Challenges for Trade Professionals: A Conversation with Bestbath

Bestbath and SGC Horizons recently sat down to discuss the job gap in the skilled labor force. This second segment in the 3 part series discusses the challenges for trade professionals in the workforce.

 

 
Did you miss the first part of our series? Catch up with the conversation: Repercussions of the Skilled Labor Gap: A conversation with Bestbath.
 


 
The following is a transcript of the video “Challenges for Trade Professionals: A Conversation with Bestbath” :

Adam Grubb, SGC Horizon: Do you think that the money and the financial calling of a labor position is a hindrance? That kids, young adults, young professionals that are coming into this segment don’t realize that, “Look, I’m not going to be making only $12 grand a year. I can make good money by doing this and be part of a crew and be part of home building, which is the foundation,” not to get rhetoric on you, “but the foundation of America is that.”

Greg Wells, Bestbath: It’s home building, absolutely. It’s the American dream, right? So I think we’re in an interesting time for the fact that…I mean I have a couple of kids, and with my kids, you know, you want a good future, go to college. They’re focusing on going to college. They have the opportunity to do that and I think if you look at the history of the U.S., and we had the labor issues, and if you had people in the past where, “Okay Adam, let’s get out of the factory. Let’s go get to a higher paying job. Let’s go get the education so that you’re not dependent on the factory.” Really, the factory workers did not have a lot of power and it was dependent on the manufacturing in the U.S. that determined their future.

And it was one of those things that, culturally, it just felt like you had better control of your future if you were in more of a professional career. And I think it’s changing a little bit in the U.S., so people are understanding that manufacturing jobs are a viable career, but it’s going to take some time to do that…

Adam: Well you said the keyword, craftsmanship, earlier and that to me is the main point. Anybody can do a job who has half a brain. When you say, “Look, do this,” they can follow directions and do it. But what you’re looking for and what manufacturers are looking for and homeowners are looking for is a true craftsmanship. So there’s a lot of manufacturers that we see where it’s robotic and there’s not a lot of people in the plant, but the ones that are there, those are sometimes the most key people in the entire process because they’re the ones that bring that craftsmanship, that human touch, and that feel and that passion to the end product. And without that, you just have a bunch of robots moving stuff around and hoping for the best.

Greg: Yeah, exactly. You’re right. They have to know the product, they have to know what it should look like, they have to know how it goes together. They need to understand more than just what the end unit’s supposed to look like. We talked a little bit earlier today that millennials, they’re more demanding. They want stuff now and they want it to be perfect and they want it to be what they want. So that’s where that craftsmanship and being able to give exactly what they’re looking for and do it right the first time, that’s important.

Adam: You sat in a room with eight or nine remodelers in the local market and you talked about their business, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and a resounding note from them was, “We do not want warranty issues. We don’t want call-backs. We don’t want disputes over a manufacturer’s product. If the manufacturer has an issue or the product has an issue, we want the manufacturer to come out and fix it, we don’t have time or the staff to come back to homes and deal with problems.” Not that they won’t, they stand behind their work, but they don’t feel like they should have to because that’s partly the manufacturer’s job. Do you agree?

Greg: I agree 100%. The manufacturer needs to build the product right. Now it’s incumbent on the builders to purchase the products that are quality products. If you’re going to buy cheap and expect not to have problems, you’ve got to rethink. So get the right product in the first place for sure. But on the manufacturing side, we want to make sure the product works every time. Because if there is an issue, we will stand behind it as well. The margins aren’t there to be able to go back to a job site once, let alone three or four times, to fix a problem.

Adam: And that starts with labor. That starts with the workers.

Greg: That starts with labor.

Adam: The problem that I see is that it’s multi-layered, it affects everybody, nobody has a solution, and there’s not a lot of things out there in people and organizations. Everyone’s touting numbers. Everyone’s saying, “Hey, unemployment’s at an all-time low.” Or, depending on who you talk to, “Is at an all-time high.” All the numbers are different. There’s a gap between employment and skilled employment, which is a new stat that has started to trend. There’s just too much. There’s too much for people to even wrap their head around. So how do you guys do it? How do you do it as a manufacturer?

Greg: Well, for us honestly it is a struggle as well, because we’re trying to get the skilled labor, the market’s growing, we’re trying to fill our crew in the factory and train the factory. So it starts from the basis of having a product that people can be proud of and stand behind to taking the time to train them, anticipating movement in the marketplace, being able to have the product when needed.

One thing that I can talk toward a little bit, a number of builders that I did speak with at the builder show a few weeks ago, they came up and were talking to BestBath about shower pans, as an example. Most of them were having problems with call-backs in their tiled showers because the pans were leaking. So they were interested in getting a pan where they didn’t have to worry about a call-back. So with the composite pans we offered, they still are able to have a tile shower surround, customize it for the homeowner, but it eliminated a potential problem of the leaky tile pan. So that’s our focus of how we look at it. That’s a solution. We have obviously a complete shower solution for people.

Adam: Let me make sure I understand. You guys, in theory, invented a product or a solution based upon the fact that there were typical problems or issues with the normal way that people would have tiling. You had to create a solution because the work just wasn’t there? Right?

Greg: It’s a big part of it, absolutely, because we know with the shower pans, for example, this is part of the labor shortage that we talked about. You have to have the tile setters, and tile setters are one of the craftsmen that are in biggest demand right now. And it’s one of the higher ones that they don’t have the quality people out there that know how to do it well. When you have water involved, water can always find the smallest hole and can cause problems in leaking and dripping down through the ceilings of the stair downs…or the ceiling downstairs. And so that’s an opportunity that when we saw that and heard about that, we said, “Hey, we have a solution. It works great. It fits the customized needs and demands of any customer. Millennials, aging in place, whatever it is.” So it incorporates…it doesn’t change what’s happening necessarily in the house, it’s just a solution that takes less time to install with fewer problems.