Contractor Spotlight: Robert Smeton. The tile businessman’s success story.

In this edition, we sat down with Robert Smeton, owner of Artisan Granite & Tile LLC in Nine Mile Falls, WA, who is a Certified Tile Specialist through the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone. Smeton is also Certified Tile Installer #1003 with the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program, an active member of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and a marble mason.

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

Smeton: I am a second-generation tile mechanic. Starting out in Palm Springs, I grew up working with my dad until I was old enough to get a job with another company. I then joined the union in Las Vegas, NV, and became an apprentice installer. I worked on most of the major hotels, the longest being the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and even a couple up in Tahoe. I worked there for 11 months as a finisher journeyman, then moved to Oahu, HI. After one year there, I finished my apprenticeship to journeyman. I continued installing for a few firms, honing skills in flagstone and more exterior work with fine interiors. Knowing the trade made it possible to move around. I got an offer to move back to the West Coast and ended up running the tile division of a waterproofing company, WICR, Inc. I traveled everywhere from San Diego, CA, to Las Vegas, NV — even up to Malibu, CA. Then, after meeting my wife, I moved to Spokane, WA, where I currently reside.

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

Smeton: I own my own business to have increased autonomy and pass on the trade to others. There is a huge lack of qualified skilled trade journeymen or organizations helping pass on the correct installation methods. It makes for a tough time finding employees; most we train in-house.

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

Smeton: When I first started, everything was mud work and smaller-sized tiles. Things have changed quickly. Now, in simple terms, bigger is better.

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

Smeton: Well, there have been many, but we did just finish a pretty large residential home in Liberty Lake, WA, which spans 23,000 square feet. We completed a full kitchen and fireplace remodel with the addition of an exterior deck with precast baluster railings and travertine arches. The system we employed was Merkrete’s 747 exterior dual membrane for exterior decking, using flashing details for the door saddle’s custom-fit Z-shape. We applied the urethane first coat, followed by floating with deck mud, engaging the expansion joint based on the pattern layout. We followed up with another membrane system from Merkrete, BFP, to encapsulate the mud bed for full protection.

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

Smeton: In most cases, the substrates. Also, the lack of just knowledge of the correct applications. The TCNA Handbook has been my biggest weapon against the mass ignorance of builders and new hire installers. The constant changing schedules and the constant flow of change orders for all jobs. I have to constantly be moving my labor force, which is not ideal for the job or the employee, as consistency is key to a nice job.

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

Smeton: I review TCNA guidelines, dry times and longevity of products — comparing and contrasting the actual use of certain products for that application.

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

Smeton: Integrity, integrity, integrity. And following the TCNA Handbook to ensure the longevity of your craftsmanship.