Labor proposed a $300 million grant funding for the advanced development of high-quality, Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). We have been shown great support through Texas Workforce Development with these federal funds with help from the NTCA and CTEF, and the right people and companies will be able to take advantage of the lack of skilled labor nationwide.
We are proud to say J&R Tile, Inc. has a Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship. We've utilized federal funding for 12 weeks of training (on job and off) and $3,000 worth of tools per employee in Texas. This can be utilized nationwide for the tile contractor and fabricator. Veterans can utilize supplemental pay during apprenticeships with their GI Bill/Hazlewood Act, instead of the traditional college model.
A strong foundational knowledge and formal training (funded by Uncle Sam) is something to start or grow any size business or shop for sustainability, and competitive advantages over the competition. The NTCA recently had their program approved by Department of Labor. The basis? The CTI certification through the CTEF.
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.