Sacramento contractor strikes out on his own after recession; invests in certification

Russell Laird, of A+ Tile & Stone in Sacramento, Calif., (aplustileandstone.thebluebook.com) has made a name for himself in the tiling world, aiming for excellence in his typically commercial, public works projects. 

“Quality is what sets me apart from my competition,” Laird said. “I personally oversee every project and train my employees to do an excellent job so we don’t ever have any patch work or callbacks.” Though his company considers itself a commercial contractor, it applies this same level of quality to residential work for friends and family. 

It wasn’t an easy start. When the recession forced the company Laird was working for to close, he decided to go out on his own. “It was slow going at first,” he explained. “I had to bid very low to land work, but managed to grow each year. Now I am doing large commercial projects for the big reputable contractors like Turner and pricing has bounced back to a respectable level. I hope it stabilizes for a while.”

Laird’s firm foundation allowed him to springboard into his own company in 2010. “I starting doing tile in 1989 for Custom Tile in Oroville where I learned residential (mud work) and some commercial,” he said. “Around 1994 I started working for companies in Sacramento, where I learned larger commercial, which I prefer, and have found my niche today.”

For this pool deck in the San Francisco Bay area, A+ Tile & Stone floated an entire deck that was stamped concrete to make it flat enough to receive large format 12” x 24” tiles. The crews used uncoupling membrane over the entire floor and expansion joints per EJ-171. They finished off with stainless steel edge trim at pool edge and bottom of skirt.

About six years ago, Laird chose to join NTCA, “to be associated with like-minded people who constantly strive to improve and learn. The greatest value from being a member is meeting and learning from other members.”

After three years of association membership, Laird decided to pursue NTCA Five-Star Contractor status. 

“What led me to seek Five-Star is striving to be the best in my field,” Laird explained, adding, “It levels me with union companies as far as some bidding opportunities, and allows me to bid on some commercial projects that I would otherwise be excluded from. It has benefitted my company by allowing me to bid these projects – and I really like including the Five-Star logo on my company shirts.”

Laird is a big believer in the strength of qualified labor, and has made it a goal to get his installers credentialed. “We currently have four installers certified, which is 100% of my full-time installers including myself,” he said. “We all took our test at Surfaces in Vegas, which is about a 10 hour drive for us.” Laird himself is CTI #1091 (See TileLetter’s Qualified Labor story in December 2015, for details), and passed his exam in January, 2015.

“Every year I try to take one person to Surfaces to get certified,” he said. “I took two in 2016, one in 2017 and missed 2018. But I believe I have one ready for this year.”

Being a tile contractor holds many benefits for Laird. “The greatest joy I get from being a tile contractor is I get to pay my bills,” he said.  “Each job is different, so it’s not boring – and I am passing on my knowledge to my two sons so they can take over my company some day when I retire, if they choose. It is also satisfying to see the completed project – which completely transforms the area – and have satisfied customers.”

This lobby at Truckee Public Utility Office features an inlay of Donner Lake with blue tile and river with pebble stone. This remodel had an existing slab that varied 1-1/2“ in elevation, so Laird and his crew ground 1/2” off the high spots and floated everything level to that. They chose this strategy because the elevator was at that elevation and not movable. The floor angled down to the front door to meet that elevation, bending at a grout joint. The contractor employed a tile band saw for some of the radius cuts.

 

John Roberts Designs, LLC: from mud to membership and beyond

Roberts tells the tale of 40 years in the tile industry, and still going strong

I started in the tile industry almost 40 years ago, working as an apprentice. My first day on the job was spent at a mud box with a mud hoe in my hands. When I started out, everything we did was mud. All walls and floors were hand mudded. It wasn’t too long that my tile mechanic had a hawk and trowel in my hand and was teaching me how to mud walls and mud floors. We did mostly commercial work and I traveled all over the Southeastern U.S.

We did a lot of work at Walt Disney World, and one of the coolest projects at Disney was working on the world’s largest sundial building, when it opened in 1991. It was designed by architect Arata Isozaki and holds the Guinness World Record of

Roberts worked installing tile on the world’s largest sundial at Walt Disney World, in 1991.

being the world’s largest sundial. We helped tile the outside facade with 3” round green circles, one at a time. 

After traveling for 15 years doing tile work in the Southeast, I hung up my commercial work boots and married an interior designer and formed a design-build business based in Orlando, Fla. I continued to install tile, but in high-end residential projects. One memorable project was in Telluride, Colo., for a vice president of Marriott Corp., who hired our firm to completely remodel a ski house. After living in sunny Central Florida most of my life, I learned quickly about Carhartt jackets and bucket heaters for your wet saw in February.

In 2008, after the economy had crashed and the Central Florida market died, I decided to move to Atlanta, Ga. Fast forward 10 years – I am now outside Dalton, Ga., close to the mountains. 

After many years of commercial tile setting, Roberts now installs tile in high-end residential projects.

 

Joining NTCA

Roberts is a Regional Evaluator, helping to bring CTI tests to interested tile setters all over the Southeast.

Through social media and tile groups I found out about and joined the NTCA in the fall of 2015 – one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have made many friends in the tile industry and am very proud to call a lot of them tile brothers and sisters. I attended my first NTCA workshop early in 2016 and met Scott Carothers, the director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), who encouraged me to take my Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test. In Dec. of 2016 I took my test in Pendleton, S.C. at CTEF along with a special Tile Love/ Schluter sponsored workshop. The best Christmas present ever was finding out I passed my test to become CTI #1278. I then volunteered to become an NTCA State Ambassador. In 2017 I became a Regional Evaluator for CTEF and hold CTI tests all over the Southeast. This has been truly meaningful to me, as I love teaching younger installers the trade and it has become a passion, to teach them industry standards.

In March of 2018, I helped NTCA Five-Star contractors Woody Sanders (DW Sanders Tile and Stone Contracting, Inc., Marietta, Ga.) and Rod Owen (CC Owen Tile Co., Inc., of Jonesboro, Ga.), and NTCA member Cain Curtis (A Tile Experience, Atlanta, Ga.) with the Georgia Skills/CEFGA high school tile competition. I helped to build the modules and judge the competition. This was a great experience for me, as I got to help instill a love for our industry to these young students.

The camaraderie of Coverings

Roberts joined DW Sanders Tile and Stone Contracting, Inc, to set tile in the Installation Design Showcase Tiny House project during Coverings 2018.

In May of 2018, I was asked by my friend Woody Sanders to help install the tile in a tiny house at the Coverings Installation Design showcase in Atlanta. This brought me back to working my commercial days with big crews in tight spaces. It was a great experience for me, and I am grateful to be asked to participate. These tiny houses were later towed to my hometown of Orlando, Fla., where they were set up in a park and rented out as Air B&Bs. Maybe some lucky person will stay in one of them for the upcoming Coverings 2019, which will be held in Orlando.

I highly encourage everyone involved in the tile industry to attend this show. You will not be disappointed. I have attended many Coverings shows, and Orlando is one of the top venues. This year I met so many people that I knew from the tile groups. One that comes to mind is “the man, the myth, the legend” 2018 Coverings  Rock Star Jason McDaniel. Jason runs a Facebook group called Global Tile Posse (GTP) and it was a pleasure getting to spend time with him at the Golden Trowel Challenge.

Roberts made his mark in wet clay during the Global Monumental Hand Print Mural Project held at Coverings 2018.

I will never forgot attending Coverings in Orlando, back in 2015. While I was online in the Tile Geeks social media group, a guy was disappointed that he couldn’t attend, since his travel partner bailed at the last minute. I reached out to him, offering him lodging at my mom’s house with me for the show. I picked him up in South Georgia, on my way to Orlando and we drove straight to the show. Donovan Lucero of Lucero Flooring Company, Jesup, Ga., and I have become lifelong friends and brothers in the tile industry. 

We also met up with another great guy that I knew online through Tile Geeks, who has become one of my best friends: Ben Ernst. We walked in the Orange County Convention Center, and the first person we ran into was Brad Denny, NTCA Five-Star contractor (Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co, Inc., Joelton, Tenn.) We knew him from Tile Geeks, but not in person. He grabbed us and brought us over to the NTCA lounge and made us feel at home.  What a great guy; I am proud to call him a friend.

CTEF

Roberts enjoyed a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the TCNA headquarters while helping present a CTEF introductory course in nearby Pendleton, S.C.

I just finished helping Scott Carothers teach a weeklong class in Pendleton, S.C. at the CTEF in early November. The class was an introduction to ceramic tile and mortar shower bases. It was attended by people from all over the U.S., including staff from the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) – headquartered close by in Anderson, S.C. – and NTCA’s new Marketing and Communication Director Avia Haynes (see related story on page 54 of this issue).  Some of us got a special behind-the-scenes private tour of the TCNA. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and am very proud to have been invited. 

Who would have thought that 40 years ago, mixing mud in that mud box, I would be where I am today: a proud member of the NTCA, NTCA State Ambassador, CTI #1278, CTEF Regional Evaluator and a tilesetter who takes pride in doing things that will last the test of time.

Maris Tile Pro: from destiny to distinction


You never know when the tile setting bug is going to bite. For instance, Ulas Maris of Maris Tile PRO in East Moriches, N.Y. (www.maristile.com) didn’t start his career in the industry. Instead, he was originally in hospitality, hotel and resort administration in Southwest Florida, years before he left his position and moved to New York in search of a new career and life.

Ulas Maris (right) along with NTCA’s Training Director Mark Heinlein at a recent workshop.

He tried his hand at a number of things, but nothing clicked until one serendipitous morning while he was having breakfast out in Long Island. A tile setter working nearby randomly asked if he could help mix mud and carry tiles. “It was fun working with him in the Hamptons and I liked it,” Maris said. “I started going with him regularly and he taught me everything he knew about the tiling trade. It is how my tiling career started a long time ago. I worked with him about three or four years and he encouraged me to start my own business. I have been on my own for 15 years now.”

With his mentor’s encouragement and the encouragement of his wife Rachel, Maris now does high-end, custom installation throughout Long Island and the Hamptons. He works on new homes and renovations. His specialty is mosaics, handmade tile, large-format tiles and natural stones. He also works with glass slabs and other sorts of glass material, and he fabricates custom marble, granite and quartz countertops.

Maris gives equal attention to clients, no matter the project size. “My main focus and priority is my client’s satisfaction,” he said. “I give them quality work installed with the highest standards so that they will enjoy my tile installations for many, many years. I believe this is key to having a successful business.”

This philosophy has worked for Maris – he’s never advertised his business or services. Word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients are all the advertising he has needed. 

He takes the time to educate clients about the importance of proper prep work and use of quality setting and waterproofing materials for their investments. Though clearly this is his livelihood, Maris said, “I do not think of money performing my skills. I am in no rush to complete and collect. It is my job to give my clients the highest standard they deserve and maintain a great relationship. I take time and focus on details. This is what sets me apart from the competition.”

Great feedback spurs Maris on to learn even more about new tile and installation systems. “When I see a five-star review online for my work with great comments, it motivates me to keep learning about new systems, to become more efficient and do better with my profession,” he said.

Drive to excel anchors NTCA membership

His drive to rise above the competition drove Maris to join NTCA three years ago. He benefits from interacting with other installers across the country, which positively impacts his business and work relationships. 

“Since becoming a member of the NTCA, I have seen that I am taken more seriously at all meetings with my clients, general contractors and architects,” he said. “I have seen that being a member gives new clients confidence in my abilities.

“From a client’s view, a company being an NTCA member and also a CTI/Certified Tile Installer (Maris is CTI #1309) lets them know how serious the company is and that they are in good and professional hands,” he said. “This makes them feel better to hire me to complete their precious projects.”

As the only CTI in his company, Maris installs most of the jobs himself. His staff keeps current by regularly attending manufacturer training classes and available education opportunities. And he is focused on being as knowledgeable about tile systems and “eager to learn more.

“Being up-to-date with everything and being able to answer all my client’s and general contractor’s questions in regards to any kind of tile installation lets them feel better with me and my company,” he explained. “My clients know they are in good hands seeing I am a Certified Tile Installer and an NTCA member. My CTI and all other certifications I have from manufacturers separate me from other installers. I am proud of all the certifications I have. It is the greatest feeling which motivates me to perform my skills at the highest standards.”

Peer and technical support: icing on the NTCA cake

Support from other NTCA members is invaluable to Maris. “I gained a lot of knowledge, experience and professional friends who are some of the best tile installers in the country,” he said of his experience with NTCA. “I have learned so much from the NTCA community, which has helped me improve my skills greatly. Support from a community of tile installers is priceless. This would not have been possible without NTCA. I can also call some members and ask for help and even answer questions when they call me about certain installations. ”

Maris – who is also a NTCA State Ambassador for the state of New York – also values the 24/7 NTCA technical support available to members. “I know they will be there if I ever need help answering questions while working on a complicated project,” he said. And the relationship that NTCA fosters between installer and manufacturer members is beyond measure. “From my viewpoint, NTCA is the ‘bridge’ between us as installers and member manufacturers,” he said. “For example, members have the privilege of having manufacturers contact and inform them ahead of time of all new materials, systems and methods. This is a huge advantage to being a member.”

In the end, it’s all about making clients happy. “I get so excited when I see my clients satisfied and happy at the end of a job,” he said. “I am so happy when I receive a call for a new project and hear that I was recommended by my previous client. I am glad I was able to achieve this kind of relationship with them. It makes me proud to be a tile installer.”

Elegance brought to life: the work of Nadine Edelstein

Before Nadine Edelstein, of NTCA member company Tile Design by Edelstein, developed a following with her distinctive tile work, her early training was studying molecular and developmental biology. “I was interested in the processes involved in pattern formation in developing organisms,” she said.

If you’ve seen any of Edelstein’s work, you’d agree that her style – which honors the deep historic roots and cultural significance of this industry – pays homage to organic patterns and processes, transforming them into elegant works of art that serve her clients with functionality, beauty and singularity. 

Vashon, Wash.-based Tile Design by Edelstein offers a trio of services: full-service tile and stone contracting; mosaic art based on mirror, pebble and stone mosaics; and No Tile Left Behind, Edelstein’s salvage and repurpose studio. “I do a bit of everything,” she explained. “New residential, renovations, small commercial, public art. I am also a mosaic artist and enjoy integrating my work into my installations.”

This ungrouted installation is the feature wall of a new cooking school. Edelstein sorted and cut the pebbles, and used 1/4” foam board waterjet cut into circles and triangles. Pebbles were arranged and attached and made into circular and triangular “tiles” in her studio, then installed onto the wall with tinted thinset mortar over concrete board. Sheet aluminum was cut, bent and welded into the circular frames.

Edelstein designed and installed this shower with handmade glazed terra cotta tile and colorful Italian Smalti glass. It received the 2018 CID Residential Tile Installation Award.
Photo By Mike Urban

No matter what aspect of the work she is focusing on, Edelstein derives great satisfaction in bringing an idea to life, and loving the various mental and physical aspects of her job – designing, client interaction, problem solving, setting tile and grouting – basically playing with tile. She approaches her “design and installation work with an appreciation for the elegance and economy of the processes of the natural world,” she explained. “So I think that my greatest satisfaction comes from those daily occurrences that reveal elegance: finding a solution to a problem, understanding a client’s desire (no easy task!), working out the perfect layout, finding the right tool for the job.”

A tile contractor for 24 years, Edelstein provides clients with full design, fabrication and installation services. “I am fortunate to be able to design nearly all of my installations, and have had some adventurous clients,” she said. “One thing that sets my company apart from others is that I like to collaborate with other tile artists and design custom installations. I have found that clients appreciate working with someone who can design a space while understanding the complexities of the installation process.”

Her studio is 100% women-run, with all female assistants. “I am happy to see more women joining this career path, and look forward to a time in the near future where it will not be the novelty that it has been,” she said. 

Largely self taught, Edelstein came to NTCA 10 years ago seeking the support of the technical resources to support her knowledge. She also thought NTCA affiliation would help her business stand out. In fact, NTCA has become a “sort of partner” to Edelstein’s business over the years. 

“As one must only be licensed and bonded to be a contractor and there are no skill or aptitude prerequisites, having NTCA affiliation has shown my clients that I care about my work,” she said. “I have often over the years received excellent tech assistance and solved many installation problems with the help of NTCA staff. Being a member of the NTCA involves me in a larger professional community and this has greatly enhanced my day-to-day life as a sole proprietor in a career that can otherwise feel quite isolated.”

An added bonus of NTCA membership for Edelstein is the voucher program. “Yes, it can save money, but more importantly it removes the barrier to trying new products,” she said. “That’s great for the entire industry.”

Edelstein has won a number of awards, including the 2010 TileLetter Residential Mosaic Grand Prize, 2013 Coverings Installation and Design (CID) Award for Residential Stone Design, and 2018 CID Award, Residential Tile Installation. 

Interested in learning more about her work? View her professional profile on Houzz.com and a portfolio on Instagram (@tiledesignbyedelstein).

JSG’s Stephen Belyea made the leap from chef to tile contractor

What do Legal Sea Foods of Boston and tile contracting have in common? Stephen Belyea, owner of JSG Tile and Stone LLC in Weymouth, Mass. (jsgtileandstone.com) is the common thread in both scenarios. Belyea gave up his career as head chef at Legal Sea Foods and pursued commercial flooring work with a small company while he was contemplating his next move in the restaurant business.

“When I realized how much better life could be not working 12-15 hours a day, I stuck to learning as much as I could about flooring,” Belyea said. “I worked my way up to a lead installer and enjoyed the work I was doing” – work that included installing carpet, wood, vinyl, rubber and turf in the gyms at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park.

Belyea gravitated towards tile, captivated by the rewarding technical aspects of the installations, and eventually focused solely on tile. Pursuing his passion for tile the same way he pursued his passion for food, he made excellence his goal. “I wanted to be as good as I could be,” he said. “I attended any and all events I could to network, meet people and learn as much as I could.”

The Tile Geeks Madison Fields Project in 2017 was one of the most rewarding personal and professional projects in which Belyea ever participated.

In 2014, he discovered Tile Geeks on Facebook – only 500 strong at that time. “I realized from that page that there was a hell of a lot of knowledge about tile I did not have.” Belyea said. “So I made a point to learn about all the new/different techniques and tools there were. I have attended Coverings in Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, and Atlanta.” Belyea met Salvatore DiBlasi through Tile Geeks and in person at the Journal of Light Construction show in 2015 and the two have been great friends since.

In Chicago 2016, Belyea met NTCA member Bradford Denny, who signed him up as a NTCA member. “Joining the NTCA has been a great choice for me,” Belyea explained. “It has given me access to some of

Brad Denny (L) signed Stephen Belyea to NTCA membership in Coverings 16 in Chicago.

the best and brightest in the business. I know that I have access to people like Mark Heinlein – who is a great friend and resource – to turn to when I have questions about an installation method I might not be well versed in. A year after joining, I became a State Ambassador for the NTCA. I attend workshops all over New England giving support to the NTCA at their events.”

In December 2016, Belyea and DiBlasi took a road trip to the CTEF in South Carolina to attend a Tile Love/Schluter/CTI event. Belyea also took the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test and passed as CTI #1274.

“I have the pleasure of seeing my test in Sal’s video, which is also used by the CTEF in a video to promote qualified labor,” Belyea said. “I am currently a Regional Evaluator for the CTEF and look forward to certifying more installers in my area. Being a CTI has helped me in my business because it shows my customers that I have a vested interest in the industry. Educated consumers realize that they are better off having their project done right by a professional the first time, rather than a costly failed project being done for a second time.”

CTEF’s Scott Carothers evaluates Belyea’s CTI hands-on test.

Today Belyea is cooking with gas, bringing artistry and excellence to high-end residential custom tile projects, from new construction on summer houses in Cape Cod to renovations on multi-million dollar residences in downtown Boston.

“I take great joy and pride in what I do,” he said. “I compare the finished tile project to a prepared meal. The customer’s approval of the finished project is very rewarding to me.”

Another rewarding experience – one of the highlights of both his life and his career – was to be part of the Tile Geeks Project last year in Dickerson, Md., for the Madison Fields Autism Foundation (see TileLetter, January 2018 issue). “It was nine grueling days of work,” he said. “But I am so glad I did it. I got to meet and work with great people, installers and now friends.”

JSG Tile and Stone LLC project work

New NTCA member Skyro Floors, turns knack for flooring into satisfying profession

Certifications and NTCA membership feeds his hunger for knowledge

New NTCA member Ken Ballin, owner of Skyro Floors in West Creek, N.J. (www.skyrofloors.com), located near the Long Beach Island and the Jersey shore, got his feet wet learning about tools from his grandfather, who

This Skyro vehicle is as beautiful as the floors it helps Ken to install.

was a carpenter and a Seabee in the Navy. “He taught me everything I know about tools,” Ballin said. “After my wife and I purchased our first home and started renovations, it was pointed out that I have a knack for flooring. I started installing for customers on my days off from my ‘regular job’ and business took off. I was lucky enough to pick up a contract with a local box store and quickly became the guy they called to fix the mistakes.”

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein (L) signed Ken up as a member at a recent training event.

Ballin  started out installing only laminate flooring but learned about other types along the way. The box store “asked if I could install hardwood (so I learned),” he said. “Then they asked if I could install tile (so I learned). Then they asked me if I could install carpet (so I hired a couple carpet crews). At my peak with them I was running about a dozen or so crews and we did the work for about a dozen or so stores.”

Ballin says that unfortunately the proverbial rug was pulled out from under his feet when the box store decided to go with a work room format instead, jettisoning the small companies doing their installs. Today, Skyro Floors installs tile, hard surface flooring, and concrete overlays in mostly residential remodel projects with some new construction. 

Though Ballin has only joined the NTCA in the last few months, he’s always been focused on training and bettering himself. “I’m hungry for knowledge so first I got certified for hard surface flooring with CFI, then I took and passed the CTI test, and most recently joined the NTCA,” he explained. “I try to focus on higher-end/higher-paying customers since I live in a tourist market. While I’m still learning every day myself, I try to share my knowledge with others as much as possible. 

“I joined the NTCA because aside from my love of the industry I wanted to see firsthand what it can do for my business,” he continued. “I’ve heard the ‘voucher argument’. I’ve also heard that some small business owners felt it was more geared towards bigger companies so instead of just listening to stories I decided to find out for myself. What better way than to jump right in?

“So far the greatest value in joining the NTCA is the support,” he said. “I don’t mean technical support. I mean from the other members and yes, I know, I didn’t have to join the NTCA for that but the reassurance from other members and knowing that I’ve got someone to turn to if I need a hand is well worth it. The vouchers are nice too.” (Learn more about the Partnering for Success program here: https://www.tile-assn.com/page/vouchers?)

Ballin feels a great responsibility as CTI #1392. “Responsibility to my customers, responsibility to myself, and responsibility to the other men and women who’ve decided to make it their responsibility to represent high standards,” he said. “Being a CTI has given me the confidence to charge a premium for my services and the confidence to know I’m worth that premium.”

Ballin said the greatest satisfaction he gets in being an installer is “knowing that  my customers will be making memories for the rest of their lives on one of my floors,” explained. “Something I did will be with them through birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and everything else a family goes through. I shouldn’t say I don’t do this for the money because it’s how I (attempt to) pay my bills, but I genuinely love what I do and I love being around others who feel the same way.”

Stoneman Construction LLC

Stoneman Construction LLC 
Portland, Oregon

www.stonemanconstructionllc.com

 

Jason McDaniel, owner of Stoneman Construction, LLC in Portland, Ore., was recently recognized as an emerging young leader in the tile industry by his inclusion in the Coverings Rock Star Awards. Here, in his own words, he tells the story of his company and his passion for the industry. – Ed.


I am a custom residential tile contractor, with a background in granite and quartz fabrication. I love creating beautiful spaces that I know will stand the test of time and be something my customers will love.

I started setting tile 11 years ago to keep busy when I didn’t have kitchen countertops to install. Eleven years later I have found that my fabrication ability makes being creative with tile fun and easy. Stoneman Construction is known for templating backsplashes, floors and walls, making it easier to lay out and install complicated projects. We have done many projects incorporating scribe work into the design and we also specialize in self-leveling underlayments. 

My brother, Shawn McDaniel, was a painting contractor for 20 years and came to work with me two years ago. He has become extremely efficient at shower prep and applying liquid anti-fracture membranes. Coming from a trade that required a high level of cleanliness and detail made it a seamless transition for him. I feel very fortunate to have such qualified people working with me on a daily basis. Jeremy Bickett, CTI #1353, moved to Portland a year ago and now works full time with us. His background in self-leveling underlayments (SLU) has made it possible for us to fix and level almost any floor in our market, setting us apart from the competition. Together with Jeremy, Shawn and myself, Robert Brazington rounds out the crew. 

I am a two-year member of the NTCA and a NTCA State Ambassador. Years back, when I started setting tile, I was taught incorrect ways of doing things and had no knowledge of any associations or certification programs in the industry. Since I discovered these organizations existed I have done everything I can to get involved. 

Through the NTCA I discovered the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program, a certification exam administered by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Being a Certified Tile Installer and a NTCA State Ambassador has given me credentials I didn’t have previously. I am taken much more seriously in meetings with architects, general contractors and homeowners, and the amount of knowledge I have gained gives me more value when bidding projects. Being able to answer a wide variety of questions in regards to my profession gives the end user confidence in our company.

In our company of four, three of us – Jeremy, Robert Brazington and myself – are Certified Tile Installers. My brother Shawn aims to take the exam when he is ready. 

The CTEF Regional Evaluator Program has given my evaluator partner and one of my closest friends, Shon Parker of Hawthorne Tile, and me an opportunity to be on the front lines of training and testing installers of all ages who are new to the trade, or veterans wanting to expand their skills and knowledge. (Regional Evaluators administer the CTI exam, and their growing numbers mean that more people across the country have the opportunity to take the exam. – Ed.). In my opinion, getting more people involved and ensuring they have the proper skills going forward is the most important thing any of us can do for our industry. With the help of people like Dirk Sullivan of Hawthorne Tile, Heidi Cronin of The Cronin Company, industry representatives, and Global Tile Posse – the industry-related page I created on Facebook – we are having great success here in the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, creating the Global Tile Posse on Facebook has been a huge help to bring recognition to this amazing family of people and to the NTCA, who are out there working hard to help us as tile setters and business owners. One of the greatest joys I get from being a tile contractor is hearing from people all over the country who are positive and energized about learning and growing and sharing their experiences. In Global Tile Posse we have created a family environment where anyone can come in and talk about their experiences and growing pains in this industry. 

The other great joy I get is creating art. The people in the tile industry are getting more and more requests to create really beautiful and unique spaces for our customers. Being able to help design and execute a truly artistic space is very satisfying. 

Some of the excellent craftsmanship from Stoneman Construction LLC:

Member Spotlight – June 2018: NTCA appoints Northern California Tile & Stone, Inc. as 2018’s first Five Star Contractor

The NTCA recently announced the acceptance of Northern California Tile & Stone Inc. (NCTS), Sacramento, California, to its Five Star Program.

Founded by president, Roger Leasure, NCTS began in 2009 as a reliable subcontractor specializing in large commercial and industrial tile and stone installations. Leasure​‘s vision was that the catalyst for success was a driven, trustworthy and high-level experienced team, diligently ​working ​on each project regardless of size or scope. Since that time, NCTS has grown to be a major​ ​installer in Northern California and has expanded its services throughout Nevada, as well.

Roger Leasure

In 2014, NCTS set a goal to expand via training and mentoring employees on standards, stewardship and overall ​excellence. In 2016, Leasure put additional training into practice and implemented Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) programs for NCTS installers. CTEF certification is a total ​validation of industry skills and knowledge, offering training and testing essential in promoting industry-recognized proof of each and every installer’s abilities. These programs effectively ensure that NCTS team members are properly trained on quality workmanship, while continually raising the bar on all quality standards.

“Becoming a Five Star Contractor is the culmination of many years of hard work and attention to detail by our team of Project Managers, Superintendents and most importantly our CTIs (Certified Tile Installers),” stated Eric Witcher, Chief of Estimating at NCTS. “Through their dedication, we have positioned ourselves to be recognized by the NTCA with this classification. It is definitely a distinguished badge of honor, reinforcing to clients​ ​just why we are the best contractor
for the job.”

To obtain Five Star Contractor certification, contractors must be members of NTCA in good standing, and complete an application process that includes submitting examples of work, reviews and recommendations from peers and customers. Furthermore, they must demonstrate a proven commitment to service, quality, safety and superior job performance. Five Star Contractors are also required to certify a minimum of 10 % of their installers through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer program or, have completed a three-year apprenticeship program approved by the Department of Labor. 

For more information on the Five Star Contractor program, please contact Amber Fox at [email protected] or phone 619-247-1832.

Member Spotlight – May 2018 – Rogers Tile Company

Springfield, Mo., contractor values vouchers, technical assistance

Kerry Rogers, in business 40 years, trained NTCA trainer/presenter Robb Roderick as a helper

By Lesley Goddin

Forty years ago, a school-age Kerry Rogers started helping out his dad and granddad in the tile trade, as a way to earn some pocket money and work with his hands at something he enjoyed. This hobby became a profession over the years, as Rogers gained proficiency and helped his family members tile the country’s first Bass Pro Shop and chain restaurants like McDonald’s, KFCs and Burger Kings in the Springfield/Kansas City, Mo., area. 

“I mixed my first bucket of grout in 1969,” Rogers said. “We didn’t have mixing drills – we made our own grout. I didn’t know how to work the tool, and I splashed it up and got it in my eye, and that helped me remember when I first mixed grout!”

After Roger graduated high school, he moved to Arizona in 1980, opening his first company and doing business in the Tempe area. He had his own employees – mostly running a crew of four, which was his sweet spot in being able to keep tabs on quality – but when working on a large hotel project, he had the challenge of maintaining quality while running a 15-man crew.

In 1989, he moved back to Springfield and started the Missouri Tile Company, installing tile at restaurants like Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Popeyes.

It was during this era when he took a tender, young tile helper under his wing – none other than the NTCA’s own trainer/presenter Robb Roderick! 

“In all of my years of helpers, Robb has really stood out as one of the best helpers I ever had,” Rogers said. “He was polite, on time and energetic.” Rogers also trained John Allsbury, who is now Schluter’s Director of Sales, Western Region. 

Missouri Tile Company continued till the dearth of work in 2008 during the recession forced him to shut down and travel the country doing any work he could find, until three years ago when the market improved and he reinvented his business once more as a solo contractor doing residential work, 98% of which is new construction. 

“We sold our big house so I could stop traveling, and find a little work around here until things got better,” Rogers said. “And then we rebuilt a house right next to the old house on six acres, since we loved this area.”

As a solo contractor, Rogers was attracted to the technical support and vouchers that the NTCA offered. Plus, he said, “Robb is a good salesman. Vouchers help out with supplies and 24-hour support is important when I need help and a question answered.” His local setting materials rep also offers great technical support, but the “vouchers, the Handbook and having technical support there when I needed” made it easy for him to decide to join. 

The satisfaction Rogers gets from his work keeps him going, earning a living doing something he enjoys. “I love to go into a place and it’s nothing but a room with sheetrock and when I walk out, it looks fantastic and ready to move into,” he said. “And to watch the smiles on [my customers’] faces and hear what they say even before we are done.”

His four decades of experience also provide a unique perspective over how things have changed. 

“Nothing now is like it was then,” he said. “We made our own grout and floated mud floors…we hardly used any thinset. It’s totally different now, but I get the same result. I think it has changed for the better. It’s safer, it’s neater and cleaner and you can get more done than we did in the old days.” And, he pointed, out, “Showers used to fail all the time. Now I can do 100 showers – and they don’t fail. Showers are changed for the better, and so is the education about how products work.”

Member Spotlight – Gemini Home Remodeling – April 2018

Third generation tile setter carries on a tradition of quality and artistry

Gemini Home Remodeling
Yardley, PA

Jon Vanarthos started Gemini Home Remodeling three years ago with one additional employee, specializing in mostly residential remodels. Building from the ground up, today, the company has more manpower to provide the highest possible quality while meeting industry standards. 

“As the owner and CEO, I try to incorporate something different from ‘the run of the mill contractors’,” Vanarthos said. That ranges from crafting his own bullnose for jobs, mitering edges, or hand scribing in designs.

Vanarthos grew up around tile, since his grandfather and father had a tile shop located in Kennett Square, Pa. “I remember going on jobs with my grandfather, passing him tools and cleaning his trowels as soon as he put them down,” he said. “Every summer I was working, learning a trade that I never knew would turn into my passion. I named my company Gemini Home Remodeling in memory of the two role models in my life, considering they passed away over a decade ago.”

Vanarthos has set the bar high for his business. “Each day I strive to gain as much knowledge as possible and utilize what I’ve learned to be a better contractor,” he added. “I am not only the owner, but the designer and installer on all jobs to assure each and every client’s dreams comes true.”

Gemini Home Remodeling is doing something right, with all its work coming from word of mouth without any type of advertisement.

In February 2017, Vanarthos decided to join NTCA after attending a NTCA Workshop presented by Mark Heinlein. “After talking with him for 10 minutes, I knew there was a whole other world of knowledge out there I was missing,” he said. The greatest value of being a NTCA member, he said, is “the knowledge gained from this industry – all of the help and support provided by this vast industry to be successful.” What drives Vanarthos to do quality work every day? “The joy of knowing I am carrying along the family tradition keeps me pushing forward every day to better myself as a tile installer,” he said. “Every year I set the bar higher for myself and my employees. I am not only pursuing a passion for myself but I am also providing joy to those who trust in my work to redesign their homes.”

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