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NCTC achieves global reach as tile and stone contractor with safety, training and focus on budget, constructability and responsiveness

Design and Construction Report staff writer

From its beginnings as a small tile and stone contractor in the heart of the recession serving a few select clients in Northern California, NCTS has grown to an almost $20 million a year tile and stone contractor working all over the world.

President Roger Leasure says the company works with large general contractors who have stringent pre-qualification and safety processes. “General contractors who value a subcontractor that can help them with budgeting and constructability from design drawings to construction drawings like to work with us because we help them better define our scope of work and get it done,” he said.

“We focus on large and fast paced jobs and can help the GC plan our scope durations to be as efficient as possible. Finishes are always squeezed on time and the detailed scheduling/planning activities tend to be one of the most critical and over looked areas on these types of projects by subcontractors. We pride ourselves on being a quality tile and stone Installation shop with highly paid and trained craftsmen and a management team knowledgeable of the industries alternative solutions so we can help our clients meet and manage expectations.”

In addition to highly skilled and knowledgeable estimators and project managers, NCTS also supports the industry by growing its own skilled labor base through a recently established in-house training school. The company developed its own 50-page curriculum to address the current industry standards for means and methods on tile/stone installations.

On a weekly basis NCTS instructors bring in groups of setters and finishers to a school built in one of its warehouses, where they walk them through the fundamental principles of different installations and then practice the techniques on large scale mock ups.

“This will represent an investment of around $200,000 this year but it’s an investment to ensure we have skilled people ready to take on the most challenging projects,” Leasure said. “The best way we can provide more value to our clients is to have a larger pool of quality installers than our competition. The quantity and quality of good craftsmen has diminished since the downturn in 2009 and we are being proactive about recruiting and training to grow our work force. On a yearly basis we identify a handful of our installers who we think are qualified and send them through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certification course. For a nonunion shop, this is the equivalent of a journeyman card.”

The company also uses its own skilled labor to work with others in the industry. “I feel so many tile contractors have an us vs. them mentality,” he said. “From our point of view construction is already challenging enough without this attitude. We have a group of mid-sized shops who call us when they are overwhelmed. They will want a couple crews for a week. Small things like that really cement relationships and inversely when we are in a bind we can call on them to help wrap up work on tight schedules.

“Right now, 25 of our 130 guys in the field are from other licensed tile contractors. They like working for us because when they get a little slow we will keep their good guys busy and we pay them weekly without retention and organize and stock the job so they just need to show up and install.”

Leasure says he is careful to note these subs are managed on their jobs by their own foremen and superintendents to ensure quality installations. “We count on them to help us out but in the end it’s our name on the finished product, so we take the quality of their finished work very seriously. Our subcontracting partners who continue to work with us know our standards.”

The company has developed an expertise in handling hospitality projects and malls but performs on a wide range of projects. Some notable projects completed and underway are: Thunder Valley Casino and Resort in Lincoln, CA; Cache Creek Casino and Resort in Brooks, CA; Imperial Palace Casino Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands; Meritage Resort and Spa Napa, CA; Grand Sierra Resort Reno, NV; Valley Fair Mall Renovation and Expansion San Jose, CA.

Leasure says mall work requires specific attention to detail and capabilities including demolition of the existing flooring at night, grinding nightly for public safety, shot blasting to meet the correct profile, floor leveling, installing of membranes for moisture and crack control all before layouts and installation begin.

“A mall project will either require subcontractors for portions of this work or a team of 25 to 30 men often tied up for five or six months. Not to mention the large amounts of equipment for day to day operations and the fact you can’t shut down a mall for renovation work so everything is done at night and has to be open to foot traffic by 8 a.m.

“I remember on a past mall project hiring a local tile setter who walked in and saw the team on scissor lifts hanging plastic, a guy on a bobcat tearing out tile, guys on forklifts, everyone suited up in hardhats, glasses, vests etc. and he remarked that ‘this isn’t tile work, this is heavy construction.’ I think that is the difference that sets us apart from your standard tile shop. We take on scopes of work that normal tile shops won’t and our guys are trained in fall protection, boom lifts, fork lifts, OSHA certifications and current silica standards.”

The company’s work on the Valley Fair Mall renovation and expansion is quite involved and required tearing out 240,000 sq. ft. of stone flooring, grinding, leveling, and anti-fracture membrane. The team also had to deal with degraded concrete slabs in areas that were uncovered during demolition operations.

“We were in the middle of tearing up stone flooring down a major corridor when we noticed large chunks of topping slab were coming up with tile. Once Westfield was brought up to speed on the issue it was determined to continue with demo so that we can evaluate just how much area were dealing with. It made it difficult on schedule for demo operations because we needed to spend a couple extra hours a night in patching divots and uneven areas prior to the mall opening to foot traffic in the morning. In the end we had about 10,000 sq. ft. of area that we were able to salvage with an epoxy concrete healing product. These sorts of issues on the fly with an aggressive renovation schedule make for difficult conversations and nights of little sleep, but we work with our valued clients to figure out solutions that best fit the projects needs to minimize the impact. We are now more than halfway done installing a patterned stone floor made up of 24” equilateral triangles that form a 3D cube pattern. It looks like a MC Escher painting.”

As part of the expansion work, the team will be installing another 110,000 sq. ft. of the same stone paving. Both sides of the project will have large interior walls with a thin stone veneer.

“This material is pretty neat, it is 3/16” natural stone in large 4’x8’ sheets with a foam and aluminum sheet backing,’ he said. “The panels are only 5/16” thick and we are adhering them to sheet rock walls. We are also doing some smaller areas with the same stone in aluminum honeycomb panels that are one inch thick on rail systems. Not to mention all the ‘normal’ 12”x24” porcelain corridors and walls and glass mosaic areas. We will also be performing more of these same installs in the new seven story parking garage. This job is just crazy in size and materials. This job will be a testament to how our company can handle large multifaceted jobs. Westfield has been a great partner on past and current projects.”

NCTS is also preparing for work on three large Nevada projects.  “We recently moved into a 5,000 sq. ft. space in Reno and have been hiring local installers to participate in the Reno/Tahoe boom. We have been also finalizing plans and team members as part of a joint venture to provide support to the Imperial Pacific Casino in Saipan, Asia.  We have plays in the works right now that we are hoping open up some new markets to us.”

Leasure says this wide geographic span is one of the reasons the company rebranded from its former Northern California Tile and Stone to NCTS. “Working on malls in different states and doing some cruise ship remodels in dry docks around the world created situations we just got tired of hearing, ‘Northern California Tile, what are you guys doing here?’ Through our joint venture partner who has opened up global opportunities for us like a hotel in Guam and now the Saipan Casino we decided it was better branding to go with something short non-regional.”

Despite its growth and global reach, Leasure says if there is one phrase that summarizes the way the company does business, it is old school relationships. “Once we get to know you we will do anything for you on a phone call.  South Bay Construction is one of our favorite clients.       “We have a master subcontract with them so they will just call us to start work or issue us a two-page scope, and we go get the work done. Westfield is another one. They called me personally on a Friday and said their tile sub was falling behind schedule on a project in LA. They needed 15 guys to work seven days a week 10-hours a day starting that Monday. I flew down the next day, met with the PM and on a handshake, started things moving that same day. No paperwork, no bid, no contract just a handshake.”

NCTS is a member of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation; the National Tile Contractors Association; and the Natural Stone Institute. Leasure serves on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and runs a 501c3 Coloma River Races that puts on local trail races to benefit JDRF and kids who develop Type 1 Diabetes.

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