Editor for TileLetter, TileLetter Coverings, TREND and TECH publications.
Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11, and drawing and sketching since she could hold a pencil. Her penchant for observation led to her becoming a paid professional as a trade journalist, publicist and is editor for TileLetter. She has also written for Guideposts, Walls, Windows and Floors, Floor Covering Weekly, and Low Carb Energy.
“I have a theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve. Everything is tabula rasa. Everybody has to discover thingsfor themselves.” – Seymour Hersh
Welcome to 2020. If you’re like me, that number is something that was only in the realm of science fiction and futurists when I was growing up (uh oh, now you all have an idea of how old I am!). Yet, here we are, poised on the precipice of 365 new days filled with possibility and challenge, blank slates upon which we can write our dreams, and wrangle with the unexpected, testing our mettle in all of it.
As you plan your year, take a look at our Industry Calendar. On this calendar are lots of opportunities to learn, to attend training sessions and to educate yourself on what is happening in our industry: use it to chart out how and where you want to learn and grow. Remember to also visit the NTCA website at www.tile-assn.com, and click on the Education & Certification tab. This is a schedule of upcoming NTCA Workshops and Regional Training Programs that may be coming to a location near you. Don’t pass these up. There are fantastic learning and networking opportunities to be had at these events. Also under this tab is a listing of upcoming webinars, hosted by NTCA and featuring industry experts. You can glean wisdom from these free offerings from the comfort of your home or office, or in fact anywhere you can carry your device. And if you haven’t gotten certified yet, learn more about the Certified Tile Installer and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers exams at this link, as well as classes from NTCA University and what the NTCA Apprenticeship Program is all about. Get informed, and start the year strong.
This issue is designed to support you as you go forward into the year with explorations of anti-slip treatments and products to commemorate Bath Safety Month and help you craft safer installations. Working with tile patterns can hold some challenges – we investigate tips on making the most of tile design and creating a stunning wall or floor project. And we also study how the synergy of different trades working together can make the project run smoother and be better performing for everyone involved.
2020 is tabula rasa right now – a blank slate, upon which you can write and discover your future. Equip yourself to make it a satisfying, prosperous and enjoyable year, so when you look back in January 2021, you can congratulate yourself about jobs well done!
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” – Hal Borland
As another year draws to a close (and a new one is just about to begin), take a moment to review your 2019. What were the high spots? What can you learn from the lows? What was the one new thing that you learned or implemented this year that made a difference in your execution or operations? Did you attend a training seminar or a workshop or perhaps a trade show or conference for the first time? How did that benefit your business?
In our busy world, it’s tempting to race from one thing to the next without taking time to breathe and reflect. And yet, if we don’t review or assess our day, week, month or year, how do we learn? How do we know where we need to improve or <gasp> congratulate ourselves and our colleagues on the victory of jobs well done – and repeat those steps that led to success?
Don’t give in to temptation. Take the natural lull that comes at this time of year to consider what’s come before and ponder how that can be a springboard for the year to come. That’s what we do in our NTCA Review – looking back gives our road map for 2020 a solid foundation. Check out this story and see where the association is headed next year.
We announced our first ever NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year back in September, but this month, read a little bit more about Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile and what it means to him to win this honor, which was awarded at the end of October at Total Solutions Plus.
Did you get to travel to Italy this fall to see all the hot new products at Cersaie? If not, don’t worry – we recap some of those new introductions in our product section in this issue.
Do you know what a flow-down clause is? You may know it as a “pass-through” or “conduit clause.” Do you know that it binds subcontractors to the same duties and obligations as the general contractor has to the owner? Is this a good thing or not? Read our Business Tip section by Daniel Dorfman, Chair Construction Law Group, Fox Swibel Levin & Carroll LLP, and find out.
Whatever you do, DO take time to kick back and relax with those you hold dear. In the inimitable words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life but what we give.” – Winston Churchill
Thank you. Yes, thank you, readers, industry, and colleagues for everything you do to make this a fantastic industry, and for helping to give contractors and installers a voice in how they do what they do, and the products they do it with. This is the month for thanks after all, and whatever your role in the industry, you deserve to be thanked for your part of keeping it all percolating.
The lineup of stories in this month’s TileLetter is also a reflection of what is percolating, from the cover story about the stone installation at the Westfield Valley Fair in Silicon Valley, to new contributor Paul Makovski’s examination of achieving proper grout joints widths, to FILA’s Jeff Moen’s tips on sealing and protecting stone.
Remember when we reported on the start up of the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust last year? In this issue, we check in with the co-op to see how the first year has gone, and explore the challenges and victories of the program. We also get an inside look at Malcolm Campbell, and Midwest Mosaic and how that company has grown to where it is today.
Wally Adamchik, Founder of Firestarter Speaking and Consulting, recently conducted a People in Construction survey. In the Business Tip section of this issue, he gives us a synopsis of his findings and how they may impact your business.
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving and affirming that the slide into the holiday season will bring with it a healthy balance of prosperous work opportunities, and downtime to celebrate and appreciate friends and family that bring joy to your lives.
One of the realities of life in the U.S. right now is the imposition of tariffs on goods that are being imported from China. This politico-economic move on the part of the current administration has the declared intent of leveling the playing field when trading with China. At this writing in September, tariffs on Chinese ceramic tile (and other goods in a range of sectors) are set at 25%, and are expected to rise to 30% in October.
Tariffs on Chinese ceramic tile (and other goods in a range of sectors) are set at 25%, and are expected to rise to 30% in October
Along with these tariffs, which are basically a tax U.S. companies and consumers pay on goods purchased from China, on September 9, the U.S. Commerce Department (Commerce) found that imports of ceramic tile from the People’s Republic of China are being unfairly subsidized. Commerce assigned preliminary subsidy rates of 103.77% to Foshan Sanfi Imp & Exp Co., Ltd., 222.24% to Temgoo International Trading Limited, and 103.77% for all other Chinese tile producers and exporters.
In early November, Commerce will issue its preliminary decision on the anti-dumping (ADD)/anti-subsidy investigation, which was opened in May after it received a petition from a coalition of eight U.S. tile producers who claimed injury. The members of Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile consists of American Wonder Porcelain (Lebanon, Tenn.), Crossville, Inc. (Crossville, Tenn.), Dal-Tile Corporation (Dallas, Texas), Del Conca USA, Inc. (Loudon, Tenn.), Florida Tile, Inc. (Lexington, Ky.), Florim USA (Clarksville, Tenn.), Landmark Ceramics (Mount Pleasant, Tenn.), and StonePeak Ceramics (Chicago, Ill.). Commerce will make a preliminary decision around November 6, 2019, with a final determination coming on or about January 22, 2020. If this is affirmative, and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) also determines that imports of ceramic tile from China materially injures, or threatens material injury to, the domestic industry, Commerce will issue a countervailing duty (CVD) order. If either Commerce’s or the ITC’s final determination is negative, no CVD order will be issued. The ITC is scheduled to make its final injury determination approximately 45 days after Commerce issues its final determination, if affirmative.
What does this mean for the tile industry? In a word, upheaval. China has been a growing source of supply to the tile industry in the U.S. and many distributors are heavily invested in Chinese factories as sources of supply. Commerce revealed the volume of ceramic tile from China increased from 583.4 million sq. ft. in 2016 to 657.2 million sq. ft. in 2017 and 692.1 million sq. ft. in 2018, for a total increase of 18.6%. Subsequently, the market share for Chinese imports in the U.S. grew from 20.4% in 2016 to 21.8% in 2017 and 22.5% in 2018. The ITC reported in June that, “For purposes of these preliminary determinations, we find that the volume of subject imports, and their increase, were significant in both absolute terms and relative to consumption in the United States during the POI (period of investigation).”
With tariffs against China and the ADD/CVD penalties, it’s time for a course correction with many distributors. We talked with a few companies to get a feel for how they are approaching this situation and what it will mean for supply and pricing.
Distributors who contributed to this story – Floor & Decor, Arley Wholesale, Conestoga Tile and Virginia Tile – had a varying ratio of product sourced from China, from only 1% at Conestoga Tile to 5%-10% at Virginia Tile, to 30% at Arley and 50% of all merchandise at Floor & Decor. So, the tariffs, the CVD and ADD decisions didn’t have much impact on Conestoga, but Steve Vogel, Conestoga Tile Executive Vice President, Hanover, Pa., said that it has caused one of its vendors – Bellavita Tile – to shutter its business. Going forward, Vogel said Conestoga will neither be sourcing or promoting Chinese tile.
Randy Hays, Account Manager, Commercial Business Team with Virginia Tile, headquartered in Livonia, Mich., also has suppliers who were affected by the current situation, but no direct business relationships with Chinese factories.“We have not adjusted our current selling strategy, though we have made decisions to discontinue a few lines that we know are sourced from China,” Hays said. “This has really been a combination of sales history and also price increases due to the tariffs increases.”
At Arley Wholesale, Inc., Scranton, Pa., Scott Levy, President, explained that, “Our suppliers have been shifting production from China to other countries. On the porcelain side it is much easier to shift production than in the past due to digital printing technology. We are finding it more difficult to shift production with our mosaics.”
Floor & Décor Holdings, Smyrna, Ga., in its Q2 2019 Earnings Call, discussed the situation with China, which Tom Taylor, Floor & Decor CEO, said has been the source for about 50% of its merchandise. He credited Floor & Decor’s flexible global supply chain of over 20 countries with the ability to begin a shift in 2018 to diversify its countries of origin, which he expects will result in a drop from 50% of materials sourced from China to 30% by the end of 2019.
Passing on price increases
Trevor Lang, Floor & Decor Executive Vice President and CFO, said that with the 25% tariffs now in effect, prices have been modestly increased at retail for those items that have not been sourced from other countries. He said, “The implementation of higher tariffs will modestly lower our gross margin expectations as we intend to only pass along the incremental cost we incur versus making a margin on the new tariffs.”
At Virginia Tile, Hays said, “As suppliers raise our pricing, we have passed these increases on to customers (both tariff increases). At times we will wait and see what the competition is doing, before moving forward with the increases.”
Levy admitted that at Arley, prices rose “at different levels” each time there was a tariff imposed. “We absorbed what we could but ultimately, had to pass on the tariff cost to our customers, who ultimately had to pass them on to consumers.”
Seeking other sources
Going forward, like Floor & Decor, other distributors are looking to find alternative sources for imported ceramic tile. The need to switch to other countries is even more intense as duties of up to 222% due to CVD and ADD decisions loom over the industry.
Hays said conversations he’s had with suppliers who do source from China indicate a shift away from that country, “especially since the countervailing and anti-dumping penalties have been announced.” With Cersaie coming up (at this writing), Hays said Virginia Tile will be on the hunt there for alternate supply of decorative wall tile and backsplash material. Italy will continue to be a strong supplier of floor tile to Virginia Tile.
Arley’s Levy said, “Our manufacturers made the ultimate decision as the anti-dumping and countervailing legal proceedings made it necessary for them to move production.” He’s confident that other countries can meet the demands of Arley’s customers, as the distributor has enjoyed established relationships with Italy, Spain, Israel, Brazil – as well as China, and the USA – for decades. “We have and are always looking at all parts of the world for product. We import from countries that have a strong infrastructure in tile. We need to make sure that we can buy enough from a factory or group of factories to easily move containers and keep our inventory current and turning for our customers. There is no one ‘perfect’ source for product for our company. It doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as it is a quality product that has ‘the look’ that people want.”
The swing away from Chinese products will intensify due to the proposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
Looking to the future
Going forward into 2020, the swing away from Chinese products will intensify due to the proposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties expected from Commerce and the ITC. Floor & Decor’s Taylor said, “We see and have planned for a significant reduction in ceramic tiles that are sourced from China by the end of 2019 from our accelerated actions to diversify our countries of origin. Tile, wall tile and tile deco are all subject to proposed new duties, and accounted for about 34% of our sales this year, of which approximately 39% was sourced from China. We believe we can lower our China-sourced tile exposure to the low single-digit range as a percentage of total sales by the end of 2019 due to the early actions we have taken in moving sourcing to other countries.”
The tariffs were one thing, but CVD and ADD decisions make importing tile from China a whole new ball game. “The tariff has affected us and our customers as the price points for everyday items that they purchased jumped by 25% and then will go up another 5% in October,” Arley’s Levy said. “The real strategy change is from the anti-dumping and countervailing. The countervailing has gone through and U.S. Customs will be taking cash deposits of a minimum of 103.77% from all importers of any Chinese goods that come into the country. We are working hand in hand with our suppliers to minimize the disruption to our customers as we evaluate the situation. We will not be importing any new items from China.”
For Hays at Virginia Tile, the concern is with wall tile and backsplash products. “The good majority of budget-oriented decorative products are from suppliers who source this material from China,” he said. “We still have to determine if our customers will pay the potential dollar increases on these products.” Hays wondered if this situation will limit the offering of these types of decorative items. “Products like this are rarely produced in the U.S., so we will see if we can source these products from other countries.”
Levy said, “I do not expect Chinese tile to be a major force in the USA moving forward. Manufacturers and distributors have moved production to other countries, and we do not see it coming back. There will be some production that stays in China that comes to the USA for now (primarily glass mosaics), but that will eventually move as well. The lower cost of production in other countries (if you take the tariff, anti-dumping and countervailing into account) will lead manufacturing to open new facilities in a place that will not have the restrictions.”
But Conestoga’s Vogel thought this is not likely the end of the story. “As I am told, large Chinese tile producers are setting up in other countries and the buyers are following them,” he said. “We’ll see where this goes. It’s conceivable to believe that the same problems that existed with Chinese tile will be launched from some other country. But, now that there is a precedent developed and momentum moving for the Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile, they can take this fight to wherever they feel they need to. And they will.”
Every fall, as the leaves start to change and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING starts to appear in all the stores, it’s also time for the TECH issue of TileLetter. It’s hard to believe we are in the fifth year for this annual issue, bringing you news of technological trends in setting materials, tools, accessories and related products.
The backbone of this issue is our product sections that explore emerging trends in technology from industry experts and present products that meet the demands of today’s tiles, and the contractors that install them. Interspersed in these sections are perspectives from contractors who work in the trenches with these products every day – Ashley Andrews, Pavlo Starkov and Tom Cravillion.
In addition, we offer several stories for your consideration. NTCA Technical Director Stephanie Samulski gives you a guided tour through what’s involved in developing a product or installation standard. Do you ever wonder how a standard gets proposed, debated, and adopted? Samulski gives you the lowdown on this process and suggests ways you can get involved to have your voice heard and influence the outcome. Then NTCA President Chris Walker adds his perspective on the rise of technology, as well as the standards process, in his President’s Letter.
NTCA Executive Director Bart Bettiga issues a “Call to Arms” concerning the growth of plastic-based materials (PBM) such as luxury vinyl tile (LVT) in the hard surface market. He posits the fact that customers are often choosing these products due to misperceptions about performance and longevity they believe these products offer, but which manufacturers don’t stand behind. Take a look at this story and arm yourself with knowledge as this battle heats up in the marketplace.
Yours truly offers an article about the effect tariffs – mostly against China – are having on our industry from the perspective of some of our top distributors. With tile from China comprising increasing amounts of imports in recent years, how are distributors dealing with the monthly increase in tariffs and what is their strategy going into 2020? Read and find out!
Once again, a big shout out to Contributing Editor Lou Iannoco, who gathered much of the trend and product information in the materials categories. It’s a monumental job to compile all this data into a coherent, cohesive format for your reading pleasure and edification, and we would be hard-pressed to do it without him.
So, pull up a comfy chair, grab a pumpkin spice latte, curl up with this issue of TECH, and arm yourself with knowledge for the year ahead.
In this issue of TileLetter dedicated to celebrating and recognizing women in our industry doing amazing things, we chose to present a gallery of projects by several female tile setters, who also happen to be NTCA members. Enjoy the artistry, craftswomanship and installation excellence in these projects.
You can read more about Carrizosa and her experience taking the Certified Tile Installer exam in this issue’s Training and Education feature.
Her amazing work spans a variety of projects, but this commercial project by Icon Tile & Design was for the Associated General Contractors (AGC)’s lobby. “We had to wrap three elevators with 5’ x 10’ 6mm gauged porcelain panels, and install 6” x 47” planks on the floor,” Carrizosa said.Of course, no project is without challenges, and this was no exception. For the AGC lobby, the slabs were too big to fit in the elevators so Icon had to cut them in half. “We did not have book-matched panels, but I took the time to try and connect all the veins like a puzzle,” she said.
In addition, the subfloor conditions were significantly out of tolerance, and the elevator thresholds made it even more difficult to get them to a manageable level.
But Carrizosa said, “We were able to solve the issues with some help from our friends Mick Volponi – who has a wealth of information on gauged porcelain panels – and ARDEX rep Shaughn Lee Capua, who knows commercial projects very well.”
The result is a stunning and beautiful installation.
Rachel Cahalan Tile by Rachel, LLC Springfield, Va.
Tile by Rachel tackled this gorgeous herringbone backsplash, a project with a very tight deadline to set Catania Blue 6” x 12” ceramic tile from The Tile Shop.
“The biggest challenge for the project was time,” Cahalan said. “The tile was delayed and I had a limited number of days, so I brought in a rapid-setting mortar. Rapid-setting mortar is fantastic, until you have a chipped tile that has already been set. I now have absolute confidence in the superior bonding strength of MAPEI Rapid Setting Tile Mortar. I love the colors this client selected, the clean, pronounced grout joints, and always, working with a fun pattern,” she explained.
Jaime Martin Meadowlark Tile, LLC Dickinson, N.D.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide between two favorite projects. So Jaime Martin of Meadowlark Tile sent two of her favorites.
The first project is a pebble scribe over curb and under tub. “This was a challenging project because it was my first time scribing tile with a grinder,” Martin said. “I loved that I got to have free rein with creativity.”
Her second project incorporated LED lighting from Backlit Tile Co.,in a shower installation. “This was a real challenge installing lights that wrapped around all four walls and through two niches.”
Welcome to the October issue of TileLetter! This is the month we celebrate women in tile.
Why do we do this, you ask? Well, it’s often said that construction is a man’s world and in fact, women comprise only 9.9% of the 8.3 million people in construction (but that’s still that’s 821,700 women!).
Yet, according to an article in Big Rentz (www.bigrentz.com/blog/women-construction), there’s been 94% growth in female owners from 2007 to 2018, and 9% of female-owned firms achieved revenues of more than $500,000 in 2018. What’s more, 4% of new construction firms were launched by women last year, and 44% of the top 100 contracting companies have women in executive roles.
So women form an important part of the construction industries. We see women’s role in our industry as well. And growing efforts are being made to recruit more women into our industry as the NTCA University Update story about a new NTCA recruitment video illustrates. Already we are in prominent positions, as is evidenced in the Women in Tile story that explores the careers of Schluter Systems’ Shannon Huffstickler, CTEF’s Heidi Cronin and Stuart Tile Company’s Janet Kozey. Women’s work is stellar, as you can see in the project gallery in our Hot Topics section, with installs by Chanel Carrizosa, Rachel Cahalan and Jaime Martin. Women are intent on credentialing skills, as you’ll read in our Training and Education story about Carrizosa’s CTI exam in 2017. And we also profile a woman-owned company in our Member Spotlight – Fischer Tile & Marble in Sacramento run by Taryn Fischer.
Exploring these stories also is a testament to the tremendous support offered by those in this industry – both women AND men. While it’s true that some women have had to deal with gender-related hurdles, we’ve also had support from many industry sectors and won the respect of colleagues and customers.
So enjoy this issue, and if you happen to know a woman who’s doing amazing work or making inroads in our industry, email me with her information. It’s never too early to start working on the 2020 Women in Tile issue of Tileletter.
Humility, homework, determination, and documentation lead to success for women in the industry
According to a March 2019 story on Construction Dive (https://bit.ly/2HhWLkN), women comprise approximately 9.9% of construction jobs, including administrative, office and executive positions, but only 3.4% of construction field positions. Women are on the rise as construction managers with numbers growing from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018.
In our tile industry, women are seen at every level, from administrators and owners to tile setters and representatives for tile-related suppliers. This month, we take a look at three extraordinary women in our industry and explore how they have carved out a niche for their own careers and contributed to the good of the industry as a whole: Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems; Heidi Cronin, CTEF; and Janet Kozey, Stuart Tile Company.
Shannon Huffstickler The Tile Girl/Schluter Systems
Shannon Huffstickler has made a name for herself in the tile industry over the last 20 years, from her days of doing hands-on labor for her dad’s tile installation business, to her work as Territory Manager for Schluter after 13 years of running The Tile Girl business, to a recent upgrade as Schluter Liaison to the Social Media Community, grounded in her love of being part of online communities and helping people in any way she can.
The opportunity to leave her tile setting business and join Schluter felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.
Working for her dad, she discovered her enthusiasm for being on a jobsite, “where both my head and my hands could be fully engaged and challenged.” In 2012, she was initially reluctant to walk away from her business and make the leap from tile setting to being a rep when her beloved Schluter rep Dan Wagner let her know about an opportunity. For Huffstickler, it was an opportunity that “just felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.” Her rep position – and her territory – changed this past spring to Liaison to the Social Media Community, where she meets the demand for fast, reliable access through social media to information about Schluter products. Now her territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.
A raft of skills and talents set the stage for her career path – “Late nights on the John Bridge Forum, reading hand-me-down TileLetters, trips to the classes available at Coverings, being mentored by a successful builder-friend about time management, knowing my value/pricing and scheduling, and good old-fashioned, on-the-job training with my dad and uncle,” she said. Having a degree in English/writing also has come in handy to “convey technical knowledge in a way that’s understandable to people from any background or skill/experience level.”
Huffstickler’s territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.
Huffstickler credits her work ethic with her success. “Because I’ve always worked hard and done my homework, it’s been relatively easy to dispel anyone’s questioning of my credibility,” she said. “I never had a chip on my shoulder or was too quick to respond to anyone’s doubt in my abilities in any way other than to let my work or my knowledge prove itself valuable. I just show up, do good work and let those in the peanut gallery sort themselves out.” Some preconceptions about keeping a neater jobsite or being a more sympathetic listener as a woman did work in her favor as a tile setter. And at Schluter, the perception that Huffstickler will be “helpful and nurturing” makes it easier for customers – especially men – to reach out when there’s a gap in “their knowledge base.”
Her advice for women considering a tile career? “Don’t get distracted by people who try to make your gender into a big deal,” she said. “Be about the work. Do your homework, learn your lessons, take your lumps and stay humble. Just keep showing up and doing your honest best at whatever role you’re in – and if things get tough, reach out to someone who’s been there before you and ask for help; we’re out here.”
Tile projects from Huffstickler’s Tile Girl days.
Heidi Cronin CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director
Heidi Cronin entered the tile industry 26 years ago, working from the ground up in the family business of distributing tile and setting material. She’s also installed tile but said, “Did I do it well? NO! I started making ceramic tile sample boards after crashing the car when I was 15 to pay off the debt. I have worked every aspect of a company: customer service, warehouse, purchasing, sales, accounting, truck driver and management in numerous areas.”
Part of her education has been her involvement in industry associations. “I surrounded myself with people who know more than me,” she said. “I listen, learn, and let them mentor me.”
Cronin takes the wheel at the Cronin Company.
While she acknowledged that “flooring and tile have been a male-dominated field, in reality we women are the consumers you are selling to.” So, speaking the same language and being a woman is a plus. “I know what influences us, I see and pay attention to surroundings, I ask questions. I don’t sugar coat anything. I am blunt and to the point.”
She recognized that “women will always have to prove themselves. Growing up in male-dominated industry and as the boss’s daughter, there has been a constant proving of self. Can we be respected? Of course! But if we push for change or challenge a male counterpart we are considered irrational, unapproachable and too emotional.” Sadly, she noted that for women, “it is easier to influence change if you make it look as if it is someone else’s idea.” And yet, she said, “The definition of insanity by Albert Einstein says it all: ‘Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Life and technology are moving at an excessive rate; better keep up or you will be left behind.”
Cronin speaking about the Certified Tile Installer credential and CTEF at a gauged porcelain panel training in Portland, Ore.
Many mentors and friends in the industry provided valuable input and support when Cronin faced challenges. “You learn who those people are in good times and bad,” she said. “In this industry there is plenty of support no matter where you look.”
Cronin encourages women to pursue a career in tile, half-joking that a “thick skin” is an essential quality for working in this industry. “Tile is timeless,” she said. “It has been around for thousands of years. I am amazed at how advanced technology has become, whether it is manufacturing tile or advancements in setting materials. The knowledge needed to properly prep and install these advancements is huge. I support anyone going into the trade. Qualified labor is what will keep the industry strong.”
She added, “You can do whatever you set your mind to; nothing anyone states can take away your ability, determination and worth.”
Janet Kozey Stuart Tile Company
Janet Kozey, owner of Macomb, Mich.-based Stuart Tile Company, credits organization, professionalism, and listening – to the customer and one’s inner voice – among the essentials to succeed in this world of tile. That combination of skills has served her well since 1975 when she quit her job to go into the tile business with her husband.
She got her start being precise and organized in her dad’s business. All eight children were trained from the age of four how to speak on the phone professionally. “My dad was kind of an army sergeant with all of us. Mom was ill. So we were very organized, had to get things done.” These skills translated well into her tile business, especially when it comes to collections.
Palace of Auburn Hills – home to the Detroit Pistons.
“My main suppliers told me if I ever retire, they want to hire me to be a collector,” she said. “I do my homework way ahead: look and see who the architect is, the principals and the owners of the project. I don’t take some jobs if principals, etc. had a bad reputation or had problems in the past.” She also relies on a “gut feeling” she gets about the jobs, sometimes a “weird or bad feeling” she’s learned to listen to about a contract that helps her avoid trouble. And her excellent long term memory is an asset, too – recently she recalled the address of a troublesome builder her company did business with years ago. They started up again with a new name, but the same address.
She advised being personable and a good listener – even to topics unrelated to the job – to build a rapport with customers. If action is needed collecting money, she said, it’s “sugar across the telephone – all sweet” – until she takes legal action once the invoice goes unpaid 35 days. This includes having her supplier put a lien on the building. Within three to four days, she gets a response.
Kozey said dedication and sacrifice are key, too, sometimes forgoing vacations because you need to be there for the work. Equally important is keeping up with technology and training. “My guys went through training with Laminam panels,” she said, resulting in the smooth running of subsequent jobs. “We are a finish trade – the type of tile company that wants perfection,” she said. “You’ve got to know your math, pay attention and listen.”
Kozey copiously documents EVERYTHING and is keeping a journal for son Philip to refer to 15-20 years down the road. She feels documentation is the foundation for troubleshooting, so this journal is a way to pass on wisdom to the next generation.
Pool project for Lifetime Fitness.
Getting support from other women is important too. Years ago she was a member of Women in Construction and met with about 30 women monthly to exchange ideas.
In the beginning of her time with Stuart Tile Company, she said she “got a lot of disrespect. People didn’t want to talk to me – they wanted to talk to my husband; like I was a dummy, because I was a girl,” she said. But that has changed, especially in the last five to seven years, where being a woman works to her advantage. “We got jobs in the past due to being woman owned,” she explained.
As for women interested in a tile career, Kozey cautions, “You can be great at design and color – but you have to be organized, and serious. If you give it 110%, you’ll still be around in years to come.”
Tile offers so many benefits – durability, low-maintenance, sustainability – and enduring beauty. I am excited in this issue to bring you several stories that present this unique artistry that tile offers.
First up is our Decorative Tile feature that explores two 2019 Coverings Installation Design Awards winners – Andru Eron and NY Tilemakers, along with Trish Metzner from Made in Mosaics. Both artists were recognized for their stunning work on two very different murals that convey the complexity, precision and beauty involved in tile mural work.
Next is our Tech Talk story, which looks at the practice of scribing. Scribing in river rock pebbles to a field tile or crafting a “rug” or mural of uniquely shaped tile to enhance an entryway or shower is another way ace tile installers are able to demonstrate the artistry and craftsmanship at the heart of the tile trade – and in a way that delights clients with a completely custom installation.
Are you interested in bringing recruits into this fantastic trade? If so, please check out the NTCA University Update that details a pair of recruitment flyers designed to educate those new to the field about what’s involved in being a tile setter and offers information on additional career paths for a journeyman tile setter.
Another training-related story is a contribution from the new CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director, Heidi Cronin, addressing the role CTEF’s Certified Tile Installer program plays in increasing qualified labor in the industry. And NTCA President Chris Walker takes a closer look at the benefits offered by the national NTCA Apprentice Guide-lines Program, recently approved by the Department of Labor.
Issues like this fill me with pride in our industry and the way technical excellence, craftsmanship and pure artistry combine to create unforgettable projects and signature solutions for walls, floors, exteriors, pools – you name it. It also makes my heart swell to see how the industry comes together to offer training, support and encouragement for those looking for a satisfying career.
Those familiar with tile recognize that stunning tile installations have stood the test of time and endured as practical works of art for generations and generations.
Today’s tile setters participate in that tradition of precision and artistry with every job. And there are some techniques that take tile craftsmanship to the next level. Scribing is one such technique.
“Scribing is an art form,” said NTCA member Joshua Nordstrom, of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska. “It highlights the level of skill, detail, and abilities that you’re capable of.”
Scribing “gives an install a more artistic feel – it’s more personal – which is great for our industry because as tile setters, we are artists, and it’s nice to be able to do something creative to showcase that fact,” agreed Jason McDaniel, NTCA member of Stoneman Construction, LLC, in Tualatin, Ore.
Scribing is done “when a factory tile meets an organic shape such as pebbles, natural stone, or around an irregular shape,” Nordstrom explained. “Pebble scribing is very common because cutting pebbles in a straight line doesn’t look or feel like a natural transition,” McDaniel added. “Over the past few years, it has become more common to see a pebble scribe.
“Personally, because I like to scribe, I decided to do a mosaic hex scribe and see how that would look,” McDaniel continued. “It looked amazing and now we scribe everything.”
While there are many ways to customize a project, scribing can make the job truly original. Nordstrom says in his Alaskan community, his clients like to incorporate nature endemic to the area into their tile designs, often in bathrooms and entryways. “I offer my clients a personal touch for their tile install, from an elaborate mural to a simple medallion, he said. “I find that I can sell a scribed mosaic in about six out of 10 jobs. Most people like to add just that little touch to set their home apart from the rest.”
Scribing takes a combination of skills, all of which begin with PATIENCE. “Scribing is a game of patience that requires time and experience to master,” Nordstrom pointed out. “It takes as long as it takes,” said Kyle Gaudet of Flawless Floorz, a NTCA member in Brentwood, N.H., “Take your time – even extra time – until you’re comfortable with what you’re doing.”
The essential skill of templating
Nordstrom’s Kraken traced life size on a Tyvek ‘canvas.’
An essential skill to clean scribing is templating. “I template everything when it comes to scribing a mosaic,” Nordstrom said. “It all starts with a scaled drawing that gets blown up with a overhead projector and traced life size on a Tyvek ‘canvas.’ Once it’s all colored and labeled, I go over it with tracing paper creating each individual template. Once everything is cut and installed on a fiberglass mesh, I lay the mosaic over the field tile, trace it out and scribe it in.”
McDaniel’s first step is templating as well. “I precut all of my tiles for the floor or wall and then I overlay the pebbles or mosaic that I am going to scribe,” he explained. “I trace the outside of the tile with a sharpie and then use a grinder and remove the sharpie mark. Once the scribe is completed I take a diamond pad or sanding disc to ease over the cuts and make them look smooth and finished, taking all of the chips out of the scribed area. I have found that precutting the area and overlaying is by far the easiest method to use when scribing.”
McDaniel’s pebble scribing
McDaniel didn’t always use this method. “The first scribe I ever did was a pebble scribe,” he said. “I made templates using wax paper, which was grueling and time consuming, and not as accurate as overlaying and tracing. Overlaying and tracing allows you to set the field tile first, letting that area dry. Coming back in the next day and setting your scribe mosaic allows you to make the transition between field tile and mosaic tile perfectly flush, as it should be.”
Gaudet uses a “traditional” 2” piece of the tile for a scribing piece, marking every piece contour by contour. “I also use a 5” and 4” angle grinder, nippers and dry polishing pads,” he said.
Scribing tools; dealing with varying thicknesses
In terms of tools, McDaniel scribes everything with a grinder with a 6” turbo mesh blade, which gives him the best accuracy given the amount of plunge cutting necessary in scribing. “The larger blade allows you to go deeper into the tile before you hit your grinder. Saw horses and clamps are a must have to hold the pieces in place. After I finish my scribe, I ease all of my edges with a 100 grit sanding disc, or a Dremel tool for tighter corners. I am aware that Joshua Nordstrom does all of his scribing with a tile saw and I find that to be absolutely amazing!”
After everything is cut and installed on a fiberglass mesh, Nordstrom lays the mosaic over the field tile, traces it out and scribes it in.
In fact, Nordstrom uses a 10” wet saw, resorting to a grinder only if it’s necessary to remove some material from the tile back to achieve the same thickness between different tiles. “I have learned over the years that installing a fiberglass mesh on the backs of my mosaics really simplifies the installation,” he said.
McDaniel said scribes can be mounted on membranes or thin backer board, though he prefers to “screed my scribed area with thinset so that I can adjust each piece meticulously, insuring that I have a consistent grout line that matches the rest of my install. It also depends on what you are scribing. Sometimes glass mosaics can be difficult to deal with, so pre-mounting them is a worthwhile step.”
Considering thickness is key when scribing, and matching the tiles or grinding the tile backs is sometimes necessary to achieve the proper thickness. “Sometimes when installing you may need to use different trowel sizes to accommodate the height difference in the tile,” Nordstrom said.
McDaniel said his greatest scribing challenge was installing pebble mosaics around a large piece of walnut in an entryway.
McDaniel tells about his most challenging scribing task – installing pebble mosaics around a large piece of walnut in an entryway. Engineering expansion and elevations among the four surfaces and four thicknesses was tricky, he said. “With anything tile, planning ahead and having a game plan going in is essential to being successful,” he said. “Having a start and stop point, keeping your area clean, making sure you have expansion, using anti-fracture membranes, uncoupling membranes, better setting materials, non-sag thinsets; all of these things make your job easier.”
Pricing the job is personal. Nordstrom figures out how many hours it will take him to cut and install, price it on an hourly or date rate, and figure in a little extra for margin of error. Gaudet, whose company is new to scribing, said his client was initially resistant to scribing and the associated upcharge. But “after showing him a few of the pieces, he was in total agreement with my opinion to scribe that wall,” and to agree to pay the upcharge due to the look.
McDaniel, though, doesn’t charge extra for scribing. “I have never made money on a scribe,” he said. “I do it because I want my work to stand out. I want to be known as an artist and a craftsman. Maybe someday I will make money from my scribing ability, but for now I am okay with being considered a ‘Tile Badass’.”
In addition to taking your time, starting small and having patience, McDaniel said the most important thing when scribing is to have confidence. “Know that you can do it; know that you are doing something different that is going to stand out when seen.” He also recommended following the work of several tile setters who have been successful with scribing – and reaching out to them for advice: Robert Davis, Mike Soho, Zack Bonfilio, Tom Habelt, Carl Leonard, and Hawthorne Tile. In addition, he recommended viewing the videos and pictures posted in several tile-centric Facebook groups: Global Tile Posse, Tile Geeks, Tile Love 2.0, The Misfit Tilers, and Tilers Talk to get more information and inspiration.
If you are looking to give it a try, here is the first video in a series Nordstrom created on scribing. The remaining videos are available on the NTCA YouTube channel.