Crossville Incorporated is a leading manufacturer of porcelain ceramic tile located in the heart of Tennessee. In recent years, it has expanded its operations by acquiring and opening strategic distribution locations, to support markets where traditional distribution channels were not their best option.
Crossville has a proven track record of producing quality tile and supports the industry in numerous ways. As active members of the NTCA, CTDA and TCNA, among others, Crossville leaders work closely with association staffs and volunteers in standards development and in promoting and developing training, education and certification programs.
As a proud sponsor of the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program, Crossville worked closely with director Amber Fox to reach out to our members during the COVID-19 pandemic to initiate best practices discussions on a number of topics. Mark Shannon is the Executive Vice President of Sales for Crossville, and recently was named Chairman of the Board for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Noah Chitty is the Director of Technical Services and was recently appointed as Chairman of the ISO TC-189 Committee, the international development body for global standards related to ceramic tile and affiliated materials.
I was able to sit down with these two dynamic leaders to gain some insight on many issues. The first bank of questions is directed to Mark Shannon, followed by questions for Noah Chitty.
The coronavirus pandemic has radically impacted all of our lives. How has it affected Crossville as it relates to effectively communicating and interfacing with your customers? What steps have you taken to reach out to them and have there been any positives you can take out of this challenging situation?
Mark Shannon: COVID-19 has challenged us all on every level, first and foremost, in keeping our people and their families safe while ensuring the enterprise continues to move forward. We have adopted a very vigorous digital platform for our sales team, one that is filled with new content that targets key stakeholders in the construction pipeline: architects, designers, contractors, and our distributors. We are all becoming experts on Zoom and Webex. This content is being delivered in a regular cadence that respects the customers’ work-from-home challenges.
We are also reaching out through our Technical Services Team to provide training on industry updates on standards, the TCNA Handbook for installation, and CEUs. Our team has been reaching out to contractors, particularly residential and commercial NTCA Five-Star contractors – to check in and stay in touch. These calls are to see if there are opportunities where the pandemic has impacted their business, and if there are industry best practices we can share such as sourcing PPE and PPP challenges. The good that is coming out of this is the opportunity to connect with our friends who we do not get to see due to the travel restrictions, and letting us all continue to show support for the industry and people we all love.
The recent news that the Department of Commerce has affirmed a final ruling on anti dumping and countervailing subsidies related to Chinese imports to the U.S., is creating an opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of the tariffs and duties on these products and replace the gap left by them. What is Crossville doing to take advantage of this opportunity?
Mark Shannon: The recent rulings by the Commerce Department and the ITC have created a window of opportunity. There are projects that the domestic manufacturers can supply to fill the gap. More importantly, the decisions were fairly clear that damage had been done to the coalition partners. There will be other offshore supply chains that will also step in to fill some of the voids, but not all.
We are focusing on our customers to offer solutions that support the domestic customer base with inventory and manufacturing flexibility to meet these needs.
More than ever before, consumers, designers and specifiers will look to products that are environmentally friendly and easy to clean and sanitize. How will Crossville market this and do you have products available or in development that can meet this need?
Mark Shannon: We are currently working on our messaging for porcelain tile from the durability and ease-of-maintenance perspective. We all know porcelain tile is impervious and easy to clean. The inherent properties of the product in a well-installed system make for a perfect surface due to the ability to withstand any necessary cleaning and sanitizing materials or methods. This product offers cleaning solutions that other surfacing products do not. There are a number of products that we make with our Cross-Sheen surface – which imparts a subtle glow that enhances the color of the tile and allows graffiti, stains and scuff marks to be easily wiped off the surface – that go above and beyond when it comes to maintenance.
As the newly-appointed Chairman of the ISO Committee, what are your plans moving forward to lead an international group of volunteers in a collaborative process, especially as it is now affected by challenges related to travel with the COVID-19 situation? How do you plan on working through this, and what are your next steps?
Noah Chitty: Well, I was just getting my feet wet when COVID first started to spread. The meeting in Berlin in November 2019 was my first as Chairman. Of course, I would have preferred to figure out how to be a good leader in a non-pandemic time, but that matters little now. So far, we have moved our end-of-July meeting in Indonesia to December and we are just waiting to see if that will be possible; we hope so.
One of our biggest hurdles seems to be that we have too many projects that get started, but then there is a struggle to get them completed. The ISO timelines are pretty strict. So, I hope to be able to add some additional focus to the working groups and really concentrate on the most important things and get them done before adding new priorities to the list. Also, if necessary for the near future, we may need to figure out how to do this virtually. It will be tough to get representatives from 30 or so countries together virtually at the same time, both from a technology and time zone standpoint. For now, there are countries still struggling and we don’t intend to put anything additional on their plate, but hopefully as we get into summer we can start to move things ahead.
What are the main objectives or goals you have established that you feel ISO can accomplish in the next year and beyond as it relates to tile manufacturing standards? How does installation factor into this, if at all?
Noah Chitty: We have 11 working groups that span a broad array of issues related to the tile industry. From COF, membranes, large thin panels, to sustainability and more – we have much going on. I would hope this next year we move the ball on the thin panel information; I would like to see that progress. But, all of the working groups have active projects, so things will have to be accomplished or they will have to make the case to the committee as to why they deserve a new time clock.
For manufacturing standards, the ISO and our ANSI A137.1 are pretty well harmonized, so we are continuing that effort of harmonization and also looking to see if there is any interest in moving more towards ISO for any of this work.
There is an installation working group, WG6. So far they have produced two technical reports and are now working on one about mechanically-fastened exterior tile work. Traditionally, due to the wide range of construction practices around the world, ISO has not had a huge push on the installation standard front. I’d like to explore this more and see if there are in fact some opportunities where we could collaborate as a committee.
Crossville has been at the forefront of leadership when it comes to the development of training and education programs for their products. How do you see this evolving in today’s environment and what are you doing to plan for this?
Noah Chitty: This is still a main focus for our team and we don’t plan to let it become less of a priority. But what the future brings is still something to be seen. We are holding – for now – the belief that hands-on training can’t be replaced by videos and virtual meetings. But we are talking about it regularly, and I have spoken with our setting-material manufacturer partners. We are all trying to figure it out with as much of a crystal ball as we can right now. We very much hope the NTCA programs will continue eventually. Our plan for porcelain panel training is to continue to work with NTCA and our setting-material partners to further these training initiatives. We are also trying to figure out how we can bring new-found use of virtual technologies to create things we have not done before, and can bring value to our customers and the industry.
Bart Bettiga is the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association. 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.