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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight – Erin Albrecht, Director of Operations and Preconstruction, J&R Tile

Spotlight – Erin Albrecht, Director of Operations and Preconstruction, J&R Tile

image Erin Albrecht, back row far right, and her staff have put an emphasis on training and education.

SAN ANTONIO – Erin Albrecht’s road to director of operations at J&R Tile was not a direct path into her family’s company. Starting off in a small town southeast of San Antonio, Albrecht played college basketball, changed schools, was an educator and coach all before coming home to the family business.

    Albrecht uses her background to make her installers the most professional and certified in the tile industry.

So what is your background?
    I’m from Kosciusko, a community about an hour southeast of San Antonio, and you probably don’t know - but it’s a very big Polish community. It’s the first Polish community in the United States.  I grew up on a ranch and working with my hands. Everybody speaks Polish in our community. It’s an interesting place.
    I grew up with a good work ethic from my mom and stepdad, and family of strong Polish women. They didn't have much, and it’s all about the grind and working for everything you have.
    My stepdad and uncle, the J and R in J & R – Johnny and Raymond Kotara – were union tile setters. They went through the union formal apprenticeship training in the 1970s. They worked for a company that was closing the doors, so they went down to the bank, took out a small business loan and paid it off the first year. We’ve been around 30 years.

Tell me about your early life?
    I went to Poth High School and played college basketball after that. I grew up in the sticks where kids sometimes drove tractors to school.
    It was typical of south Texas schools, except Poth is known for its powerhouse girls’ athletic programs. We won state championships when I was there for volleyball and basketball, and the tradition continues today.

How did sports play a part in your life?
    Coaches Peggy Hosek and Patti Zenner from Poth High School are huge influences in my life, and their names are known across the coaching community in the entire State of Texas.
    Your last name and the community you represent means everything in Poth. I was lucky enough to get recruited when I was there and went to Concordia University in Austin.  I didn’t want to move too far, because it’s a little piece of heaven down there where I’m from. I’ve always been a big homebody.

How was life in Austin?
    Austin was just far enough but wasn’t too far away. It’s kind of a crazy story. My roommate, in college that I played ball with, got into a car accident in a pickup truck and she died. That was three years in and I had knee reconstruction and my roommate died. It was a lot of rehab and I had to get out of there. I transferred to UT-San Antonio and graduated.
    The only things I only knew were construction and basketball. When I went to college, I wanted to study business and my family said absolutely not. I got my teaching certification and started teaching and coaching at Marshall High School here in San Antonio. I worked for them for eight years and every summer I was flipping houses - going to J&R Tile and getting all the leftover materials and working with my hands.
    Funny enough, I stole my estimator Richard Herrick from Marshall. We worked together with at-risk youth, data-driven decisions for standardized testing. It was like Dangerous Minds, but the San Antonio version.  We had a blast.

How did you end up at J&R then?
    I sat them down after I got my Master’s degree in education while teaching/coaching full time and earned their respect. Running crews is a lot like coaching a basketball team. I coached varsity girls’ basketball at Marshall and made the switch.
    I grew up driving the forklift and being the delivery driver. I was off doing side jobs with dad in the country. I’ve always loved it, but my family didn’t want me to get into it because it was too much stress.  My mother, Chris, is the CEO and stress is relative, and coaching and teaching at a 5A high school is no easy task.  I wanted to put a winning team together at J&R.  Build a Poth H.S.-type team.  Coaching in a big city is different. The sense of pride, community, and what your name is isn't the same.  I needed to go where I could make a difference.

What experiences as a teacher and coach have you taken with you to J&R Tile?
    I mentored under an outstanding PM/estimator, Merrill Moy, who showed me the ropes. I just kind of sat back and took it all in and thought about what I could do to bring us up to date and make improvements. We run our entire company through a Cloud-based project management system. It was a good transition for me because my background is in education. I came in and saw some things we can improve on.   
    We’ve always had a good reputation in the city. We decided to challenge the men. I told them ‘Look, this is what we’re going to do. We’re not just going to say we’re the best anymore.’ We wanted to make these guys study and they’re going to walk into the field and are educating people. They are walking TCNA handbooks.

How did you get them up to speed?
    They had to pass a 155-question test and a rigorous 10-hours, hands-on test. We want high standards and are going to have the continuing education and training to back it up. We certified all of our installers, even though we lost a couple because they wouldn't buy in.
    To be competitive, you have to be a problem solver and have solutions. We are trained in new technologies to save people money and give warranties from 5-12 years.  Ardex Tile & Stone has been a great partner, and their systems and materials are top notch. We have hands-on training at the warehouse on new products all time.  The men in our company have really embraced that model, and love to learn about the newest technologies and products. 
    Plus, Frank Galvan from Ardex is a Certified Tile Installer himself, so he speaks our language.  We are an Ardex Choice Contractor, and value our partnership. Every project we are involved in or quote has a job specific warranty from headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA. I actually had dinner and spent some time with the president, his wife, and the director of marketing in Pittsburgh a couple of months ago with my fiancé.

What does having your installers certified do?
    Because of our employee's certifications, we are a National Tile Contractor Association (NTCA) 5 Star Contractor. We are considered the best of the best in the industry. There are only 50 of us in the country, and many complicated projects are specified by architects to have NTCA 5 Star Contractors or TCAA Trowel of Excellence (Union) only.   We have two installers that are Advanced Certified Installers(ACT). Our CTI's  had to do a module mock up and they have an evaluator come down from Mississippi. They have a certain amount of time to do everything to standard. Then, they rip it apart and take photographs of everything and check for proper amounts of coverages to today's standards.  I also serve on the NTCA Education and Training Committee. 
    We’re really proud of our men for all passing; it's very uncommon. We have two of the most qualified tile setters in the country with the ACT designation. The other big thing is that Triniti (ACT/CTI) just got back from Chicago, and we’re so big on everyone else stepping up their game around here that he will be the CTI evaluator in the state of Texas for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). There’s no excuse anymore for others not to sign up since we have an evaluator in Texas. 

How has all of this changed how you do business?
    We used to just do tile. Now we’re doing moisture remediation and self-leveling products for over 8,000-sf floors that have zero tile. The men we have, I can’t explain how professional they are. They have been to Crossville, Stonepeak, and Dekton Cosentino Thin Panel Porcelain training, and have had the manufacturers pay to fly them all around the country for trainings and factory certifications. Tile now is 5' x 10', and there is a lot of training and tools needed!  Our installers take pride in their training, qualifications, and skills.
    Triniti Vigil is a Ceramic Tile Education Foundation evaluator and advanced certified installer in five areas (Large Format Tile, Membranes, Mud Floors/Walls, Thin Porcelain Tile). Adam Arrellano is also an advanced certified tile installer.  Adam and Triniti spent three days doing this on hands testing at Coverings in Chicago last year.  Eleazer Maldanado, Victor Arrendondo and Jimmy Martinez are all CTI's. I am also very happy to say that Johnny Kotara is a CTI too!
    The Department of Labor has approved a three-year apprenticeship program, and we have four men currently enrolled, and three men signed up and taking the CTI Test in April. There is a serious skilled labor shortage in the industry, and we hope to help the State of Texas get apprenticeships back in local high schools and community colleges.  Our CTI's have worked with the P.A.C.E. program and Construction Careers High School, talking to kids about a future as professionals in tile installation. 

Are you married or do you have kids?
    I’m engaged and I have three dogs. We have a little wiener dog named Tucker, a retriever named Bear, and a French Bulldog puppy named Lewis. Lewis is in potty training mode now. He’s a mess.

Do you have any big events coming up?
    The National Tile Contractors Association and the Tile Council of North America picked three outstanding contractors in the country to go to Orlando in April to Coverings, which is the largest worldwide tile and stone convention. We received the first invitation. We’re going to be featured on HGTV’s Tiny Houses doing the tile and decking it out.
    We have also been specified on a very large commercial project by a local architect as a NTCA Five Star Contractor with Advanced Certified Installers.  We collaborated and were involved early in the project with budget bids and recommendations.  The entire project has Ardex specified as well, and we are offering a 12-year warranty. I've been working a lot lately with architects and directly with developers and owners that want things done correctly the first time and are asking for help. I think our value just might be starting to catch on. –cs


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Chris Schoonover chris@constructionnews.net