Total Solutions Plus – An industry educational and networking event

(l. to r.) Josh Meadows of JE Dunn Construction, Sam Bruce of Visalia Ceramic Tile, Inc., and Roger Baum of Core Construction during a technical breakout session covering the general contractor’s view of the industry.

This year, Total Solutions Plus (TSP) was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. This is the tenth year for the conference known for bringing the tile industry together. More than 600 attendees benefited from the networking, educational sessions and keynote presentations that this year’s conference offered.

TSP was sponsored by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), and Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA).

NTCA President Chris Walker of David Allen Company noted that TSP is an event where industry association members come together to collaborate and help the tile industry. He stressed the importance of this collaboration saying, “The more involvement we have, the stronger our associations become and the more capable we are supporting our industry.”

Mark Shannon (l.), of Crossville Inc. with Tom Ade of Filling Marble & Tile.

The first day and a half of the conference was filled with technical and association meetings. Then many attendees participated in Nashville tours that included behind-the-scenes looks at the iconic Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium, as well as a tour of the Dal-Tile Dickson Plant.

The conference was filled with an array of business and technical breakout sessions all aimed at helping industry professionals and their businesses. In his opening address, TCAA President and Chairman of the Board Brad Trostrud, of Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc., mentioned that 2019 had been a challenging year for the tile industry. He urged attendees to participate in the sessions because they will provide attendees with information that will be useful in daily business activities. He said he was confident attendees will benefit from their TSP participation because it shows the commitment they are making to learn and improve.


Elizabeth Lambert (l.), of Lambert Tile & Stone, Inc. with Mary Shaw-Olson of NTCA.

This year’s conference was the first for many attendees, including Jane and Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Inc. Lee was honored as NTCA’s Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year. Jane said she was glad they had the opportunity to come. “Our TSP experience was so positive all the way around,” she said. “Doesn’t this industry have the most amazing group of people? We were so honored to meet so many of you.” Callewaert’s husband received his award at the NTCA Awards Lunch on October 29. At the same ceremony, James Woelfel, president of Artcraft Granite Marble and Tile Co. in Mesa, Ariz., was honored as the 2019 NTCA Ring of Honor recipient, and Louisville Tile received special recognition for distributor support of NTCA Education and Training Programs. The conference concluded with a country western-themed dinner and dance, where attendees were treated to lasso and line-dancing lessons.


Total Solutions Plus 2020 will take place Oct. 24th – 27 at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells in Indian Wells, California.


NTCA Training Program – year-end wrap up

At NTCA Workshops, attendees have the opportunity to test tools and techniques. Shown: training workshops in Lombard, Ill. and West Allis, Wis.

The NTCA Training Team has wrapped up another year of cross-country training. This year, the team taught 16 regional training programs and over 100 workshops across 35 states.

Jim Olson, NTCA Assistant Executive Director, dubbed 2019 as a year of growth for NTCA training programs. “This year, we increased the number of regional training programs – our all-day training sessions – that we offer to NTCA members. Also, to keep up with training demands, we increased our presenter staff, adding Randy Fleming.”

Fleming, a tile contractor from California, joined the team at the start of the year and said his first year with NTCA has been a good one. He feels the association has experienced a positive response to its workshop program this year and he is enjoying having the opportunity to share his knowledge with other installers. “The best thing about being part of the NTCA team is having the pleasure to address so many talented and experienced installers and introducing them to tile industry standards,” he said. “I’ve met highly-experienced tile professionals that are not aware industry standards exist and don’t understand how the standards can help them professionally.”

Olson said there has been a high demand for the regional training programs this year. “Attendance at our regional programs continues to increase with most programs attracting 20-24 or more hands-on attendees and many additional attendees in an observation capacity,” he said.

For those who haven’t been to a NTCA training program, past attendees like Kris Nardone of K Nardone Custom Tilework, LLC, highly recommend you catch one, noting the sessions offer more than just training. “It’s a great experience if you attend one of these NTCA workshops,” Nardone said. “There is a ton of information that’s talked about in the couple hours varying from shower receptors, expansion joints, proper installation methods, and a lot more.”

Learning to work as a unit is emphasized during the gauged porcelain panels and slabs training sessions. Regional training sessions in Columbia, S.C. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

“All the information is great but getting to meet other local tile installers and making new relationships is priceless,” he added. “I try to attend at least one of the workshops each year. I always leave feeling pumped about our industry and am motivated to go out to set some tile correctly per industry standards. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t attended a NTCA workshop ever before. Any member or non-member can attend at no cost to you,” Nardone said.

In addition to the regular training assignments, the NTCA Training staff is preparing to conduct the regional events. This will allow NTCA to increase the number of regional training programs offered to NTCA members by 30% in 2020.

Fleming said he is looking forward to next year’s training programs. “The information we present at these events has the power to enrich people’s work and, in turn, their lives,” he said. “I’m excited about the future and what is to come in 2020.”

Olson reminds anyone interested in a NTCA Workshop or Regional Training Program to check the schedule regularly since it is often being updated. To see a list of all currently scheduled sessions, visit the NTCA website under the “Education & Certification” tab. 

Callewaert accepts Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award

Lee Callewaert (l.) with NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga at the Awards Lunch.

During the Awards Lunch at the 10th annual Total Solutions Plus in Nashville, Tenn., the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) awarded Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Inc. the Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award.

As part of his award, Callewaert received an all-expenses-paid trip to Total Solutions Plus. He and his wife, Jane, were also recognized at the NTCA Annual Meeting.

Over 20 candidates were nominated for the award. Requirements included a letter of nomination, a career summary, and descriptions of three to five projects the nominee has worked on. Nominees were required to be NTCA members, have a minimum of 15 years of installation experience, and still be active tile setters at time of nomination. Judges evaluated nominees based on their artistry, technical accuracy, problem solving skills, continuing education, and mentorship or leadership of others. 

In his nomination letter, Dragonfly customers and apprentices stressed Lee’s commitment to the next generation of tile setters, saying he leads by example and teaches his students the importance of continually obtaining more knowledge in order to improve their skills.

During the NTCA Annual Meeting, Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, Inc., talked about the Dragonfly apprentices’ nomination. “Lee did not know that he been nominated for this award. His apprentices took it upon themselves to nominate him, and they worked with his wife, Jane, to get the application in. Lee did not know until the phone call came. That’s how dedicated his apprentices are to him, the industry and the craft that they took it upon themselves [to nominate him].”

Examples of Callewaert’s custom work.

Callewaert, who has been setting tile for over 35 years, is the co-owner and senior craftsman of Dragonfly Tile located in Grafton, Wis. He began his career as an apprentice in Tennessee. Later, he moved to Wisconsin and where he started as a journeyman tile setter and later became foreman. In 2003, Callewaert founded Dragonfly Tile with Jane. By this time, he found his niche in custom tile and stone designs and installations. 

Callewaert said he started his own business in order to make a difference. He believes the trade is more than just setting tile. “There are a lot of people like me who want to bring the professionalism and the artistry back to this trade. It isn’t about just setting tile. It’s a craft with a proud history and that history should be preserved and built upon,” Callewaert said.

He also stressed that his success would not the possible without the help of his wife. “I could not do what I do in the field without my business partner and wife, Jane. She is as committed to this journey as I am. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone who can handle the other side of the business. There is no way without her that I could have achieved what we have achieved. She is as valued as I am by our employees and clients.”

Jane said she was honored that Callewaert and Dragonfly Tile were being recognized by NTCA. “Being recognized by industry leaders and peers is a great honor. But it’s also very motivational. It feeds your passion and commitment. I’ve seen this first hand.”

NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga echoed Callewaert’s sentiments about he and his wife working as a team. “I’ve been executive director for 18 years and I’ve been working with tile contractors for 35 years and what [Callewaert] just said is exactly what this industry is all about. We have a great association of husbands and wives that run family-owned businesses.” 

Currently, Callewaert specializes in highly technical and challenging commercial and residential tile and stone installations. Additionally, he is a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) and dedicates a portion of his time mentoring the emerging setters on his team.  

Lee vowed to continue to pass his knowledge and the craft on to the next generation of industry professionals. “All of us started somewhere and we are indebted to those who launched our careers and supported us throughout the years. I’m so honored and will continue to pass it on.”

Tile apprentice program starts its second year of success

It’s been a little over a year since the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust program kicked off. In its first year, this tile apprenticeship program has faced challenges, successes, and changes, but it looks forward to continuing to grow the program and recruit more tile setters into the industry.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust, it’s a unique co-op concept that provides monthly training for apprentices and different levels of involvement for co-op members. Current members include Hawthorne Tile, Davis Solutions, Campbell’s Custom Tile, Prestige Tile & Stone, Inc., Level Plane Tile & Stone, Columbia River Tile, Provenzano Enterprises, and Mid-Valley Tile & Design. The program is completely free to apprentices and is funded by a monthly per-student fee paid by co-op members. 

Apprentices learning how to create a proper pitch to the drain.

Apprentices learning how to create a proper pitch to the drain.

Currently, the program includes curriculum for a one-year finishers program and a three-year tile setters program and has apprentices enrolled in each. William White, tile and stone team leader for ARDEX Americas and NTCA State Ambassador, said the apprentices are progressing through the program. “The co-op turned out two finishers last year,” he said. “Currently, they have three enrolled in the finisher program, four enrolled in the first year of the setter program, and those that were in year one and still in the trade have moved to year two, which is eight or nine people.” This year will mark the first year for apprentices moving to the second level of the setters program.

Over this past year, the program has experienced challenges. “As with all programs, there was some attrition,” White said. The program has lost two apprentices and has had trouble finding other companies that understand the value of properly training their employees.

Jeff Occhipinti’s company, Columbia River Tile & Stone, Inc., had invested in one of the apprentices that left the program. “Unfortunately, we did have one person in the year-one program, and they left our company after having invested the time and money into them to enter the apprenticeship program,” Occhipinti said. “This is just one of the unfortunate things that happen when you make an investment in someone.”

Mastering application of SLU.

Mastering application of SLU.

Columbia River Tile & Stone does have a vetting process for potential apprentices. It hires them on a probationary basis to see if they will be a good fit for the company prior to investing in their education in the apprenticeship program.

White said, luckily, the co-op has seen more potential apprentices interested in and interviewing for the program. He says sponsor Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Pacific Northwest is to thank for some of the interest, noting the organization has been instrumental in recruiting people into the program. “ABC is super active,” he explained. “They are at every trade show, high school career day, and women-in-trades career fairs. And since ABC sponsors more than just tile, they are able to feel out the prospects and see which trade would be a good fit for the person.”

The co-op members are still evolving the program. White explained that last year, the co-op had a cooperative effort amongst several CTIs to teach the program. This year, they are adding an instructor with an extensive mud background to teach the year-two apprentices proper mud techniques. He also said there will be changes in the days classes are offered. “All classes last year were on Friday,” he said. “This year, first-year tile setters will have class on Fridays. Then year-two tile setters and tile finishers will have class on Saturdays. Since tile finishers work with tile setters and part of their learning is applying topping mud, the co-op thought that it would make sense for the tile finishers to not only learn the finishing tasks in a separate space but to also spend time with tile setters learning their tasks in the mud process.”

Apprentices constructing shower pans.

Apprentices constructing shower pans.

The first year has been successful for the co-op. This is due to the co-op members that have committed their time to the program’s success. 

Nancy Bebek, owner of Prestige Tile & Stone, Inc. and co-chair of the co-op, and her son Nick Bebek, the co-op chair, have dedicated lots of time to the program. “With Nick and me now as the chairs, we have to stay on top of everything. If someone commits to something, we have to make sure that they follow through so I actually have my admin spending time getting the right information and following up with everyone. I don’t think that Nick and I could have taken on this role if we didn’t have the office support from my admin Brianna.”

Bebek originally became involved with the co-op after her company had a contract that required the use of an apprentice. After reaching out to Northwest College of Construction, which was in the process of dissolving its program, Dirk Sullivan of Hawthorne Tile, and interviewing too many setters that had not been properly trained, she decided she wanted to help train the next generation of setters. “My passion quickly turned from ‘I have to have an apprentice’ to ‘I have to start training people and if they have been trained, breaking them of the bad habits that they picked up from YouTube videos or others in the trade’,” she said. “People may have the attitude that you can get away with a lot of bad work in commercial but here in Portland, the owners require top-notch quality so that means I have to employ top notch setters.”

According to Occhipinti, while his company has experienced positive change since becoming part of the co-op, he too is benefitting from its involvement. ”Working with the other companies, it is a rewarding feeling that we are trying to better the trade,” he said. “While there is an investment into the apprentices that we put through the program, we feel that it is the right decision. In fact, an employee and I will be teaching the first four classes of year-one tile setters this coming year.”

UofCTS announces new course

The University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) just released the new “The Complete Guide on Developing Tile & Stone Specifications with Architects” course.

This course provides the student with thorough and detailed information on how architectural sales representatives can get their tile and stone products specified with “Bullet Proof Specifications” meaning resistant to “Value Engineering and Substitutions.”

The course covers:

  • Selection Process and Considerations
  • Types of Architectural Specifications
  • Architectural Specification Structure – Master Format – Part 1, 2 & 3
  • Getting Your Products Specified
  • Tracking and Protecting the Specification
  • Communication Skills and Strategies

Students completing this course will have learned how to determine product suitability for the intended use, learned the different types of Architectural Specifications, learned how to prepare a “Bullet Proof” MasterFormat Specification Part 1, 2 & 3 sections, learn techniques and strategies for getting your products specified, learned how to track and protect your specifications from substitutions and value engineering, and learned key communication skills and strategies to help them develop meaningful relationships with the specifiers and construction team.

Students will be provided with a tile and stone MasterFormat Specification template that they can use to assist architects in specifying their products.

The content of this course is based on the many years of successful architectural sales by sales representatives who have sold many high-profile projects around the country.
This course is rated at an average of 7 hours to complete. UofCTS online courses are available 24/7 for 14 days from start date at the UofCTS Online Campus.  The cost of this course is $300.00 per student (or two member discounted tuitions from CTDA, NTCA, TTMAC, or Fuse Alliance).

The list price for taking this course is $300.00 per person or two association member tuitions.  Once registered, students have 14 days to complete the course which is accessible online, 24/7. Students can print a personalized certificate when they have passed all lesson assessments with a score of 80% or better.  Upon passing the course the student is provided a link to download a student reference guide that contains all of the key information from that respective course. Volume discounts are available.

The UofCTS is the training division of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and is committed to developing training programs for the ceramic tile and stone industry utilizing the latest and most effective technology and learning methodologies. Launched in 2003, UofCTS has enjoyed many years of success with trade and design professionals and is the leading online training University for the Tile and Stone Industry.

NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program Approved by U.S. Department of Labor

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the world’s largest tile contractor association, is pleased to announce it has received formal acceptance into the National Apprenticeship System from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). In a letter dated May 23rd, 2019, the DOL informed NTCA that its National Guidelines for Apprenticeship had been reviewed and found to be in compliance.   

The NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program, which combines field experience with online learning and designated classroom training, is designed to provide members an opportunity to attract new skilled labor into the ceramic tile industry. The program will offer guidance to NTCA members in developing their own tile finishers and tile setters apprenticeship programs.  

NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program

“A primary strategic goal of the NTCA is to provide our membership with resources to recruit and train new and existing employees,” said NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga.  “These apprenticeship guidelines are so important because without a formal career path outline to a prospective worker, it is hard to compete with other industries who are vying for these same individuals.”   

Becky Serbin, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director, has been working with volunteer leaders and supporters to develop NTCA’s apprenticeship guidelines program. “This program will allow us to navigate our members through their individual apprenticeship application process. We are looking forward to working with our members to attract and train new talent into the industry,” said Serbin.   

Currently, assistance in developing apprenticeship programs is available only to NTCA members. Potential apprentices do not have to be members. 

For more information on the NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program, visit For details on how to apply or to attain more information about the program, contact Becky Serbin. Serbin can be reached at [email protected] 




The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) is a non-profit trade association serving every segment of the industry, spearheading education for the professional installation of ceramic tile, natural stone and allied products.  For more information, please contact NTCA executive director Bart Bettiga at [email protected].com, via telephone at (601) 939-2071, or visit  

USITC Votes to Continue Investigations Concerning Ceramic Tile from China

The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) today determined that there is a reasonable indication that a U.S. industry is materially injured by reason of imports of ceramic tile from China that are allegedly subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value.

Chairman David S. Johanson and Commissioners Irving A. Williamson, Meredith M. Broadbent, Rhonda K. Schmidtlein, and Jason E. Kearns voted in the affirmative.

As a result of the Commission’s affirmative determinations, the U.S. Department of Commerce will continue with its antidumping and countervailing duty investigations concerning imports of this product from China, with its preliminary countervailing duty determination due on or about July 5, 2019, and its preliminary antidumping duty determination due on or about September 17, 2019.

The Commission’s public report Ceramic Tile from China (Inv. Nos. 701-TA-621 and 731-TA-1447 (Preliminary), USITC Publication 4898, June 2019) will contain the views of the Commission and information developed during the investigations.

The report will be available after June 25, 2019; when available, it may be accessed on the USITC website at:


Factual Highlights

Ceramic Tile from China
Investigation Nos. 701-TA-621 and 731-TA-1447 (Preliminary)

Product Description:  Ceramic tile (e.g., ceramic flooring tile, wall tile, paving tile, hearth tile, porcelain tile, mosaic tile, flags, finishing tile, etc.) that is fired so the raw materials are fused to produce a finished product that is less than 3.2 cm thick. All ceramic tile is subject to the scope regardless of end use, surface area, and weight; whether glazed or unglazed; regardless of the water absorption coefficient by weight; regardless of the extent of vitrification; and whether or not the tile is on a backing. Ceramic tile may include decorative features that may in spots exceed 3.2 cm in thickness. Subject merchandise also includes ceramic tile that undergoes minor processing (e.g., beveling, cutting, trimming, staining, painting, polishing, finishing, additional firing, etc.) in a third country prior to importation into the United States.

Status of Proceedings:

1.   Type of investigations:  Preliminary phase countervailing duty and antidumping investigations.
2.   Petitioners:  American Wonder Porcelain, Lebanon, Tennessee; Crossville Inc., Crossville, Tennessee; Dal‐Tile Corp., Dallas, Texas; Del Conca USA, Inc., Loudon, Tennessee; Florida Tile, Inc., Lexington, Kentucky; Florim USA, Clarksville, Tennessee; Landmark Ceramics, Mount Pleasant, Tennessee; and StonePeak Ceramics, Chicago, Illinois.
3.   USITC Institution Date:  Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
4.   USITC Conference Date:  Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
5.   USITC Vote Date:  Friday, May 24, 2019.
6.   USITC Notification to Commerce Date:  Friday, May 28, 2019.

U.S. Industry in 2018:

1.   Number of U.S. producers:  9.
2.   Location of producers’ plants:  Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.
3.   Production and related workers:  2,976.
4.   U.S. producers’ U.S. shipments:  $1.2 billion.
5.   Apparent U.S. consumption:  $3.5 billion.
6.   Ratio of subject imports to apparent U.S. consumption:  17.8 percent.

U.S. Imports in 2018:

1.   Subject imports:  $626.3 million.
2.   Nonsubject imports:  $1.7 billion.
3.   Leading import sources:  Brazil, China, Italy, Mexico, and Spain.

Why we all need Why Tile

Understanding the who, why, what, when and how of one
of the industry’s more important initiatives

Launched during Coverings 2017, the Why Tile® program is the tile trade’s first industry-wide initiative to demonstrate the benefits of ceramic tile. While the initiative is a definite positive for the general tile industry, many tile contractors have yet to discover how the program can benefit them. By understanding the program better, and the resources it offers, contractors just may discover that the program is not only a good resource, but an important tool in helping them provide valuable information to their clients. 

Who is Why Tile?

As mentioned, Why Tile, coordinated by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), is the tile industry’s only joint initiative to provide the market with education and information about tile. Before its launch, key stakeholders from the installer, contractor, manufacturer, distributor, and retailer sectors all collaborated to create this massive undertaking. Today, leading industry organizations and manufacturers contribute to the program to continue the growth of its already-robust content. Some of the noted industry organizations that support Why Tile include Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA), and Tile Heritage Foundation (THF). 

Why the industry needs Why Tile

While Why Tile started out as a massive marketing and education initiative designed to inspire consumers and provide information on all of tile’s benefits, it has become much more in the past two years. When launched, offered consumers inspiration, ideas and advice on tile. The site has expanded to include an extensive commercial section that provides industry-specific content and tools for architects, designers and specifiers. The commercial section even includes case studies, application information and a resource library. 

Kathy Meyer, TCNA’s Director of Marketing, says the content and topics on are still expanding, allowing the site to become a good information source for the industry and their clients. “Why Tile provides information that also goes beyond style to explore how tile can improve the functionality of any space, and how ceramic tile compares to other surfaces, including plastic floors,” she said. “Why Tile provides excellent content and examples to share with customers and employees.”

Meyer stresses that is a useful resource for contractors as well. “The information and ideas at can help a tile contractor articulate, with consistent and valid messaging, the benefits of using ceramic tile for their customer’s specific industry, application, or project,” she said. All the resources available on the site are free and are ideal in helping installers explain certain aspects of tile to their clients, including selection, design and maintenance tips.

What about those resources?

For those who haven’t visited, the resources that it offers are numerous. For installers and their clients, it provides pattern ideas and an impressive design gallery to help with the creative stages of the project. The site also includes an “Easy Care” page that is ideal to share with clients after a project is complete. The page explains how clients should maintain and protect their investment (and the installer’s hard work) for years to come. 

Meyer explained that the Why Tile Partners web portal is another important – and free – resource installers may want to consider. “Why Tile Partners can take full advantage of these resources to help themselves, their employees and their customers become educated about the smart and beautiful choices with ceramic tile,” she explained. 

After they register, the portal offers Why Tile partners four key resources: the Why Tile Activation kit, Why Tile logos for co-branding opportunities, monthly social media posts, and a comprehensive Why Tile presentation that amplifies the strengths of ceramic tile. The monthly social media posts include text and images partners can use on their own social channels as long as they include the hashtag #whytile.

NTCA developing installer-centric content

In response to trending topics, technical advances, and educational needs, Why Tile is continuously adding content to its site. Meyer says to expect to see even more new resources and content on the site this year. 

But 2019 will be a milestone year when it comes to tile contractors and The NTCA is taking part in a joint project with the Why Tile team to produce content and resources specifically with tile contractors and installers in mind. “We are excited to see this joint venture take shape,” said NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga. “I look forward to seeing what the venture produces. Plus, I think is an excellent asset to use to communicate the importance of using qualified labor to residential and commercial audiences.”

How to become more involved

Meyer said Why Tile is always looking for new partners. Anyone who is looking to become more involved in the program can register to become a partner by visiting the Why Tile Partners web portal or reaching out to Meyer or Roxanne Morris.

FCLC Research Highlights Motivations and Barriers of Flooring Installation as a Career

CHICAGO – In January, 2018, the Floor Covering Leadership Council (FCLC) commissioned an independent research firm to conduct a multi-phase study to quantify the scope and severity of the lack of installation professionals on the flooring industry’s sustainability and growth. A Chicago-based research firm, The Blackstone Group Inc., was contracted to conduct the research, whose quantitative components focused on businesses that purchased workers’ services by engaging floor covering installers as direct employees and/or subcontractors in 2017. A total of 334 executives, representing floor covering contractors, retailers, workrooms, and installation businesses across 45 of the 50 states, participated.

Part 3 of this 5 Part Series describes motivations and hurdles when considering flooring installation as a career path. The quantitative research’s findings regarding floor covering installation as a career included these highlights:

  • A key consideration motivating the executives who would recommend a career in installation was its perceived financial advantages.
  • The primary barrier to recommending installation as a career was the tough working conditions that installers experience.
  • To boost the odds of finding the “right people” for installation work many of the executives who expected to hire installers in 2018 planned to rely on current employees’ recommendations.
  • Executives’ main source for recruiting employees varied by region. Those in the south and west more often expected to depend on personal ties than did executives in the northeast and Midwest.

Executives observed that, as a specialty trade, floor covering installation is a good career choice for those that have particular combination of traits:

  1. Aptitude for and interest in manual work.
  2. Capacity and commitment to handle the rigors of the trade.
  3. Ambition to be an entrepreneur.

The FCLC research initiative had several overarching objectives:

  1. Estimate the size of the gaps between the supply of and the demand for floor covering installers, now and in five to 10 years.
  2. Quantify the financial impact of the installer shortage up the supply chain.
  3. Identify key drivers of the installer shortage as well as potential solutions.
    The study’s findings suggest not only that the labor shortage is real, but that its financial impacts up the flooring supply chain are significantly greater than previously understood.

Associations included in the FCLC coalition and others donated the funds needed to accomplish the 2018 research. Ongoing industry fundraising will be coordinated to generate the funding needed for the initiative’s future work.

Part 4 of this series will focus on the assessment of perceptions of installation labor shortages. Presentations detailing the FCLC research findings will take place on January 24, 2019 at The International Surface Event (TISE) in Las Vegas and on February 28 at Domotex USA in Atlanta.


The FCLC was established in 2015 as a coalition of flooring industry trade associations committed to identifying issues and developing solutions to the industry’s most pressing challenges. Currently, twelve flooring associations support the FCLC: American Floorcovering Alliance, Inc. (AFA), International Certified Flooring Installers Associations Inc. (CFI), Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), Floor Covering Installation Contractors Association (FCICA), Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA), Natural Stone Institute (NSI), North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD), North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA), National Institute of Certified Floorcoverings Inspectors (NICFI), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). For more information, visit

My week with the pros, or how CTEF changed how I look at the world, one room at a time

Scott Carothers teaching CTEF course

Many of our mornings started out with the lecture portion of the program.

Spend a little time with me and it’s quickly noticeable that I’ve worked in the flooring industry. The first thing I notice about a room is its flooring – whether it’s hardwood, carpet, stone, tile or (ugh) laminate. Is it real hardwood, wood-look tile, or LVT? I notice how it works with the room and what installation pattern was used. Admittedly, I’m a realtor’s nightmare; I partially rejected a house because it had plank tile that wasn’t installed following the 33% rule. But that’s where my installation knowledge stopped – until I spent a week at CTEF.

The course included choosing and installing your substrate.

I know lots about tile, from how it’s made to recommended usage. What I didn’t know was how to install it, so I jumped at the chance to take CTEF’s Understanding and Installing Ceramic Tile course. This five-day course teaches the basics of tile installation. That description will probably make quite a few seasoned tile guys and gals say they don’t need that course. Think again. 

My class was filled with a mix of seasoned installers, experienced professionals, novice setters, house flippers, and builders. The one thing we had in common is by the end of the week, we all left with a lot more knowledge than what we entered with. 

John Roberts mixing thinset. Mixing thinset is the one thing I didn’t get to try.

The course is structured as part lecture/instruction, part demonstration and part hands-on. We usually started the day in the classroom. Instructor Scott Carothers, aided by John Roberts of John Roberts Designs, Inc., – a NTCA Georgia State Ambassador, CTI #1278 Certified Tile Installer and CTEF Regional Evaluator – encouraged us to actively participate in the discussion and interject our own knowledge, experiences, challenges and successes. It allowed us to apply real-world experiences to what we were learning. (See more on John in the TileLetter December 2018 issue, Member Spotlight column, page 62.)

The demonstrations were the bridge between the lectures and the hand-on portion.

The demo portion really focused on the tools of the trade and how to pick the right tools for the job. This portion of the course really taught you about planning before you even start, choosing the correct tools, substrate prep, cutting tile efficiently, and the importance of correct mortar coverage. We learned everything from what trowel to use to how to use a wet saw (my favorite part).

I was eager and anxious about the hands-on portion. My class was filled with people who did this for living, and this was my first experience even picking up a trowel. We broke up into small groups and were assigned to a room. Throughout the week, we prepped and installed the tile of our choice in our spaces. I partnered with Kathy Meyer, Director of Marketing from the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). Together, we did part of a tub surround. 

Did I say how much I loved the knee pads?!

Throughout the week, I was relieved to find out that everyone was eager to help other groups succeed. The experienced installers often helped us novices figure out next steps. Once everything was complete and set, we pulled pieces of our tiles up to check our coverage. Achieving the correct coverage is much harder than many of us thought it would be, but is a lesson better learned in class than on the jobsite.

I achieved the 95% coverage required in wet areas.

While the hands-on portion was fun, the group contribution and instruction is where I learned the most. I learned that there are common challenges that installers face on the job, just how much installers need to know to be really good at their trade, and that within this industry (unlike any other I’ve experienced) there is camaraderie, support and encouragement.

Now when I walk in a room, I still notice the flooring, but now I also see installation flaws and successes. I can see if the layout wasn’t properly planned, have an idea why the tile might be cracking, and mentally pat the installer on the back for a job well done.

Here is part of our tub surround during installation.

It was an exhausting week and my body hated me for choosing a tub surround, but the class was an amazing experience. I will never be an installer (it requires way more math and science than I care for, and more patience than I have), but I have a new passion for installation. And even though I will be calling a Certified Tile Installer for my next installation project, I’m still asking Santa for a 1/4” notched trowel, those awesome knee pads and a wet saw for Christmas. I think it is well-deserved for achieving 95% coverage on my tub-surround.


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