CID Award winners bring beauty through mosaics

Back in April, TileLetter, Contemporary Stone & Tile Design and Tile magazine presented the Coverings Installation & Design Awards (CID) at the Coverings show in Orlando. Many outstanding and stunning tile and stone projects were recognized.

Among them were two mosaic projects, which received Special Recognition honors. The first, “Fractured Fantasies” by Philadelphia-based Trish Metzner and collaborator Oscar Sosa, was awarded in the Mosaic category, celebrating a successful intercultural artistic exchange between creative professionals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The second award was in the Education category, this time for a set of murals made for P.S. 19 in Queens, N.Y., by Andru Eron and NY Tilemakers, then based in Brooklyn, N.Y. (and now based in Long Island City, N.Y.). These murals included elements from the 1964 World’s Fair, held nearby in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, N.Y. 

For this feature, we look at these two award-winning projects in more depth, championing the vision, artistry and craftsmanship that brought them to fruition. 

Fractured Fantasies, Puebla, Mexico 

The Fractured Fantasies mural in the mountains of Puebla, Mexico honors Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The Fractured Fantasies mural in the mountains of Puebla, Mexico honors Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The Fractured Fantasies mural adorns the main entrance wall at the Luchita Mia Eco-Cabin Resort in a stylish, sustainably-constructed cabin resort property tucked away in the mountains of Puebla, Mexico. Designed and executed by Trish Metzner, owner of Made in Mosaic (, and co-designer Oscar Sosa, an independent mixed media artist and designer who installed the mural, it aims to provide a relaxing, covered outdoor lounge area for guests. 

The mosaic honors renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, to whom one of the cabins is dedicated. It combines tile mosaic, a painted background, cast concrete agave leaves and a natural stone retention wall to support the mosaic. Natural and chemical sealants on both the wall and in the artist’s paint mixture itself addressed the challenge of combating moisture in the rainy region. A lightweight roof provided protection for the mural and a cool oasis for guests.

Paint, stone, and ceramic tile resulted in an interesting contrast of materials, and prompted creative ways for the artists to incorporate the materials into the visual narrative. 

“Here is Frida, painting her own fractured reality, the blue tile at the tip of the paintbrush becoming a blue painted line, swirling outward from the heart, communicating interactions between materials, subject, and creation,” Metzner said. The work embodies sensitivity to the original construction methods and the natural surroundings while highlighting the bold, colorful, complex personality being depicted with flowing lines and repeated leaf imagery in the concrete agave leaves and seats.

No power tools were used in this entire project, artists opting instead for nippers and hand tools. 

Frida Kahlo mosaic using 5 tones of floor tile

The portrait was made using five tones of floor tile. The basic process of mosaic was taught to neighbors and passers-by who made most of the flowers seen in the design.

“Sometimes to innovate, you need to go back to the basics,” Metzner said. “Everything was carved, cut, created and carried by hand. In fact, many hands, including those of local residents who participated by making mosaic flowers and sharing unconventional building techniques.”

Tiles used were ceramic and porcelain floor and wall tile mainly from two manufacturers: Mexican Porcelainite and Italica tile from India, chosen for color, durability, and availability in the small region. The tiles, all broken, are located in the portrait section of the mural. Some tiles were recycled and donated since they could not be sold due to damage or chipping, saving them from winding up in a landfill.

The tiles were set with fortified thinset mortar. For grout, the artists used a ratio of 3:1 Portland cement and ground marble (sand was not available in the region) dyed with masonry pigments to create the desired colors: reddish brown for the face and skin, and black for the hair and clothing. Two distributors in the town center – Pisos y Azulejos la Bodega and Materiales La Bodega de Zacatlan – supplied all the purchased materials. The project was completed in October 2018. 

The worksite was located in a rural farming community. Neighbors and passers-by participated in various parts of the project and even made their own individual projects from tile that was not able to be used in the mural.

The worksite was located in a rural farming community. Neighbors and passers-by participated in various parts of the project and even made their own individual projects from tile that was not able to be used in the mural.

The resort itself was built with minimal harmful impact to the natural environment, and the artists were sensitive to this. They took care to prevent toxic chemicals from entering the nearby water supply and produced only one trash bag full of waste shards, which were combined with excess cement to produce stepping stones in the garden. The cabins were built with a process known as Bio Construction, using adobe and cob, locally-sourced natural stone, packed earth, and clay roof tile.

Metzner said, “While tile is an international industry, it also embodies an international cultural heritage whose value is not only evident as a product, but also as an innovative process with purpose. As a tile artist in 2019, it is worth noting that this project exemplifies a successful intercultural artistic exchange between creative professionals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s not only real news; it’s something worth firing up the kiln and tiling about!”

Frida Mural Final Metzner

The project consists of a covered seating area with a large tile mosaic portrait, three seats made from concrete adorned with leaf impressions, a stone retention wall, agave buttresses, built in planters and a colorful painted background.

World’s Fair mural: P.S. 19, Queens, N.Y. 

N.Y. Tilemakers (NYT), founded by Andru Eron, has been has been based in New York City for 18 years. This year, N.Y. Tilemakers relocated to Long Island City, in the borough of Queens. It started out designing and fabricating art tiles for residential projects, but it’s now focused on mural making. All tiles are crafted in The Arts and Crafts tradition, a movement in the decorative and fine arts that flourished in Europe and North America between 1880 and 1910. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, and often used medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. 

N.Y. Tilemakers ( has completed two large murals for the School Construction Authority, an agency of the City of New York, with additional murals scheduled for this year and 2020.

The award-winning mural is permanently installed in Public School 19, in Corona, Queens. Work began in January 2018 when artist Cheryl Molnar won a competition to design the mural for a new lobby at the school. She was inspired by the architecture of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, held in Flushing Meadows Park, which borders the neighborhood where P.S. 19 is. 

NYT checked for fit after tiles were bisque fired. All tiles were then glazed, and fired a second time.

NYT checked for fit after tiles were bisque fired. All tiles were then glazed, and fired a second time.

“The composition uses the central motif of the N.Y. State Pavilion and the Unisphere,” Eron said. “Elements of both of these structures are still in the park.”

Molnar hired N.Y. Tilemakers to do the work. Fabrication was done in N.Y. Tilemakers’ 1,100-sq. ft. workspace, then based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The entire project took about seven months, and involved about 60 different glazes. 

Six helpers created numbering systems for the more than 2,600 ceramic pieces needed, created templates, fabricated the tiles, and oversaw the drying, glazing, loading and unloading of kilns. All tiles were fabricated from moist clay, which is low-fire white earthenware. The sky elements are Italian glass mosaic, 1” square format from Bisazza. All glass mosaics had to be cut to fit amongst the crafted tiles. 

The overall length of the mural is 44 feet, and the height is 10 feet, which created a challenge in not being able to see the mural in a vertical and complete layout until the jobsite.“We built a platform so that we could dry-fit and inspect a 10’ x 10’ section,” Eron said. 

NYT adhered sections starting at the bottom of the wall using a full-size print of the artwork.

NYT adhered sections starting at the bottom of the wall using a full-size print of the artwork.

Another challenge is that there was only about one week to install the mural. To expedite this process, Eron said, “When we are sure that the pieces all fit together, and are the correct colors, etc., clear plastic mosaic film is applied to the working area of the mural. That section is cut into (roughly) 24’ x 24’ modules. Everything is boxed up for transport to the school.”

Four people were onsite for the actual installation. “Our regional rep from Custom Building Products consulted with us during the fabrication and installation. We used their appropriate products: ProLite Mortar in white, non-sanded grout in platinum and sanded grout in pewter, AcrylPro adhesive, and PolyBlend sanded caulk in platinum and pewter. We requested that the builders used Hardibacker for the substrate. They did that, which is our preferred backer board because it is smooth (without being slippy) and has an embossed grid pattern.”

View of the completed installation

View of the completed installation

“While much has changed since 2003, some important elements have not changed, (and never will),” Eron said. “All of our products are handmade by skilled artisans in small quantities. We make tiles-to-order; choose a color, choose a pattern, and we’ll put your order into production. Our products are not factory tile – their unique handcrafted characteristics have character and variety. Our tile is handmade. Our tile is handled, cared-for and finished by real people – no two tiles are alike. We think that’s pretty cool.”

NTCA National Apprenticeship Guidelines provide career road map in the tile trade

NTCA simplifies DOL-approved “earn as you learn” opportunity 

If you’ve been in the tile industry for any length of time, you know one of the most common themes is the shortage of qualified labor to do the tile work that is ripe for the picking. Another theme is that fewer young people are choosing a trade over college, so the trade is starting to “age out.” And still one more is carving out a clear career path for those who enter the tile trade.

NTCA staff and board outlining courses for the setter program.

(Clockwise from left) Dirk Sullivan, Hawthorne Tile; Woody Sanders, DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc.; and Dave Rogers and Dan Welch of Welch Tile and Marble outlining courses for the setter program. CTEF’s Scott
Carothers and early
on Gerald Sloan – when he was a trainer with NTCA – are also among those who helped develop the program. Not pictured: NTCA’s Becky Serbin.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), a.k.a. “The Voice of the Contractor,” has been working on a range of ways to approach these problems. And now, with the help of a team of staff members, NTCA Five-Star Contractors and government officials, the NTCA is pleased to announce that the “National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association” have been approved by the Department of Labor (DOL). 

What it is

National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association provides a structure that a NTCA member in any state can use to develop a DOL-approved apprenticeship program, tailored to the needs and goals of their individual company. The program combines classroom time and on-the-job learning (OJL) components in a two-year finisher program and a three-year setter program. It incorporates coursework from NTCA University and OJL into a hybrid program. That means apprentices are not locked into the 144 hours of classroom time and 2,000 hours of OJL and experience. Instead, focus on core competencies means individual apprentices who excel can satisfy a reduced time investment in the OJL component, while still logging the 144 classroom hours. 

“We’ve taken the difficulty of trying to navigate the system,” said Becky Serbin, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director, who has been spearheading this program. 

Apprenticeship training with The Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust.

Apprenticeship training with The Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust.

Why it’s important

Welch apprentices doing hands-on training.

Welch apprentices doing hands-on training.

With the National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association, member companies can offer interested young men and women, veterans, those who have grown disenchanted with college, and others seeking work in the tile trade a chance to learn in a way that best suits the company sponsor. And apprentices are paid as they learn and progress through the program. 

“We need to cultivate and bring qualified people into the work force regardless of job climate and construction economy,” said Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director. “We are an aging work force. Young people aren’t coming into the trade to replace older people in the work force. We have a worker shortage even if the economy dips.”

This program also offers a career path in the trade. “Until we could get these guidelines approved, we couldn’t show a clear path for those who came into the trade,” Bettiga said. “Going through apprenticeship, they are getting training and education as well as jobsite experience. We’re confident we will attract more capable, qualified people into the industry by showing them a career. When you have apprenticeship – and they master each task, take their online courses, get trained in classroom and get field experience – they can earn more income as they go. It’s an incentive to master the trade. 

“The beauty is we have a better story than a four-year undergrad degree,” he added. “Apprentices start earning immediately; often there is money available to offset costs of tools and student expenses or even scholarships for at-risk students who can’t afford it.”

How it started 

The idea for this program started years ago with NTCA member Jim Isaminger of DMI Tile & Marble, Inc., in Birmingham, Ala., who developed a DOL-approved apprenticeship program in 1996. Through a passionate commitment by Dan Welch of Welch Tile and Marble in Kent City, Mich., and staff member Dave Rogers, along with NTCA’s Becky Serbin, the program evolved to including recorded learning modules that facilitated offsite learning on phones and devices. Other industry members and volunteers worked to revise the outlines for the setter program and write curriculum. Serbin, Welch, Bettiga and Dave Jackson, the DOL contact for the state of Michigan, advanced the project, and Serbin’s work of synthesizing all the information into a cogent program was highly praised by the DOL. 

How to put this to use in your business

NTCA members interested in putting an apprenticeship program in place can visit Serbin will reach out to interested contractors to discuss the program and contact the office of apprenticeship in the state. She’ll then begin working with their office to determine what additional paperwork may be needed. After all the paperwork is assembled, the company submits it for approval. Once the DOL gives it the green light, they will have their own DOL-approved apprenticeship program. At that point the company – or coalition of companies – can begin recruiting apprentices. 

“NTCA members need to reach out to us and let us know their interest,” Bettiga said. “This program needs a state or local administrator, which can be a contractor, technical school, vocational school, construction school or chapter. They don’t have to be a large company to be an administrator or have their own program.” In Portland, for instance, the Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust is a co-op of NTCA member contractors united in apprenticeship, with a program administrated by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (see TileLetter, July 2018 for the story). 

“In addition to helping NTCA members navigate through the paperwork, NTCA can help them navigate through the process no matter what state you are in,” Bettiga said.

Next steps

Welch apprentices taking a warehouse tour.

Welch apprentices taking a warehouse tour.

The program is in a state of ongoing development. A team of NTCA members is helping Serbin finish the content on NTCA University, and Serbin is finalizing paperwork and documents that will be used by members. 

“We think the tile industry has a unique story to tell and a unique allure compared to other construction trades,” Bettiga said. “We want to tap into people who have that artistic flair, across gender lines. If you are trained as a tile installer, your work is visibly seen and admired; our craft is visually observed by consumers. 

“With the National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for the National Tile Contractors Association, NTCA member companies now have an effective tool that can attract quality people, and train them in the way that best suits their company,” Bettiga added. “They can support apprentices, and as apprentices are trained the right way to grow their company, they in turn support the trade. This goes beyond the opportunity to make money setting tile. Installers have gone onto positions in estimating, project management, outside sales and technical sales. But they all started as knowledgeable tile installers. That makes you marketable in many sectors of the industry.” 

Welch added, “There’s no easy button. This takes a lot of investment. If you are going to develop people, it’s a journey, not a race. This is one step that rewards more competent people who possess core competencies that now can be measured on the road to advancing through pay grades from apprentice, journeyman, master. It’s a road map for you to do with what you will.”

TileLetter Green issue discusses eco-centric issues in the tile industry

Welcome to the Green Issue of TileLetter! Each year, we take a look at some eco-centric issues that impact the tile industry in our August issue. In this issue, TCNA staff examines the revision process of OSHA’s Table 1, as it relates to the Respirable Silica Rule. We also feature a Letter to the Editor from James Woelfel that takes a different perspective on the feasibility of OSHA regulations in protecting worker health. 

Terri Hogan Dreyer, managing partner/principal, NANO Architecture|Interiors, discusses how natural materials like tile and stone are foundations for her firm’s quality control process. TCNA’s Bill Griese tours us through the latest version of LEED – LEED v 4.1 – that generates more achievable objectives that build on expanded product life cycle considerations and are favorable for tile. 

Our Training and Education feature explores the recently DOL-approved NTCA National Apprenticeship Guidelines for members, which provides a career road map in the tile trade, explaining the process of developing this program and how this will benefit members and the entire trade. NTCA’s Becky Serbin takes it a step further in the NTCA University Update, describing how the establishment of the apprenticeship program will mandate more course development to support the finisher and setter tracks. 

We meet Jake Swoboda in our Member Spotlight, one of the younger members of the industry, and learn how he is carving a path to tile setting success, based on familial training from his uncle, and augmented by his CTI credentials and membership in NTCA. 

In this issue, we also bid a sad farewell to a beloved member of the tile industry and all-around nice guy, Steve Rausch. Though he will be deeply missed, all of us who knew and worked with him are richer for having known him. His sudden passing reminds me to let people who are important to me know I appreciate them – personally or professionally. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you to do the same in the coming month. 

God bless,

Community involvement pays off in ace new hire

C.C. Owen Tile Company works with area schools to promote the trade, and scores promising new talent

Rod Owen, C.C. Owen Tile Company

Rod Owen of C.C. Owen Tile Company in Jonesboro, Ga., is both a dedicated NTCA Five-Star Contractor and proactive tile trade spokesman, bringing the news of the benefits of a tile career to area teens. Involvement with local high schools and the annual Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) Career Expo and SkillsUSA competition means he’s got a lot to give to teens who are considering their career options. And it pays off for Owen too, in the form of prize new hires that build a strong work force and strengthen his company against turnover. 

Since 2008, Owen has been instrumental in getting tile installation included in the CEFGA Expo, held each spring. The CEFGA Expo is just one portion of the entire CEFGA Skills USA Event, which is an opportunity for trades to

Rod Owen’s tireless dedication resulted in tile being included not only in the CEFGA Expo portion of the event, but also in a SkillsUSA competition, starting in 2017.

engage with, and educate students in the state of Georgia about the opportunities within the trades. The Skills USA competition tests allows area students to compete in the trade of their choice. Up until a few years ago, tile wasn’t part of the curriculum, but Owen, working with the SkillsUSA state and national reps – and garnering industry support – finally got the green light to have a tile competition in the 2017 Georgia SkillsUSA event. Owen then reached out to fellow Georgia-based NTCA Five-Star contractor Woody Sanders of DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc., CTEF’s Scott Carothers, and NTCA’s Becky Serbin, knowing those individuals would be critical in bringing this goal to fruition. 

After initially competing in 2017, Martin Sanchez of Griffin High School went on to win the top tile prize in the 2018 SkillsUSA competition. And it turned out that he won something much more – a new job at C.C. Owen and an opportunity to participate in the company’s five-year apprenticeship program, which utilizes the NTCA University online curriculum, and is approved by the Georgia Department of Labor. Sanchez now has an opportunity to learn a trade – while he earns a living.

Martin Sanchez (l.) works on his module during the SkillsUSA competition with fellow students.

Owen’s company sponsors Griffin High School, providing tools and materials to give students the opportunity to do some hands-on tile work. Owen had his eye on Sanchez before he even graduated. That’s because he sits on the advisory boards of several area high schools and has developed relationships with construction teachers – relationships that help give him first dibs on promising grads. “We meet once a quarter to let teachers know new trends and what they need to be focusing on, and what do we see their graduating students lacking in,” Owen said. “They are now using an aptitude program that helps direct students to what they are good at and applicable fields and careers.”

Through Griffin’s construction teacher, Walter Preston, Owen met Sanchez when he was a junior. His conversations with Preston about Sanchez’s skills and aptitude – plus the dedication and focus Sanchez showed in his SkillsUSA competitions – convinced Owen he would be a viable new hire for his company. Preston also guided Owen to another Griffin graduate – Terry Collier – and both were hired at the same time, last June. 

Both Sanchez and Collier began their apprenticeships in January 2019. “To enroll in our apprenticeship program, one must be an employee for six months,” Owen said. “We don’t want to begin investing in them if they decide they don’t want to do this.”

2018 SkillsUSA competition winners (l. to r.): Nathaniel Selby, Shaw High School, 3rd place; Martin Sanchez, Griffin High School, 1st place; Christian Mendoza, Kennesaw Mountain High School, 2nd place. Sanchez is now in the apprenticeship program at C.C. Owen Tile Company.

Sanchez and Collier – as well as new hire Oscar Macias, a recent graduate from another area high school – are ambassadors of a sort, going to high school Discovery Days to share their experiences in the tile trade with peers. And Sanchez was on-hand this year at SkillsUSA, sharing his knowledge and experiences with those who are just starting to consider tile as a career. He explained proper tile-setting techniques and discussed what happens day-to-day on the job. “He got to talk to some of the kids – and knew some of them who came out from his high school,” Owen said. 

C.C. Owen strictly does commercial work, and employs 30 field personnel. Owens is always on the lookout for high-quality hires, to counter turnover that seems endemic to the trade, and grow his company from within. In addition to good pay and a comprehensive package of benefits, Owen has instituted twice-yearly company outings to foster camaraderie among employees and families. His volunteerism at the high schools and for CEFGA means he keeps giving back to the community, even as the community fuels his crew with fresh new talent. 

Cutting Edge Tile meets client needs in a “Flash!”

Carl “The Flash” Leonard, owner, Cutting Edge Tile

Carl “The Flash” Leonard is a third generation tile setter, and owner of Cutting Edge Tile
( in Florence, N.J. Leonard explains that he got his nickname because “I’m primarily known for my speed and quick turnaround of projects.”

Leonard has done commercial, residential, remodel work, new construction and custom work including gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP), exterior pedestal tile installation and bonded large-format tile on exteriors. 

Cutting Edge Tile prides itself on attention to details and offering new and exciting ideas helps it stay ahead of its competition and set the company apart. “I pride myself on being a well-rounded installer in my field of expertise,” Leonard said. “Listening to the client and understanding their needs is very important! I am also certified to install and use a variety of products to aid in providing the best installation available.” The company motto is “Quality YOU can afford.”

Carl “The Flash” Leonard poses with a group of fellow Global Tile Posse members in the module used for the CTI tile setting competition in the Installation Experience during Coverings ’18 in Atlanta.

Leonard joined NTCA in 2015, primarily for the education membership offered. “I love to learn new installation techniques and correct practices,” he said. “Also joining allowed me to be in contact with a network of tile professionals that I can reach out to for help or just advice.

Walk-in shower – in process: “This walk-in shower project posed many challenges,” Leonard said. The shower pan had a linear drain with large-format tile, so prep was the biggest challenge. The shower floor was recessed to allow the foam shower pan to be flush with heated flooring in the main floor area. To get the main floor level flush with the pan, self leveler was poured over the loosely strung heat cables. Once this was done, waterproofing could be completed and tile installation could start.


“The greatest reward of being an NTCA member would be all the knowledge I’ve gained through educational programs and events,” The Flash added. “This has helped me and my business to grow tremendously. The education and knowledge gave me the confidence to do tile installations properly. It also puts my clients at ease knowing that I’ve invested in my company to ensure proper installation on their projects.”

Leonard took his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test in Cherry Hill, N.J., in 2017 with nine other installers, and successfully passed to become CTI #1393. He makes it a point to tell potential clients all about his certification. “It is the determining factor in them choosing me over others in most cases,” he said.

Leonard said, “being a professional tile installer brings a lot of satisfaction, knowing that my clients will be using something that I built and will last a lifetime!”

White bathroom – In this project, Leonard used a recessed foam walk-in shower pan with a heated floor and underlayment on main floor. This was an old farmhouse, where nothing was level or plumb. “We sistered new 2 x 4s to all the wall studs and poured self leveler on the floors,” Leonard explained. “This was key to the success of this project. Prep is essential!”

Total Solutions Plus comes to Nashville

All-industry conference offers business-building program amidst Music City backdrop

Each year, Total Solutions Plus (TSP) brings the ceramic tile industry together to network and learn from each other. This year, the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA) and National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) have designed an itinerary to boost your business, hone your technical expertise, recognize outstanding individuals in the industry and allow plenty of time to network with friends and colleagues old and new. 

Though the conference itself takes place October 27-30, committee and board meetings take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 26-27, with a golf tournament at the Gaylord Springs Golf Links that starts noon on Sunday, and various tours of the area available. The conference officially kicks off with an opening reception Sunday night at 6 pm. 

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., is home to TSP 2019. In addition to its proximity to the heart of Nashville and all the music venues the city has to offer – including the Grand Ole Opry and the historic Ryman Auditorium – the nine-acre property offers SoundWaves, an upscale water experience featuring four acres of combined indoor and outdoor water attractions, which opened at the end of last year. 

The annual golf tournament commences Sunday, October 27 at noon.


Dean Minuto

After a hearty breakfast Monday morning, the program commences with the “Get to Yes Faster” keynote from Dean Minuto of Yescalate. Minuto is an expert in the art of persuasion, that he believes is good communication and understanding. He’s personally coached more than 9,000 CEOs, tens of thousands of other executives, and countless employees in his 25 years as a leading expert in sales. In 2015, he received Vistage International’s 2015 Speaker of the Year award. He loves to weave neurobiology, sales techniques, marketing, history, psychology, and other sciences together in order to create a full tapestry of human behavior. It is only in understanding this that you can learn how to get to yes. He believes that success isn’t about a commission: it’s about making a difference. 

Chris McChesney

The closing keynote on Tuesday morning is delivered by Chris McChesney, addressing “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” the title of his best-selling book. McChesney is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey and one of Franklin Covey’s most in-demand speakers worldwide. Over his 20 years with the organization, McChesney has led change efforts that have become many of Franklin Covey’s most noted case studies and include working directly with Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue and the president of Marriott for the Americas, Shaw Industries, Kroger Supermarkets, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Home Depot, Frito-Lay, Lockheed Martin, Gaylord Entertainment and Northrop Grumman. In addition to his keynote, McChesney will also lead a Business Breakout on Tuesday morning, titled “A Deeper Dive Into The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals.”

Al Bates

Breakout groups, tabletops and networking

Education programming continues with an outstanding lineup of speakers and industry experts on Monday and Tuesday. Monday includes a business breakout with Al Bates; Donato Pompo talks about building a bulletproof spec, and there are two technical breakouts before the Awards Lunch. Post-lunch activities include two technical breakouts and Distributor forum. Also scheduled on Monday is a TCNA Board meeting and annual meetings for both CTDA and NTCA.

Donato Pompo

Monday afternoon from 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., the Tabletop Event begins, with opportunities to meet with suppliers and other attendees. 

Tuesday following the McChesney keynote is his breakout group, as well as two technical breakouts plus a session on “How to effectively use Why Tile to benefit your business.” After the Awards Lunch, there’s a Business Breakout titled, “Future of Distribution in the Tile Industry – NAW Fellow Panel/Presentation,” as well as another technical breakout, and a joint panel discussion. A closing reception leads into a closing country-western themed party and dinner. 

NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year winner announced

The inaugural NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award will be announced at TSP. This award will recognize a NTCA member who has proven to be invaluable in the field due to his or her outstanding installations, is passionate and actively engaged in continual self-improvement, leads and/or mentors others, and is devoted to the art of setting tile.  

Off-site fun

If you’re looking to take in a bit of local flavor, visit the TSP website for the schedule of activities. In addition to the golf tournament, other outings include “A Musical Journey through Nashville, Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum,” a behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, a tour through the Hermitage, the former home of Andrew Jackson, visit to Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Historic RCA Studio B, home to over 200 Elvis Presley recordings, a culinary tour and a chance to try your hand at making Goo Goo Clusters, the iconic Nashville candy that satisfies your sweet tooth with a combination of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and milk chocolate. 

TileLetter’s midsummer issue brings lots of great articles

There are lots of great articles in this midsummer issue of TileLetter, from our cover case study by Merkrete of the renovation of the Naples Fire-Rescue Station, to the timeline by Schluter’s Dale Kempster about uncoupling methods making it into the TCNA Handbook and upcoming uncoupling standard, to Donato Grosser’s exploration of the industry from an independent distributor point of view, to the happy tale about NTCA Five-Star Contractor Rod Owen’s involvement in the community and how bringing information about the tile trade to high schools has paid off in terms of his own hires. Not to be missed is the Member Spotlight on Carl “The Flash” Leonard, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director Becky Serbin’s piece on the value of NTCA’s Regional Training Events and the preview of our next big industry event – just three months away – Total Solutions Plus, this year scheduled for Nashville, Tenn. 

But I also want to highlight a couple of especially compelling pieces that are on the pulse of what is happening in our industry right now. One is our news blurb about the May 23, 2019 Department of Labor acceptance of the NTCA National Guidelines for Apprenticeship. This is a huge step forward for our industry (with hats off to the tireless efforts of Becky Serbin in bringing this to fruition). The NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program combines field experience with online learning and designated classroom training. It’s designed to provide members an opportunity to attract new skilled labor into the ceramic tile industry. The program will offer guidance to NTCA members in developing their own tile finishers’ and tile setters’ apprenticeship programs. You’ll learn more about this in our August issue, but it’s vital news that needs to be on your radar screen now.

The other piece is by NTCA President Chris Walker, who has his finger on the pulse of the industry with his perspective on tariffs on tile from China and the anti-dumping/anti-subsidy investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). What are the pros and cons of these actions and how will they affect our industry down the road? Read this important letter and stay tuned in future issues of TileLetter for more information about how these developments will impact the tile industry and how different sectors of the industry are coping with them. 

Got thoughts or comments to share about these or any other topics? Shoot me an email and let me know your perspective. 

God bless,
[email protected]

Celebration of life and burial arrangements for beloved industry member Steve Rausch

Steve Rausch

There will be a Celebration of Life Service for beloved member of the tile industry, Steve Rausch of Norcross Ga., at Perimeter Church, 9500 Medlock Bridge Rd, Johns Creek, Ga., 30097 on Monday June 17 at 11:00am. This will be followed by a reception at the church. The following day, June 18, there will be a burial service at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton at 9:00am. All are welcome who wish to attend.

Steven William Rausch, 67, passed away on June 8, 2019. Steve was born in Dayton, Ohio and graduated from Belmont High School in 1969, after which he joined the Army. He worked in sales and marketing development in the floor covering and ceramic tile industry for over 48 years.
He had been active in the Boy Scouts (including Wood Badge), Walk to Emmaus (where he served as a Lay Director) and Perimeter Church. He developed a love for flying and was an active member of the Silver Wings Fraternity. He also enjoyed boating, skiing and spending time with his family.
Steve is survived by his wife of 44 years, Christy; three children, Tim, Jill and Jen; and six grandchildren (Emma, Andy, Kaeden, Henry, Cooper and Lucy). The celebration of life on Monday, June 17 at Perimeter Church at 11:00 a.m. followed by a reception. Interment will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at Georgia National Cemetery, Canton, Ga., at 9:00 a.m.

Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from June 13 to June 14, 2019. More information will be added as it becomes available.

NTCA Five-Star friendships lay groundwork for business partnership

There are many benefits to being a contractor member of NTCA. If you are wondering what they are, take a look at the May TileLetter Benefits Box to see them all in one fell swoop.

There are additional paybacks to being one of the elite contractor members known as NTCA Five-Star Contractors. This group has a rigorous set of requirements to join, but enjoys special perks such as manufacturer discounts, special regional training opportunities and attendance at the annual NTCA Five-Star Summer meeting. At the summer meeting they are privy to top-notch speakers, presentations and demos on technical and business aspects of their business, and ample chance to network with fellow Five-Stars to share best practices. 

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Sometimes, partnerships grow out of membership in this network of high-caliber contractors. A joint venture between Welch Tile & Marble Co., in Kent City, Mich., and Kemna Tile in Dallas, Texas, is one such partnership that owes its beginnings to a Five-Star connection. 

Working together

Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble and Barry Kemna of Kemna Tile worked together before they became NTCA Five-Star Contractor members, spurred by the need to diversify in light of the 2008 downturn. In the tradition of NTCA members helping each other, Welch Tile – at the time a labor-only company – received a hand from full-service contractor Kemna Tile, both of whom were NTCA board members at the time, about 2010. 

Barry Kemna,
Kemna Tile

“The relationship blossomed since we were sharing labor,” Welch said. “We took a lot of risks together. Now we are team building.” Before Kemna developed its own terrazzo team, there was a lot of terrazzo work across the country with clients Kemna had relationships with, and Welch was able to joint-venture with an experienced crew.

Over the years, Welch grew into a full-service company and in 2017, “sold more work than we could do,” Welch said. Kemna came to Welch’s aid on the Klondike Cheese plant project in Monroe, Wis., and terrazzo projects Travers City East Elementary and Mercy Hospital in Muskegon, Mich. “Roles go back and forth, based on workload,” Welch said. 

Working on projects like the Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, Seton Medical in Killeen, Texas, the Federal Building in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the Faena Forum Event Center in Miami spawned a learning friendship, in which each company learned how each others’ team operates. 

“In Miami, the project scope expanded,” Welch explained. “Welch shipped a terrazzo grinder down. It helped him to not have to put out $30,000 for a grinder, and it helped us get the job. We pool our labor forces, equipment and people,” he added, shipping equipment to or from Texas and Michigan where needed.

Kemna remarked, “We are both working on projects out of town, having the confidence to know Dan will send folks if we get behind. That gives us confidence to bid; we have another resource to call on for labor.”

At times, the company has pulled in other NTCA Five-Star Contractors to assist; for instance, Neuse Tile Service in Youngsville, N.C., did all the tile work on the Duke Cancer Center, and Collins Tile and Stone in Ashburn, Va., partnered on a D.C. project. 

The arrangement offers tremendous flexibility, offering both companies opportunities to take jobs they wouldn’t be able to complete on their own. Plus, they are pooling their expertise to make better business decisions, touching base once or twice a week. “Between the two of us, 150 people are at stake,” Kemna said. 

The Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., was one of the first projects that Welch Tile & Marble and Kemna Tile partnered on. Not shown here is tilework installed on this project by another NTCA Five-Star Contractor: Neuse Tile Service.

The NTCA Five-Star connection

Amber Fox, NTCA Five-Star Program Director

The NTCA and caliber of the NTCA Five-Star Contractor community laid the groundwork for this relationship to blossom. “We come together at meetings as part of a bigger group, and there’s an opportunity to have growth,” said Amber Fox, NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program Director. “The NTCA Five-Star Program is the catalyst of bringing people together and providing opportunities.”

“NTCA Five-Star is an opportunity to start relationships so things can happen in the future,” Welch said. “If you are going to take on that big a risk, you need someone you can trust. Without NTCA or NTCA Five-Star – or both – we would never have gotten to that level to take on that risk.” Plus, Welch added, “If you enjoy each other, it makes it easier to do.”

“NTCA Five-Star has allowed us to make our businesses stronger,” Kemna added. 

At the upcoming NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting July 16-19 in Montreal, Fox will offer non-competing contractors who are interested in exploring joint venture possibilities the opportunity to process issues together to open the door for reciprocal communication and relationship building. Depending on feedback, follow-up opportunities will be planned. 

“Due to relationship with Dan, it’s given more opportunity,” Kemna said, pointing out that the synergy between the two companies has provided a buffer against competition. 

“We are NTCA Five-Star contractors that do tile, but businesses have grown and incorporate other things,” Kemna added. “Carpet contractors started taking work away from us by being able to do carpet and adding tile. Now I see because we are doing terrazzo, polished concrete, stone panels, thin panels and tile, we are the biggest piece to put under contract. If we ONLY did tile, it would be easy for carpet guys to take it over.”

Welch said that his partnership with Kemna helps manage schedules and the fluctuations of the economy. “You surround yourself with people who have strengths where you are weak,” he said. “Change is inevitable – managing it is everything.” 


For more information on becoming a NTCA Five-Star Contractor, contact Amber Fox at 858-674-6908 or at [email protected].

There are advantages to learning a trade


“One of the things that I find distressing about life today is that people don’t really seem to enjoy their work anymore. When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain, my father and my grandfather loved their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us. But I recall one time when my brother Jason had to make a choice, a choice that was difficult for him, but even more difficult for my father.”

– John-Boy Walton, reading from his journal

The last few months, after a long day at work, I’ve been relaxing with TV. Not network TV, mind you, or cable or political commentary, but with a warm and wholesome television show that those who grew up in the ’70s will remember: The Waltons. This nine-season semi-autobiographical series created by Earl Hamner is about John and Olivia Walton in 1930-40s Virginia, making a living during the Depression and World War II, with seven children and Grandma and Grandpa Walton sharing their home. 

It just so happens that John Walton and his father Zebulon operate a sawmill on their property. This mill keeps them afloat during the Depression though money is tight. As the Depression draws to a close, the family expands the business into crafting fine furniture.

In an episode called “The Choice,” John Walton’s second oldest, Jason, must choose between accepting a scholarship to attend the conservatory and become a musician or learning the family’s trade. John, Sr., is scripted to usually be very accepting of his children’s decisions, such as supporting his eldest son John-Boy’s decision to attend college in pursuit of his passion of becoming a writer. But in this episode, he is staunch about the importance of Jason learning a trade to be able to eventually take care of a family and put food on the table as he’s been able to do even in this economic crunch. He makes a strong case for the necessity of learning a trade and how it is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. This very old show brought to mind the very contemporary reality that young people face today – what path will give you a good living? What career will support your future? What can’t be outsourced? And what will fill you with pride each day? Jason hedges his bets by choosing the conservatory – AND studying his family trade (It’s a television show, after all!). 

Another thing this show brings to mind is OSHA (not formed until 1971) and the incredible risks everyone working at the Depression-era mill takes. Though they wear heavy gloves to push trees through the saw to make lumber, there are no self-adjusting guards, no eye protection, no kickback protections. I cringe whenever I watch them, just waiting for disaster to strike. So far, by season five, no one has lost an eye or finger, but I’ll bet in real life, those in the lumber business back then had lots of accidents. I think of today’s brilliant advances in automated tile equipment, and eye and ear protection and the regulations, equipment refinements and improvements in setting-material formulas that help tile installers avoid the ravages of silicosis. (In a stroke of synchronicity, Will Geer, who plays Grandpa Zebulon Walton, narrated a short 1940 documentary called Men and Dust, about miners and silicosis!) Why not take advantage of safeguards available today to protect your hands, eyes, ears, and lungs? Replacements are VERY expensive – and not always possible.

What this meandering letter is about is this: the solid advantages afforded by a trade cannot be overlooked. This show illustrated the point by travelers who came through Walton’s Mountain who lost their white collar jobs when the Depression hit, but the Waltons were able to maintain a modest living by virtue of a trade. Now, anyone in the trade doesn’t need a 1970s TV show to tell them about the advantages of a trade, but it is a poignant reminder. 

God bless,
[email protected]

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