Spotlight: Maine Modern Tile, LLC
Contractors Direct is spotlighting companies on a monthly basis that we work with that have inspirational stories and services. This month, Contractors Direct sat down with Katie Marcotte, who is the project manager and co-owner with husband Eric at Maine Modern Tile, LLC, based out of Otisfield, Maine. In addition, she is the Region One director and a board member at the National Tile Contractors Association. Katie delves into the company’s services, her national involvement in trade associations and how she is inspiring youth to be interested in the trades.
Tell us more about your business.
Maine Modern Tile is a family-owned and operated company that primarily focuses on tile showers as well as kitchens and bathrooms. We are up in Maine and the fact that we are a mom and dad team who live in the community counts for a lot up here. We are members of a local Eagles club and the American Legion. It appeals to families and elderly people; they also trust that the people looking at the job and doing the work are doing the same ones. When you add in that we stand by the value of our products and services as well as being involved in the steps of their process—even going to tile rooms with them to pick products out—word of mouth becomes a major contributor for how we get new business.
We can also serve as a general contractor and have good contractor connections in the industry for 25 years in all types of construction who I can trust.
In 2003, they were asked by the Fuji Film company situated next door to build a space for them. My parents then borrowed money to build a 9,000-square-foot workspace on top of the building and increased their business services. However, in 2006, there was a huge influx in the Bay Area of Chinese prefabricated countertops; no one wanted to pay $8,000 for quality work when they could pay $3,000 for ready-to-install counters.
Sadly, my parents lost the original warehouse and the business in the 2008 market crash. However, it is really cool and full circle to go into homes to do renovations after all these years and see my parents’ original work and how well it was done. And I actually still work with my family, especially my mother, who helps with management and bookkeeping.
What is interesting about how you get business?
For us, this seems to be a karma-based business. Almost all of our advertising is not really advertising. We give to the community through sponsoring or donating, such as sponsoring an 8-year old’s racecar or a county play. We don’t even put our name on jerseys when we sponsor something. Every time we give to the community, we get nice jobs that are not connected to the sponsorship or donation.
We tend to have more clientele with higher-end work; people that want something “fancy.” As I like to say, “Nobody needs tile, they want it.” We do try to sell value because we are looking to do more tile than anything else. However, for our elderly and other local clients, we do offer vinyl and other affordable options.
We are selling value to higher-end clients—nearly 90% of our clients are not year-round residents. We put more money into our tools and so are able to buy higher-end tools from Contractors Direct. I like to know the products we use and enjoy learning the technical knowledge. We are able to sell a lifetime warranty for our work. In addition, we take our water with us and are dust-free.
As a contractor, it is easy to get burnt out. Clients are paying a premium price for a premium product, and we need to remember that. They are willing to pay the price because they see the value.
From an accountability perspective, I leave my personal Facebook public. I believe if you want people to trust you, you need to be open. You are not going to see anything controversial or political but only be left to make a decision based on who I am as a real person without blasting my convictions. For me, I wouldn’t go out in public as a business or person and yell my viewpoints. Like Facebook, like real life.
Can you give an example of how Covid-19 affected your business?
When Covid hit, the only supply house for flooring in Maine closed, leaving us “essential” workers with no blades, glue or incidentals to install. Contractors Direct became a lifeline here. Even though a few small stores have popped up since then, it has remained our biggest supplier due to fair prices, fast deliveries and impressive stock.
How and why are you involved on a national level?
I try to be very involved in the tile industry, currently serving as one of the 12 board members for the National Tile Contractors Association (NCTA), the NCTA Region One ambassador from the Northeast—which goes from Maine to Pennsylvania—and a state ambassador and national ambassador. My hope in the roles is and always has been to help pull newer folks into the fold, to strengthen our trade and help with the less than desirable retention rates we’ve been facing.
If there is anything I’ve come to know about the contractors we (NTCA) attract is that they take pride in their chosen profession and, like all humans, they want to feel they belong. The NTCA is a non-union union of sorts, which along with CTEF (Ceramic Tile Education Foundation), is the first step in organizing and legitimizing our trade in hopes of future consumer protection though licensing requirements. Through the NTCA and CTEF, one can find mentors, friends and nation-wide installer certifications.
At shows, I try to keep new people engaged, including setting them up with like-minded people to network with—a matchmaking of sorts. We have struggled with retention in the NCTA and with their business, so we need to do something different to keep people connected to NCTA.
Are today’s kids actually lazy, or do they just lack the confidence to jump into a plumbing class at 16 when all they suppose they’re good at is operating electronics? I think the truth is closer to us being lazy.
I see a problem with our ability to accomplish such a lofty goal as national licensing unless we really start to examine ways to secure our youth in years to come. As tradespeople retire and “forty somethings” take over, we aren’t doing any more than our predecessors to encourage youth access to working and creating with their hands. In my own economically challenged, rural area, industrial arts and home ec are things of the past. Replaced with Mandarin and Italian languages in 7th and 8th grade. Not only will the majority of those kids never speak any second language, but many will enter the workforce straight out of high school.
This has caused our once amazing technical program to slowly drop classes and certifications over the years. I liken it to trying out for the basketball team in 11th grade when you’ve never even had access to a basketball. How many kids that age are going to try something they know nothing about? And what kind of disservice are we doing to kids like myself who could not sit still and were not good at academics? These classes are where I learned of my talents and lent me a bit of much-needed self-confidence.
The department of education is a bigger bear to fight than one or one hundred people could possibly take on alone. I often find myself wondering if more of us in the trades offered to commit a bit of time to our local middle school kids, could we cause a ripple big enough to change the tides?
What are your future plans?
I would love to focus on trade schooling to support the industry standards. Right now, we only have licensing for plumbing and electrical in Maine. The kids in my area don’t have access to hands-on opportunities. Trade training is only from 11th grade and after; it has been stripped out of the lower levels and junior high. With less kids coming up in the trades, fewer people my age are doing it and the older contractors are retiring; it is becoming a big problem.
I care about the consumer, installer and the community. It hurts everyone when something or someone fails. Whose fault is it if the youth don’t know what they are doing?
First, we need to get involved. We get on the job and don’t give the younger ones grace. People our age need to position ourselves with free time to give back, such as hiring someone who we will need to train. If we want to sell our businesses, who are we going to sell it to? What are we doing to change it? There is no out except for a social security if you don’t have others to sell it to. We need to build our “social” security with social responsibility. I always try to educate rather than admonish, linking them to the manufacturers and associations that can help them. To be honest, it feeds my “inner nerd” and need to help. We need to do more to train our youth.
On another note, we need to have more people certified. For us, that means more tilers going through Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s (CTEF) trainings and certified tiler test. But having enough people tested and passed, we can go to our legislators to show credentials and training to get licensing for our state.
Connect with Maine Modern Tile, LLC at 207-595-0495, firstname.lastname@example.org or mainemoderntile.com.