Stone Trends – TRENDS 2016

Transcending civilizations, the use of natural stone in architecture and design evokes a strong emotional experience. Valued for its versatility in format and overall aesthetic, natural stone has the power to enchant in iconic or everyday structures. One can bear witness to this impact, metamorphosing through antiquity from the great temples of ancient Greece into towering structures of the Roman Empire. Stone is eternal, with an ability to be refined, reused, reimagined and repurposed.

Stone’s characteristics are extremely unique, making it difficult to replicate its look and feel in manmade materials. The veining in many copies may appear authentic, however the color, tone and “hand” of a reproduction typically cannot achieve the nuances of a natural stone product. Specifiers will notice this difference. Combining these natural nuances with the desire for an authentic experience by the end user places natural stone at the top of the list of materials when designing any space. Advances in technology have given us new ways to elaborate, design and install natural stone, allowing endless options only limited by the specifier’s imagination.

Lifecycle advantages, monolithic effects

When considering the use of natural stone it is important to analyze the lifecycle cost, a process for evaluating the total financial impact of acquiring, owning and disposing of the product. Due to its extremely long life span, natural stone is a cost-effective material, although initial expenditure may appear higher than other options. As man’s oldest known building material, stone’s potential for a cradle-to-grave lifecycle can be used to the material’s best advantage, supporting its claim as a sustainable building material.

Today, specifiers are insisting on larger and thinner stone slabs and field tile, offering a monolithic effect with fewer grout joints. Tiles measuring 24” x 24” and 18” x 36” by 3/8” thickness are now accessible in many stones. It is possible to acquire cut-to-size panels (from slab) in sizes such as 48” x 48”, typically supplied at 3/4” thickness. Large sizes will command a premium, due to lower production output and yield rates from the block.

Thanks to improved manufacturing techniques increasing the array of available stone, full slab wall installations are resurging. This allows for book-matching or diamond-matching of the slabs, featuring the natural grace of an individual stone to define the space it occupies. Book-matching sharply-veined slabs provides a mirror-like reflection from one piece to the next, creating a symmetrical effect radiating from the joint between the slabs. In order to achieve the desired effect with natural stone slab walls, the slab selection and layout process is vigorous. The use of CAD programs allows the designer to accurately mock up the installation.

White marble, grey tones define today’s design

Historically, white marble quarried in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Asia, and the United States has been highly sought after for both interior and exterior use. This is no different today, with an abundance of varieties that range from clean, minimal veining, to graphically-veined displays. This plentiful marketplace of white marble allows for a nuanced selection that contributes to today’s clean and modern aesthetic. While white remains classic, grey tones are the fashion statement of the moment. Limestone, travertine, marble, quartzite, or soapstone, warm or cool, quiet or veined – the use of grey is the most significant color trend we have seen in recent years.

Quartzite: a good choice for kitchen countertops

In kitchens, the use of marble slabs has also grown dramatically in recent years. Whether honed or polished, clients must be informed of maintenance considerations as well as finish choices that minimize the risk of etching due to acid contact. For clients desiring the look of a marble countertop, but who are not willing to accept surface etching, the use of quartzite has grown in recent years. Although typically not available in tones quite as white as marble, certain varieties of quartzite do offer a light, contemporary color option, as well as grey tones. At the high end of the market, quartzite has largely replaced granites as the stone of choice for kitchen use. When considering a quartzite for a project, it is important to be informed as to its composition and acid sensitivity. Interestingly, despite its popularity in slabs, quartzite tile is still relatively scarce.

Vein cutting expands design options 

Counterpoint to the plethora of white surfaces, vein-cut material offers strong horizontal striped effects with a graphic contemporary feel. Travertine, once hugely popular in cross-cut varieties, now predominates in horizontal vein cut options. Advancement in production techniques, plus the use of reinforcing resins and fiberglass mesh, has allowed for a larger variety of vein-cut and heavily veined materials to be marketed. This gives the consumer access to a fantastic selection of colors and textures. In all cases, the use of fiberglass mesh backing will impact your setting material choice. When designing with vein-cut stones, consider the veining direction to make a space appear wider or taller, depending on the orientation of the tile. The use of heavily veined stones affords the specifier limitless direction in design, ensuring that the end result is a one-of-a-kind work.

Surface finishes add tactile dimension

Another important factor affecting the look and feel of any project is the escalating demand for textured finishes. Stone textures today are more refined than ever before, with inspiration coming from high-fashion fabrics and other textile surfaces. These new finishes are often lightly brushed, closing down the pores and highlighting the natural color in the stone. This is in sharp contrast to the rough, dusty, gritty textured stone finishes of the past.

Another unique benefit of natural stone is the potential for creating surface effects and dimensionality. When studying natural stone, one must imagine any vein or feature in three dimensions. Hand or machine carving patterns exploit these natural features and provide a dramatic backdrop for walls in any commercial or residential application. Visiting a quarry, seeing stone in-situ and inspecting blocks is the optimum method for appreciating these traits. This characteristic has led to the development of many three-dimensional patterns in natural stone, most too difficult to reproduce in man-made materials, especially in more deeply carved designs.

Stone stars in
waterjet patterns

The incorporation of natural stone into waterjet cut patterns has continued to grow in popularity. Inspired by ancient works from places such as the Church of San Marco in Venice or the Taj Mahal in India, today’s stone waterjet patterns offer the sophisticated union of art and technology. The ability to combine stones in a variety of colors and textures alongside glass, shell or metal, provides a striking contrast to natural stone. Furthermore, a seamless interlock within the overall pattern creates the sophisticated effect of an endless design. Bold geometric forms and elegant curves are at the forefront of current waterjet design.

Stone mosaics: a timeless design option

Stone mosaics employ the traditional technique of hand placing tesserae (small chips) into patterns, and continue to be a popular decorative option. Stone scraps and waste from the production process may be incorporated into the output of mosaics, yet another nod to the sustainable use of natural stone. Mosaic designs often derive their inspiration from ancient sources, adapting the pattern to meet modern design trends. Designers and specifiers often utilize this technique, incorporating new stone colors, finishes or waterjet cut shapes to give a more contemporary look and feel.

Stone: beauty from nature that transcends time

Natural stone use goes beyond trends and is part of the essential fabric of wherever humankind has chosen to live and build. Advances in technology, both in the processing and designing of natural stone, have allowed a multitude of new ideas to evolve. Informed selection and installation means there is virtually no limit to how natural stone can be beautifully incorporated into any space that can be imagined. Nothing is more authentic than to live with the most basic material from nature, the geology below our feet.

Tile Trends – TRENDS 2016

Tile trends of 2016 and beyond

By Joe Lundgren

As you embark on another visit to Coverings in Chicago, you will once again be exposed to the heartbeat of our industry’s new trends including sizes, shapes, thicknesses and new designs.

Our industry has come a long way with the introduction of inkjet technology. It’s also made great strides in the area of installation, allowing our installers to learn the correct methods to install a wide array of tiles. There was a time when 12” x 12” tiles were considered “large-format tile.” As we have seen over the past few years – and will see at Coverings 2016 – things have truly changed and will continue to evolve in the years to come.

First let’s define a trend with respect to the tile industry and not just a niche. A trend is a pattern of gradual change that we see in the industry and not a “one hit wonder” that fills a niche and is not a broad-selling category. You will see in the following article what industry experts have seen and expect to see grow in our market.

Is it thin or thick?
Sizes and shapes to come

Is it thin, thick or a large format? Is it square, rectangular or a new geometric shape including chevron and the everlasting hexagon? Over the past years we have seen the continued growth of the “Thin Tile Category,” and you will see more of this at Coverings as companies focus on training installers to ensure a quality installation of these ultra-thin and ultra-large format porcelains. Sizes will continue to grow in length and width as 24” x 24” and 8” x 36” have become more common and have evolved into 24” x 48” and 8” x 48”. On the other side of the spectrum you will see “thick” tiles as companies enter into the 2 cm category that will further the ceramic tile industry’s growth into exterior applications.

In terms of shapes, Emily Holle from MSI said, “Though hexagons are making a big splash, the hottest shape we see is the chevron. Forecast as the ‘must have’ motif in the upcoming year, dramatic chevron patterns appear as meshed components, printed and embossed details, and tile-works created with tiles sporting clipped corners. Unlike herringbone patterns, chevron patterns are all about the zigzag,” explained Holle. “In chevron patterns, tiles run point to point and the ends are cut at an angle to create a continuous zigzag design. In herringbone patterns, tiles finish perpendicular to each other, which results in a broken zigzag,” she said.

Wall tile comes up to date

Yes, we all know 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” and 6” x 6” tiles have dominated the wall tile category for years. However, wall tile is coming back stronger than ever with the emergence of “subway tile” into larger sizes including 3” x 12”, 4” x 12”, and 4” x 16” as well as three-dimensional shapes. You will also see the chevron and hexagon shapes making their way into wall tiles to allow the consumer a vast array of design flexibility. Even larger formats are being utilized with 12” x 24” sizes and larger now becoming the norm.

According to Sean Cilona of Florida Tile, “These larger wall tiles will begin to appear in new sizes like 14” x 39”. These tiles will include solid colors, but also true marble looks that replicate the actual stone so closely consumers prefer it over the “real thing” for maintenance benefits. While your market may utilize floor tile for wall applications, you will see a resurgence of wall tiles for the ease of installation and the wide range of designs. This lends itself to the minimalistic look that we see in many of the new high rise condominiums. Traditionally this has been in smooth monochromatic colors, but now you will see undulated, handmade looks with a variety of glazing techniques to enhance the appearance.

Wood brings nature into the home

Consumers are drawn to products that emulate the warmth and comfort of natural products like wood. Although this is not a new trend, this generation of wood looks continues to progress into authentic replications of actual wood to the point they are indistinguishable from real wood, with the benefits of easy maintenance and durability we find in tile. The distressed looks you will see are remarkable in terms of the visuals. The sizes – as with other categories – continue to grow into true plank sizes we see in real wood floors. The days of the 6” x 24” have been replaced by the 36” lengths and now 48”. This has not only been a residential focus, but also commercial, where we see architects and designers deinstitutionalizing their client’s environment with the natural products.

Cement continues to evolve

The cement look is no newcomer, but the resurgence of the worn concrete look that is a cool, clean and crisper impression of actual poured concrete will surprise you. The cross between industrial and refined design has come a long way. Initially, cement tiles were only used commercially, and we see these moving into residential applications as designs transcend plain cement looks to include more sophisticated visuals. The tile may look just like cement, but it goes one step beyond to be the perfect complement for the streamlined industrial aesthetic in your home. Manufacturers will continue to focus on the true natural use of colors with a range of large formats and textures.

Anne Demers of Specialty Tile Products, a premier distributor in Georgia and Florida, adds, “Concrete looks are still in high demand, but have become more decorative and soft, moving away from the industrial towards a refined palette, thereby securing their crossover into the residential market.”

Glass continues to shimmer

Glass came into the market years ago and has continued to expand into combinations of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Sylvie Atanasio of Studio S shared her views on glass: “All that glitters is gold, titanium or luster. Glass tile is no longer about being sleek and contemporary. It’s all about commanding attention, shouting: ‘Hey, look at me! Am I not the first thing you noticed?’ Glass tile has an attitude: look for 3D hand-poured glass with metal and luster finishes and antique or enameled mirror looks,” she said.

Rustic stone 

A large part of our market continues to be the real stone looks. As companies refine the capabilities of inkjet technology, the looks are becoming so realistic that it’s difficult to tell the difference. The ability to create a product with graphics that do not repeat has flourished and become a feature factories have incorporated into the visuals, emulating real stone graphics and colors. Florida Tile’s Cilona said, “We will see more of the stone looks in both soft and strong graphics begin to move into our market from abroad.”

Bricks: Wait, is that tile?

While typically viewed as a category outside of the tile industry, the brick look has roared its way into our product portfolios. The look has mirrored that of the feel and aura of vintage brick, bringing nature into the fold as consumers move to the urban look and feel in their homes.

According to Michael Mariutto from Mediterranea, “We are doing extremely well all across the USA with our original Chicago and New York Brick series, and I believe that this is just the beginning of a design trend that could last for many years to come. Porcelain brick has a multitude of diverse applications such as driveways, home entries, pool decks, back splashes, accent walls and main floors and baths. It is quite clear that porcelain brick is here to stay, and is one of the most unique and versatile products currently on the market!” he explained.


2016 invites surrendering to the complexity of whites and greys in both the residential and commercial markets. While considered neutrals, we will see more whites and greys used with an edgy approach in design. The white/grey trend goes with everything and comes in hundreds of shades and tones. Warm, cool, dark, light – you name it and it’s yours. Black and white schemes will also continue to be popular. The beige and browns will reign supreme for the natural stone looks but with more soft, subtle and stable hues. Neutrals as the basis of the kitchen allow you to accent with color and as a result will continue their popularity.



Editor’s Letter – February 2016

Lesley psf head shot“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” 
– Albert Einstein

A couple of topics for this letter.

First, I want to post this photo, taken in December 2015 at association headquarters in Jackson, Miss., of the brand new, updated NTCA logo and most of the NTCA staff and distinguished guests. The porcelain logo was created for the association by Tom Ade and Filling Marble & Tile in Egg Harbor City, N.J. It just so happened that the installation of the logo coincided with a visit of most of the staff to headquarters for year-end meetings, planning, and a holiday dinner. Shown are (l. to r.): Sandy Bettiga, Bart Bettiga, Lesley Goddin, Mark Heinlein, Mary Shaw-Olson, Jim Olson, Becky Serbin, Scott Carothers, Michael Whistler, Jill Whistler, Tricia Moss and Michelle Chapman. Missing is Lisa Murphy, NTCA accountant, and Joe Tarver, NTCA executive director emeritus.

NTCA-staffSecond, I want to further the discussion, started in the December Editor Letter, about solutions to the labor shortage in the U.S.

Just this second week in January, we received a report from the Associated General Contractors of America that showed in December, construction firms added 45,000 workers, as construction unemployment continued its decline from 8.3% a year ago to the current 7.5%.

One of the telling aspects of the report, however, was this statement: “Association officials noted that most contractors remain concerned about shortages of available construction workers, noting that 70% of contractors report having a hard time finding workers. They urged federal, state and local officials to act on measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to support new career and technical education programs. In particular, they called on Congress to enact needed reforms and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.”

SEVENTY percent. That’s huge. I don’t currently have a figure for the tile industry, but I suspect it would be in a similar ballpark. Which brings us back to the December letter.

We received a lot of feedback to this letter – phone calls to Bart in the office and emails to me – thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! Some respondents were very favorable to the idea of exploring the possibility of importing labor in the form of skilled, certified Mexican workers on a temporary basis to help alleviate some of the immediate labor shortages that are plaguing our industry; some also cited personal experience with excellent work of Mexican laborers they had worked alongside.

Others misunderstood the intent of the letter, fearing an influx of unskilled, undocumented workers, which was never part of the original discussion. But the point was made numerous times about the importance of developing U.S. resources, whether in trade schools, recruiting ex-military – goals NTCA is involved in at various levels, including our online apprentice program in development. And in fact, NTCA president James Woelfel added this comment:

“Young African-American males between the ages of 16-19 are unemployed at the rate of over 20% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young women are in the same range. Here in Arizona young Navajo males are at around 70% unemployment, these numbers are staggering.

“Have we as an industry done our best to reach out to these diverse groups? I don’t think so. Are we selling our own citizens short? We need to do better in outreach to the younger people in our country, no matter the ethnicity (Ed. note – And, I would add, the gender). We have plenty of opportunity in our industry to employ young Americans.”

Well said, and great points. And yet I can’t help thinking that while all the plans to develop U.S. resources are good ones that should definitely be pursued, this issue is that educating, training, enticing and convincing U.S. citizens to enter the field, obtain necessary training and certification and make tile setting their life’s work takes a long time. Certainly, a great goal to shoot for and to attract more U.S. workers into the field from trade school paths, ex-military, inner city populations.

Yet we have an immediate need  – a NOW need – for workers. SEVENTY percent of construction contractors report a shortage. Would a program to certify skilled Mexican workers to help alleviate this situation be able to be implemented more quickly? That is anyone’s guess. But it might make sense to initiate efforts on both fronts. Once any obstacles are overcome in getting these trained workers here legally, we would be working with a population that has the desire to work in this field vs. starting from square one when it comes to plans to recruit U.S. workers.

I invite continuing discussion on this topic, and let’s see what arises!


[email protected]

Are You Paying Attention? – January 3, 2016

Back in August of last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down a new standard that “rewrites U.S. Labor law and upends thousands of business relationships”. Their reasoning is that the old standard was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances”. Reaction was swift with several calling it “alarming” and “fundamentally unrealistic”. The new rule stems from the board’s watershed Browning-Ferris decision which dealt with joint-employer relationships. While the rule will have far reaching effects on industries from staffing companies to franchises, it will also have great effect on the construction industry in terms of how our labor is classified. And yes you should at the very least be aware and even concerned.

The focus of this ruling for our industry concerns the classification of labor into the camps of employees and sub-contractors. While the NLRB, the governmental agency that implements the National Labor Relations Act, has found it within their jurisdiction and infinite wisdom to reverse several decades of practice in labor relationships, they are of the opinion that the line between the two to be blurred to the point that action separating them must be taken. The dissenters on the board who voted against this decision said it “reverses several prior decisions that established clear standards…all of which had been approved by powerful federal courts of appeal”. This is specifically addressing the use of 1099-based labor in the construction industry.

I’m sure many are aware of the IRS’s 20 Point Checklist for Determining an Independent Contractor ( which has been used in the past to make the distinction between an employee and a subcontractor. It now appears that the NLRB wishes to go beyond this already stringent test to make it even more so as the Obama administration chases “perceived worker rights abuses” as a main target as increased funding to both the NLRB and the IRS has increased in the last few years. The rule seems to actively seek to “restrict and tighten the use of independent contractors “ in the construction industry. This matter is especially poignant to the homebuilding industry since the NAHB states that a typical builder “relies on an average of 22 subcontractors to build a typical single family home.” Much of this stems from the toughening stance put forth from the Department of Labor and an administrator’s opinion that stated that the DOL “is putting more weight on a subcontractor’s economic independence when it decides whether that sub really ought to be regarded as an independent enterprise”. No longer is the IRS’s checklist enough. Now subcontractors must show “the managerial and business skills that are part of being and independent contractor, not just providing skilled labor”.

At stake is misclassification of your labor, if you use subcontractors, and the perception that they should have been W-2 based employees. The money it could cost you if they deem you have breached their new rules “can be ruinous”. It has been said that “reclassification attacks are very expensive to defend” and the resulting actions trigger a “domino-like effect” that if you lose your case can have you paying beloved fees such as past due overtime, past due health insurance, past due retirement benefits, past due employee benefits, past due worker’s compensation insurance, past due state and federal withholding taxes plus penalties and interest and enormous legal fees to the other side.

I doubt any installation contractors in our industry want to incur such onerous penalties that could potentially put them out of business, so each must understand the risks and rewards of this issue. This issue is currently being researched and information is being disseminated by the installation industry. There has even been a period of time after this ruling for associations such as ours to comment to the NLRB our opinion of the rule and how it will affect our members.

There has been legislation proposed in Congress to undo the rule by representatives whose constituents have shown an “immense backlash” to it. I urge you to consider the ramifications of the NLRB’s new rule on your business and our industry. Do some research into how the rule will be applied in your state. I also urge you to contact your legislators to support, as one congressman put it, “commonsense proposals that would restore policies in place long before the NLRB’s radical decision, the very same policies that served workers, employers, and consumers well for decades.”

A program on this very subject will be presented at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas and is just one of the educational opportunities available there January 19.

Qualified Labor – January 2016







CTI exam tests and teaches Hawthorne Tile’s project manager Shon Parker learns from the Certified Tile Installer evaluation

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing


Shon Parker

In 2014, when Shon Parker of Hawthorne Tile walked into his local Portland, Ore., Daltile, he glanced at the modules for the hands-on portion of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Test and thought it would take only a few hours to complete. He was surprised that it took six hours, and that the written part of the test was so thorough. “The hands-on [test] looks deceptively easy, and just like the written test, was broad in what was being tested…given the small space it was in.”

Parker started in the tile industry in 1987 and has been a journeyman for 20 years. He describes the hands-on portion as “not too bad,” but admits the written portion “took a bit of studying.” He explains, “I felt I had a good understanding of specifications in our industry before the test, but going through some of the questions made me realize how much is really out there.”

Parker learned about the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certifications at a Schluter training event for NTCA contractors. After talking to NTCA assistant executive director Jim Olson about the CTEF, Parker and two other installers from Hawthorne Tile signed up for the certification.

“When I heard about the opportunity,” Parker said, “I thought it would be an asset for our company and something to set us apart from our local competition.” Since becoming certified, Parker said the installers at Hawthorne Tile “educate our clients and builders prior to starting any project. We also spend more time at our vendors and chatting with our reps to make sure we are always moving forward to produce a better product.”

Parker feels like he has a better understanding about his industry than a lot of his competition. “Hawthorne Tile has always been about giving our clients the best-looking project we can. Now we know we can give them a well-functioning and technically correct one as well.”

The benefits of becoming certified are obvious to Parker. “Why wouldn’t you [become certified]?” Parker asked. “As more people understand the value of what [certification] means, it will increase your worth to employers and clients,” Parker said. “It’s really one of the best ways to bring up wages in our industry.” He likens it to someone who goes to college for computer programming and obtains a degree – that person will get “a better salary than a guy playing around on his laptop and reading some books in his spare time,” he said.

Parker pointed out that the trade now relies both on hands-on skills as well as an important base of knowledge. “To be successful, you need to be equally skilled at both,” he said. “There are so many new materials out and designers asking to put tile in new locations, plus all the new things tile is being made out of, from new types and sizes of glass to the relatively new thin porcelain type of material like Laminam. Education is key to keeping your liability as low as possible.”

Going through the certification process winds up being educational even though it’s a testing program. During his CTI testing, Parker learned about thin-set coverage and the differences between thin-set mortars. “I always knew that more coverage was better,” Parker said, “but there are differences between wet vs. dry locations.”

Hawthorne Tile now has a page on its website dedicated to education. Parker himself has been through his local union apprenticeship program and training from Nuheat and wedi. He enjoys attending classes that manufacturers host because they allow him to learn new things and keep up on current trends in the industry. Next, Parker is planning on taking the Ceramic Tile Inspection course also offered by CTEF.

Thin Tile

SponsoredbyMAPEIThin tile project combines on-site training and expert installation

Laminam by Crossville, MAPEI, and Schluter products make detailed bank project a success

By Lesley Goddin

When the Commerce Bank in Garden City, Kan., sought to build a new facility, they wanted a clean, easy-to-maintain material on all its bank teller walls.


The Fox Ceramic Tile team uses prescribed tools and equipment to safely move large thin porcelain tile (TPT) on the Commerce Bank job.

Howard & Helmer Architecture of Wichita, Kan., turned to Laminam by Crossville, a large thin porcelain tile to get the job done. The 1m x 3m Urban Influence Filo 3+ offered a subtle metallic chain mail-like texture in the dark grey Ghisa hue.

“We chose to use the Laminam porcelain product at the Commerce Bank teller stations not only because of the aesthetic quality, but also the exceptional durability that it offers at high traffic areas,” said David White, AIA, president of Howard & Helmer Architecture.

This was to be a challenging installation, said Kevin Fox, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile from St. Marys, Kan., who was charged with the project. “It was a very difficult one because of the detail of the cuts and all the corners using Schluter metals that was required,” Fox said.


The crew back butters the Laminam by Crossville large thin porcelain tile to achieve complete coverage.

The first step was being sure all the installers on the project were trained on how to handle, work with and install the Laminam panels, which are only 3 mm thick.

Enter Brent Stoller, installation specialist and training manager with ISC Surfaces with locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) training director Scott Carothers said, “ISC Surfaces is the only Laminam training facility in the U.S. outside of Crossville itself.” Stoller is a very supportive board member of CTEF. He received CTEF’s CTI Host of the Year award in 2014, and is on record for hosting the largest number of Certified Tile Installer tests at one site. So Stoller “desires to see installations done correctly and is always willing to offer assistance when needed,” Carothers added.


Schluter Rondec and outside corners gave an elegant finish to the walls.

To that end, Stoller came from Kansas City to the Garden City jobsite to train Fox’s crew before they began the project. “[He helped] train our tile setters on the latest techniques using the most up-to-date installation tools,” Fox said.

“The ISC Surfaces location in Kansas City, Kan., has been doing Crossville/Laminam Training since December of 2012, training 27 installation companies with 81 installers through December 2015,” Stoller explained.

“Our trainings are done in our Kansas City location based on tool requirements; full panel installations, floor and wall, and the transportation issues inherent with those requirements,” he continued. The company offers its customers job-site starts and first-day supervision especially on a first-job scenario based on job-start timing and Stoller’s availability.

ISC Surfaces arose from a blend of several companies over the years: Interstate Supply, Case Supply and AMC Tile, said Stoller. Case supply was the Crossville distributor in the Kansas City territory. Over the past 23 years, Stoller’s relationship with Crossville’s Tim Bolby and ISC’s proactive approach to training


Installing the Laminam by Crossville TPT.

and industry commitment through training opened the door to partner with Crossville. In December 2012, ISC was invited on board by Crossville to grow the segment of thin porcelain tile. Active in all levels of the industry, ISC Surfaces is also a host site for both the CTEF CTI and ACT programs with six locations in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and service to Southern Illinois.

Once trained at the job site, Fox’s team of Certified Tile Installers had additional obstacles to overcome. “We had to work around the countertops,” Fox said.

All installation materials were from MAPEI, starting with the primer for the exterior-grade plywood substrate: MAPEI ECO Prim Grip, with MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar for the Laminam sheets, grouted with MAPEI Ultracolor Plus. MAPEI sales rep Brett Robben worked with Fox to develop a package of products that offered single-source benefits and a system warranty.

The project took a tremendous amount of care and precision. “Although only 20 sheets of Laminam were used, the installation consumed 60 pieces of Schluter Rondec and 50 outside corners,” Fox said.

The completed project offers sleek, easy-to-maintain work stations for tellers, expertly installed.


A lippage control system keeps both pieces of TPT per wall side flush. Walls were installed, and counters assembled.

Tech Talk – January 2016

TEC-sponsorSelecting the right grout for the job

By Tom Domenici, TEC Western Technical Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

It’s easy for contractors to get lost in the sea of grout product offerings. While grout color is crucial to design, grout type is integral to tile installation performance and longevity. Using the proper grout for a job helps ensure a successful tile installation – it’s only a matter of learning what grouts work best for specific applications.


Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful installation.

Cement grouts: sanded or unsanded? 

Cement grout, which is made of cementitious powder, is easy to work with and is traditionally valued by contractors. Cement grout is mixed with water, and is then slaked and remixed before application. This allows the water, portland cement and other ingredients to react properly for a successful installation. Cement grout can be either sanded or unsanded.

Unsanded cement grout is designed specifically for grouting small joints up to 1/8” wide. Unsanded grout is often used on walls, tub enclosures and countertops. It also can be used for grouting marble and other natural stone floor, where sanded grouts could scratch delicate tile surfaces. Unsanded cement grout should not be used on grout joints greater than 1/8” in width as it may shrink or crack.

Sanded cement grout can be used for grout joints 1/8” wide and larger. Sanded grout is primarily used for floor tile applications or for walls and countertops with wider joints. Sanded grout should not be used on certain tile surfaces, including sensitive glazed ceramic tile, glass, marble, stone and agglomerate tile as it can scratch, stain or damage the tile surface. Follow tile manufacturer recommendations or test a small area prior to use to determine its suitability.

Ready-to-use grouts 

Ready-to- use grouts can provide a crack/shrink/stain-resistant grout solution for time-sensitive installations. Premixed grouts are often used in both interior and exterior environments. Unlike cement grout, ready-to-use grout doesn’t require mixing with water. The pail can be simply opened and the grout applied – saving mixing time. In addition to time-saving benefits, another advantage of ready-to-use grout is that unused portion of the product can be sealed in the container and can be reused later for touchups or other jobs.

Epoxy grouts

Made of epoxy resins, epoxy grout is extremely durable and virtually stain proof. It is ideal for environments that are exposed to harsh conditions or chemicals – such as commercial kitchens and restaurants. However, epoxy grout may be difficult to work with during installation.
Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful 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®, ProSpec®, Foster®, and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit

Business Tip – January 2016


Harpooning the whale, part I: a profit improvement report for distributors


By Dr. Albert D. Bates, Profit Planning Group

Each year, Dr. Albert D. Bates, the president of the Profit Planning Group, prepares a Profit Improvement Report for CTDA. 

What follows is part one of this report, which he has titled “Harpooning the Whale.” In this section, Bates examines the Economics of Customers. In part two, which will appear in the April TileLetter, Bates will discuss Changing the Profit Relationship. 

One of the most widely-discussed topics in distribution today is the fact that a lot of customers and a lot of items lose money for the company. That is, the cost of servicing a large component of the customer set or handling many of the items is larger than the gross margin dollars generated by those customers or items.

While the economics of the situation are fairly straightforward, the implications for action are not. One widely suggested option is to eliminate items and customers that don’t cover their costs. It is a quick and easy solution.

Another option is to work on enhancing margins or lowering costs to overcome the profit deficit. This approach is both time-consuming and difficult.

Because the observations regarding customer profitability are largely mirrored by item profitability, this report will focus exclusively on the profit realities of customers for CTDA members. The report will examine customer profitability from two perspectives:

  • The Economics of Customers – An analysis of how customers break out into widely varying profitability groupings.
  • Changing the Profit Relationship – A discussion of how profitability can be enhanced by working with customers.

The Economics of Customers

Within every line of trade in distribution, including CTDA, there are wide variations in customer purchasing patterns. Some customers buy a lot of merchandise, others buy very little. Some customers are aggressive price negotiators while others are more service oriented. Finally, some customers are the proverbial “squeaky wheel” while others are easier to work with.

These factors come together to produce widely-varying levels of profitability across the distributor’s customer set. At one extreme, customers who purchase a lot of products, are service oriented (rather than price oriented) and don’t “have issues” tend to be highly profitable for the distributor. At the other extreme, some customers who are high maintenance actually result in a loss for the distributor.

Unfortunately, there are only a few of the highly-profitable customers and a fairly large number of the unprofitable ones. This relationship between customers and the profitability they produce for the distributor is often referred to as the “whale curve.” It is shown graphically in Exhibit 1.

Customers are ranked from most profitable to least profitable along the horizontal axis. The percent of total profit generated is presented on the vertical axis. The graph looks something like a whale, albeit a rather anemic one.

As can be seen, the most profitable customers cause total firm profit to rise quickly. Somewhere along the way the slope changes as additional customers generate profit at a lower rate. Finally, the curve starts back down as some customers cause the firm to lose money. Eventually the curve ends up at the 100% of total profit level.

BT-graphThe typical CTDA member generates $500,000 in profit. For that firm, the customers fall into four categories based upon the profit they generate for the distributor. The A customers are the most profitable and the D customers are the least profitable – the money losers.

The relationship for customers and profit tends to be a little more dramatic when put into tabular form:


The fact that the typical firm loses $225,000 on slightly more than one-third of their customers is not an inconsequential issue. Potentially, dollar profit could be increased by 45% through concerted effort.

Dr. Albert D. Bates is founder and president of Profit Planning Group. His recent book, Breaking Down the Profit Barriers in Distribution is the basis for this report. It is a book every manager and key operating employee should read. It is available in trade-paper format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

©2015 Profit Planning Group. CTDA has unlimited duplication rights for this manuscript. Further, members may duplicate this report for their internal use in any way desired. Duplication by any other organization in any manner is strictly prohibited.


CTDA is always looking for ways to improve the benefits of membership. CTDA offers many benefits to members including:

• Education via a variety of programs that focus on training new employees, educating customers on tile shade variation, webinars on industry issues and more.

• Connecting with the industry through annual events like Total Solutions Plus and Coverings, and networking op-portunities through CTDA committee in-volvement. 

• National exposure for products and services for distributors, manufacturers and allied members.

• Controlling costs through discounts on a wide range of services from shipping to collection services, telephone charges, auto rentals and more.

• Staying informed on association and industry news and issues through a variety of communication vehicles and social media outreach.

• Managing opportunity through “snapshots” of the association and industry gleaned through regular surveys of vital business activities. 

For more information, contact CTDA at [email protected] or by calling 630-545-9415.

Ask the Experts – January 2016



I have a small tile job at the TIA (Tampa International Airport). The general contractor (GC) is directing us to start the work with temporary lighting that is not very good. We have asked that they place either the permanent lighting or temporary light “representative” of the permanent lighting so that we can see exactly the conditions for the installation.

I could have sworn that I read something at some point with regard to tile being installed in the lighting in which it is to be used.Can you help me with some type of literature on this item?



Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association. I am happy to provide you with some information to help you respond to your GC regarding the installation of tile under poor temporary lighting conditions that are likely not representative of the permanent lighting.

We are not aware of a requirement for the GC to install the permanent lighting before tile work commences. However, you are correct to be concerned about the location of permanent lighting and its potential effect on viewing the finished surface of the tile installation. The angle of natural or manufactured light on finished tile work may cause an acceptable installation to have an unacceptable appearance.

While there is no specific method that addresses installation of lighting, the 2015 edition of the TCNA Handbook includes a statement about various types of lighting and their effect on wall and floor tile installations. When proper backing surfaces, installation materials, installation methods, location of light sources and certain lighting techniques are not carefully coordinated, shadows and undesirable effects may be apparent on finished ceramic tile installations.

The 2015/2016 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual includes an extensive discussion of critical lighting effects on tile installations. This discussion is found in Chapter 5, “Special Installation Procedures,” and addresses many problems along with tips and preventive measures tile contractors can take or recommend before the installation begins. Also included is a series of photographs that boldly illustrate the effect lighting can sometimes have on a tile installation.

The success of your particular installation will depend on a variety of factors such as: flatness of the substrate (which will have a profound effect on the flatness of the finished tile surface); the type of tile being installed; the pattern the tile will be installed in; the inherent warpage of the tile; the grout joint width; any out-of-tolerance lippage of the finished tile installation, etc.

As required by ANSI, we encourage you to construct a mockup of the area to be tiled and illuminate it with an accurate representation of the permanent lighting installation. Have the GC or architect review the mockup and accept it in writing before beginning the tile installation.

If you are a member of the NTCA, please review pages 139 – 144 of the NTCA Reference Manual. There you should find all the information you need, including a sample letter you will be able to reformat as your own company’s formal communication to the GC and/or the owner.

If you are not a member of the NTCA, please visit our website at or contact me and I will be happy to assist with your application.

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Technical Trainer

President’s Letter – January 2016

Taking stock of 2015; moving forward into 2016

JWoelfel_headshotI hope all of you had a happy New Year celebration. It was great to take some time and decompress from the world of tile contracting. We are fortunate here at Artcraft that we are extremely busy with new and challenging work.

I spent a lot of time last year writing about how tile contractors need to do a better job of following industry standards, keeping up with the latest technologies, taking advantage of NTCA educational opportunities and installing tile better. This month I want to write about how you and your distributors need to work as a team.

In November of this last year, my company had the worst experience we have ever had with a distributor who was out of New York City. We were installing product on an out-of-town project and when the material arrived from the distributor to the jobsite, we decided that the product was unacceptable. We brought this product issue to the attention of the general contractor, who then informed the owner. They both agreed, and the material was rejected. This is when the fun began.

After contacting the distributor immediately, the distributor, instead of reacting quickly, used the next 24 hours to make numerous excuses. When the owner finally said to replace the material, the distributor sent a new shipment to the jobsite. The 24-hour delay forced me to keep my people out of town over the weekend, costing me money for salary, food and lodging. I approached the distributor to help offset some of my costs and was refused.

I was disappointed to say the least. My good distributor partners here in Phoenix would have come to the table to help offset some of my costs; I know this from past experience. Our action on this project prevented a huge issue that would have resulted if we had installed the unacceptable product.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned to read the fine print on invoices, since my invoice from this supplier included language holding them harmless from charges due to their tile problems. I learned that if we decide to buy tile from an unfamiliar source, I will make sure that I read the invoice very closely. And I will most likely only do business with distributors I know, and distributors that support our industry and our association.

In short, tile contractors need to develop and cultivate good solid relationships with suppliers/distributors, in return these suppliers/distributors must do their job to put out the best material possible to us tile contractors. Distributors must realize that doing business with good, qualified tile contractors actually saves them money and headaches.

Good distributors do step up to the plate when there are problems; bad distributors don’t. I have learned another valuable lesson, and my company will be better for it, so I hope all of you can learn from my experience.


James Woelfel


P.S. If you want to know the distributor that I had issues with, please call or email. I will gladly share the name.

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