When he registered the Tilers Community Facebook page several years ago, Sam Hoffmann had no great expectations, wanting only to create a space for tilers to talk to each other about the topics which affected them. Within a short time though, the page’s popularity exploded, quickly becoming the de facto online home of tilers in the UK, even attracting the attention of some of the industry’s leading companies. This month, TSJ spoke with Hoffman to discuss the page’s massive appeal, and the tangible benefits members have seen since joining.
Sam Hoffman joined the tiling industry as a teenager (“I wasn’t really interested in school at all,” he explains) and, apart from a single year out, has been in the business ever since – over half of the 32-year old’s life. Today, he runs his own company, Hoffman Tiling and Bathrooms Ltd, working with his team on jobs around the South-East coast. Of course, on top of all this, Hoffman works hours equivalent to a second full-time job on the Tilers Community Facebook page.
As is evident from his background, Hoffman is deeply embedded and invested in the UK’s tiling sector. In fact, Tilers Community isn’t even his first foray into social media for the industry – he was previously the admin for another Facebook group, and was even invited to help run the popular Tilers Forum – but it is the first page he was able to establish according to his values and priorities, which may go some way towards explaining its runaway popularity.
According to Hoffman, the page was founded with the primary goal of addressing the industry’s lack of education and support for tilers. With its rapid rise in membership, though, Tilers Community has also become a place where tradespeople can interact with companies directly, getting faster answers to their queries and even securing better deals on products. Simpler than all of that, though, Hoffman says, it’s a place for “just generally helping each other out and having a laugh in between.”
A community effort
“I never really anticipated it would get this big really,” Hoffman says. “It sort of just grew out of control to a point where… well I guess you just have to take control of it, to make sure it works for the members – that’s what it was set up for.” Membership grew steadily over time, he explains, although as the page began collaborating with companies, certain cross-promotions quickly raised awareness among the wider profession. For example, ProTiler Tools ran a campaign where if customers spent a certain amount on an order, they would receive a Tilers Community branded sponge, while UltraTile has started to run specialised training courses in partnership with the group.
It’s fair to say Hoffman has had to learn some new skills ‘on-the-job’ (particularly when companies started asking to promote through the forum) but he’s largely succeeded in keeping the original atmosphere of the page intact. For example, there’s minimal moderation – at least when it comes to the members. “They sort of set their own standards really. There’ll be a couple of times when things might go a little bit crazy but generally, they just police themselves.”
This is particularly impressive considering not only the number of members, but also their diversity of experience and perspective. “There are people who are at the very early stages of learning and have just done their courses,” Hoffman says. “And there are people who’ve been in the trade for 20 years and there’s not much they don’t know.” Despite that, it’s very rare anybody needs to be banned or removed from the group, perhaps in part thanks to the presence of Adrian O’Clements on the admin team. Winner of TTA’s 2022 Tile Fixer of the Year award, O’Clements is “very level-headed,” Hoffman explains. “He knows people, people know him. He’s got a very laid-back approach.” Between them, despite the often-hostile reputation of social media, Hoffman and O’Clements have managed to keep Tilers Community a friendly and welcoming place.
Of course, the members also deserve credit for this achievement. “It’s a community group and that’s why it’s called Community,” Hoffman says – a fact which can be observed most clearly in the page’s typical conversations. Technical questions and advice dominate, with the experienced and knowledgeable offering friendly guidance to those in need, though there’s no shortage of jokes and banter too. Indeed, even when members offer criticism for their fellow tilers’ work, Hoffman says, it’s done in a constructive way. “They’ll say: ‘Oh, you could try it this way next time.’ And people will share tips and tricks, things like that. No one just goes on there and slates anyone’s work.”
This sense of community and goodwill extends beyond the internet, though. “There isn’t a better page out there – I don’t think there’s a page even a quarter as good,” Hoffman says. “One of the members had his van stolen, and within 48 hours, people had already dropped money in a pot and he was able to go to ProTiler Tools and get new equipment.” And this isn’t a singular event: members regular lend tools to each other and donate when their fellow tilers suffer losses (“One had a housefire at a job and the group immediately sent some stuff to get him up and running again.”)
In fact, when regulars go a while without talking in the group, Hoffman makes a point of messaging to check they’re OK. “All we ask – which they do – is just to return that favour the next time something happens to someone else. It’s not just the professional side with the businesses involved that makes it better than any other page out there, it’s the community of people on there who are willing to go out of their way to help each other.”
The professional side
As Tilers Community has grown though, the group has increasingly attracted attention not just from members of the trade, but the companies that support it. This process began slowly, Hoffman explains, and is still in its early stages now, he believes, with many more opportunities already in the pipeline. At the time the page began gaining significant traction, a lot of companies in the industry hadn’t yet embraced social media as part of their marketing strategy. “Some of them had only had accounts for maybe a year or two,” Hoffman says. “So I think they were all watching it.”
Soon, however, it became clear that the page was one of the most popular online hubs for tilers in the UK, representing a new way for companies to interact directly with the trade. Negotiating with these companies has been a challenging role for Hoffman to take on, as the group provides potentially valuable access to a wide market of tilers, all of whom need to purchase products for their job on a regular basis. His guiding principle – and often most difficult task – has been ensuring that whatever commercial agreements the page enters into remain beneficial first and foremost to the membership.
Fortunately, he explains, the companies who have approached him most seriously have largely been interested in providing worthwhile benefits to the members of the group. Instarmac, for example, have invested in bespoke, exclusive training courses for Tilers Community, with four Academy Days available to members each year as well as monthly webinars. As another example, members of the community are offered an exclusive discount with Pro Tiler Tools, in exchange for the company being represented in the page’s header image. These collaborations offer material, tangible benefits to working tilers, rather than flooding their feeds with promotions and adverts.
For Hoffman, education is one of the most valuable resources the page can offer members, and companies have generally been happy to oblige. Beyond the presence of reps who can answer product queries, or the courses available in partnership with the group, Tilers Community has invested in creating resources to help with specific challenges. In one case, Amber Underfloor assisted in the creation of a guide to tiling with underfloor heating, which has proved invaluable as a resource for members to return to. “So rather than the same question being asked all the time,” Hoffman explains, “and rather than ringing up the rep and not having a clue, or even avoiding the job – which is what a lot of people used to do – they can read the guide and have a really good general guide of what to do.”
Perhaps marking its most significant integration into the industry’s ‘official’ side, Tilers Community has developed a positive relationship with The Tile Association. Hoffman believes TTA works in the best interests of the tiling industry, and even sat on the association’s marketing committee, bringing the concerns and feedback of his membership directly to the industry figureheads on that board. “They were quite happy to hear it from our side,” Hoffman says. “Especially since I was representing about 5000 tilers’ opinions and views.”
In its most straightforward form, however, the group offers users some strength in numbers. “The tilers look out for each other,” Hoffman explains. “A lot of companies used to avoid complaints. If there was a problem, it was always fixer error, or you couldn’t get a hold of someone. Now, because there’s a group of you, companies don’t want to get bad press. It’s just making sure they talk to us really.” Indeed, in some cases where there have been issues between tilers and manufacturers, Hoffman has even gotten involved directly to mediate and help work out a solution. While this level of accountability might be somewhat intimidating, those companies who have offered support and transparency to members have seen their reputations improve massively, Hoffman says.
Beyond the trade
Despite the relatively common view that social media is something of a Wild West, Hoffman sees the promotion of high-quality, professional work as one of the Tilers Community’s most valuable functions. To achieve this, while the main page is strictly for members of the trade, the group has set up an additional page called Tilers Community – Find A Tiler, which also admits customers.
The benefits of this are twofold: on the one hand giving customers an easy place to find proficient tilers, and on the other, giving tilers an authoritative perspective to explain pricing and installation decisions to these prospective customers. For example, the page’s admins post educational resources for customers, explaining what steps need to be taken for installations to conform to British Standards, and how these steps might affect a final price. “We’re basically educating the customer so they know if they’re getting a better deal, which in turn hopefully encourages tilers to make sure they’re doing the best they can as well.”
Pricing can, of course, be a thorny topic. “People are a little bit secretive because they don’t want someone going in and undercutting them,” Hoffman points out. Nonetheless, with the wide gaps in experience between different members, newer tilers will often ask for guidance on how to price for particular jobs, and receive helpful advice. “We don’t generally see posts like: ‘How much per sqm for this or that?’ It’s usually more along the lines of: ‘I’ve never done a herringbone job before, how much longer does it take?’” While there are countless variables that can affect the pricing for a given job, these discussions are yet another way members can help one another out.
Onwards and upwards
From here, Hoffman anticipates the page will continue to grow, and his responsibilities with it. “It’s almost like a full-time job,” he laughs. “I’ve probably got 700-800 emails from different companies. It’s trying to sort that out, along with the day job, that takes me away from actually joining in with the members.” In order to negotiate effectively with companies, Hoffman has registered Tilers Community as a limited company (although in keeping with his commitment to transparency with the members, he shared the legal documents with the group).
Between the pressure and the time commitment of these responsibilities, Hoffman believes he will eventually have to change the group’s structure. “Although it’s not part of a plan, I think it will have to go more commercial so we can do some of these things,” he says. “As it’s bigger, it gets harder to keep up, and the only people losing out is the members, because there’s so much being offered, I don’t have time to take them up on it.”
So, will Tilers Community ever be Hoffman’s full-time job? While he says it will likely never be a huge profit-making operation, there will eventually come a time where he will need to be compensated – at least enough to justify the time and resources spent on the page. Considering everything he’s built for the UK tiling industry, that doesn’t seem like too tall an ask.