In the One-to-One column, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviews industry leaders about pertinent topics.
One thing that I have learned the hard way over the years is not just to expect change, but to prepare for it and embrace it. Suffice to say, no one could have prepared for the events that have taken place in this country and our world in the past several months. The impact of COVID-19 is being felt by everyone in all areas of the world.
The tile industry is no different, and it is difficult to try to deal with everything associated with the vast changes happening in our personal and professional lives. Tile contractors are faced with trying to navigate the impact the crisis is having on their businesses, trying to finish and complete projects in a safe and healthy manner, and protecting their families at home.
When times get challenging, leaders rise to the occasion. In my opinion, Ron Nash, LATICRETE International Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing North America, is an example of a leader who is embracing the changes around us, and reaching out to communicate and share with contractors around the country. Ron is an active and consistent presence on social media, and despite the challenges he faces leading a large installation materials company and raising a family, he always seems to have time to answer questions from tile contractors, and often initiates and engages them in thought-provoking conversations. For this reason, I chose Ron as our One-to-One interview this month.
The coronavirus pandemic caught all of us off guard with the short and long term impact it is having on our world. What steps have you and your team taken to support the tile industry through this very difficult time, and how are you positioning yourselves to be prepared for the opportunities that will be open to you once we begin to regain a sense of normalcy?
In this time of uncertainty, it’s essential to communicate via multiple channels.
To join forces and keep us all informed about what other tile industry businesses are doing amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, I initiated a Facebook group where tile industry experts can share/discuss their business operating status and monitor the impact of the ever-changing public information. This group – named Tile Industry COVID-19 Response-Impact – is an open channel for those in the tile/stone installation industry to share real and timely information, look for support, ask business-related questions, or simply talk about current issues with no political focus.
In response to the situation, the LATICRETE team immediately accelerated a digital transformation effort, which originated in 2019 company-wide. We are now fully operational, working remotely all over the world. This effort quickly moved hundreds of people out of offices and manufacturing facilities. We simultaneously started a strict set of protocols regarding sanitation and social distancing, weeks before state and local governments issued guidelines. And our leadership team formed a COVID-19 taskforce focused on sharing information and monitoring the health of the business and team members.
These efforts have been extremely effective, as I am pleased to report that all LATICRETE team members are currently safe and virus-free, and our facilities are still producing and delivering much-needed materials to essential projects worldwide.
How has LATICRETE used social media as a way to market its products and create brand awareness in the installer community?
We’ve taken our social media to another level with the support of the entire LATICRETE team.
One of the significant challenges going from a highly-collaborative team environment to one in quarantine, is the loss of interpersonal communication. It’s a difficult situation for everyone and an extra-challenging one for sales professionals who thrive on interaction.
To help our team remain engaged and feel productive, we’ve initiated all possibilities for them to continue teaching. Our sales reps thrive on supporting customers and teaching them how to be successful. To date, we’ve conducted many “live” events across all platforms of social media training with several hundred architects and contractors streaming seminars and demonstrations.
In 2017, we built an online education platform (LATICRETE University), which offers an entire library of free industry-related courses covering an incredible variety of topics relating to LATICRETE products and industry knowledge. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented spike in training over the last few weeks, with our users taking several thousand courses. And the number continues to climb.
We are happy to see our friends use this time to train and sharpen their skillset because we have a good feeling we’ll all be swamped in Q3 and Q4.
LATICRETE is much more than a manufacturer of grouts and mortars. Tell us a little about the strategic approach the company has taken the past several years in acquisitions and partnerships that have enabled you to position yourselves for growth and expansion.
LATICRETE has always enjoyed forward-thinking and innovation. Several years ago, we began looking at “near-neighbor” construction categories. We were particularly interested in businesses that held technologies that could improve our manufacturing prowess, open up new markets, and expand our reach with the contractors, owners, and architects we already serve.
Today we are active in several new channels with many new customer types servicing masonry, coatings, concrete remediation, surface care, as well as tile and stone. This effort expanded our capabilities immensely, touching every part of our business.
What types of investments have you made in research and development, and how has it paid off? Please highlight a few of your new product introductions for 2020.
In recent years we have more than doubled our research and development capabilities worldwide.
In 2019 alone, we launched seven new products across multiple categories expanding our self-leveling, moisture vapor barriers, shower systems, sound control, and tile adhesives offerings.
We are focused on new platforms that are healthier, lighter, and easier to transport and inventory. At the same time, we are continuing our long-standing mission of reducing waste and being even more environmentally friendly.
These efforts have already produced many marquis new products.
In 2020 we’ve launched an innovative “modular adhesive” called LATICRETE SELECT-BOND™, which allows contractors to inventory one LHT adhesive base that is jobsite “tuneable” to meet various challenges. This system leverages the “Performance Pack” technology similar to our PERMACOLOR® Select grout system. With performance packs, the tile installer can add ANSI A118.15 shock-resistance, speed up his job with a “rapid pack” or make it non-sag for when the installation goes vertical. It is also compatible with all of our PERMACOLOR® Select Color Kits, so it can also be tinted to match any one of our stock 40 colors. We see a bright future for this system.
With all this innovation, it’s easy to overlook other category-leading products like SpectraLOCK 1, which we feel is the best single-component grout on the market. We’ve only had it on the market for a few weeks, and the customer reviews are nothing short of stellar.
We intend to extend our lead in the industry by providing the best new product innovations.
How has LATICRETE supported industry efforts to address glaring needs such as a shortage of tile installers, the need for basic, intermediate and advanced training, and certification?
LATICRETE has long recognized the efforts of the NTCA and CTEF in helping secure the future of our industry. We believe in their missions.
Lack of skilled labor is a big problem, and in my opinion, everyone who profits from this industry will need to step up and support their efforts.
To us, the word “certification” is important, and not something to look at as purely a marketing opportunity. We invest heavily in training installers to properly use our products, but we believe that nationally-recognized industry certifications are essential and different from the training events we conduct. That’s one reason we’ve avoided the word “certification” and have opted to issue completion certificates for programs like our “Profit Through Knowledge” (PTK), International Passport to Success, and LATICRETE Live training events as well as LATICRETE University courses.
We physically train thousands of contractors every year, and now we are making investments in more digital tools to help augment and scale all of our training efforts. On social platforms like the Facebook group “LATICRETE’s InsideTrack,” we are forging new connections with the end users to promote our industry organizations.
All of these programs promote industry certifications and will continue to recognize the efforts of the trainers and friends who are in the field doing this tough and important work.
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.