Always Ready for a Challenge

BK Tile & Stone

With its 10th anniversary on the horizon in April, the family-owned, New York state-based BK Tile & Stone credits this milestone to the owners’ and employees’ strong work ethic, excellent relationships with contractors, and the ability to continually tackle logistically challenging projects across the state, embracing work in areas that many contractors aren’t willing to attempt.

Its location in Chester, an hour north of New York City, means the company’s job sites aren’t always easy to access, creating long hours coupled with complex working conditions. There are a number of large-scale projects in the pipeline, however, that BK Tile & Stone are definitely excited about, and they’re ready to undertake any venture with tenacity and determination.

“We’re always willing to approach logistically challenging projects,” says business development manager Austin Darmstadter. “We do a lot of tricky jobs including work in the city for the Metro Transit Authority, and that’s extremely logistically challenging because most of it has to be done off hours. For work on the train station, they’ll shut down the train for a specific amount of time. Typically it’s a Sunday night when they do it, so all 15 subcontractors working on the project will run in and do as much as they possibly can in one night.”

Other projects include the Air Force, and work on the rebuild of the new World Trade Centre, where anything delivered has to be searched by the TSA before entering the site. Everyone involved must also have costly background checks done for every single project.

“We deal with a lot of things like that,” he says. “Location wise, we encompass a wide range of area, so that’s also something we attribute a lot of success to, is that we’ve expanded our geographic region over the past few years, and we’re in a location that most of our competitors are not.”

Although based an hour north of New York City, much of the company’s work is located in or around the city, but BK Tile & Stone also has completed projects up north at West Point’s Military Academy, which is located closer to them than their competitors. But again, challenges include using parkways and road systems that aren’t always readily or easily accessible.

“To get into West Point is also pretty strict. You need ID badges that you renew every year and everyone has to be searched. So it’s very similar to airports as well. But, it’s given us an advantage because we’re geographically closer to those locations.”

One of BK Tile & Stone’s biggest recent accomplishments is the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark located in Monticello, NY, a small and remote region with its own set of unique challenges.

“It’s pretty much No Man’s Land,” says Darmstadter. “It’s a county of a population of 6,000, and it’s pretty far from anything. It’s an hour from us and more north, and all of our guys, our field employees, are based around the city, so this was a very logistically challenging project to man because of where it is.”

The hotel undertaking was also a union project with a different wage zone, he says. “You have NYC and you have the outer tribes and the outer boroughs, and upstate has its own zone for wages that are significantly less, so it was very difficult to get people to work up there,” he says. “Basically everyone we had, we had to pay NYC rates in Monticello for the most part. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was difficult to get people to work there because of how far away it was.”

The Kartrite Resort featured more than 100,000 square feet of tile — with more than 40 different types of tile — used in bathrooms, the lobby, entertainment centre arcade, waterpark, restaurant, bar, and kitchen areas, during the six-month long project.

Darmstadter says that while the company attempts to use one tile manufacturer for the installation, it’s not always an easy feat, so maintaining good relationships within the industry as a whole is imperative. He explains that plans made in 2017 for a huge building of 300,000 square feet, for instance, might not be awarded to a subcontractor until the fourth quarter of 2018. By that time, a year-and-a-half has passed, and the tile the contractor wanted to use initially might be discontinued, or has issues.

“When you have a subcontractor you’ve worked with a lot it makes it easier to say, ‘hey by the way, this is what we’re submitting and this is what we’re using in lieu,’ whereas when you work with a contractor that doesn’t know you, that tends to make people very nervous,” he says.

Good relationships make a huge difference, he says, and BK Tile & Stone attempts to keep a strong bond with contractors who are good to them.

“We have a lot of longstanding relationships with contractors who have made us key and primary subcontractors. So pretty much any project that they get, we’ll get a call on because of the work ethic we’ve shown, and how past projects have gone. When we take on new contractors, one of our main focuses is that they have an overall enjoyable experience using us as a subcontractor.”

Unforeseen, rising Chinese tariffs also can make materials exceedingly expensive, creating potentially vast price differences on a 50,000-square-foot project.

“It’s not our fault or anyone’s fault, but it’s something that happens, and when it does, we have to take care of it,” he says. “But when we have general contractors that aren’t used to working with us, it can make that whole process a lot harder.”

Creating solid, trustworthy relationships also holds true for the company’s employees, he says, stressing the importance of a healthy and strong rapport, and ensuring the atmosphere is both friendly and supportive for everyone.

“We’re always available for employees when they have obstacles or issues, we try to keep productivity up, and we treat our employees the same way we treat our customers, because they’re ultimately helping us finish our projects.”

Obstacles the company has faced and continue to face include its rapid growth — they boast 85 workers in the field and 14 in the office — and, of course, its location. They’re now five times the size of what they were originally, having moved from management who wanted to stay local, to being open to expansion in new geographic regions.

“We’ve had a lot of growing pains, hiring new employees as fast as we can,” says Darmstadter. “It’s just been a matter of having a solid managing team and a solid project management team, and very solid estimating team, and that’s pretty much where we’re at right now. We’re picking up the pieces and we’re now adjusting to the size that we are.”

The next few years include maintaining their present size, he says, handling the growth they’ve had, and avoiding the potential downfall of many companies that grow quickly over a short period of time.

“When you have too much going on, you can’t give people the right attention. You’re spread too thin, and when you’re growing exponentially you can’t give every customer the same amount of attention and great customer service you once gave. We try to hire as many people as we can to ensure that we continue to do what we’ve always done, and keep the same relationships we’ve always had.”

BK Tile & Stone deals with numerous contractors for projects ranging from a million dollars all the way down to $5,000, while giving the same amount of attention to both.

“We find a lot of bigger companies tend to lose that aspect, so that’s also a part of our goal for the next few years,” he says.

They’re also considering expanding into a stone fabrication shop in the future. Presently, they sub out their stone fabrication, and want to ensure they have enough work lined up to make it feasible, as well as possibly moving into Connecticut and Pennsylvania, as well.

Other exciting upcoming projects include a 12-floor NYU apartment building with tile work in all the bathrooms and elevator lobbies, an urban space featuring a market food hall, digital skills training centre, and office space.

Completed projects that BK Tile & Stone take great pride in include work in Bloomingdales in Willowbrook, NJ, Forever 21 at the World Trade Center, DUTY Free Shoppes at the JFK Airport, Google Manhattan Offices, Tiffany and Co., at the Garden State Plaza, Bryan Park’s Soul Cycle, and various locations of Lululemon, Ugg Australia, Toys R Us and Victoria’s Secret.

BK Tile & Stone’s measure of success, says Darmstadter, has always been and will remain the quality of its work, and that makes it stand out from the competition.

“We want to make everything as perfect as possible,” he says. “And while ultimately at the end of the day you measure the success of a business by the profitability, of course, we would say the quality of our work tends to result in little to no punch list, which also leads to a higher profitability. That also helps with our relationships with customers as well, because if we don’t have punch lists, that makes their life easier and happier and obviously if they’re going to put their name on something, they want the work to be as high quality as it can.”

From Here to There

Throughout history, humans have been limited by simple logistics – how to get from here to there? For thousands of years, venturing out of one’s village required braving wild and rugged terrain. Travel was inherently dangerous. Roads were rough and rudimentary, if there were any at all.

September 30, 2020, 3:15 AM EDT