July 7, 2015

President’s Letter – June 2015

JWoelfel_headshotWhen I am at Coverings, Total Solutions Plus or Surfaces, one of the questions I regularly get from tile contractors is “What’s the big deal about NTCA Five Star Contractor recognition?” If you are not part of the Five Star Contractor program, you may be asking the same.

Time constraints often force me to give a quick answer: “It’s a lot like pre-qualifying to work with a general contractor, but this program allows quality tile contractors to verify through peer review, their skills, business practices and commitment to the tile industry.”

What I don’t often get the chance to explain in depth is the great opportunity the Five Star Contractor program provides for continued growth in these key areas and the doors the program opens for qualified labor.

When the NTCA Executive Committee created the Five Star Contractor program, the goal was to raise the level of all NTCA tile contractor members – especially those who choose to go through all of the qualifications, certifications, recommendations and peer review from both competitors and NTCA leadership. It’s a process designed to delineate the best of the best. The tile contractors who become Five Star-recognized believe in excellence and they illustrate it through continuing education, in being active members of the NTCA, and most importantly, by being ethical in their business practices.

pres-0615The benefits of belonging to this select group help further strengthen and grow a tile contractor’s business and professional network, and the benefits keep getting better. Each year, NTCA Five Star Contractors across the nation gather for an invitation-only business forum. The three days of programming include expert presentations in areas such as marketing, finance, business operations, new product technologies and even using social media better. There are production plant tours, hands-on sessions and even some fun thrown in – which gives us time to share ideas and concerns with other Five Star Contractors. The business forums are designed to help us, as tile contractors of all sizes, be responsive to the changing needs of our customers, the marketplace and our industry as a whole. Crossville believes in the Five Star Contractor program so strongly that it has hosted the event for two years. This year, MAPEI is welcoming Five Star Contractors to Vancouver.

The benefits of being part of the Five Star Contractor program also include rebates from various tile, mortar and allied manufacturers. I know I was pleased when I got my first Crossville check! Future benefits being discussed include regional workshops that provide specialized hands-on training in new methods and products along with business sessions on any number of timely topics.

Another idea under consideration is to have specialized training, free of charge, that would include working with new products and new methods – perhaps also a field-test type of program allowing Five Star Contractors to give valuable feedback to manufacturers on how they can improve product lines.

More manufacturers are recommending Five Star Contractors – especially for their challenging projects, because they know quality labor makes their product look better and costs them less in job complaints. The TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation also recommends qualified labor – particularly Five Star Contractors – for tile and stone specification and installation.

The NTCA currently has about 50 Five Star Contractors. This is not a lot for a membership over 1,000. We can and should do better. I know for a fact that there are tile contractors who could meet the criteria for this program today. So if you think you can meet these rigorous standards, I challenge you to do it. Come be part of the “big deal” – prove you are the best of the best. You and your company will benefit. Contact Jim Olson at jim@tile-assn.com for more information.


Editor’s Letter – June 2015

Lesley psf head shot“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.”
– Isak Dinesen

Recently I called NTCA headquarters in Jackson, Miss., (I work offsite from my home office in Albuquerque, N.M.) with a question, and wound up catching up with a member of the NTCA staff. We talked about recent vacations, and her observation about the tremendous amount of work and energy involved in participating and attending Coverings, among other things. I value these occasional phone chats, since it’s my best opportunity to stay connected with folks on the NTCA team, both in terms of work and personal aspects of our lives.

Our conversation drifted to news, and specifically bad news that is so easy to consume whether on television, in newspapers, magazines or social media. At the drop of a hat, we get besieged by political outrage, injustice, crime, threats of economic disasters, environmental woes, cruelty to animals or children, and more. You know – you’ve seen it all.

I shared that I often feel a need to call on my editing skills to censor what I let into my life and consciousness. There’s a similarity to how I work – I get a barrage of information streaming into my email inbox every day. To make sense of it and select the best content for TileLetter readers, I edit – delete, download and revise, shorten, expand. I can’t possibly include everything I see or TileLetter would be a 500-page tome each month, with lots of information that – while not completely irrelevant to the industry – is not targeted precisely for our readership. The same principle applies with all I see and experience at industry events like Surfaces, Coverings and Total Solutions Plus. Information and events need to be experienced, digested and summarized, often with links to where details can be obtained.

When I read the news (usually online) or see discussions on social media, I call my editing skills into play. Is this something of value for me, and those in my life? Do I REALLY have to engage in this political discussion (One of the wisest sayings I’ve ever heard is, “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.”)? Is this a cause that touches my heart? Is that story even TRUE? Will this benefit, support, inspire or delight anyone else if it is shared? Is it moving me closer to a goal? So, in a very real way, I need to delete, download and revise, shorten, expand, act on or ignore pretty much everything that comes across my five senses to determine if it’s in alignment to my vision for my life or if it brings some benefit to me or those I hold dear.

What does this have to do with our industry, you may ask? Everything! How many pieces of information do you encounter every day? How many opportunities do you have to be distracted by naysayers or complainers or drama queens (or kings) who thrive on controversy? Maybe it’s a staff member, employee, sales rep, or the news itself. The best way to counter information overload is to know your mission, be skilled in your role and trade, and sift through the wave of communication with wisdom and discernment to pare it down to usable kernels of knowledge. NTCA can help you do this, with opportunities for education and elevating your company to a higher level, all within a context of open discussion – such as what takes place within the Technical Committee meetings. There is also expert advice, helpful documents such as training manuals and the NTCA Reference Manual, and networking opportunities to talk through experiences with other skilled tile and stone contractors and industry professionals.

So be prepared for the onslaught, because in addition to death and taxes, the only other sure thing is bad news. Connect with NTCA, put on your editor’s hat and cut through the chaos like a hot knife through butter.

God bless!

MAPEI Corporation Hosts NTCA Five Star Contractors in Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada — The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Five Star Contractors Program continues to grow and develop.  As part of its strategy to offer increased business and technical education — as well as peer review and networking opportunities — the NTCA held a summer Five Star Contractor Program June 2nd-7th in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.  The conference was generously sponsored by the MAPEI Corporation, who hosted the technical educational program at its plant headquarters located in Vancouver.

NTCA contractors and their spouses combined educational and networking programming with sightseeing excursions.  In addition to discussions centering on the latest standards, Five Star Contractors were treated to technical presentations by MAPEI personnel addressing grout technology, large format and thin tile installations, and substrate preparation.  A lively question and answer session followed each presentation.

The second day of the programming focused on business development, the NTCA utilized the resources of Ethan Cowles, professional educator and facilitator with Fails Management Institute.  Five Star Contractors participated in working groups that interacted with Cowles, addressing project management, estimating, cash flow operations, and understanding in detail balance sheets, income statements, budgets, and financial statements.

The NTCA plans to offer a summer Five Star meeting every year, and is also in discussions to develop regional training opportunities for Five Star Contractor employees as well as operational analysis.

NTCA contractor member and former board member debuts Lippage & Grout Tool at Coverings 

Just hours after filing with the U.S. Patent Office, NTCA contractor member Davis Holland Leichsenring unveiled his Lippage & Grout Tool to an audience of tile contractors and related professionals on the opening day of Coverings.

lippagetoolMade of soft PVC plastic, the multi-function tool helps tile professionals and the general public to instantly evaluate if a tile installation meets industry standards at the level of ‘flatness,’ – otherwise known as “lippage” – between adjacent tiles. It also helps measure and demonstrate grout widths and grout color, and has a handy ruler to help measure thickness of tile substrates and other on-the-job measuring needs. The small tool fits a wallet and is fully customizable to double as a business card.

NTCA has teamed up with Leichsenring to offer the Lippage & Grout Tool to members at a special discounted rate, featuring the NTCA logo. The “NTCA Lippage & Grout Tool” is available on the association’s website www.tile-assn.com, and at www.ntcatiletool.com.

The card can be purchased as the “Lippage & Grout Tool” by the general public, or the “I’m a Proud Member of the NTCA” version exclusive to NTCA members. The customized version can be created by downloading an easy step-by-step template file. Visit www.ntcatiletool.com for details.

The entire Holland Bath & Spa team worked around the clock to produce the tool by Coverings. Erkel Associates (www.erkel.com) finalized the branding and launch of shop.hollspa.com, an online store selling the Lippage & Grout Tool, Eras Noel prepared the patent application, and Allen Irwin created a short video featuring NTCA’s Maryland State Director, Mike Corona, of Corona Marble & Tile (www.coronamarbleandtile.com), presenting the tool.

“The tool is expected to increase the quality and standards by which tile is selected and installed,” said Leichsenring. For more information, visit www.ntcatiletool.com, or contact Leichsenring directly at davis@hollspa.com / 240-372-0513.

NTCA Five Star Contractor Awards Announced at Coverings

NTCA also presented its Five Star Contractor Grand Prize awards for outstanding installations in both Commercial and Residential projects.

An independent panel of judges evaluated numerous submissions and awarded the winners based on Scope (size of project), Complexity (challenges), Technical Soundness (resolution of challenges) and Design and Presentation (Overall appearance, layout and artistic value). Special recognition was given to those projects exemplifying stunning tile and stone in both commercial and residential tile installations.

The Five Star winners received $2,500 each in prize money, sponsored by Daltile Corporation.

GP-commWelch Tile & Marble of Kent City, Michigan, received the Five Star Grand Prize for Commercial Tile Installation. The firm’s installation of 45,000 sq. ft. of floor tile, 1,500 sq. ft. of Ledge Stone and 6,500 sq. ft. of wall tile at the Ferris State University, Rankin Student Center, was a glowing example of the company’s technical expertise when confronted by a multitude of challenges. A major task from the start, this renovation project’s obstacles included weather, time constraints, multiple product lines and the advancing age of the existing building.

GP-resCollins Tile and Stone of Ashburn, Va., was the recipient of the Five Star Grand Prize for Residential Tile Installation. The firm’s project, Modern Tranquility, started off with a complete demolition of the master bathroom including elimination of two picture windows. The most innate challenge of this project was the construction of a steam shower. The project included a decorative mural inset comprised of hand-made, fused glass mosaic. Collins Tile and Stone adhered to every industry standard, not only enhancing the beauty of the bathroom, but ensuring longevity of the tile work.


Best Practice Awards – Kerber & Slutzah

kerberJoe Kerber of Kerber Tile, Marble & Stone of Shakopee, Minnesota, received the first of two Best Practice Awards for his instrumental role in developing and having the Barrier Free Shower Method accepted by the Methods & Standards Commit-tee at Coverings 2014. This method was approved for inclusion in the 2015 TCNA Handbook. A member of the NTCA since 2003, Kerber has served as a State Director and now as a Regional Director. He also flourishes as a voting member on the NTCA Technical Committee and Methods & Standards Committee.

Steve Slutzah of Westside Tile & Stone in Canoga Park, Calif., also received a NTCA Best Practice award. His strong belief in the slutzahimportance of NTCA contractors has been the driving force for increased membership in the state of California. A member since 2007 as a distributor and soon thereafter as a State Director, Slutzah and his company have sponsored numerous NTCA workshops and signed up over 25 new members, even going as far as to pay for their first year membership.


Joe A. Tarver Lifetime Achievement Award – Eric Astrachan

Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America, received the prestigious Joe A Tarver Lifetime Achievement Award, offered to a leader in the tile and stone industry who dedicates his/her career to advancing our trade. Astrachan has made significant contributions to the industry including incorporating both Canada and Mexico into the Association, the development of the Green Squared program and the expansion of the TCNA Handbook and ANSI Standards. An example of his passion for creating unity is exemplified by the Tile Council becoming an even stronger partner in the NTCA, CTDA, TCAA, CTEF and the Tile Heritage Foundation. Astrachan is an integral part of Total Solutions Plus, which brings together all industry associations for their respective meetings, creating unique industry networking events and leadership conferences. Joe Tarver himself was in attendance to participate in Astrachan’s recognition.


NTCA Tile Person of the Year – Jan Hohn

hohn-awardThis year, the NTCA’s Tile Person of the Year Award was presented to Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, Inc., of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hohn is only the third woman to receive this award during the six decades it has been presented. For over 20 years, Hohn has worked tirelessly as a one person, high-end residential tile and stone installation company. She has dedicated herself to the trade, serving as president of CASTA (Twin Cities Local Tile Contractors Association), NTCA board member, NTCA Technical and Methods and Standards Committee member and most recently, as chairperson of the NTCA’s Training and Education Committee. Hohn also became the first woman to become a Certified Tile Installer by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation in 2009. Hohn’s attention to detail, artisanship, knowledge and commitment to the industry have also earned her the prestigious NTCA Five Star Contractor certificate.

NTCA Benefits Box – May 2015

NTCA_logo_100pixelsNTCA expands its role in education with CEFGA, Career Quest

By Lesley Goddin

It’s no surprise that NTCA is involved in education at every level, but this year the association and its members have expanded their involvement in reaching young students with information about tile contracting and apprenticeship programs. The eventual goal? Promoting online education and hands-on training as a NTCA initiative.


The first outreach was NTCA’s ongoing involvement in the 2015 Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championsips, held March 26-27 at the Georgia International Convention Center. The event drew in record numbers: 7,307 total attendees; 5,179 students; 920 influencers (teachers, counselors, parents, school administrators) and 1,208 industry volunteers, exhibitors and guests all assembled in a space that was as large as six football fields.

NTCA and co-sponsors Rick Payne with Specialty Tile Products, Tod Canfield with Custom Building Products, and Craig Hoffman with Daltile participated in a 40’ x 40’ booth. NTCA was represented by Rod Owen of NTCA Five Star Contractor C.C. Owen Tile Co. of Jonesboro, Ga., and NTCA past president Dan Welch, along with NTCA trainer/presenter Gerald Sloan.

2-BB-0515The perimeter of the space displayed a range of tile-related exhibits: tile types, safety equipment, tile cutting tools, plan table and specs, job titles and descriptions and a PowerPoint of finished installations, said Owen. The center of the space featured opportunities for students to install small tile designs on a 12” square Durock® board they could take with them.

Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., is chairman of the NTCA Apprenticeship Development Subcommittee. He was on hand to show and explain his Career Path Matrix. “The Career Matrix worked great because we were able to show the students how the knowledge and skills acquired within the tile industry equate in compensation over time. It was a road map to success as a tile mechanic,” Owen observed.

Owen continued, saying “convincing the students of the opportunities in tile is just part of the challenge. The students, peers, parents and counselors are the second part of the hurdle. With the Career Matrix we have a better chance of legitimizing ourselves. The tile industry has been so fragmented for many years with everybody training and doing their own thing. The matrix helps ‘defragment,’ or give the industry a unified standard to visibly see, gauge, and execute proper career development for a tile mechanic. It’s going to be an exciting time to be in the tile industry.”

A wide-eyed 11th grader who was attending his first CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships exclaimed, “I’m speechless. I thought it would be something where you could look at a lot of things, but there are a lot of opportunities where you can actually work the equipment and really have a hands-on experience. It’s mind-blowing.”

The next 2016 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships will be held March 17-18, 2016, at the Georgia International Convention Center, College Park, Ga.

Career Quest

The following month, on April 28, Welch Tile & Marble partnered with Daltile, Virginia Tile and Genesee Tile at the Grand Rapids, Mich., Career Quest at DeVos Place, an initiative of Michigan Works! Kent, Allegan and Barry counties. The one-day event provided 5,400 students from 6th through 12th grades the opportunity to learn about four industry sectors: construction, health science, advanced manufacturing and information technology. Tile industry participation in Career Quest was sponsored by Welch Tile & Marble, TEC/H.B. Fuller and The Noble Company.

The tile sector had a 30’ x 30’ booth that showcased a range of important areas: career path and apprenticeship opportunities, safety, showroom design, industry-sanctioned Handbook and certifications, and thin tile. Actual modules used in Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) were on display for students to observe.

“Career Quest offers a look into the different industries for middle and high school students,” said Dan Welch, of Welch Tile & Marble. “Our focus was to show [students] that this trade can offer a path to success, both educationally and financially. Apprenticeship today needs a fresh look involving technology, and the work force is in need of a clear career path. As young people move into the work force, education needs to be factual, visual, competency-based and rewarded. Those days of ‘just do it because I told you so’ are long gone,” he said.

Michigan governor Rick Snyder sent a message via video to Career Quest, saying the event fostered a real synergy between educators and industry, and predicted that it will result in increased resources for career counseling in the schools.

A follow-up meeting about the flagship event resulted in a majority of educators saying Career Quest was “valuable, helpful, needed and engaging;” and a majority of students responding that employers were “prepared, interesting and engaging,” and that they “learned about education opportunities that will help them in high school classes and plan for after high school. “

There was another bonus that Welch discovered – an opportunity to market to general contractors and other contractors about what the tile industry is doing and the emphasis on certifications and qualified labor, Welch said. In addition, other industry segments such as glaziers, plumbers, etc., got to learn about tile apprenticeship programs and new technologies like thin tile, he said.

Full speed ahead

Events like these are just the tip of the iceberg, confirmed Bart Bettiga, NTCA executive director. “Our goal is to develop an apprenticeship program, offer it to our members, and submit it for consideration for community colleges, vocational schools, colleges and online curricula,” he said. “The program will be promoted at local career days and job fairs like these, and will be supported by contracting companies who can either use it themselves through NTCA staff support, or who will partner with a trade school to offer the curriculum and self-source the needed hands- on training component.”

For more information, visit www.tile-assn.com, www.cefga.org or http://michiganworkska.org/


NTCA Member Spotlight – May 2015

custom-sponsorCape Cod Tileworks

Harwich, Mass.


Working with Cape Cod Tileworks is like working with several businesses in one. Maybe it’s skilled tile installation you’re after; or perhaps you are looking for unique, beach-motif handmade tile. Perhaps you are interested in the expertise of magazine and book authors on design and installation, or would like to consult with a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design or Sophia in Japan.

If so, you’ve come to the right place, where Tom and Lane Meehan and staff wait to serve you. The family business in a historic, old, three-story building in Harwich, Mass., owned by the Meehans, gives you access to all of these services, including a love for the art of making and installing tile.

1sptlt-0515Westport Tile and Design owners Tom and Lane Meehan moved from Westport, Conn. in 1994 to Harwich, Mass., establishing Cape Cod Tileworks.

The business is a true partnership between Tom and Lane. Lane crafts beautiful, beach-inspired, one-of-a-kind handmade sea life tiles with motifs like crabs, mermaids, flip-flop feet, shells, and starfish, to name a few. Tom works with a crew of two installers to install commercial tile, glass, metal, stone, pebble tile, and handmade decorative tiles in mostly residential settings and upscale homes. Their four boys often lend a hand installing when schoolwork allows.

“We are a very hands-on business where everyone wears different hats and are part of a total team,” Tom said. A dedicated and knowledgeable staff helps customers create the space of their dreams.

2sptlt-0515“Being a second-generation installer has taught me the old-world way of installing tile, combined with all of the new methods that I have been introduced to, allowing me to train my employees well.” He endorses courses offered at the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation for anyone who is interested in pursuing tile setting.

Lane has a degree in design from Rhode Island School of Design, as well as one from Sophia in Japan. She is also a contributor to Tauton Press’ Fine Homebuilding Magazine as well as Hanley Wood’s Journal of Light Construction. Tom is a longtime writer for a number of different magazines such as Fine Homebuilding. And both Tom and Lane are published book authors with Working with Tile in the Taunton’s “Build Like a Pro” book series, which combines both design and installation techniques.

Handmade tiles; custom installation

3sptlt-0515“What separates us from other tile businesses is the incredible handcrafted sea life tiles that Lane makes,” Tom said. “They are unlike any other tiles in the country (I believe). The tiles are very original. Every tile is individually made and none are exactly the same.”

Another point of distinction is how the crew installs the “critter tiles,” he said. “We create decorative scenes by cutting these tiles into regular field tiles or putting them in a scene with stone pebbles and creating a pool cutout in a floor or a decorative backsplash. Many times, it is not just a tile job, but a piece of artwork. That’s what makes it fun,” he said. You can see installation examples that incorporate these handmade tiles as well as bottle glass, beer bottle caps and other items that make the project truly custom at www.capecodtileworks.com/finshed-installations/.

4sptlt-0515Cape Cod is also home to many upscale residences that call for very detailed yet extensive tile work. “The nice part is, for every high-end home on the water that we work on, we do an equal amount of work for everyday homeowners like ourselves. We live in a wonderful community,” Tom said.

Joining NTCA

After being a member of the Marble Institute of America for about five years, Tom’s interest about NTCA was piqued when visiting the association’s then-modest booth at a Coverings show about 15 years ago.

“What impressed me was the people I was talking to knew as much – and even more – about tile than I did but they wanted to hear what I had to say,” Tom explained. “They were genuinely interested. I joined because I wanted to become a member of a group of my peers where as a team we could make a difference. It was investing in the future of the tile industry.

5sptlt-0515“The greatest value of being a member is that you always know you are not alone,” he added. “Even if you don’t take advantage of all of the information made available to you, you know that if you are in a jam and need professional advice, the NTCA is there by your side.”

Tom considers the TileLetter a benefit as well, having gleaned information from articles as well as new products and tips from ads. “I know that the manufacturers advertising are legit and their products have been proven and in many cases, are state of the art,” he said.

Other educational opportunities he values are Coverings seminars and industry education whenever it is offered.

What’s hot in Cape Cod

Tom often uses uncoupling membranes as the substrate in floor installations, unless he’s installing over concrete slabs. “If the floors are really in bad shape and very off-level, I will do the old-fashioned mud job,” he said. Electric radiant heating is also popular on the Cape, as are linear drains and curbless showers.

Popular styles include limestone tiles in many different forms from 12” x 12” honed to an array of different-size tumbled stone. Porcelain tiles that simulate stone are a huge percentage of the company’s installations, with sizes up to 12” x 24.” The classic 3” x 6” white subway tile with decorative border at eye height is the leader in shower and tub walls; enhanced, of course, by the company’s own handmade decorative pieces cut into floors, borders and field tile.