In this edition, we sat down with Spencer Lawler, owner of Solid Solutions in Brownsville, KY.

TILE: How did you first get involved in the tile industry? Please explain a little bit more about yourself.

Lawler: It’s pretty difficult to pinpoint when I first got heavily involved in the tile industry. I’ve helped out on construction projects with my dad and grandfather since I was old enough to get in the way. I think I was 10 when I helped my dad build his personal shower. Funny enough, I hated it. It was so cold outside and I was the cut man using an old MK with no bevel, like a 14-inch deck, cutting red marble 12- x 12-inch tiles, with no gloves. I was so mad.

Looking back over the past years of my career, I’ve had several general construction/handyman jobs where I would occasionally set tile with my boss; nothing to the degree and standards I use today, but it piqued my interest, nonetheless. When I worked for Harpstead Construction though, I was super involved. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a tile guy. We were always doing really cool projects and I was becoming well-versed with my tools so I just wanted to learn as much as I could. Over time, I started joining the social media pages and going to workshops and becoming involved as much as I could in the tile world. It’s become more than a job; it’s a way of life almost.

TILE: Are you a company owner? If so, what were some reasons for starting your own business?

Lawler: I am. I started my business, Solid Solutions, in 2017. I was really reluctant at first. I was so scared that I was going to fail that I wasn’t focused on succeeding. I was talking with a really good friend of mine who owns a successful painting company, and after listening to me complain for far too long, he said, “Listen, anything could happen. We can be standing here talking and a truck come out of nowhere and run us over. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’ve the contacts, you’ve got what it takes. Stop doubting yourself.”

Once I heard that, it was like the pieces just fell together. Prior to this, I had been moonlighting here and there for some extra income, but it was starting to take a toll on me. My jobs were running into my regular work hours, I hardly ever saw my family and I was exhausted constantly. So soon after speaking with my friend, I had a meeting with my boss and he gave me my first job as a new business owner. It was a really humbling experience and I’m super grateful for it. I love being a business owner now; of course it comes with freedom, but you have to work hard to earn those freedoms. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into.

TILE: Has the tile industry changed much since you first started? If so, in what ways?

Lawler: Eh, maybe not the industry so much, but I know my techniques have evolved to match the industry standards. My first shower was fiberock with RedGard. No shims, no directional troweling, skimmed over thinset — you name it. Soon after, I ordered my first TCNA Handbook. I took that thing with me everywhere. I read almost 100 pages before I realized how to use the book properly. I’m eager to see what the next big thing is. I entered the game after the great mud and foam war had already started.

TILE: Is there a particular job you’ve completed that stands out? Why?

Lawler: Well, actually, not really. Each job is so different and the people are so unique that I would really hate to single one out. When I did the “tree” shower, that was cool. It was the first time I got to really explore the artistic side of the tile world. My wife designed it on an envelope -- about the equivalent of jotting down an idea on a bar napkin. Also, I want to tell you about the B&B I worked on where nothing was plum or level, all the tile broke weird and we ran into all sorts of issues. The place was built over 100 years ago, but we always adapted and overcame any issue we had and I think that’s really what it means to be “the tile guy.”

TILE: What are some common issues you have to deal with on the jobsite? How do you overcome them?

Lawler: Most issues in my little area of the country are pretty typical. We run into houses where we have to find 1,000 feet of cords to run to the temporary electric or we have to fetch water from the neighbor’s house. Kentucky is pretty temperate and seasonal so I don’t have to go to any extreme measures to control my thinset. My biggest issue, though, and people that know me will agree is that I’m a talker. I love people and I love talking to them. Never overwhelming, but it can be distracting for sure. I need headphones or a muzzle maybe. Lol.

TILE: What are some steps you take to educate your customers about their tile installation before you begin?

Lawler: The one thing I never want to do is leave a customer in the dark about the process. I see it far too often, where I go to a consultation and start asking questions about the previous install and the people are oblivious as to what happened. Obviously, most people aren’t tile installers and don’t really care what’s going on, but I think everybody connects to tile in different ways. Currently, I have 5,000+ pictures on my phone alone; I’m always apt to show off my pictures, starting with prep and ending with the finished product. I try to keep samples of material I use so customers can actually see what’s going on underneath the surface. It’s a lot more difficult to explain what an uncoupling membrane is without an actual piece of it. And it’s not just about educating people on my process, but people should know the signs of an uneducated installer. Even if I don’t get the job, I hate to see people in my community get taken advantage of.

TILE: If you could lend any advice to professionals just beginning their careers, what would it be?

Lawler: Take care of your body! Get kneepads, invest in a respirator and glasses, go dustless when you can, etc. We only have one body and I have to keep mine in top shape to make tile money. Besides that, get connected. Reach out to other tile installers in your area; make friends, not competitors. Go to events, get educated, meet your reps, learn about the TCNA, NTCA and CTEF. Installing tile was once just a job, but today it’s so much more to me. It’s opened my eyes to a beautiful world and I wouldn’t change it for anything.