Are You Paying Attention? – January 3, 2016

Back in August of last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down a new standard that “rewrites U.S. Labor law and upends thousands of business relationships”. Their reasoning is that the old standard was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances”. Reaction was swift with several calling it “alarming” and “fundamentally unrealistic”. The new rule stems from the board’s watershed Browning-Ferris decision which dealt with joint-employer relationships. While the rule will have far reaching effects on industries from staffing companies to franchises, it will also have great effect on the construction industry in terms of how our labor is classified. And yes you should at the very least be aware and even concerned.

The focus of this ruling for our industry concerns the classification of labor into the camps of employees and sub-contractors. While the NLRB, the governmental agency that implements the National Labor Relations Act, has found it within their jurisdiction and infinite wisdom to reverse several decades of practice in labor relationships, they are of the opinion that the line between the two to be blurred to the point that action separating them must be taken. The dissenters on the board who voted against this decision said it “reverses several prior decisions that established clear standards…all of which had been approved by powerful federal courts of appeal”. This is specifically addressing the use of 1099-based labor in the construction industry.

I’m sure many are aware of the IRS’s 20 Point Checklist for Determining an Independent Contractor (http://art.mt.gov/artists/IRS_20pt_Checklist_%20Independent_Contractor.pdf) which has been used in the past to make the distinction between an employee and a subcontractor. It now appears that the NLRB wishes to go beyond this already stringent test to make it even more so as the Obama administration chases “perceived worker rights abuses” as a main target as increased funding to both the NLRB and the IRS has increased in the last few years. The rule seems to actively seek to “restrict and tighten the use of independent contractors “ in the construction industry. This matter is especially poignant to the homebuilding industry since the NAHB states that a typical builder “relies on an average of 22 subcontractors to build a typical single family home.” Much of this stems from the toughening stance put forth from the Department of Labor and an administrator’s opinion that stated that the DOL “is putting more weight on a subcontractor’s economic independence when it decides whether that sub really ought to be regarded as an independent enterprise”. No longer is the IRS’s checklist enough. Now subcontractors must show “the managerial and business skills that are part of being and independent contractor, not just providing skilled labor”.

At stake is misclassification of your labor, if you use subcontractors, and the perception that they should have been W-2 based employees. The money it could cost you if they deem you have breached their new rules “can be ruinous”. It has been said that “reclassification attacks are very expensive to defend” and the resulting actions trigger a “domino-like effect” that if you lose your case can have you paying beloved fees such as past due overtime, past due health insurance, past due retirement benefits, past due employee benefits, past due worker’s compensation insurance, past due state and federal withholding taxes plus penalties and interest and enormous legal fees to the other side.

I doubt any installation contractors in our industry want to incur such onerous penalties that could potentially put them out of business, so each must understand the risks and rewards of this issue. This issue is currently being researched and information is being disseminated by the installation industry. There has even been a period of time after this ruling for associations such as ours to comment to the NLRB our opinion of the rule and how it will affect our members.

There has been legislation proposed in Congress to undo the rule by representatives whose constituents have shown an “immense backlash” to it. I urge you to consider the ramifications of the NLRB’s new rule on your business and our industry. Do some research into how the rule will be applied in your state. I also urge you to contact your legislators to support, as one congressman put it, “commonsense proposals that would restore policies in place long before the NLRB’s radical decision, the very same policies that served workers, employers, and consumers well for decades.”

A program on this very subject will be presented at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas and is just one of the educational opportunities available there January 19.

Qualified Labor – January 2016

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CTI exam tests and teaches Hawthorne Tile’s project manager Shon Parker learns from the Certified Tile Installer evaluation

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

shon-parker

Shon Parker

In 2014, when Shon Parker of Hawthorne Tile walked into his local Portland, Ore., Daltile, he glanced at the modules for the hands-on portion of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Test and thought it would take only a few hours to complete. He was surprised that it took six hours, and that the written part of the test was so thorough. “The hands-on [test] looks deceptively easy, and just like the written test, was broad in what was being tested…given the small space it was in.”

Parker started in the tile industry in 1987 and has been a journeyman for 20 years. He describes the hands-on portion as “not too bad,” but admits the written portion “took a bit of studying.” He explains, “I felt I had a good understanding of specifications in our industry before the test, but going through some of the questions made me realize how much is really out there.”

Parker learned about the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certifications at a Schluter training event for NTCA contractors. After talking to NTCA assistant executive director Jim Olson about the CTEF, Parker and two other installers from Hawthorne Tile signed up for the certification.

“When I heard about the opportunity,” Parker said, “I thought it would be an asset for our company and something to set us apart from our local competition.” Since becoming certified, Parker said the installers at Hawthorne Tile “educate our clients and builders prior to starting any project. We also spend more time at our vendors and chatting with our reps to make sure we are always moving forward to produce a better product.”

Parker feels like he has a better understanding about his industry than a lot of his competition. “Hawthorne Tile has always been about giving our clients the best-looking project we can. Now we know we can give them a well-functioning and technically correct one as well.”

The benefits of becoming certified are obvious to Parker. “Why wouldn’t you [become certified]?” Parker asked. “As more people understand the value of what [certification] means, it will increase your worth to employers and clients,” Parker said. “It’s really one of the best ways to bring up wages in our industry.” He likens it to someone who goes to college for computer programming and obtains a degree – that person will get “a better salary than a guy playing around on his laptop and reading some books in his spare time,” he said.

Parker pointed out that the trade now relies both on hands-on skills as well as an important base of knowledge. “To be successful, you need to be equally skilled at both,” he said. “There are so many new materials out and designers asking to put tile in new locations, plus all the new things tile is being made out of, from new types and sizes of glass to the relatively new thin porcelain type of material like Laminam. Education is key to keeping your liability as low as possible.”

Going through the certification process winds up being educational even though it’s a testing program. During his CTI testing, Parker learned about thin-set coverage and the differences between thin-set mortars. “I always knew that more coverage was better,” Parker said, “but there are differences between wet vs. dry locations.”

Hawthorne Tile now has a page on its website dedicated to education. Parker himself has been through his local union apprenticeship program and training from Nuheat and wedi. He enjoys attending classes that manufacturers host because they allow him to learn new things and keep up on current trends in the industry. Next, Parker is planning on taking the Ceramic Tile Inspection course also offered by CTEF.

Thin Tile

SponsoredbyMAPEIThin tile project combines on-site training and expert installation

Laminam by Crossville, MAPEI, and Schluter products make detailed bank project a success

By Lesley Goddin

When the Commerce Bank in Garden City, Kan., sought to build a new facility, they wanted a clean, easy-to-maintain material on all its bank teller walls.

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The Fox Ceramic Tile team uses prescribed tools and equipment to safely move large thin porcelain tile (TPT) on the Commerce Bank job.

Howard & Helmer Architecture of Wichita, Kan., turned to Laminam by Crossville, a large thin porcelain tile to get the job done. The 1m x 3m Urban Influence Filo 3+ offered a subtle metallic chain mail-like texture in the dark grey Ghisa hue.

“We chose to use the Laminam porcelain product at the Commerce Bank teller stations not only because of the aesthetic quality, but also the exceptional durability that it offers at high traffic areas,” said David White, AIA, president of Howard & Helmer Architecture.

This was to be a challenging installation, said Kevin Fox, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile from St. Marys, Kan., who was charged with the project. “It was a very difficult one because of the detail of the cuts and all the corners using Schluter metals that was required,” Fox said.

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The crew back butters the Laminam by Crossville large thin porcelain tile to achieve complete coverage.

The first step was being sure all the installers on the project were trained on how to handle, work with and install the Laminam panels, which are only 3 mm thick.

Enter Brent Stoller, installation specialist and training manager with ISC Surfaces with locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) training director Scott Carothers said, “ISC Surfaces is the only Laminam training facility in the U.S. outside of Crossville itself.” Stoller is a very supportive board member of CTEF. He received CTEF’s CTI Host of the Year award in 2014, and is on record for hosting the largest number of Certified Tile Installer tests at one site. So Stoller “desires to see installations done correctly and is always willing to offer assistance when needed,” Carothers added.

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Schluter Rondec and outside corners gave an elegant finish to the walls.

To that end, Stoller came from Kansas City to the Garden City jobsite to train Fox’s crew before they began the project. “[He helped] train our tile setters on the latest techniques using the most up-to-date installation tools,” Fox said.

“The ISC Surfaces location in Kansas City, Kan., has been doing Crossville/Laminam Training since December of 2012, training 27 installation companies with 81 installers through December 2015,” Stoller explained.

“Our trainings are done in our Kansas City location based on tool requirements; full panel installations, floor and wall, and the transportation issues inherent with those requirements,” he continued. The company offers its customers job-site starts and first-day supervision especially on a first-job scenario based on job-start timing and Stoller’s availability.

ISC Surfaces arose from a blend of several companies over the years: Interstate Supply, Case Supply and AMC Tile, said Stoller. Case supply was the Crossville distributor in the Kansas City territory. Over the past 23 years, Stoller’s relationship with Crossville’s Tim Bolby and ISC’s proactive approach to training

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Installing the Laminam by Crossville TPT.

and industry commitment through training opened the door to partner with Crossville. In December 2012, ISC was invited on board by Crossville to grow the segment of thin porcelain tile. Active in all levels of the industry, ISC Surfaces is also a host site for both the CTEF CTI and ACT programs with six locations in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and service to Southern Illinois.

Once trained at the job site, Fox’s team of Certified Tile Installers had additional obstacles to overcome. “We had to work around the countertops,” Fox said.

All installation materials were from MAPEI, starting with the primer for the exterior-grade plywood substrate: MAPEI ECO Prim Grip, with MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar for the Laminam sheets, grouted with MAPEI Ultracolor Plus. MAPEI sales rep Brett Robben worked with Fox to develop a package of products that offered single-source benefits and a system warranty.

The project took a tremendous amount of care and precision. “Although only 20 sheets of Laminam were used, the installation consumed 60 pieces of Schluter Rondec and 50 outside corners,” Fox said.

The completed project offers sleek, easy-to-maintain work stations for tellers, expertly installed.

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A lippage control system keeps both pieces of TPT per wall side flush. Walls were installed, and counters assembled.

Tech Talk – January 2016

TEC-sponsorSelecting the right grout for the job

By Tom Domenici, TEC Western Technical Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

It’s easy for contractors to get lost in the sea of grout product offerings. While grout color is crucial to design, grout type is integral to tile installation performance and longevity. Using the proper grout for a job helps ensure a successful tile installation – it’s only a matter of learning what grouts work best for specific applications.

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Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful installation.

Cement grouts: sanded or unsanded? 

Cement grout, which is made of cementitious powder, is easy to work with and is traditionally valued by contractors. Cement grout is mixed with water, and is then slaked and remixed before application. This allows the water, portland cement and other ingredients to react properly for a successful installation. Cement grout can be either sanded or unsanded.

Unsanded cement grout is designed specifically for grouting small joints up to 1/8” wide. Unsanded grout is often used on walls, tub enclosures and countertops. It also can be used for grouting marble and other natural stone floor, where sanded grouts could scratch delicate tile surfaces. Unsanded cement grout should not be used on grout joints greater than 1/8” in width as it may shrink or crack.

Sanded cement grout can be used for grout joints 1/8” wide and larger. Sanded grout is primarily used for floor tile applications or for walls and countertops with wider joints. Sanded grout should not be used on certain tile surfaces, including sensitive glazed ceramic tile, glass, marble, stone and agglomerate tile as it can scratch, stain or damage the tile surface. Follow tile manufacturer recommendations or test a small area prior to use to determine its suitability.

Ready-to-use grouts 

Ready-to- use grouts can provide a crack/shrink/stain-resistant grout solution for time-sensitive installations. Premixed grouts are often used in both interior and exterior environments. Unlike cement grout, ready-to-use grout doesn’t require mixing with water. The pail can be simply opened and the grout applied – saving mixing time. In addition to time-saving benefits, another advantage of ready-to-use grout is that unused portion of the product can be sealed in the container and can be reused later for touchups or other jobs.

Epoxy grouts

Made of epoxy resins, epoxy grout is extremely durable and virtually stain proof. It is ideal for environments that are exposed to harsh conditions or chemicals – such as commercial kitchens and restaurants. However, epoxy grout may be difficult to work with during installation.
Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful installation.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. – a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Headquartered in Aurora, Illinois, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, ProSpec®, Foster®, and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit www.hbfuller-cp.com.

Business Tip – January 2016

SponsoredbyMAPEI

Harpooning the whale, part I: a profit improvement report for distributors

al_bates

By Dr. Albert D. Bates, Profit Planning Group

Each year, Dr. Albert D. Bates, the president of the Profit Planning Group, prepares a Profit Improvement Report for CTDA. 

What follows is part one of this report, which he has titled “Harpooning the Whale.” In this section, Bates examines the Economics of Customers. In part two, which will appear in the April TileLetter, Bates will discuss Changing the Profit Relationship. 

One of the most widely-discussed topics in distribution today is the fact that a lot of customers and a lot of items lose money for the company. That is, the cost of servicing a large component of the customer set or handling many of the items is larger than the gross margin dollars generated by those customers or items.

While the economics of the situation are fairly straightforward, the implications for action are not. One widely suggested option is to eliminate items and customers that don’t cover their costs. It is a quick and easy solution.

Another option is to work on enhancing margins or lowering costs to overcome the profit deficit. This approach is both time-consuming and difficult.

Because the observations regarding customer profitability are largely mirrored by item profitability, this report will focus exclusively on the profit realities of customers for CTDA members. The report will examine customer profitability from two perspectives:

  • The Economics of Customers – An analysis of how customers break out into widely varying profitability groupings.
  • Changing the Profit Relationship – A discussion of how profitability can be enhanced by working with customers.

The Economics of Customers

Within every line of trade in distribution, including CTDA, there are wide variations in customer purchasing patterns. Some customers buy a lot of merchandise, others buy very little. Some customers are aggressive price negotiators while others are more service oriented. Finally, some customers are the proverbial “squeaky wheel” while others are easier to work with.

These factors come together to produce widely-varying levels of profitability across the distributor’s customer set. At one extreme, customers who purchase a lot of products, are service oriented (rather than price oriented) and don’t “have issues” tend to be highly profitable for the distributor. At the other extreme, some customers who are high maintenance actually result in a loss for the distributor.

Unfortunately, there are only a few of the highly-profitable customers and a fairly large number of the unprofitable ones. This relationship between customers and the profitability they produce for the distributor is often referred to as the “whale curve.” It is shown graphically in Exhibit 1.

Customers are ranked from most profitable to least profitable along the horizontal axis. The percent of total profit generated is presented on the vertical axis. The graph looks something like a whale, albeit a rather anemic one.

As can be seen, the most profitable customers cause total firm profit to rise quickly. Somewhere along the way the slope changes as additional customers generate profit at a lower rate. Finally, the curve starts back down as some customers cause the firm to lose money. Eventually the curve ends up at the 100% of total profit level.

BT-graphThe typical CTDA member generates $500,000 in profit. For that firm, the customers fall into four categories based upon the profit they generate for the distributor. The A customers are the most profitable and the D customers are the least profitable – the money losers.

The relationship for customers and profit tends to be a little more dramatic when put into tabular form:

BT-graph-2

The fact that the typical firm loses $225,000 on slightly more than one-third of their customers is not an inconsequential issue. Potentially, dollar profit could be increased by 45% through concerted effort.

Dr. Albert D. Bates is founder and president of Profit Planning Group. His recent book, Breaking Down the Profit Barriers in Distribution is the basis for this report. It is a book every manager and key operating employee should read. It is available in trade-paper format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

©2015 Profit Planning Group. CTDA has unlimited duplication rights for this manuscript. Further, members may duplicate this report for their internal use in any way desired. Duplication by any other organization in any manner is strictly prohibited.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––

CTDA is always looking for ways to improve the benefits of membership. CTDA offers many benefits to members including:

• Education via a variety of programs that focus on training new employees, educating customers on tile shade variation, webinars on industry issues and more.

• Connecting with the industry through annual events like Total Solutions Plus and Coverings, and networking op-portunities through CTDA committee in-volvement. 

• National exposure for products and services for distributors, manufacturers and allied members.

• Controlling costs through discounts on a wide range of services from shipping to collection services, telephone charges, auto rentals and more.

• Staying informed on association and industry news and issues through a variety of communication vehicles and social media outreach.

• Managing opportunity through “snapshots” of the association and industry gleaned through regular surveys of vital business activities. 

For more information, contact CTDA at [email protected] or by calling 630-545-9415.

Ask the Experts – January 2016

SponsoredbyLaticrete

QUESTION

I have a small tile job at the TIA (Tampa International Airport). The general contractor (GC) is directing us to start the work with temporary lighting that is not very good. We have asked that they place either the permanent lighting or temporary light “representative” of the permanent lighting so that we can see exactly the conditions for the installation.

I could have sworn that I read something at some point with regard to tile being installed in the lighting in which it is to be used.Can you help me with some type of literature on this item?

 

Tampa-International-Airport-16ANSWER

Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association. I am happy to provide you with some information to help you respond to your GC regarding the installation of tile under poor temporary lighting conditions that are likely not representative of the permanent lighting.

We are not aware of a requirement for the GC to install the permanent lighting before tile work commences. However, you are correct to be concerned about the location of permanent lighting and its potential effect on viewing the finished surface of the tile installation. The angle of natural or manufactured light on finished tile work may cause an acceptable installation to have an unacceptable appearance.

While there is no specific method that addresses installation of lighting, the 2015 edition of the TCNA Handbook includes a statement about various types of lighting and their effect on wall and floor tile installations. When proper backing surfaces, installation materials, installation methods, location of light sources and certain lighting techniques are not carefully coordinated, shadows and undesirable effects may be apparent on finished ceramic tile installations.

The 2015/2016 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual includes an extensive discussion of critical lighting effects on tile installations. This discussion is found in Chapter 5, “Special Installation Procedures,” and addresses many problems along with tips and preventive measures tile contractors can take or recommend before the installation begins. Also included is a series of photographs that boldly illustrate the effect lighting can sometimes have on a tile installation.

The success of your particular installation will depend on a variety of factors such as: flatness of the substrate (which will have a profound effect on the flatness of the finished tile surface); the type of tile being installed; the pattern the tile will be installed in; the inherent warpage of the tile; the grout joint width; any out-of-tolerance lippage of the finished tile installation, etc.

As required by ANSI, we encourage you to construct a mockup of the area to be tiled and illuminate it with an accurate representation of the permanent lighting installation. Have the GC or architect review the mockup and accept it in writing before beginning the tile installation.

If you are a member of the NTCA, please review pages 139 – 144 of the NTCA Reference Manual. There you should find all the information you need, including a sample letter you will be able to reformat as your own company’s formal communication to the GC and/or the owner.

If you are not a member of the NTCA, please visit our website at www.tile-assn.com or contact me and I will be happy to assist with your application.

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Technical Trainer

President’s Letter – January 2016

Taking stock of 2015; moving forward into 2016

JWoelfel_headshotI hope all of you had a happy New Year celebration. It was great to take some time and decompress from the world of tile contracting. We are fortunate here at Artcraft that we are extremely busy with new and challenging work.

I spent a lot of time last year writing about how tile contractors need to do a better job of following industry standards, keeping up with the latest technologies, taking advantage of NTCA educational opportunities and installing tile better. This month I want to write about how you and your distributors need to work as a team.

In November of this last year, my company had the worst experience we have ever had with a distributor who was out of New York City. We were installing product on an out-of-town project and when the material arrived from the distributor to the jobsite, we decided that the product was unacceptable. We brought this product issue to the attention of the general contractor, who then informed the owner. They both agreed, and the material was rejected. This is when the fun began.

After contacting the distributor immediately, the distributor, instead of reacting quickly, used the next 24 hours to make numerous excuses. When the owner finally said to replace the material, the distributor sent a new shipment to the jobsite. The 24-hour delay forced me to keep my people out of town over the weekend, costing me money for salary, food and lodging. I approached the distributor to help offset some of my costs and was refused.

I was disappointed to say the least. My good distributor partners here in Phoenix would have come to the table to help offset some of my costs; I know this from past experience. Our action on this project prevented a huge issue that would have resulted if we had installed the unacceptable product.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned to read the fine print on invoices, since my invoice from this supplier included language holding them harmless from charges due to their tile problems. I learned that if we decide to buy tile from an unfamiliar source, I will make sure that I read the invoice very closely. And I will most likely only do business with distributors I know, and distributors that support our industry and our association.

In short, tile contractors need to develop and cultivate good solid relationships with suppliers/distributors, in return these suppliers/distributors must do their job to put out the best material possible to us tile contractors. Distributors must realize that doing business with good, qualified tile contractors actually saves them money and headaches.

Good distributors do step up to the plate when there are problems; bad distributors don’t. I have learned another valuable lesson, and my company will be better for it, so I hope all of you can learn from my experience.

Respectfully,

James Woelfel

 

P.S. If you want to know the distributor that I had issues with, please call or email. I will gladly share the name.

Editor’s Letter – January 2016

Lesley psf head shotJanuary 2016 marks my 10-year anniversary as editor of TileLetter magazine. I can hardly believe a full decade has passed since Bart first proposed I come work for him during a conversation after the Total Solutions conference at the Las Vegas Hilton in September, 2005.

Some of the faces have changed over the years – Justin Woelfel was director of training and Bob Brown was NTCA membership director when I came aboard. Shortly afterwards, Gerald Sloan took over Justin’s role, which expanded to include Michael Whistler – with Gerald’s departure, Mark Heinlein now shares that hat with Michael. Jim Olson came on board as assistant executive director, assuming the membership duties held by Brown. Don Scott was president at the time, and since then I’ve hounded Don, Frank Canto, John Cox, Nyle Wadford, Dan Welch and James Woelfel for their presidential letters each month.

Other staffers over the years include Mary Shaw-Olson, ad sales; Becky Serbin, training and education coordinator; Lisa Murphy, accountant; Tricia Moss, office manager with Sandy Bettiga lending a guiding hand in accounting and web functions, after the departure of Gigi Wall. Providing a strong underpinning for all this change has been executive director emeritus Joe Tarver, executive director and TileLetter publisher Bart Bettiga and art director/ad sales rep Michelle Chapman, who makes TileLetter look fantastic every month.

From the very first time I attended a Total Solutions at Charlotte, N.C. in 2002 and interviewed James Woelfel, I have been astounded by the level of passion and integrity in this industry. Coming from writing about selling and merchandising at retail, at the time I had no idea that tile installers not only had to be expert craftspeople, but artists, designers, business people, logisticians, expert negotiators, and all-around wunderkind! I was sold at my first Total Solutions in 2002. I started contributing articles to TileLetter shortly after that and joined the staff full time in January 2006.

Since that time, not only have I seen ongoing passion and excellence, but I have seen amazing dynamism in our association and in our industry. Bart and Jim’s leadership has been nothing short of visionary, and they have the skills and heart to work with all different industry segments to get things done, and move things forward for the industry at large, contractor and affiliate NTCA members right up to Five Star Contractor members. If the association and industry wouldn’t be left in the lurch in their absence, I’d like to see them throw their hats in the ring in the upcoming presidential election – they have a proven track record of getting people to work together for the betterment of all, which our country could really use right now.

The other reason our association runs so well is because of all the volunteers – from officers to directors to members who stop by to lend support at local NTCA Tile & Stone Workshops, staff the booth at industry events, take time away from their own businesses to invest in initiatives that further the industry and the association, and who generously share information in TileLetter stories when I come knocking on their proverbial doors. And speaking of TileLetter stories, we could simply not put the magazine together without our contributors, from freelance writers like Terryn Rutford, Lou Iannaco, Tanja Kern and others, to all the industry experts who contribute their knowledge and wisdom to our publications.

What I want to say as we begin a new year, and I celebrate a decade with NTCA and TileLetter is what a great ride it’s been, with some of the best people I know. I look forward to another decade of growth.

It’s a new year. Let’s make it a good one, together!

God bless,

Lesley

[email protected]

California Flooring LTD – NTCA Member Spotlight

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California Flooring Ltd.

Manteno, Ill.

[email protected]

California Flooring LTD was founded back in 1993 by Kevin Insalato. The company was (and still is) 100% referral-based, servicing new construction, residential and commercial work.

At first, Insala to used subcontactors for all installations on flooring sold: ceramic, carpet, wood and vinyl. But after about a year, he “grew irritated with the quality of the subcontractors in all areas.” Instead, he decided to hire employees with no experience in floor covering and train them himself.

In 1996 he hired two installers who became his top employees: James Carr and Rafael Lopez. Both are now Certified Tile Installers and obtained their ACT certification in Large-Format Tile Installation at Coverings 2015.

Besides his tile certifications, James Carr is a woodworking craftsman, and a top remodel supervisor. Rafael Lopez has also qualified as a carpet installer, is a perfectionist, and are model supervisor. Lucas Turrell is the company’s other CTI and can install all types of flooring.

Insalato said, “This is an example of our company goal to train and certify everyone in as many areas as possible.”

This small company has grown to employ six installers, with Insalato’s wife Renata handling billing, payroll and bill paying, in addition to her regular full-time job. Insalato himself handles all the sales, scheduling and training, miraculously managing to invest 40% of his day in the field working with his installers. The next goal for the company is NTCA Five Star Contractor status, currently in the works.

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California Flooring LTD installed natural 3”x6” marble tile after fully screeding walls to flatten them for the installation. The granite curb and ledge were paired with an imported mosaic for a stunning effect. The company constructed and tiled the niche over the sink and inside the shower.

This one-stop shop is true to its name, handling kitchen and bath remodel fully in-house, including basic plumbing, electrical, drywall and painting needs.“ This allows me to design and sell the work, but more importantly schedule from start to finish,” Insalato said. Converting tub surrounds to luxurious showers with seats, niche and glass door and panels is the biggest percentage of the company’s remodel work.

California Flooring LTD also stocks the porcelain, glass tile and travertine tiles it uses the most. “Our customers can view past jobs and then feel and see the actual tile used in those gorgeous photos, not as a sample, but as several tiles laid out in their home,” Insalato said. Together with its CTIs and ACT-certified installers and a fair price, its competitors have a hard act to follow, Insalato said. “Service and a genuine love for what I do usually will clinch our sale,” he added.

California Flooring LTD started out in a small, rented 1,200-sq.-ft. commercial space with showroom, office and warehouse all in one. In 2001, it purchased and moved onto a 10-acre farm in Manteno. The company has a two-story building with a 5,000 sq. ft., heated warehouse, private showroom, office and living quarters. A second building holds cold storage. It can store up to 90 pallets of tile, underlayment, borders and building materials.

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California Flooring LTD is truly a one-stop shop, with everything in this photo completed by the staff including granite, cabinets, painting, floor and backsplash tile.

The influence of NTCA

Insalato joined NTCA in January 2008, at the height of the recession and when the company was in terrible financial straits, he said. “I first talked to Jim Olson at the NTCA booth at Surfaces,” he explained. “He was so professional and passionate that joining made sense, but spending the money did not. Once he explained the vouchers, I said, ‘I can’t resist this,’ and joined.”

Insalato’s interest was piqued in 2014 when membership was renewed at Surfaces, and the company received an invitation to visit the Schluter facility as part of a joint workshop with NTCA.

“The trip was educational, but I was so impressed with the dedication of all the NTCA members there and how well they functioned with a large organization like Schluter,” Insalato said. “It made sense to me that if Schluter thinks this highly of our organization, I should listen and learn as much as possible. My company and our employees can only benefit from this. Later that year I was nominated and received the position as Regional Director of Region 5 and now serve on our Board of Directors.”

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The design features here include the mirror inset flush with the tile, the glass border lining up with the top of the granite and, the half-wall constructed in the shower to match the border at the top of that wall. The elegant installation also features granite curb, seat and counter top.

The emphasis on standards that Insalato has experienced with NTCA has had a positive effect on his relationship with his installers.

“Since founding the business and training the employees in all facets of flooring and remodeling, everything was always based on MY standards,“ he said. Since joining the NTCA – learning about CTEF, and meeting CTEF’s Scott Carothers – the tile and stone installation standards are now based on industry standards taught by NTCA, TCNA and the CTI and ACT programs. They provide the knowledge and I provide the execution. The ability to perform your job as a tilesetter knowing you are doing your job correctly is vital to the mission statement a company can set.“

Insalato also connects with the industry at different events. “We always attend Surfaces because of our sales and installation of all flooring,” he said. “We have attended Coverings for four of the past seven years. We attended our first Total Solutions Plus [in 2015] and found the networking extremely useful.”

In conclusion, Insalato explained his passion is teaching, and this is reflected in his business.

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This project was completely designed and built in-house, using the wide range of skills and specialties at California Flooring LTD: porcelain tile, granite, glass door and panel.

“To share with someone how you designed, and then convince the client that this is the design for them, is exciting,” he said. “To then be in the field and actually build and fabricate that design with your employees and explain not only the technical, but the color and texture elements that are in play to complete the room – whether it’s simple or stunning – is a feeling you want over and over. It’s addicting and you want to share it with everyone.”