Thin Tile – September 2016

thin-01DAC, MAPEI, ETM ace USTA installation of Fiandre 5’x10′ porcelain gauged panels

Teamwork transforms challenging project into a grand slam

by Lesley Goddin

The 25’ x 36’ wall of Fiandre 5’ x 10’ porcelain gauged panels in the two-story office building were deftly installed by NTCA Five Star Contractor David Allen Company (DAC) with support from MAPEI and European Tile Masters (ETM).

The 25’ x 36’ wall of Fiandre 5’ x 10’ porcelain gauged panels in the two-story office building were deftly installed by NTCA Five Star Contractor David Allen Company (DAC) with support from MAPEI and European Tile Masters (ETM).

A 63-acre campus in Lake Nona, Fla., Orlando, is home to the U.S. Tennis Association’s (USTA) largest training and player development center. The site, which was formerly a cow pasture, is expected to create more than 150 jobs and will be the new home of the University of Central Florida varsity tennis team. Expected to be complete by the end of this year, this is the USTA’s first outdoor facility, which allows players to train and compete year-round.

The facilities include more than 100 tennis courts for players of different skills levels from from youth tennis team events to national championships for those ages 90 and over. A lodge is planned to accommodate players during training, and a mammoth stadium that can house two simultaneous tennis matches and 1,200 spectators.

The center also includes offices for USTA Player Development, and USTA Community Tennis Division that will relocate from Boca Raton, Fla., and White Plains, N.Y., respectively. The office building houses a tennis pro shop, fitness area, locker rooms, player lounge and cafeteria on the ground floor. The office building is also home to a 25’ x 36’ installation of Fiandre 5’ x 10’ porcelain gauged panels, deftly installed by NTCA Five Star Contractor David Allen Company (DAC) with support from MAPEI and European Tile Masters (ETM). The panels were installed in the ground and second floor of the office building.

DAC used ETM equipment and MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar to affix the large porcelain panels to the wall.

DAC used ETM equipment and MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar to affix the large porcelain panels to the wall.

Preparation for this project started when DAC’s superintendant, foreman and lead installer – as well as project manager Cynthia Bendiksby – attended a thin-tile installation training offered by Crossville, with which DAC has a Laminam project starting up this month, Bendiksby said. DAC attendees became familiar with handling and installing the colossal thin porcelain panels, a skill that laid the groundwork for a two-day MAPEI training at the USTA site immediately before installation began. MAPEI regional technical rep Gerald Sloan, and sales reps Dan Costa and Joe Shoemaker were on site to support this training.
“We were assisted by MAPEI and ETM representatives,” Bendiksby said. “We used MAPEI Ultralite S2 and the lifting and setting equipment manufactured by European Tile Masters.” This was a challenging installation, due to the size of the 5’ x 10’ tile panels, said Jim Whitfield, MAPEI technical director. The panels were to be installed vertically up to the third story, finishing 35’ in the air, three panels high.

Previewing the project, DAC’s Bendiksby observed, “Needless to say, there will need to be a ton of practice, from mixing the S2 thinset (which none of my crew have worked with), spreading/keying both the tile and the wall, loading it onto a scissor lift and getting it all done within the shortest timespan possible before it skims over in the 90 degree Florida heat.

Tile and Dens Shield backer board are back-buttered, and ready for the next porcelain panel.

Tile and Dens Shield backer board are back-buttered, and ready for the next porcelain panel.

“Already I am seeing issues with the weight of the panel with three men on a scissor lift and how to get the panel up to that height while mounted on the rack,” she said.

Excellence and ingenuity save the day

Team MAPEI and ETM to the rescue! MAPEI technical rep Sloan, and sales reps Costa and Joe Shoemaker assisted the DAC team in back buttering and notching on the ground. The large mortared Fiandre Marmi Maximum Premium White tiles were then passed up to installers on the scissor lift. From there, the DAC lift crew had to ascend with the rack loaded with tile and mortar and place it on the Dens Shield backer, already troweled with mortar.

But this didn’t happen before some fancy footwork involving the lift. Whitfield suggested 2” x 6” lumber be attached to the front of the scissor lift platform, overhanging to form an extension table on which to set the rake and tile. From there, the plan was to raise the scissor lift straight up, and ease the rack and tile with mortar off the 2” x 6” onto the wall, into the troweled mortar.

Mick Volponi’s Mechanical Lippage Tuning (MLT) System was used to prevent lippage in these enormous tiles.

Mick Volponi’s Mechanical Lippage Tuning (MLT) System was used to prevent lippage in these enormous tiles.

The problem was that there was no 2” x 6” lumber at the site. Ben Szell of ETM – who earned the nickname “MacGyver” by Bendiksby for his ingenious solution on this project – dismantled one of his ETM racks to build a secure aluminum extension that would hang out of the platform and support the tile rack securely.

The DAC crew proclaimed the MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar “a hit. Everyone liked how creamy it was; how coverage was achieved and the lightweight factor helped with this large heavy tile,” Whitfield said.

Bendiksby added, “The joints were filled with Mapesil Avalanche. Equipment included the European Tile Masters trowel, cutting table, e-grips, sawhorses – and most obviously an electric lift capable of carrying three men plus a 200-pound tile with outrigging. MLT was the leveling system.”

Over the course of the eight days of installations, the team went through a few dry runs, and worked through the issues with tools and the scissor lift.

“But in the end, we really came up with a solid method of installation everyone was comfortable with,” Whitfield said. “Martin [Howard, of DAC] commented to me at the TCNA Handbook meeting, that after a few panels they knew, if they had to do it again, they could complete the project in just a few days.”

The Fiandre tile and DAC’s flawless installation make for a beautiful backdrop.

The Fiandre tile and DAC’s flawless installation make for a beautiful backdrop.

Tech Talk – September 2016

TEC-sponsorWaterproofing and crack isolation membranes

tech-01By Tom Domenici,
TEC® Area Technical Manager

A tile installation is only as good as what’s underneath it. Providing a substrate that is flat and contaminant free is the first step in helping ensure a successful tile installation. It’s better to spend money on surface preparation during the project than to be faced with a more expensive “re-do” when problems develop. Call-backs can be expensive and disruptive to both a project and an installer’s business. Prior to installation, determine the size, type and condition of the substrate, types of joints, the substrate’s flatness/levelness, existing contaminants and the porosity of the substrate surface.

In showers and other submerged applications, waterproofing is a critical step in surface preparation. A conventional shower is made to absorb and drain water, but a surface waterproofing keeps the substrate from absorbing the water. This is especially critical to help prevent mold and mildew below. Cement board, backer board, thin-set mortar, tile, grout and sealers do not form a watertight surface themselves.


In showers and other submerged applications, waterproofing is a critical step in surface preparation.

A growing popular approach to tile projects that need waterproofing – such as a shower wall tile installation – is the use of waterproofing boards. They are screwed into place and combine backer board installation and waterproofing in one product. However, installation must be done carefully and according to the manufacturer, as these boards have their own specific installation method that differs from cement backer board. The boards vary in size and thickness and installers must carefully select the proper boards for their tile installation. In some cases, drains and slopes are already incorporated into the boards to save time. Tiling can begin immediately once the boards are in place; however you may need to waterproof the sides of the boards with a liquid waterproofing membrane.

Many contractors consistently rely on IAPMO-approved liquid waterproofing membranes for waterproofing areas exposed to moisture such as shower benches, shelving, shower floors, and vertical shower walls. Liquid membranes are usually the most affordable way to meet ANSI A118.10 waterproofing specifications. They are also often easiest to apply, and may be applied using a brush, roller, trowel or – for very large surfaces – a sprayer. Another advantage of liquid membranes is that you can use screws or nails to install the substrate and then uniformly waterproof over the punctures. Waterproofing mesh is then often installed over the liquid membrane at changes in-plane and substrate joints.

Liquid membranes are usually the most affordable way to meet ANSI A118.10 waterproofing specifications.

Liquid membranes are usually the most affordable way to meet ANSI A118.10 waterproofing specifications.

Crack-isolation membranes

Most waterproofing membranes exhibit crack isolation properties that meet ANSI A118.12 crack isolation specifications. As moisture levels change, subfloors, adhesives and tile can expand, contract and even crack. Crack-isolation membranes help stop in-plane cracks at the subfloor from telegraphing through to the tile.

In general, crack-isolation products are used for everything from isolating the tile from shrinkage cracks, to tiling over control joints, to protecting the entire floor from potential cracking in the concrete. Keep in mind that these products do not remove the need for expansion joints. Tile work must always allow for normal expansion and contraction.

One benefit of this two-in-one membrane is that it can save time by eliminating the need to separately install a crack-isolation mat in areas that also need waterproofing. The liquid membrane is applied over the substrate, followed by mesh at changes in-plane and joints. Some waterproofing and crack-isolation membranes are suitable up to heavy-use commercial application.


Liquid membranes are also often easiest to apply, and may be applied using a brush, roller, trowel or – for very large surfaces – a sprayer.

The right installation materials, working as one system from subfloor to sealant, will help tile installations last longer. Doing the job right from the start – conducting a pre-installation evaluation and using the proper surface-preparation products, including any needed waterproofing or crack isolation – helps ensure that when the installer receives any calls about a past project, it’s only someone seeking the same quality workmanship for his or her new installation.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. – a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Headquartered in Aurora, Illinois, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, Foster®, ProSpec® and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit

Member Spotlight: Kyle’s Tile LLC

custom-sponsorKyle’s Tile LLC
Ocean View, Delaware

by Lesley Goddin

spot-01About 16 years ago, Justin Kyle was working as a helper for a small tile company in Pennsylvania. What he didn’t know then was that all the installations by this company were being done incorrectly. Oops!

But Kyle started learning and teaching himself correct methods of tilesetting. “I started reading anything and everything I could on the subject of tile installation,” Kyle said. “The John Bridge Forum was a wealth of information for me, and I quickly realized that just about every project I had helped on was being done wrong. My concerns fell on deaf ears.”

Three years later, he left Pennsylvania for the beaches of Delaware to establish his own business.

“For the first five years after resettling, almost all the work I did was through a well-known, reputable, local tile shop,” Kyle said. “Through bouncing information off of their other installers I perfected my methods.”

spot-02 Today, Kyle’s Tile is a strictly residential business, with 80% of jobs being renovations and 80% of these renovations being bathrooms. Kyle’s dedication to keep learning and staying on top of methods and products sets him apart from his competition. “I stay active in the industry, and through Tile Geeks and the NTCA, I have built up a great relationship with other very knowledgeable installers and company representatives,” he said.

Kyle joined the NTCA about a year ago. “I joined the NTCA mainly based on comments and suggestions given by other installers that I have a tremendous respect for,” he said. “They are members and if they think it’s good for them, I’m inclined to follow them.”

spot-03Kyle sees a range of values in being a NTCA member. “Obviously, there is the networking that is crucial in doing business in this day and age,” he said. “I am a one-man operation and always focused more on the craft than the business. The NTCA has helped me in balancing my focus between the two more equally. Running a business isn’t just about producing a great product. One has to learn the best ways to get that product out to clients in a way that is beneficial for both them and the installer – thus, learning the business side of the industry.”

Kyle dove in right away to give back to his industry through becoming a NTCA State Director. “I became a state director for two reasons,” he said. “First, when I joined the NTCA there were only two or three other NTCA members in my state. In becoming a State Director, I thought I could help in getting information about the organization in the hands of those who might be interested in it.

“The other reason was because of the need for qualified labor,” he explained. “I figured if I could get shops, designers, architects, and builders to become aware and understand the NTCA, we might be able to reduce the number of failed installations. In my area, the median home value is well over $500,000. We have good finish craftsmen but seem to lack qualified tile installers. Often, the tile portion of a project is the most overlooked and undervalued part of a build.”

spot-04Although Kyle is not currently a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) through the CTEF, clearly, that’s an important issue for him. To that end, he is actively working to bring a CTI testing session to his local area.

Being a tile installer is about independence, craftsmanship, creativity and satisfaction for Kyle. “In being a tile contractor, I get to be my own boss,” he said. “More importantly, I get to take a vague idea from a client and create something from it that outshines what they had envisioned. Being able to exceed their expectations is something that would make anyone smile.”

September Feature: San Francisco’s Hotel Grace

Old hotel gets trendy new look with MAPEI ShowerPerfect

(Ed. Note: Shortly before press time, Pineapple Hospitality made the decision to change the name of Hotel Grace to The Alise. Find more information on the hotel here:

In a press release touting the opening of Hotel Grace in San Francisco, the owners reported, “Hotel Grace is the embodiment of Pineapple Hospitality’s vision for what a refined, urban, classic yet modern hotel should be. Located at 580 Geary Street, Hotel Grace is just steps from Union Square, the Theater District, Nob Hill, The Wharf, cable cars, and more. Designed by Glenn Texeira and San Francisco-based architecture firm Stanton Architecture with a deep respect for the building’s impressive 103-year-old history, the fully renovated and reimagined property has been entirely modernized from top to bottom with thoughtful design details at every turn.


ShowerPerfect installation underway.

“The 93-room Hotel Grace provides distinctive accommodations unlikely to be found anywhere else in San Francisco,” the release continued. “Each king and queen guestroom has a cheerful color palette of vibrant yellow against muted gray. Custom fabrics and finishes lend an air of subtle sophistication. The décor includes a graceful blend of modern touches like ultra-high-speed WiFi, air conditioning, upgraded sound proofing, and thoughtful lighting, with traditional touches of dark wood floors, elegant lamps, and a closet complete with black wallpaper embossed with golden pineapples. One large black and white vintage scene is artfully framed in gold in every room, while custom-designed bedroom furniture and exquisite marble and tile bathrooms maximize utility and evoke an easy, residential-style experience with a nod to the property’s original design elements.”


Shower installation finished.

The Hotel Grace – formerly known as the Hotel California, and only five blocks away from Grace Cathedral — brings a sense of home to its guests with its “pets welcome” policy. Up to two canine companions (unlimited weight) are allowed to stay in select guest rooms, and the hotel provides a whole set of doggie delights, including a dog bed for the four-legged guests.

Another perk of the hotel for adventure-loving visitors are the Pineapple cruisers. A pineapple-yellow bicycle, complete with helmet and bike lock, is available free of charge to each guest. The front desk staff will even help hotel guests plan their cycling tour around the city.

Especially important in today’s world, Pineapple Hotels are dedicated to being stewards of the environment. In an effort to minimize its environmental impact, Hotel Grace uses environmentally conscious cleaning products, recycles, saves water, and supports local businesses. The hotel also makes it easy for guests to be earth friendly during their stay.


Marble tile installed on bathroom walls with Ultralite Mortar Pro and Ultracolor Plus grout.

All these amenities were part of the planned transformation of the former Hotel California into the Hotel Grace. Under the firm and practiced management of general contractor CCI, the insides of each floor in the building were gutted and new guest rooms with a modern touch went up at a well-scheduled pace.

MAPEI at work on the jobsite

The renovation of the bathrooms and the floor spaces in the hallways, lobby and bar were the work of Rubenstein’s of Seattle, members of NTCA, StarNet and Marble Institute of America. After the CCI crew had demolished old forms and fixtures, the former tub space in each guest bathroom was converted into a luxurious new shower using MAPEI’s ShowerPerfect LM system with liquid waterproofing membrane. The owner of Rubenstein’s had seen ShowerPerfect at The International Surface Event trade show; after a demonstration and mockup of the system, he convinced the property owners that this would be the best solution for modernizing the bathrooms. The system warranty provided by MAPEI added the final motivation for the selection of the system.


Close-up of ShowerPerfect Drain.

Before the ShowerPerfect installation could begin, the Rubenstein’s crews had to deal with the very old, uneven floors. They first used Mapecem Quickpatch and Planipatch to patch areas where plumbing had been shifted and where there were divots and/or trenches in the substrate. Next they poured Novopolan 2 Plus to level the uneven floors.

The ShowerPerfect systems were installed using Mapelastic AquaDefense as the liquid waterproofing membrane over the pre-sloped panels and walls of the showers. Mapelastic AquaDefense is a premixed, advanced liquid-rubber, extremely quick-drying waterproofing and crack-isolation membrane for installation under ceramic tile or stone in residential, commercial and industrial environments. Mapelastic AquaDefense provides a thin, continuous barrier to protect adjacent rooms and floors below from water damage. For common problem areas like coves, corners, cracks and drains, it can be combined with MAPEI’s optional Reinforcing Fabricor Mapeband™ accessories (cove roll and drain flash) to provide additional protection. Mapelastic AquaDefense dries after about 30 to 50 minutes and is then ready to receive any MAPEI polymer or epoxy mortar. Mapelastic AquaDefense can be flood tested after 12 hours of drying time, is IAPMO-listed for use as a shower pan liner, and exceeds ANSI A118.10 and ANSI A118.12 standards.


Installing tile in the lobby with Ultralite Mortar Pro and Ultracolor Plus grout.

MAPEI’s ShowerPerfect Linear Drain Assembly Kit was installed, allowing the crews to adjust the drains for a perfect fit in each shower. Rubenstein’s project manager, Michael Bradford, said that his company was on a very rigorous schedule to complete all the shower conversions, and he felt that ShowerPerfect helped them achieve their goals.
The showers walls and floor, plus the walls and floors in the rest of the bathroom were tiled with white, veined marble. The tiles were set with Ultralite Mortar Pro and grouted with efflorescence-free Ultracolor Plus grout. The backs of the tiles were sealed with MAPEI’s ECO Prim Grip.


Lobby tile completed.

Reducing cracks and sound in the lobby and bar

In the hotel lobby and bar area, an elegant design of black and white tiles was installed over Mapeguard 2 crack-isolation and sound-reduction membrane. Mapeguard 2 is a next-generation, flexible, thin, 40-mil (1-mm) lightweight, load-bearing, fabric-reinforced “peel-and-stick” crack-isolation membrane. After application, ceramic tile or stone can be installed immediately with any polymer-modified cement-based mortar. Mapeguard 2 helps to prevent existing or future in-plane floor cracks (with movement up to 3/8″ [10 mm] wide) from transmitting through grout, ceramic tile or natural stone. It also reduces the transmission of impact sound from footsteps, dropped objects, etc. and airborne sound from sources like voices and TV through floors when installed under ceramic tile and stone.


Tile on the lobby’s main staircase, installed with Ultralite Mortar Pro and Ultracolor Plus grout.

Mapelastic AquaDefense was used in certain areas in the lobby and bar for waterproofing. Ultralite Mortar Pro and Ultracolor Plus grout were also used for the installation of these tiles and the large-format tiles on the lobby stairs.

In hallways and common areas on the guest floors, carpet was installed using Ultrabond ECO 120 carpet adhesive from MAPEI.

MAPEI’s complete portfolio of surface preparation and flooring installation systems allowed the installer to meet all challenges that arose during the installations and to obtain a warranty to cover the project.

Project information

  • Project category: Hospitality – Hotel
  • Period of construction: 1913
  • Year of MAPEI involvement: 2015-2016
  • MAPEI coordinator: Chris Anderson
  • Project owner: Pineapple Hospitality
  • MAPEI distributor: Systematic Supply
  • Architect: Glenn Texeira, Stanton Architecture
  • General contractor: CCI General Contractors
  • Surface preparation contractor: Rubenstein’s
  • Tile and stone installers: Rubenstein’s
  • Floorcovering installers: Rubenstein’s
  • Project manager: Michael Bradford – Rubenstein’s
  • Photographer: Michael Bradford, Raul Ballester
  • Project size: 25,000 sq. ft.MAPEI products used
  • Mapecem Quickpatch
  • Novoplan 2 Plus
  • Planipatch
  • ECO Prim Grip
  • Mapeguard 2
  • Shower Perfect LM
  • Mapelastic AquaDefense
  • Ultralite Mortar Pro
  • Ultracolor Plus
  • Ultrabond ECO 120

Business Tip – September 2016

bus-rauschWhat’s on your bucket list versus what’s in your bucket

By Steve Rausch, industry consultant

Many folks spend time thinking about, and developing a fantastic “bucket list” about where they want to go on vacations and what they want to see and do. Yet those same folks rarely put this much effort into their business or work life. It doesn’t matter if you are the owner of a company or just an hourly employee, you should be spending some time working on your “business bucket list.” I have several starting suggestions below for you to consider.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “to-do list,” but consider adding a more important list, a “to think about” list. On this ongoing list you record the thoughts, ideas, and concepts you want to think about to help improve what you do in business to earn your living.

What about spending time improving your business skills? If you are the owner of the company, maybe you want to take a course at a local college on modern business management practices. If you’re the office manager, maybe consider a class on improving your business accounting skills. Many of you are installers, obviously, and there are a range of opportunities to improve your knowledge of the products you use daily and the skills you use to install those products. (Editor’s note: Consider attending a NTCA Tile & Stone Workshop or CTEF Educational Program when they roll through your area, an industry conference, take part in a NTCA Webinar or visit NTCA University to brush up on some skills and knowledge. Visit for more information on these opportunities, many of them free.) Knowledge does cost in terms of both your time and sometimes your money, however, the lack of knowledge costs far exceed the costs of staying current in your skills. One of my favorite statements is “IF you believe you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, where will you find the time to go back and fix the problem?”

What about spending time improving your communications skills?  The first key to good communication is to have a consistent way to gather information, knowledge, experiences and then a system that works for you to remember it, store it and have it available so that you can use it. And preparation is the key. I tried using 3” x 5” cards, however, that didn’t give me the ability to efficiently store and recall data. I now use a softcover-bound notebook so I have a permanent record. If you are using a smart phone or laptop, consider trying a program called Evernote (, which not only takes your notes and stores them, but allows you access from multiple locations.

Everything you do somehow is affected by and depends upon proper communications, so plan to spend time weekly improving these skills. People quickly judge you by your spoken or written words; make sure you communicate that you are a person worth spending time with.

Now finally, I want to share four words with you that I learned years ago in a course I took that has returned value to me every single month since I took that class:

Interest. Sharpen your curiosity and your interest in life, work, and people. Those are the big subjects: life, work, and people. What about life? The questions you might have about life and the mysteries of life. What about work? Develop questions about how to improve where you spend so much of your life, earning your living. And finally, what about people and human behavior? This skill will make everything else clear.

Fascination. NOW, go from being interested to being fascinated. Interested people want to know, Does it work? Fascinated people want to know, How does it work? What goes on below the surface? I can see that it works, but what makes it work?  Develop your ability to ask great questions.

Sensitivity. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes ( Try to feel what they feel. Try to hurt like they hurt. Have sympathy and compassion. Sensitivity is trying to understand where someone might be at the moment. The reason that they’re angry may not be obvious. Many times when folks lash out at someone, they are really angry at themselves or another situation and it just flows out in the wrong direction. The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is how to prevent this from happening FROM ME towards others.

Knowledge. So we’ve got interest, we’ve got fascination, and we’ve got sensitivity. Here’s one more word: knowledge. You just have to know. Collect knowledge in your journal, from your ongoing education. Fill up your mental and spiritual and emotional bank ( so that it becomes like an unending reservoir to draw from. Then take the time and effort to SHARE your knowledge with others. Consider becoming the trainer who teaches others those same skills you’ve worked so hard to learn.  Maybe even spend a few minutes writing a magazine article about what you’ve learned!

Steve Rausch has been involved in the tile and flooring business for over 30 years and is currently an industry consultant specializing in sales, marketing, and interpreting technical issues in understandable terms. You can contact Steve at [email protected] or 404-281-2218.

President’s Letter – September 2016

JWoelfel_headshotI have just had the worst experience in my career when it comes to dealing with distributors on a single project. Three different distributors each quoted the architect my contractor pricing. One of the architectural reps even gave the architect their estimate on the installation price. I understand this is now becoming commonplace in a lot of areas and it is seemingly getting worse.

My question to distributors is, “Are the pressures of sales so important that you are willing to cut the tile contractor out of their needed profit? If so, do you think that the tile contractor has any loyalty to keep your specification?”

I believe many distributors have no idea what my costs are on my installations. I am responsible for Medicaid/Medicare taxes, Social Security taxes, local, state and federal taxes as well as job-specific liability insurance (which includes things that could happen on the job, or damage that could happen because of a poor installation). In addition, I am responsible for workman’s comp, site-specific safety costs like personal protection equipment, job-specific safety plans for each new project, safety orientations on each new job. My job costs have to include new equipment like saws, grinders, new cutting equipment, diamond blades and core bits. My overhead includes electricity, computers, building payments truck maintenance, gas, forklifts and insurance on my building and equipment. My costs also include my financing of the tile we pay for when starting a new job. I also pay for my people to sit and wait at the distributor while they figure out where they have put my order.

Do I sound bitter? I am getting there. I understand fully that I take all of these costs on to be involved in my profession, knowing I better be making a profit to overcome these costs. Distributors sharing my prices with the architect, general contractor and end user create another obstacle for me to make a fair profit. In fact, one of the distributors said, “Just mark your labor up more.” What a moronic statement; obviously this person has no idea how a business is run.

If we are in the age of transparency in our industry, then I think that the distributors need to share their cost of material from the factory, and then have to justify their profit. I fully understand the costs of distributors; they have to mark up their materials to cover their costs, including salespeople and architectural reps. I also understand that they spend money to obtain these specifications.

Until now our company has been known for keeping distributor specifications and being loyal to them for their hard work. I am now questioning that process; a lot of distributors here in Phoenix have now lost my loyalty. It is my opinion that when distributors lose a good quality contractor’s loyalty, they will have a lot more job problems. As I have said many times over the years in seminars, good tile contractors need to find and associate with good distributors. I believe this is very true, but two of the three companies that gave the architect my pricing were “good” distributors, or so I thought. It is now my belief that tile contractors need to look out for themselves, and if distributors are going to go down this road, then tile contractors should feel no remorse breaking a specification or changing out products to their own trusted supplier. All we are doing is learning our lessons in loyalty from distributors.

P.S. A lot of distributors may balk at what I am saying, but at least I did not call out the names of these “reputable” distributors!

James Woelfel
President, NTCA

(Editor’s note: Interested in sharing your perspective? Please send email comments to [email protected])

Editor’s Letter – September 2016

Lesley psf head shot“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere” – Chinese proverb

When I talk to my non-industry family and friends about my work, a question I often get is, “How can you write so much about TILE?” The general public sees pretty tile in a home or a store, maybe knows a little about grout, but has no idea about the details and consideration that go into a tile installation.

Indeed, when I was writing and doing publicity about carpet and floor covering for decades, even I didn’t dream the tile industry was as intricate and involved as I came to learn. Coming from primarily a retail/sales perspective on floor covering, I didn’t realize the precision, engineering, and technical aspects that tile (and stone) installers have to deal with every single day – not to mention the artistry and business acumen that has to come into play. I’ve said in this column before that it was through attending the NTCA annual conference in Charlotte, N.C. in the fall of 2002 and talking with James Woelfel, that I got insight into the passion and the level of complexity that contractors need to encompass in day-to-day operations.

Add in the constant evolution of manufacturing technology and setting material refinements and you have plenty of material for a monthly (and then some) magazine on this topic!

This month’s issue is no exception. We focus intently on membranes and underlayments in this issue, from the MAPEI cover story on the company’s ShowerPerfect system, to contributed pieces on crack isolation and permeation by Dean Moilanen of Noble Company, acoustical underlayments by Ryne Sternberg of Pliteq, and our By The Book feature on membrane use in a steam shower, authored by Elizabeth and Dan Lambert, Five Star Contractors from near Vail, Colorado. There’s a wealth of information on the fine details of these subjects, for starters.

Then read about a recent gauged porcelain tile installation at the U.S. Tennis Association’s training and development center in Orlando. Five Star Contractor David Allen Company partnered with MAPEI and European Tile Masters – with early-on assistance from Crossville – to install Fiandre 5’ x 10’ Marmi Maximum Premium White tiles – 3 floors up. All partners putting their heads together made this installation a huge success.

And one of our stories this month is a preview of Total Solutions Plus – the eventual evolution of that NTCA conference I attended 14 years ago. The opportunities here for education and connection with colleagues and suppliers are immense. If you are still on the fence about attending, please read Bart Bettiga’s article and then go to to register.

There are lots of opportunities to learn more about our venerable industry – that’s what NTCA is all about. Whether it’s workshops or webinars, educational programs, conferences, or publications, NTCA has got it all going on to help you excel in your trade and get support while doing it.

God bless,

[email protected]

Business Tip – September 2015

SponsoredbyMAPEIAGCA report: 2015 construction up in 37 states from July 2014

This month’s Business Tip checks in with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) for a snapshot of what’s percolating in terms of construction activity across the country. Here’s the current report. – Lesley Goddin

Construction employment expanded in 37 states and the District of Columbia between July 2014 and July 2015, while only 28 states and D.C. added jobs between June and July, according to a recent analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA). Association officials noted that the construction industry appears caught between divergent economic trends that help employment in some areas and hurt it in others.

“Construction continues to grow overall but fewer states are participating in the expansion than was true a year ago,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The uneven growth reflects the cross-cutting trends in the overall economy, as tight government budgets, plunging commodity prices and weak overseas demand lead to project cancellations in some states even while activity accelerates elsewhere.”

California added more new construction jobs (48,900 jobs, 7.3%) between July 2014 and July 2015 than any other state. Other states adding a high number of new construction jobs for the past 12 months include Florida (26,500 jobs, 6.6%), Washington (15,300 jobs, 9.6%), Texas (14,400 jobs, 2.2%) and Michigan (12,400 jobs, 8.7%). Arkansas (14.9%, 6,800 jobs) added the highest percentage of new construction jobs during the past year, followed by Idaho (13.7%, 4,900 jobs), Nevada (10.7%, 6,800 jobs), Washington and Michigan.

Thirteen states shed construction jobs during the past 12 months, up from only three with construction job decreases a year earlier. West Virginia (-16.0%, -5,400 jobs) lost the highest percentage of construction jobs. Other states that lost a high percentage of jobs for the year include Rhode Island (-7.9%, -1,300 jobs), Ohio (-7.0%, -13,800 jobs) and Mississippi (-4.3%, -2,100 jobs). The largest job losses occurred in Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana (-5,100 jobs, -4.1%) and Mississippi. Construction employment was flat in Vermont.

Florida (4,800 jobs, 1.1%) added the most construction jobs between June and July. Other states adding a high number of construction jobs include Oklahoma (3,000 jobs, 3.9%), California (3,000 jobs, 0.4%) and Arizona (2,400 jobs, 1.9%). New Mexico (4.9%, 2,000 jobs) added the highest percentage of construction jobs during the past month, followed by Oklahoma, Arkansas (3.6%, 1,800 jobs) and Oregon (2.9%, 2,300 jobs).

Twenty-one states lost construction jobs during the past month while construction employment was unchanged in Virginia. New York (-4,500 jobs, -1.3%) shed more construction jobs than any other state, followed by Indiana (-4,400 jobs, -3.6%), Ohio (-2,300 jobs, -1.2%) and Connecticut (-2,200 jobs, -3.6%). Indiana and Connecticut lost the highest percentage of construction jobs between June and July, followed by West Virginia (-2.4%, -700 jobs) and Minnesota (-1.8%, -2,000 jobs).

Association officials said that contractors in parts of the country where construction demand is growing report worsening shortages of qualified workers to fill available positions. They said that as demand for construction continues to grow, those shortages will only get more severe.  That is why they urged federal, state and local officials to act on the measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan.

“Education officials need to include high-paying jobs in construction among the career choices they encourage and help prepare students to pursue,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer.



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