Joe Tarver remembers it all. Perhaps no one has a more detailed memory of the past 50+ years in the U.S. tile industry than Joe. As Executive Director of the NTCA for 30 years, he not only remembers it all; he played a leading role in helping grow our industry into what it is today. The NTCA is celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2022, and Tarver was present to witness most of it. He shares his unique perspective with TileLetter in this special interview. This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will be published in the NTCA 75th Anniversary Book coming this summer.
How has the NTCA evolved over the years and what was its impact on the tile industry in the U.S.?
I became the Executive Director of what was then the Southern Tile Contractors Association in 1972 after 14 years in manufacturing. We were a small, 13-state regional association then. Jim Trimm, the Executive Director from 1959-1972, had helped the association acquire a $100,000 certificate of deposit. This was the total assets the association had when I started. We published TileLetter at the time and held an annual convention. TileLetter remains today as the premier publication of the tile industry and the STCA Convention evolved into two events today – Coverings and Total Solutions Plus – both with roots that derived from the STCA Convention. As we grew our membership and our influence, we expanded our area of membership and went through name changes to the STTMCA (Southern Tile Terrazzo Marble Association), ATTMCA (Association of Tile Terrazzo Marble Contractors and Affiliates), and finally we removed terrazzo from our area of expertise, welcomed membership throughout the U.S., and changed our name to the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA).
I think our biggest impact over the years centers on our members’ role in the development of industry standards and the introduction of installation best practices and new technology to installers through our educational programs and workshops. Until recently, trade shows and educational seminars and workshops were the only means of creating awareness in the tile trades of these products. In addition to sharing the latest information through TileLetter, our educational programs directly impacted the industry for many years and continue to so today.
What were some of the highlights of the NTCA Workshop Program that you felt really made a difference over the years?
The industry changes, so your educational programs must change with it. In 1957, contractors were kings. There was no method of installation other than a conventional mortar bed. There were not thin-set mortars and no thin-bed products at all.
In the late 50s, the conversion to a new wave of products began. There were a few mastics used to install tile over many different substrates. Thanks to contributions of many people in the labs, dry-set mortars were developed. These are of course today called thinsets. These early products were not quite effective until water retention agents and latex were added to the chemistry and this created the explosion of products we see today. I provide this history so you see that as these products were developed we realized it was necessary to mobilize efforts through manufacturers and distributors to demonstrate the capabilities of these products and convince the trade of their viability.
NTCA also helped to introduce cement backerboards to the trade through our educational seminars. While thin-set mortars were being developed, Paul Dinkel invented WonderBoard, which spawned a whole array of backerboards that are currently offered. Demonstrating these products on the road shows helped create a new army of installers who welcomed these new products and technology. This is how the NTCA Workshop Program was developed.
NTCA purchased a motor home and I traveled around the country with several different manufacturer representatives who volunteered their time and supported our efforts. We reached thousands of people over the years on these Workshop routes. This is also how we started to grow our membership and gain national and international respect for our size and outreach.
NTCA is credited for developing directional troweling (re: the NTCA Trowel and Error video) mortar technique to achieve maximum mortar coverage. How did this development occur?
We used acrylic tiles you could see through in our office to test products and see what happened underneath. I played around with mortars and grouts in the back room. I was working with Marshalltown Trowels. They developed the first oval-shaped trowel, and that helped with mortar coverage. No matter how hard I tried with large tiles (24″x24″), I could not get the coverage I needed to meet industry standards. One night, with just a little mortar left, I moved the plexiglass tile forward and backward and saw that I got almost 100% coverage. I had no idea what I had done. I kept testing that and retesting it and found that if I keyed the mortar in, troweled in one direction, moved the tile forward and then backward, I got the coverage. Once we determined this really worked, we got the David Allen Company involved to help us make a video at their offices in North Carolina. The rest is history.
Watch for the second part of this interview in the NTCA 75th Anniversary Book coming this summer.
Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association and Publisher of TileLetter. Bettiga is a member of the Board of Governors of Coverings, one the largest tradeshows in North America. He has over 30 years of experience in the tile and stone industry and has served as the NTCA Executive Director since 2002. He is a well known speaker and author on ceramic tile and natural stone distribution and installation. He oversees the financial operations of the NTCA, TileLetter and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.