In this edition, we sat down with Steven LaGrou, former vice president of sales and marketing for the M-D Pro division at M-D Canada, who just retired after 47 years in the floor covering industry. LaGrou will continue to offer his expertise to M-D Pro on an as-needed, consulting basis and will help in the transition of his replacement.
TILE: How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Are you a company owner? If so, what were some reasons for starting your own business?
LaGrou: It was just an ad in the paper from Speildenner’s, later to be known as Speildenner’s Carpet One, in Fremont, OH. I was one of 16 hourly mechanic for five years. A chain of lumber yards called Wolahan Lumber recruited me to start a flooring department for them in Defiance, OH, so I did that for approximately three years until a recession hit the housing market in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I accepted a sales position in 1980 with a two-branch distributor called Gerlinger Equipment Company, covering Western Michigan. I moved up the ranks to one of the principals/COO. I then sold the company consisting of nine branches, a ceramic tile division called Apex Ceramic Tile, a Sundry division, along with being a Tarkett and a full-line distributor in Michigan and Ohio in 2004, to CDC Distributors. Also during my tenure with Gerlinger, I had a couple of sideline businesses, Carpet Care, a carpet cleaning business for several years; and a was a co-owner of Lotycz and Sons Flooring America for approximately eight years.
TILE: Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?
LaGrou: In many ways. Back then, it used to take almost a week to make a piece of ceramic; now, it is a matter of hours to produce. We now have such beautiful, decorative ceramic tile in so many different sizes and styles that cost less than the old, white 4- x 4-inch tiles with gold flecks. All installations were done using mainly mud, then into using different types of cement boards, to now a rapid rise in foam boards and shower pans, which increase the efficiency, speed and accuracy, while decreasing the labor.
TILE: Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?
LaGrou: There are many jobs that stick in my mind, but one of the biggest accomplishments I feel is the ongoing building of the Prova ceramic line to the industry. To educate the tile setters on how to do their job better and easier so by the time they retire they haven’t destroyed their bodies, but have only increased their bank accounts and not their aches and pains.
TILE: What are some common issues you have to deal with on the job site? How do you overcome them? What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?
LaGrou: The most common issue is that no two jobs are alike and that’s not an issue, but rather an opportunity. You may run into bad construction, insufficient heat/cooling, excessive moisture, and many different obstacles that are opportunities to educate your client of the options they have to correct the situation. By doing so, you build that long-lasting trust from your customer that will help you grow your business.
TILE: If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?
LaGrou: It is a great industry that you can get into with all the work you care to do, and at the end of the day, you get for no additional charge and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Work smarter, not harder. Don’t devalue your skills and get paid for what you are doing. Being an installer, tile setter or any related flooring mechanic, always keep yourself educated and informed because manufacturers are coming out with new and improved products every day. These new products or techniques have a specific function to make the job easier or better for you as a 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.