How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.
Christiansen: I first started in the flooring industry when I was 12 working for my cousin cleaning carpet and tile on weekends and any free days I had. That was my first taste in the flooring world. I worked that job and others growing up, and then, with nowhere to turn after high school, I joined the military. It wasn’t until after my eight years of military service that I got back into flooring. A few months prior to leaving the military, I started looking for a job and wasn’t happy with anything I found. I ended up working for a small flooring company that also cleaned carpet. I figured this would be temporary — boy was I wrong! I started installing sometime in 2007 after I learned the basics. Something else happened that year that I was not expecting. One of the partners of the company I worked for just up and walked away. At that point, my job and new career path were uncertain. I did the one thing that I learned in the military; I adapted to my changed world. The builder of the large project we were working on asked if I could figure out how to keep it going and that is what I did. I finished a tract home project of 488 units in both tile and carpet — not a bad way to start a new career.
Are you a company owner? If so, what were some reasons for starting your own business?
Christiansen: Yes, I am. I had to learn a lot very quickly because I had two little people to take care of and my daughters have always been a driving force for me. At that time, I just wanted to provide a life for my family, but this new job ended up becoming a new passion and addiction.
Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
Christiansen: I feel for the first two years as a business owner, the industry in the Midwest stood still, or maybe I did. When I first started, the norm was laying 12- x 12-inch tiles, and now we specialize in thin, Gauged Porcelain Tiles (GPT) that are as big as 5 x 10 feet. Overall, technologies have evolved as well. Everything from the manufacturing of a surface material to the tile stone products used in these installations.
Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
Christiansen: I will always remember my first custom solo house. I was asked by the same builder from the tract home project if I was interested in bidding a house and I said “yes.” He called me and said he needed me to come by and meet the owner. What happened next is priceless. He had failed to inform me it was one of the largest houses ever built in town! At the time, I was young and ambitious. I laid, with one helper, over 18,000 feet of natural stone, and boy, did we learn a lot!
What are some common issues you have to deal with on the job site? How do you overcome them?
Christiansen: The biggest issue for all jobs is the substrate. I have never walked into a job that someone calls “tile ready” and have actually been able to start that day without having to prep in some way before we can begin. In showers, we find ourselves having to shim or plane studs. On floors, there are instances where we have had to add a layer of plywood to meet deflection or pour self-leveling underlayments to make the floor meet industry standards to except tile. As flooring professionals, we always seem to be fixing and dealing with someone else’s mistakes that we often find once we get started on a project.
What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
Christiansen: From the moment I first step into a customer’s house, the education begins. A lot of customers these days want what their friends have or what they saw on Pinterest. That’s fine, but some of those dreams are far-fetched with their anticipated budget and the time allotment. Once those two expectations are lined out, understood and agreed upon by my team and the customer, anything in the tile world is possible.
If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
Christiansen: The biggest thing for anyone getting into the tile trade is you should apprentice under somebody who has been doing it for years; learning the way I did was not fun. There are many mistakes I’ve made and had to learn from because of how I was trained. I would also encourage a new person getting into the trade to become a NTCA member and know the Tile Council of North America Handbook inside and out. I also recommend attending all training events put on at distribution centers, NTCA events across the U.S. and trainings conducted by setting materials manufacturers. Finally, I suggest going to the big tradeshows such as Coverings and Surfaces (TISE). I never knew how much I was missing until I started networking. The contacts and information I have gained through networking have exposed me to so many new opportunities, which have allowed me to really expand my business and take it to the next level.
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