Jeff Blanchard of American Tile and Marble in Shreveport, Louisiana joined the tile industry after working for general contractors for many years. His experience managing large construction teams has led to success in his new business, where they focus on tiling high-end commercial projects such as casinos. It also gives him a unique perspective on tile installation and the technical side of the trade.
How did you get into the tile business?
The first time I met Sid Menard, the owner of American Tile, was on a Harrah’s site in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. At the time, I was the Assistant Project Manager on the job. We stayed in touch and years later, he asked if I’d like to work for him running construction operations since he wanted someone familiar with managing large projects.
Our partnership has been beneficial for both sides. I brought my construction background and they have taught me about being a subcontractor, including teamwork and hands-on quality craftsmanship. At the end of the day, all construction is about relationships and integrity you can trust.
What type of installations are your specialty?
We provide tile setting services on everything from residential showers to four million dollar commercial jobs. American Tile has been in business since 1945, and as we’ve expanded, we can take on more high profile projects. Our specialty is hospitality, especially casinos, and we build them all over the gulf coast area and beyond. Casinos are a fun challenge and keep you on your toes since they are extremely fast track. Based on our experience, 50% of the materials specified on these types of jobs are imported. Estimating is complex given the number of suppliers, the long lead times for these tiles and the need for careful stewardship. Once the job is over though, you have created something beautiful that makes you proud.
How has the tile installing business changed since you started?
Coming from the general contractor side originally, I have been impressed with how technical it is and how much expertise the installer needs to have to do a good job. A tile contractor has to develop a real depth of knowledge versus a general contractor. The technology is constantly evolving, with new products coming out faster and faster all the time. We want to learn about any innovations that help us become better tile installers.
Image courtesy American Tile and Marble
How do you determine which materials to use on a particular installation?
American Tile has a long-standing relationship with Custom Building Products. They provide us with superior products, fantastic customer service and continuing education. I cannot say enough about the team there; they are so helpful and they make our lives much easier. Any of this is enough to make you loyal to a company, but with CUSTOM, we get all of these benefits on every job.
Do you ever challenge an architect's specified installation products?
The goal with every project is giving the owner the advantage of premium quality, proven products. We usually see CUSTOM on the job specs, so there is no challenge. But if we do not see installation materials that we know and trust in the spec, we will ask for them so we can deliver something that we can stand behind.
What are some of the advantages to using installation products from a single manufacturer?
Who doesn't like the idea of one-stop shopping? Finding a single source is huge in the contracting industry. Product reliability and warranties provide peace of mind for us, and they provide security to the owner. We want to know there will be no problems if we do our job right and install everything correctly.
Image courtesy American Tile and Marble
Do you rely on any other resources from manufacturers? Which ones?
CUSTOM's website is really good. It gives us access to technical data, videos and even a material calculator. They are always adding something helpful that gets us back to the job at hand. I often take our prospective customers there to help increase their knowledge about the installation process.
What tips or tricks do you have for tile installations?
You can’t ask me to give away all of my secrets! Okay, here is my tip: follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don't know, ask. You will always encounter new situations and that is where real customer service comes in. A five minute call to one of the CUSTOM guys can save us the time and money of having to do something twice.
Which developments in tile setting make you the most excited? Why?
The CustomLite technology! It makes a big difference when a bag of mortar weighs 30 pounds instead of 50 pounds. Plus, we really like the handling of products like ProLite for use with all of the large format tile we use. Everything seems to be at least 12"x 24" and we rarely even see 12"x 12" anymore.
Do you have any final words that you'd like to share with Custom Insights readers?
Take my advice and make that five minute phone call so you can do it right the first time.