Don Dathe, as Trim-Tex’s Regional Sales Manager for the southern half of U.S., is a guy who’s built up a reputation for integrity and enthusiasm for the craft of drywall over the years. The Texas-based salesman has formed trusting relationships with his customers —our dealer and distribution partners — that have bloomed into friendships. He has become known as a source of expertise throughout the industry, and a person his customers know they can always call for a question or a tip.
You may already know and love Trim-Tex's drywall solutions, but we want you to get to know some of the people who have made this manufacturing mainstay what it is for the past 51 years. Today, you’ll meet the Texas Trim-Tex expert Don Dathe, and learn why he thinks drywallers need to re-learn to slow down a little.
Can you tell us about your background with Trim-Tex and the drywalling industry?
I’ve been with Trim-Tex for just over 10 years now. Prior to that — I don’t know, do you want to go in the way-back time machine? I’ve been in this industry basically my whole life. My dad was a carpenter, who then went on to eventually open his own business. So I started working in the industry, you know, as most kids do, helping dad out on the weekends.
But I started full-time in the construction industry in the early 1980s, you know, starting out as an apprentice carpenter. The experience was awesome. From the time I was very young, I had that passion for learning how things together, how to build things, how to make things work. Whether it was a bicycle or a car or a shed or a house or a garage or whatever — those kinds of things always piqued my interest.
I spent a few years going through the apprenticeship, became a journeyman carpenter, and the next steps or the progression from there would be foreman, superintendent, estimating, then sales. In some weird, roundabout way, I found out about Trim-Tex. There was an opening, and it intrigued me — we went through, at that time, a very lengthy interview process, and I absolutely loved it.
My only true regret is that I didn’t find Trim-Tex sooner in my career.
Since you mostly worked in carpentry before Trim-Tex, what was it about the drywalling industry that got you passionate about it?
I guess I have a little different perspective about drywall than a lot of people do. Just like everybody that’s in the industry, we drive our spouses crazy, because we walk into a house, a restaurant, an office, and we’re looking around and we’re critiquing other people’s work. Usually, not in a positive way.
When you install drywall, generally speaking, that’s for the life of the structure! Everything else in a building, whether it’s a commercial building or a house, everything else gets changed — gets updated. New cabinets, new windows. But the drywall portion, that stays for life.
What do you love about working with your customers, the drywall supply dealers and distributors?
Truly, I enjoy the dealers, the distributors and the contractors. For my first probably five or six years at Trim-Tex, I did both, the distribution side and contractor side.
I’m extremely happy working with our distributors. I find it really rewarding when I can build a trusting relationship with our customers. I often find myself referring to customers more as friends. It’s really nice when you can kind of meet and exceed what their expectations are.
Being on the sales side of it, people are very surprised when you actually can talk the technical side of the products — the true benefits to them, and why they should be important to their sales people to know about products and how they’re installed. Surprisingly — or, I think, maybe not surprisingly — I think I’ve earned a lot of respect over the years from a lot of the distributors, because they know they can call me with those kinds of questions.
I really like to share my experience and my knowledge about the products themselves, but I think it’s even more valuable that I understand the process, and the struggles that they go through with some of the situations they find themselves in.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face on the job?
I guess we can’t talk about what COVID’s done to us — that would take up another hour of our day. [Laughs.]
A big challenge for me is understanding the mindset of someone who has no real concern for quality of either products or installation, or the craft of what they’re doing. Now everybody’s in the mindset that it has to be done super-fast, and I’m constantly amazed when people always find time to go back and fix things three times, yet they can’t take the time to do it right the first time. And that’s pretty common in our industry.
I also think that our industry in general has evolved in so many ways — we have better equipment, better tools, better materials. But we don’t invest the time into providing a more quality labor force, a better-trained labor force. I think one of the biggest struggles in our industry right now is that we don’t have enough training for young people getting into the industry. They’re learning from their dads or their uncles or neighbors — which is great, but they’re learning things from 30 years ago.
They’re not always learning about some of the newer products, some of the newer technologies that are available in the construction world. And I think, if we don’t start doing a better job of that, people are going to look at a construction job as, you know, just a job — for people who didn’t go to college, or if you drop out of school, the only job you can get is in construction digging ditches. But it’s a career! And that’s the way it should be looked at: it’s a great career! And I think that we have to change the mindset with a lot of people that this is a great way to make a living, and it should be considered that way.
What’s your favorite Trim-Tex product?
You’re gonna laugh. I work in sales. So my favorite Trim-Tex product is anything that’s sold out the door with the letter “T” on the box. [Laughs.]
I don’t know that I really have a favorite. I guess, if I was going to break it down a little bit, as far as the decorative-type beads? I like Chamfer Bead. That would certainly be my favorite. If I were building a house today, I would use a lot of Chamfer Bead in it, but durability-wise, any place that my grandkids were going to be running around in, I’d probably put Mud Set Rigid in. [Laughs.] Just because of the strength and durability of it.
Product with the most potential: Fast Edge Paper. I was really campaigning for a paper faced product for many, many years. I’m crazy about that.
I live in the state of Texas, though, and we sell more Bullnose in the state of Texas than anywhere else in the country, so, you know, maybe the politically correct answer should be that Bullnose would be my favorite. [Laughs.]