Leading the industry in a changing world

Normally I like to call this article a year in review, and then share with our readers what the National Tile Contractors Association is planning for the following year. I can safely tell you that thanks to the new world we live in, it is very difficult to plan ahead. A better way to describe it would be to say that we are ready to react to whatever situation comes our way. 

The COVID pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. In the association world, it was particularly devastating. All of our educational seminars, training programs, and tradeshows were either cancelled or postponed. Certification tests administered by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) were similarly put on hold. This affects our ability to impact the industry and impacts our revenue and outreach. 

I am proud of the way the staff reacted to this situation. Under their leadership, with volunteer support and interaction from a wide array of active members, NTCA reported ongoing developments on legislation, relief and contractor and industry wide responses to COVID on TileLetter.com and established a Coronavirus Response Hotline on the NTCA website at tile-assn.com. We keep this current today. We partnered with other association leaders to share important information for our members to access. 

The training team at NTCA and CTEF quickly mobilized and created virtual webinars and training programs, including offering NTCA workshops online. They also initiated multiple roundtable talks for contractors to get together to discuss issues ranging from operating in a new world, to best practices and technical installation discussions. These programs have continued to grow in popularity and participation. 

TileLetter gets a digital upgrade; ARTISAN publication launches

The new TileLetter Digital Magazine is easy to navigate via a range of devices.

Moving into 2021, I am excited to make a few major announcements. First and foremost, NTCA has decided to expand our outreach in digital marketing with a new TileLetter Digital Magazine. This monthly feature will include video links and technical and business content that is easy to access and read with smartphones, tablets and computers. 

TileLetter ARTISAN will champion artisan tile setters with spring and fall issues.

In talking with our members for the past few years, it has become very clear that NTCA must continue to be a strong advocate and voice for the craftsmanship and artisanship that our skilled installers possess. This is what sets our trade apart from other industries. In addition to many installation awards we offer for our members, we recently introduced the NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Awards. Based on the incredible submissions we receive, and the artistic impact our installers make in the world, we are introducing two new issues of TileLetter in print in 2021. TileLetter ARTISAN will be featured in both the spring and the fall and will celebrate both residential and commercial artistic and technically-challenging installations and projects, as well as the historical legacy of craftsmanship tile setters share stretching back through time.

Using technology to strengthen training

NTCA training staff has invested in mobile equipment to offer more programs on social media in both live and recorded formats.

We are planning for a return to physical training programs, certification testing and educational seminars in 2021. Currently, we are slating most of our programs to begin in late spring and they will continue throughout the year. In order to supplement these programs and reach a broader audience, the NTCA training staff has invested in mobile equipment to offer more programs on social media in both live and recorded formats. We will film training tips and videos for these platforms, and if and when we can travel again, we will use this technology to feature distributor and manufacturer sponsors, visit contractor members at our events and on their jobsites, and of course showcase NTCA events live and in video channels. We are really excited about what the virtual mobile program will offer. In a worst case scenario, if we are unable to travel in 2021 due to the continued restraints we currently have with the pandemic, we will be able to communicate to our members and the industry utilizing all of these platforms and tools. Let’s hope that is not the case. 

NTCA is in sound financial position and is committed to continuing to expand our outreach to the installation community and the entire tile industry. We are proud of the service we have continued to provide for our members, and we will continue to look to new and innovative ways we can communicate and interact with them no matter what happens in the world. We are proud of the continued commitment our members have made to our staff and to each other. 

Members helping members – Owen, Kemna and Welch gather in Grand Rapids for a strategy session. 

I would like to close with a great example of what getting involved in NTCA means to some people, and can mean for you. Thanks to years of attending NTCA programs and events, Rod Owen of C.C. Owen Tile Company in Atlanta, and Barry Kemna of Kemna Tile in Dallas, flew to Michigan to meet with Dan Welch of Welch Tile and Marble in Grand Rapids. They spent several days and into the weekend together, examining new strategies they were considering based on regional and national changes they are anticipating. This is the type of collaboration that occurs when members helping members takes place; and it happens every day. NTCA is proud to be an organization that encourages and facilitates this type of interaction. 

Keeping you informed

As Publisher of TileLetter and Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), I have enjoyed interviewing a variety of guests from all aspects of the tile industry this past year in our One-to-One column. Throughout the year, I have tried to focus on specific questions or topics for our guests. For this issue, I have taken the liberty of addressing five topics that I think our readers would be interested in, related to the direction the NTCA is taking to remain relevant as a leading trade association in the flooring industry.  

How significant has the COVID-19 pandemic been for NTCA in 2020 and do you expect this to continue into 2021?

The impact of coronavirus was felt immediately. The heart and soul of our association are the training and education programs we offer throughout the country. In addition, NTCA supports the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), and its Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Program. As you can imagine, we had to cancel hundreds of educational seminars, training programs, certification tests, and events. 

In addition, NTCA is a sponsoring association and partner in the joint venture called Coverings, the largest tile and stone show in North America. We were forced to cancel that show in April. We hope to be able to collaborate with our association partners to produce a show for 2021, currently scheduled for April in Orlando. 

NTCA Night at Coverings 2019 – fingers crossed we get to gather for this again in 2021.

The impact of these postponements has been significant. Fortunately, we have received incredible support from our members, including contractors, consultants, distributors and manufacturers. This has enabled us to continue planning events in 2021, with the hope of safely offering programs. The NTCA is in solid financial position, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have the strong support of volunteers on our board of directors and executive committee, helping us to make solid business decisions moving forward. 

What steps are you taking to ensure NTCA success in 2021 and beyond?

NTCA got on the virtual bandwagon quickly, like with this NTCA Roundtable Live gathering. 

The entire staff and board of directors met in June and made some key decisions that will position NTCA well for 2021 and further. We invested in equipment to produce educational videos and content that can be used on platforms like YouTube and our NTCA University Learning Management System. Our staff will use these tools if they are unable to travel due to COVID-19, but they will also be able to utilize them when we are cleared to return to performing live educational programs and events. Most associations have reacted quickly to offer virtual platforms in a variety of ways, and to be honest we are all flying by the seat of our pants to see what works. To be efficient, NTCA has partnered with several association leaders to share best practices with each other in costs and strategy. This has proved to be invaluable. It has resulted in sharing important information related to applying for Paycheck Protection and Forgiveness for COVID-19 relief, as well as the investment of our equipment and the utilization of virtual platforms to offer to the industry. 

What lessons have you learned this year because of the world we now live in?

I have learned to never take anything for granted. Things were going very smoothly in the tile industry and for the NTCA. Our membership was growing, and feedback we were receiving from industry supporters was encouraging. All of this changed with the onslaught of the virus. Since we rely heavily on trade show revenue, and our membership growth is most often generated from conducting physical training and educational workshops, we were forced to reexamine everything that we do. As a result, we have invested in digital platforms for education, as well as the way we communicate to the industry in TileLetter and in our association newsletters. I think these investments will pay great dividends to NTCA in the future, but it has been a challenging year to say the least. 

What are some of the most important programs NTCA will focus on in 2021?

NTCA will launch TileLetter ARTISAN in 2021.

We at NTCA still believe that we bear a strong responsibility to help cultivate new workers to enter the trade. As a result, we will continue to look to ways that we can use our Apprenticeship Program (Guidelines approved by the Department of Labor in 2019) to help our members both recruit and train quality people to join our growing industry. We have made headway in some markets with this, and we are joining other trade associations in exploring ways to offer flooring training programs in a pre-apprenticeship level at high schools and vocational schools. The most effective way to do this is to find contractors and associate partners who may see an opportunity in their community and to work with NTCA staff to use or modify our curriculum to fit these needs. If we can have success in some markets in pilot programs, we can create additional programs for other leaders to consider. 

Another point of emphasis for NTCA is to proudly communicate the skills required for individuals who master the art of tile installation. We will be launching TileLetter ARTISAN in 2021, which will replace our TECH and TRENDS issues with a focus on the artistic components that make our industry different and unique. This involves both design and installation, as well as manufacturing. We will continue to feature awards and stories that highlight the true artisans and craftspeople that make our trade so special, and we will do this both in print and in digital formats. 

Any final thoughts to add?

I wish I knew what was in store for us moving into 2021. We are prepared to offer training programs safely and efficiently. We expect to be able to offer many of these programs early in 2021, as soon as our sponsors and hosts feel comfortable supporting these efforts. We also are cautiously optimistic that we can participate in trade shows and we are working closely with management to figure out what this will look like and if it will include virtual or hybrid content platforms. Like everything else in life, change is not always bad and is often necessary and positive. We will embrace these changes and we expect the association will be better because of them.

One-to-One: Heidi Martin, United Tile

Heidi Martin, United Tile

For over 50 years United Tile, a leading distributor in the Pacific Northwest, has offered the most comprehensive and creative selection of tile stone and glass products to its customers. With showrooms in major markets in Seattle, Portland and Spokane, United Tile is focused on serving the needs of designers, architects, builders, retailers, and contractors. It was recently named best professional design center by the Home Builders Association of Portland.

Heidi Martin, United Tile President, has been a leading voice representing distribution for several years through her involvement in the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA). We asked her to share with us her perspective on many topics, ranging from strategic decisions or changes that needed to be made due to COVID-19, to the importance of involvement in industry affiliations and associations.  

Can you share with us a little bit of history on how United Tile came to be a leading distributor in the Pacific Northwest, explain your role in the company, and tell what a typical day looks like for you?

Fostering camaraderie among employees with a pre-COVID wine and cheese night at United Tile.

United Tile is a family-owned business, purchased by Ken Wiedemann in 1991. For over 25 years, we were blessed with fantastic leadership from our management team of Ken, Ron Cook and Bob Hart. I was fortunate to learn from men who truly care about our employees and our customers. Their passion for this industry is contagious.  

Our goal has always been to be the best source for tile and hardwood in the Northwest. To achieve this, we have focused on providing excellent products and service at a fair price. We place a high value on our relationships with our customers and suppliers. This has proven invaluable during good times – and tough times.

I was named President of United Tile in March of 2019. I’m not sure there is a typical day for me – which is part of what I love about this job. I’ve been with United Tile for almost 25 years and I still learn something daily. 

I’m an early riser, usually up by 5:00 am. I like to get a workout in and get to the office with a clear head and a full cup of coffee. On any given day, I will meet with our different department managers, consider sales strategies, catch up on customer accounts, meet with vendor reps, review marketing direction, connect with other distributor leaders, and anything else that comes up. I enjoy meeting with our customers, so I can better understand their needs and how we can help them grow – but that has been more difficult during the pandemic the past five months.

What decisions or changes did you have to implement in your company as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Since distributors grow their business by working directly with consumers, designers, specifiers, architects and contractors, what measures did you take to continue in these relationships? How has this impacted your business and what do you think your business model will look like in the future as the situation comes somewhat under control?

Our first goal was to create a safe environment for our employees. We took the same steps I’m sure everyone else did, including hanging signs to encourage hand washing, social distancing, and staying home when not feeling well. We set up most of our employees to work remotely. We limited interactions and overcrowding by having our showrooms open by appointment only. We set up curbside pickup as an option for orders. Most of our customer service representatives are remote, but those who are in the office have protective partitions, and we require masks to be worn in our facilities.

As far as our sales focus, we are listening and learning from our customers to better meet their needs. We often use the term “fluid” around here, as we realize the situation is changing and we need to adapt accordingly. We have used technology to create a library of presentations for whenever our customers are ready. We continue to produce relevant social media content to keep them informed of products and trends. We are making sure we are respectful of our customers’ limited time and interaction preferences. Many of our customers are working remotely and do not have access to the resources they may have previously used, so we are helping to bridge that gap. We keep our products and price lists updated for them. We provide extra samples or product information as needed by customers. We want to ensure that we are easy to do business with – especially during these difficult times.

We believe that technology will play a much larger role in the future of our industry. We have been relying heavily on video conferencing to keep in touch with remote employees as well as customers. It is critical that information is easily accessible, so updating our website has become a high priority. But knowing that our industry is driven by a combination of great people and creative products, we hope to see the return of more face-to-face meetings when this pandemic ends.

How has your involvement in the CTDA and the industry benefitted you individually and as a leader in your company?

CTDA has been a wonderful organization to be a part of. I have served on their Board of Directors since 2012 and have benefitted greatly from the connections I’ve made. CTDA connects, educates and strengthens tile and stone distributors. They have been extremely helpful in navigating many situations, including the Chinese duty and tariffs, as well as the Coronavirus pandemic. Every fall they co-host Total Solutions Plus, a wonderful event that brings contractors and distributors together each year to make our industry better. I always learn from that experience and return with new ideas to share with our staff. I am very grateful for the friendships with other distributor leaders I have made through CTDA. They make this industry enjoyable and are a great source for business advice when needed. 

As a leading provider of ceramic tile and natural stone tile, among other products, what are the things you look for when selecting manufacturing partners? Did the tariff increases and countervailing duties assessments on Chinese tile manufacturers help you or hurt you, and what decisions did you make as a result of this news?

A pre-COVID Trade Night at United Tile.

First and foremost, we select suppliers that make great products and are reliable. We are fortunate to be paired with some of the best manufacturers in the industry. 

While the low-end market has never been our main focus, we were doing some business with China and were affected by the tariff increases and countervailing duties. Luckily, we were not too heavily invested in that market, and we were able to find alternative sources for that product category. 

On the other hand, we are also happy that the ruling strengthened the position of our domestic suppliers. They have always been critical to our success, but perhaps more now than ever. Many of our projects require readily-available products, an opportunity that is enhanced through our domestic partners.

NTCA, like other companies or associations, met and decided to make quick changes to its strategic planning, creating a pivot plan to quickly react to the extraordinary times in which we find ourselves. What changes to your planning, if any, did United Tile make in order to continue to thrive as a leader in your industry in your area?

We had to get creative quickly, since our territory included one of few states where construction was deemed “non-essential” and shut down for a period of time. We used that down time to tackle some long-term projects that will help us operate more efficiently and provide better resources to our customers. Those projects included creating a new website (due to launch early fall), setting up bar coding for all our samples, conducting a full inventory in our warehouses, and creating numerous presentations for customers. We also used this time to stay on top of the commercial projects in our pipeline. While there are many challenges because of this pandemic, there are also many opportunities. We have to be adaptable, and willing to work harder and smarter to keep up with the changing environment. Fortunately, we have an incredible team here at United Tile and we are up for the challenge!

Dave Gobis, part 2 Industry icon and NTCA Recognized Consultant

The first part of this One-to-One that NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga conducted with industry legend and NTCA Recognized Consultant Dave Gobis was published in the August issue of TileLetter. Find it in that issue or online at tileletter.com.

Headshot of Dave Gobis
Dave Gobis

What was the most challenging project you ever got involved in as a consultant and how were you able to help solve the problem?

There is a bunch of them. I have lots of stories.

For instance, there was a big mall project with four colors of porcelain tile installed on the first and second level over a membrane. A large number of beige porcelain tiles were cracked on the second floor, very few on the first. The other three colors were fine on both floors. Uniformly, thinset coverage was less than ideal, but I’ve seen worse. It could have used more soft joints.

What happened? Beige through-body porcelain is less homogenous after firing due to the mineral make up of the body. It had a lower breaking strength and flexural value than the other products. The mall had no restrictions on wheel load over the floor, i.e. pallet jacks and cherry pickers. The compression of the membrane was technically ok. But keep in mind, standards are minimum performance values. They were not written with loaded pallets in mind. 

They fought me on my opinion. In my report, I offered to substantiate my opinion using Scanning Electron Microscopy (for a rather large fee) to provide a visual on my assertion. They paid, opinion confirmed. They decided to keep patching and use plywood under lifts in the future.

What are the most common trends you see related to installation that you get called on that could have been avoided?

#1 Grout and grout haze. Grout complaints have increased quite a bit with the popularity of single-component products and epoxy.

#2 Lippage. Nobody likes floor prep. Nobody likes to check the tile before they install it. Very few people measure lippage properly. 

#3 Leaky showers. Where do you even start?

#4 Google University. Between groups, podcasts, and YouTube, the number of experts is almost as numerous as the labor force itself. I had to leave most groups because the misinformation out there is so rampant. It seems most can’t read and feel manufacturers are part of some subversive group.

You have a long history of working closely with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). You were the Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) for 10 years, and you were a Regional Director for the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA). What value do you think these organizations bring to the tile industry and what would you tell a tile contractor about joining NTCA and getting involved and active in their industry?

It is interesting to reflect back on my career. I hauled mud buckets – once my legs were long enough – where the bucket didn’t hit the ground. I learned to mud in rural South Georgia where farmhouses were built out of shipping crates – lots of memories. I went to trade school for apprenticeship in Jacksonville, Fla., which was closer than Atlanta. When my grandfather, Ralph Mayfield, retired from the contracting business, I moved back up north to Wisconsin with my family and went out on my own. I have always been eager to learn and always wanted to know why something worked. Initially, that was not a profitable attitude in the contracting world but it did prove to be the key to longevity. 

Dave Gobis was the first Executive Director for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), a position he held for 10 years.

I sold the business because I was worn out. I couldn’t find help, and we reached a plateau, hovering there three years. It was a good sale and left me with the ability to do as I pleased. Because of my involvement in technical meetings and representing contractors for NTCA at the then-TCA Handbook Committee, Bob Daniels at TCNA reached out to see if I was interested in running CTEF. The focus of CTEF at that time was to be training, something near and dear to my heart. I agreed to accept the position. As an industry organization, that also included a seat on various standards committees. At the time, CTEF was located in the TCNA building where the lab is now. That led to a very close relationship with TCNA staff. Curiously, at the time, I was the only person who ever installed tile at TCNA, even finished up some work at the building, which was new. Over the years whenever installation questions would come in they would go to me. If I didn’t know the requirement for a standard, the Secretariat of Standards was right down the hall. The location of CTEF also afforded me the opportunity to work closely with the TCNA Performance Testing Lab and observe countless performance tests over the years. It was enlightening to say the least. When I retired from CTEF I agreed to continue taking second tier installation calls on a gratis basis, a relationship that still exists. 

In summary, we certainly have the need for some inspectors and/or consultants. There is a growing void. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme; you will make more as a good tile guy or sales rep. If you are a good tile guy or sales rep you’re the one we want. Consider your marketing area, where will the clients come from? What does your fee structure look like? It takes knowledge, lots of knowledge. If your experience revolves around sales seminars and you have never attended a technical meeting, you need not apply. If you are not actively involved in the industry, it will be an uphill battle you may or may not win. I can positively assure you had I not been involved in NTCA, CTIOA, TCNA, attended Surfaces, Coverings, and other tile shows (not seminars), I would not be here. You need to be able to draft a properly-worded, cohesive report on tile problems. Most of my reports are six to 10 photos buried in 1,500 to 2,000 words of text. While your client may love it, your report will be scrutinized fully by the opposing side. You need thick skin, especially if you go legal. The other side’s job and/or their attorney are to discredit you. There are many nuances to this type of work. I continue to do it because I find it stimulating. 

One-to-one exclusive with Dave Gobis, Part I

Industry icon and NTCA Recognized Consultant

Headshot of Dave Gobis
Dave Gobis

As a leading trade association of tile installation contractors, the NTCA is constantly asked for recommendations for individuals who are qualified to perform inspections of workmanship and performance. The list of who we can consistently rely on for this work is very select. NTCA Recognized Consultants can be found on our website at www.tile-assn.com. They possess a unique skill set that takes years to develop, especially if they are to be trusted for complex and large-scale projects. 

One such individual is Dave Gobis. Dave is the former Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and was a successful tile contractor in Wisconsin for many years before becoming one of the tile industry’s leading consultants. He also generously donates his time to offer advice to many consumers and industry professionals. Many excellent consultants like Dave are nearing the end of their careers in this important sector of our industry, so I caught up with him to gain insight into considerations and training one should take if they wish to venture into this area of work. Part I of our interview is presented here; Part II will be published in the September issue of TileLetter.

As a former tile contractor, how did you transition into consulting work? What specific skills did you have that qualified you to become a consultant, and what steps did you take to educate yourself about codes, standards, proper inspection reporting, and writing, etc.?

Given I am in the process of retiring and not actively looking for work, I am going to be a little more candid in my response than I would normally be.

Photo of Dave Gobis
Gobis was a successful tile contractor for many years and member of the NTCA Board of Directors before working for the CTEF and then venturing into consulting.

I would ask that readers consider my comments not offered as a road map, but rather how things worked for me. I have always been a technically-oriented guy. Early on, I even lost accounts because I was “too difficult” to deal with. One of the ironies of that was years later, as my competitors bit the dust, I didn’t appear so difficult. 

I have always been a voracious reader and always wanted to know why something did or didn’t work. In the mid-80s, I joined NTCA and was an active member, attending all the shows and blocking out time for back-to-back technical seminars on the front end of the show. NTCA and trade shows also allowed me to meet and interact with all the industry players. Relationships I developed years ago are still active today and have always served as a resource over the length of my career. 

Learning codes and standards are a bit of a challenge. You have to endure some very dry reading and learn how to deal with frustration. You also need to understand them. I personally read each industry-related code or standard a minimum of two – and occasionally three – times. I have had to refer to TCNA methods or ANSI standards since taking a job at CTEF in 1998, so after 22 years of near-daily referencing methods and standards, I know what they are and where I can find what I am looking for most of the time. Plus, the benefit of serving on various committees is that I get a chance to review and sometimes vote on changes. 

In terms of proper inspection, that is certainly a quagmire. If someone hires me to look at a job and figure out a problem, I absolutely have to be able to do what it takes to determine a cause beyond a reasonable doubt. This often means deconstructing the installation. 

For instance, in my most recent project, the client said a liquid-applied crack-isolation membrane was used over concrete and the floor tented in various areas. We can assume there is a lack of expansion joints, but there has to be something else. As long as I have been doing complaints I have never seen a floor fail based on a single issue. 

My client was averse to doing any demo. The manufacturer already denied the claim based solely on no soft joints. I’m not willing to risk my reputation on that speculation. They relented and gave me three areas to remove tile, which showed a silky smooth slab. 

End of search? Not quite. It was also very green and the drops I put on from my water bottle went nowhere. Then we had to core the slab. Analysis of three cores showed the slab was burnished to an average of 3/16” deep. That is what it took to figure out the problem. Something like coring the slab I hire out, though I used to have a core drill In addition to regular old tile tools. I have a fair amount of additional specialized equipment I use in failure analysis. I want to use the least intrusive means to fully examine the installation, but it must be thoroughly examined. If you make an incorrect diagnosis, your future is not so bright. News travels fast. 

I have yet to meet anyone who likes inspection report writing. I spent years developing my format. Writing is an art form in itself. You become a content writer. Like a good novel, readers hang on your every word. There will be those who love it and those who hate it. 

Photo of floor tile installation in a bathrooom
Successful tile consultants like Dave Gobis work tirelessly to determine the cause of the problem and to develop a strategy for remediation.

Reports must be accurate and without speculation. When speculation is unavoidable – which is rare – the steps needed to resolve it, as a matter of fact, should be explained. There are many things we may think we know but don’t have facts to support them. There is usually some type of test that can provide facts to support your opinion, however, in some instances, the testing protocol can cost more than the claim. Still, it should be offered in the report if you are speculating based on your experience. 

You also need to keep away from assigning responsibility, which is for judges and juries. It can also create a liability issue for you if you end up being wrong. Your job is to either find or identify the cause of the problem, not to assign responsibility for it. That said, the majority of my clients want me to do just that, and I simply won’t. The specifics of the report writing process are quite lengthy. It is more than a short article but probably less than a book. Just remember, whatever you write is a matter of permanent record. If it goes into litigation, any errors will be used to discredit you, making the report worthless to your client and possibly producing a negative result.

We have many installers and manufacturer and distributor representatives who aspire to be inspectors or consultants. What advice would you give them as they get started?

You really need to be the go-to guy before you start, not after you start. It is not an occupation where you just decide this is what I shall be and hang out your shingle. It is also not one full of riches, as many are surprised to find out. This is particularly true when you start out with no track record. I am currently charging five times what I was when I started, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I have a track record, having done 2,864 inspections. Second, I am trying to retire; otherwise, it would only be four times as much. 

Photo of Dave Gobis receiving an award
Dave Gobis has received numerous awards for career achievement, including the TCNA Tile Person of the Year in 2015 and the NTCA Joe A. Tarver Award in 2009.

You have to like flying. I have done probably fewer than 12 inspections in my home state. For the first 10 years, I flew to a different city every week, did my inspection, came back and wrote my report, and moved on to the next one. 

The other consideration is: what is it you think you know better than anyone else? You need to have some type of knowledge that sets you apart. Anyone can be the “doesn’t-have-any-expansion-joint guy.” That doesn’t pay much either. 

Where are you going to sell your services? Because you and the manufacturer are buddies does not mean he is going to send you his work. Manufacturers are not going to allow you to control their customer or budget. I have heard more than once, “We don’t call you because we can’t predict what you’re going to say.” Manufacturers will also not open the door to finding they have a defective product, which is rare, by the way. 

Distributors operate on razor-thin margins, which they make by associating with a select group of manufacturers, so not much chance of work there either. The only time either one has given me work is when they are ready to “burn the bridge.” That means they are prepared to lose the business typically from a contractor, who is about to find out that liability insurance doesn’t cover in-place work. 

The other thing that amazes me about people wanting to get into inspecting or consulting is that many have never been involved in any technical aspects of the industry. Recently, I had a project where the guy’s qualifications were attending Schluter, wedi, and MAPEI schools. It’s great to know how to install these products, but it takes more than that. Inspection and consulting really need to be career goals, not something you just one day decide you want to be.

Join us next month for Part II of One-to-One with Dave Gobis.

One-to-One with Crossville Inc.

Mark Shannon and Noah Chitty

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

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

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.

Ron Nash, LATICRETE International

In the One-to-One column, NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga interviews industry leaders about pertinent topics.

Ron Nash, LATICRETE International Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing North America

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. 

There’s been an unprecedented spike in training at LATICRETE University in the last few weeks.

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. 

This year, LATICRETE 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.

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. 

Nash also praised SpectraLOCK 1. Though it’s only been on the market for a few weeks, Nash said it’s been receiving stellar customer reviews.

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.

Turning Negative Emotions and Thoughts into Positive Actions

Millions of people out of work.  Family members concerned for loved ones, especially those vulnerable or at risk to COVID-19. Employees fearful of working with co-workers in close proximity of each other, for obvious reasons.  

It is no wonder that an alarming number of people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and even in extreme cases, are suffering from depression.  There is so much negative energy circulating that you just simply can’t avoid it.  

As NTCA Executive Director, I have been on the phone with many members and peers. We all have tried to support each other in different ways. At first, I tried to tell myself that I mustn’t let people see how this situation was affecting me personally and professionally.  But as time has progressed, and more people have been transparent with me and opened up and shared with me how they are really doing, I began to feel it was okay to do the same.  

I have to admit that the situation has at times gotten under my skin. You just flat out get tired from the negative commercials, social media, phone calls, etc. Business starts to become affected. The money dries up. The first thought is that you just want to curl up in a ball, put your hands over your ears, and simply pretend that this stuff is just simply not happening.  

I tried it. It doesn’t work.  

So I started trying to find sources of positive mindsets. People who weren’t surviving in these times, but actually thriving in this environment.  

One video podcast I watched really rang true with me. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative. In fact, stress can be positive. I think about times I played sports when I was young, or when I had to prepare for a large presentation in a big crowd, etc. These were stressful times, but overall they became positive experiences. This has helped me to realize that these times can be the same.  

For instance, I joined some peer groups of other association leaders in both the construction industry and outside it  This was extremely helpful because I gained some empathy and also was able to feed off of their enthusiasm and energy.  

My goal is to turn this negative energy around immediately.  I want to use this time where I am not traveling and really assess changes that need to take place in both my personal and professional life. I want to to instill this energy into those that I work with and interact with. I am excited about it and admittedly a little fearful too. But fear can be a motivating factor, if you channel this the right way.  

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on many of these initiatives.  

10 steps to understanding the Paycheck Protection Program

An NTCA perspective on the CARES Act for companies with fewer than 500 employees

NTCA has been reviewing details as relates to new legislation enacted as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, and how it impacts our members and the tile industry at large.

This piece is an NTCA perspective on the Paycheck Protection Program aspect of the CARES Act and how members and small businesses can best take advantage of what is currently being offered by the government. Keep in mind that even though legislation has been passed, some details continue to change, and lenders are struggling to meet all the demand suddenly flooding in for loans. Your experience in applying for loans and the amount of time it takes you to receive funds may vary.

The CARES Act is over 830 pages long and has 16 laws attached to it.  The main item we want to focus on involves the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which helps businesses keep their workforce employed for eight weeks during the Coronavirus outbreak.

This is also a potentially forgivable loan if you follow the guidelines. The SBA stipulates that at least 75% of the PPP loan must be used for payroll. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels.  Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

The following steps can help you know what to expect as you navigate through the labyrinth of applying for a loan, obtain funds, and qualify for the forgivable loan status. This latter point is doubly important since loans that are forgiven – or portions of loans that are forgiven — are not counted as taxable income. 

  1. Call Your Bank
    • Ensure your bank is FDIC-insured and is approved to handle SBA loans and is able to handle PPP application.
    • There is only $350 billion available in the PPP coffers so get your application in as quickly as possible.
    • This is a fluid situation.  The banks are on the front lines and are trying to navigate uncharted waters.
    • Most banks are only working with customers they currently do business with.  This is because there is a limited amount of money and they want to take care of their customers first.
    • Once applications are submitted, they are assembled into a queue for the banks to sort out. This could take up to 10 days. Once submitted for approval, it could take up to 30 days for the funds to be deposited into your account.
  2. Go To Treasury Department for Information
    • http://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses
    • You can access a fact sheet on PPP loan application form and get a downloadable form that may or may not be accepted by your lender. The advantage of accessing this form is that it will help you compile the information you need whether you use the SBA or lender form.
    • The program application process is open to June 30. Due to limited funds, it is to your benefit to start this process as soon as possible.
    • April 3rd was the date that many banks opened application process for small businesses. 
    • April 10th is the date that independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply.
    • Go to www.sba.gov for more information
  3. Check your company governance requirements and other lending commitments to ensure there is not a problem in applying for this loan
    • The SBA form requires all owners with 20% stake or more in the company to answer questions on the loan (examples include bankruptcy, have they ever been barred or declared ineligible by any federal department or agency, have they been convicted of a felony, etc.)
  4. Calculate your payroll expenses
    • To qualify for forgivable loan status, the amount you can borrow is 2.5 times your average monthly payroll from the previous year (2019).
    • Payroll costs include salaries, wages, commission, tips, vacation, PTO, health care benefits, retirement benefits, state and local taxes. Payroll costs in the loan calculation do not include federal taxes.
    • There is a cap on payroll for an employee making over $100,000 in 2019.  You can only claim $100,000.  That is salary; benefits are not counted. For example, an employee made $140,000, but you would only claim $100,000 when you calculate your payroll for the loan. 
  5. How much are you eligible for? Add average total monthly payroll and divide by 12. Then multiply by 2.5. 
    • If you already applied for or were awarded an SBA Disaster Loan, you can add that amount to the PPP application. Note that the PPP loan has restrictions on how you spend the money. 
    • SBA Disaster Loans allow more freedom with how you use the loan money, but may not be forgivable, are subject to underwriting, and require personal guarantees attached to it. Visit sba.gov for details.
  6. Document and keep excellent records of paperwork used in your application
    • Print and electronically store your records and have them available for submission if the bank requires these material or if the federal government later checks for fraud or misuse.
  7. Sign a certificate
    • All owners with 20% stake will be asked to sign a statement certifying the funds are necessary and will be used for what the loan stipulates: to maintain or to hire staff back that was let go after February 15th, 2020.  
    • No collateral or personal guarantees will be required for these funds.
    • This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1% should it need to be paid back. However, funds should be forgivable if you document your paperwork, keep honest and thorough records, and use the money for what the PPP is designed for within the 8-week time frame.
  8. Make sure you use the funds for authorized purposes
    • 75% needs to be used for payroll which includes costs related to group health care benefits and insurance
    • Payments of interest but not principal on any mortgage obligation
    • Rent (including rend or lease agreements)
    • Utilities
    • Interest on any other debt like equipment, vehicles, etc.
    • Keep funds segregated into a designated account and use the funds to document a paper trail for the authorized uses listed above.
  9. Understand the impact of your past and possible future firings or layoffs of employees, or reduction or furloughs in their salaries.
    • The PPP is designed to encourage employee retention and discourage layoffs and wage cuts. If you need to do massive amounts of layoffs or cuts, reconsider applying for PPP and investigate a different loan option at sba.gov.
    • Talk to your accountant and lawyer about other tax credits or employee retention credits that may be available apart from the PPP loan.
  10. Keep up to date on changes or interpretations to the law. 
    • This is a very fluid situation, and things can change.
    • Get legal and accounting advice and establish communication with your banker. 

We will continue to post salient articles on legislation topics here. Also be sure to visit the Coronavirus Resource Page at tile-assn.com for links and ongoing information, designed to support you and your business.

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO MAPEI North America

One-to-One interview with Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO of MAPEI North America

Italian-based MAPEI Corporation has been a leading installation material manufacturer for many years, and has a strong, established presence in North America. As Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association since 2002, I have worked closely with MAPEI leaders to collaborate on many efforts related to training and education of the trade. MAPEI’s support of our programs has enabled us to expand our outreach in many ways. MAPEI North America is known for outstanding product development, customer service and training. Because it offers a complete line of products that appeal to many trades, MAPEI has a strong presence in all flooring and surface preparation categories.  

President and CEO of MAPEI North America Luigi Di Geso has led this group for more than a decade. I caught up with him recently and asked him to share with us some insight into the company and its strategic direction.

It has been several months since the tile industry lost an icon in the passing of MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi. Tell us a little bit about the relationship you formed with Dr. Squinzi, what legacy he leaves behind, and explain how the company is moving forward with a new leadership team. 

MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi, was a true mentor, said Di Geso.

Dr. Squinzi was a true mentor in every sense of the word. As I look back over the past 10 years where I reported directly to him, he allowed me to learn from his vast experience, while all along allowing me to form my own experience as I developed in my role as CEO. Always asking the right questions, while always listening to the answers I would provide, he empowered me to go forward and succeed. He built his empire in this manner and earned the respect and admiration from all his employees for making us truly feel that MAPEI was our company and that we are all part of his family.

MAPEI is moving forward under the careful guidance of Marco and Veronica Squinzi. They have been co-presidents, together with Dr. Squinzi, well prior to his passing and will continue the path that he put in place. As they say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and both Veronica and Marco have their father’s vision on how to take MAPEI to a new level, even beyond where he has taken it. Despite the seamless continuity in the leadership of MAPEI, I can say Dr. Squinzi will always be missed.

TileLetter readers know MAPEI for its tile and stone installation products. But your company is much more than that. Tell us a little about the different divisions of products you offer that serve multiple markets in the construction industry. 

We like to say that we are “more than our products.” We offer system solutions. MAPEI Corp. offers 11 different product lines including the Tile and Stone Installation Systems, Floor Covering Installation Systems, and Products for Wood Flooring lines: 

  • Products for Sports Flooring (which also includes products for synthetic turf and soil stabilization)
  • Concrete Restoration Systems (includes solutions for bridges, stadiums, and public facilities) 
  • Waterproofing Systems (we even offer a 100% solids, cold-fluid-applied waterproofing membrane that is so low in VOCs it can be applied in occupied spaces) 
  • Products for Structural Strengthening (epoxies, repair mortars and wraps) 
  • Admixtures for Concrete (superplasticizers, water reducers, accelerators, fibers) Products for Underground Construction (UTT – team of experts and products to solve underground construction problems) 
  • Cement Additives (C-ADD – grinding aids, pack-set inhibitors, strength enhancers) 
  • Products for the Marine Industry (anti-corrosive primers, acoustic underlays, waterproofers) 

From the macro of tunneling to the micro of admixture chemistry, MAPEI is intricately involved in a wide scope of protective solutions for the building industry. We have seven new product lines to go in order to match our European counterparts.

What new product introductions can we expect to see from MAPEI in 2020 in your tile and stone installation systems division?

We have developed quite a few exciting new products for 2020 and are even entering into the radiant flooring heating market with the introduction of our Mapeheat line of products – customizable mats, membranes and programmable thermostats, that allow users to target and control their floor heating options with a simple app. 

Some of the other new products that we are debuting this year include our Ultracolor Plus Max, exclusively available in Jet Black and Pure White, the blackest black and the brightest white grout available on the market. These grouts are based on our popular FA formulation, which means that they won’t shrink or scratch the surface of tile or stones.

Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slum Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology, being applied over the new Mapeheat membrane for electric floor warming.

Keraflex Super is our new extra smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology. We have a hybrid adhesive that is designed to make installing large-format and gauged porcelain tiles a faster and easier process. 

Ultrabond ECO GPT is a rapid-setting, low-VOC hybrid polymer adhesive that can be used in dry and wet residential and commercial applications. 

And for wet environments, our Shower Perfect Integrated Flange Drain and our Mapelastic Turbo waterproofing membrane provides one-day turn-around for shower installations. 

We are constantly innovating ways to improve our products, reduce waste, and save our installers time, which on the job, means money.

The industry continues to be concerned about a lack of qualified installers being available to meet the needs of the market. What is MAPEI doing to address this glaring need?

We feel very strongly about the need for properly trained installers, especially as new technologies come on board that make applications more involved than simply spreading mortar with a trowel. Our MAPEI Training Institute (MTI) is designed to ensure that the correct standards are being adhered to and that the proper installation techniques are being followed. Classes are offered at our facilities, at our clients’ facilities, and at other suitable locations upon request. We also offer the MTI-TV series of videos, which offer advice and tips on popular subjects. We collaborate with all of the industry associations of which we are members, as well as with national colleges and universities, to help promote and grow the industry.

There seems to be increasing competition in the tile and stone installation products category. What are some of the strengths you feel that MAPEI has over its competitors, and are there areas where you feel you need to strengthen?

MAPEI’s system solutions come with unparalleled product support and a warranty program that is unmatched in the industry. But it is more than our products that truly sets us apart – it is the power of MAPEI in general. We have synergies between our technologies and divisions that help the entire company – geographically, as well as within and across product divisions. We are a truly international company with 89 subsidiaries, including 83 plants in 56 countries. We have 31 research and development centers around the world and more than 12% of our 10,500 employees work in R&D.

We are always looking for opportunities to grow – whether it be through acquisition or physical expansion. We recently opened new facilities in Wildwood, Fla. (below left) and Calhoun, Ga., as well as opening new production lines at five of our existing facilities. MAPEI is always moving forward, always innovating, always growing. 

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