President’s Letter – December 2016

JWoelfel_headshotWow! Those two years went by quickly. I am writing my last President’s Letter and it is not a sad moment, but an appreciative moment.

Two years ago when I became president, I laid out what I thought were some important goals, like the NTCA taking its rightful place as the tile industry’s most important association, looking to domestic partners, and international conversations and meetings.

I believe we have attained those goals. We are now more than 1300 members strong, our voice at national installation standard meetings is valued and respected, and our international dialogue with manufacturers, installers and associated industry partners is being developed in a very positive way.

Next year is the 70th anniversary of the NTCA and our association is stronger than ever going into the future. At the same time we are looking to our past to affirm our values, training and education, quality installations, qualified labor, and continuing to be professional tile contractors. These values should never be lost. In fact, these values need to be shouted from the mountaintops to gain the attention of home builders, general contractors and owners, so that this or the next installation done for them is by an NTCA member.


(L to r) Board advisors John Cox, Dan Welch and Nyle Wadford; outgoing president/chairman of the board James Woelfel; new NTCA president Martin Howard with 1st vice president Christopher Walker.

Before I ride off into the Arizona sunset, I want to say how fortunate the NTCA and its members are that Martin Howard of David Allen Company is the next president. I have sat with Martin many times at NTCA, TCNA and ANSI meetings, watching him save tile contractors money and grief. Martin is a fervent defender of tile contractors and of industry standards. He wants to maximize our membership value for all of our members. He will be a great president.

I would like to thank the NTCA staff for all of the help and guidance for the last two years: Bart, Jim, Mark and everyone else have been wonderful. I want to thank the Executive Committee for taking a chance on me and then giving me their full support – it means a lot. I want to thank my parents Butch and Mary for keeping the doors open while I bounced around the country the last two years. Thank you to my son Preston, who let Dad go out and play with his friends knowing there was less time for him. I am so proud of you.

Thank you to my wife Chris. As you know, she has battled cancer this last year, yet she has supported me 100% and has represented our industry with class, dignity and immeasurable strength. She is my foundation – I love you.

Thank you to all of you who read my letters. I know how valuable your time is and I appreciate the feedback.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman, NTCA
Technical Committee

P.S. I am still chairman of the Technical Committee; I look forward to seeing you all in the future.

President’s Letter – November 2016

JWoelfel_headshotIn the last month, my President’s Letter from September has generated a lot of feedback. In fact, Bart Bettiga, our executive director, has told me it has generated the most feedback he has received regarding any President’s Letter. That is great news. That particular letter was written to generate dialogue between distributors and tile contractors, and it has.

When there’s a lack of discourse, dialogue is more important than ever. Good people can disagree, but if you can discuss an issue in an intelligent manner, solutions are likely to be found. It is absolutely necessary for the entirety of our industry to be on the same page and support each other. This makes everyone more successful.

The reaction to the letter was mostly positive, but there were a few people who were not in agreement. I didn’t expect everyone to be. I have learned that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. But, as I have said in the past, I am a tile contractor first and foremost, and I will always defend the tile contractor when given the opportunity.

The reaction, emails, kind words and some not-so-kind words all tell me that people are reading the President’s Letter. That is great news! It also tells me that it is imperative for the president of the NTCA to take actual positions on matters that have an effect on tile contractors and the industry in which we are involved. Our past, present and future presidents are not potted plants – nor should we be. We have opinions, ideas, and solutions as well. Our membership and our industry profits from our association president taking on difficult issues, and taking a stand on these same issues as well.

I want to thank each and every one who shared their opinion with me, even the opinions that did not agree with me. This gives us a chance to do better and to find solutions for our tile contractor members.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman NTCA Technical Committee

President’s Letter – October 2016

JWoelfel_headshotAs president of the NTCA it is very gratifying to see our membership grow to almost 1,300 members – in fact it is amazing! The NTCA is the best investment I have made in my business, and I hope most of you feel that way as well.

One question I would like to pose to our contractor members is: “What would it take to get more of you to attend our annual meeting at Total Solutions Plus (TSP)?” We do not get a lot of attendance from our members. We have constantly sent out surveys and asked questions at other tradeshows trying to get more participation for this conference. In the past we have waived the registration fee, given product away and advertised in different media, trying to reach our contractor members. These have not worked very well. Our goal is to have 15-20% of our contractor members attend TSP. This would mean 150-200 contractors.

Some of the most common answers I get from contractors who do not attend are cost and timing.

In terms of cost, a lot of members think that the registration, hotel and traveling expenses are too costly. And members have also told me the time of year is bad; that earlier or later is better for them. Some contractors have told me that Coverings is a better fit.

These reasons and more are all understandable, but I would like to address some of them and give reasons why you should at least try to attend TSP one time.

The educational and leadership opportunities are second to none as pertains to tile contractors. The educational tracks are designed around the tile contracting trade, and address everything from dealing with distributors to documenting issues on job sites.

Networking with the leaders from the distributors and manufacturers of products tile contractors use every day. You get to meet the CEOs and presidents of these companies in a setting that is a lot more intimate than huge trade shows. Receptions and parties are designed that enable you to talk one-on-one with these leaders. You can make contact with them and get a heads-up on new products, and try them before they are introduced to the public. You can even share your thoughts on their products.

The time of year question is interesting. TSP is planned out 12-18 months in advance and we try to distribute the conference in an East, Central, West fashion to hit all parts of the country. The dates are such that they are not too close to Thanksgiving, but also we have to give the manufacturers time to get back from Cersaie (Italy’s tile show) at the end of September.

In terms of cost, we have tried to lessen the cost by using overflow lodging at less-expensive venues similar to the Coverings model. Registration costs are put in place for a couple of reasons, to offset the speaker and food costs. Plus we believe that people need to have a little investment in their education. Attending this show is not a last-minute decision; it has to be circled as a date on your calendar.

The most important reason I attend TSP is to network and learn from other tile contractors. There have been at least two occasions where conversations with other tile contractors dealing with my business have literally saved five figures in business losses – this is not an exaggeration at all. Being at TSP saved me big money.

Lastly, as I look back on over 16 events I have attended – nine Total Solutions and seven Total Solutions Pluses – I realize that I would have never had the chance to meet so many like-minded people, mentors and benefitted so much from their knowledge. I never would have had the opportunity to grow as a person or a leader without this conference. Frankly, I don’t think I would have ever had the chance to be president of our great association if I had not attended TSP.

It is worth your investment in both time and money, so do yourself a favor, make plans to attend TSP 2017 in Washington, D.C., November 4-7 at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park hotel.

James Woelfel, NTCA President
Chairman, NTCA Technical Committee

President’s Letter – September 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Woelfel
President, NTCA

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

President’s Letter – August 2016

JWoelfel_headshotThose of you who know me know I am not a tree-hugger, but I also believe that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. At our house we put the recycle bin out at the curb full of plastic and paper and we also collect aluminum cans.

As a tile contractor, how can we create a sustainable jobsite? We can use our water more wisely, we can recycle the cardboard and paper we use, we can tile with recycled materials and mortars and grouts that have some recycled contents as well. These are all good ways to be sustainable, but as a tile contractor, there is one thing we can do that I consider the ultimate in sustainability. And that is to install tile correctly the first time. When we install tile correctly the first time we have created a finish that can last 30, 40, 50, up to and over 100 years. The lifecycle cost of tile is the lowest in the flooring industry when installed correctly. By not having to replace poor or failing tile installations we save valuable resources like new tile, new mortar and new grout. It also means we are not trucking in additional materials, which saves fuel.

Tile is also the most environmentally friendly flooring finish. Tile itself contains no VOCs, and tile mortars usually do not contain VOCs either. This means that the interior air that our customers breathe is cleaner and better for you than most of our flooring competitors’ air.

Tile is also more hygienic than carpet, as fluids do not absorb into porcelain tiles like they do with carpet. I have seen tile finishes that are being developed that actually kill bacteria and make our air cleaner. These technologies can be used to make a great product even healthier.

When I speak to architects, I explain to them that if they want truly sustainable projects, then the tile needs to be installed properly. As I explain to our members, we make the most money and have the least amount of headaches when we install tile properly. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to help the environment. By using quality, qualified labor and a little common sense, you can go a long way in protecting both the environment and your bottom line.

Regards, James

President’s Letter – July 2016

JWoelfel_headshotWhat is wrong with our thinking?

A few months ago, I wrote a letter about saying no. I received a lot of positive feedback. Since then I have been getting a lot of communications that deal with tile installers accepting a job and then when their scope review is being done, realizing they have a problem or that the job is a lot more complicated than they previously thought. Or they visited the job site and the existing conditions prevent them from installing the tile either by industry standards or by manufacturer proprietary systems.

This becomes the moment of truth. We all have egos and the belief that our abilities can solve problems, but I am telling you right now: our abilities can only go so far. Our egos must be kept in check by reality. I have fallen into this trap more than once, and usually I have lost money on that particular job. After the job was completed I stepped back and thought to myself, “What was I thinking?” Obviously, I was NOT thinking.

In the past six months we have turned down work, some even when the owner said “Money is no object.” Wow, does that hurt – or does it? We, as installers, seem to have a mindset that if we turn a job down we just passed up a huge payday, or we will be labeled as hard to get along with or to stubborn to work with.

Buck Collins, a Five Star Contractor out of Northern Virginia, said it the best. He asked me, “Do you know how long it took me to get my reputation as the tile guy that does great work? A long time. Do you know how fast I can lose that reputation? One bad job.”

That reality smacks you in the face. We have to learn a new mindset, one that says it’s OK to turn down work, especially if the thought of a failure enters our heads. Sure, it’s easy for me to say it’s a business decision. I say this all the time, even though I understand that no work doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. But I also have been around long enough to know that there will always be a new job to bid that does not put my livelihood at risk.

Tile installers/contractors need to think with a little less ego and a lot more common sense. Our intuition is usually right. If you get in that room or on that job site before you sign that contract, empower yourself to be able to say, “I don’t think we can do this job the way it sits right now.” You need the proper substrate and materials to do the job correctly and you need to be able to express this in an intelligent way. If you can’t, then you need to have the ability to say this isn’t the job you want, or that you’ll take.

I know I am rehashing the point I made a few months ago, but based on the calls and emails I am receiving, it needs to be addressed again.

James Woelfel,
President NTCA,

President’s Letter – June 2016

JWoelfel_headshotGiving credit when credit is due

One of the great things about our industry is the finished product when we are done installing. Some of these projects are literally a work of art. This is a true feeling of accomplishment, not only to installers but to tile contracting company owners, employees, staffs, and even spouses and children.

I think this deserves a pat on the back, a “great job,” or even a cold, frosty beverage. As tile manufacturers, distributors, mortar manufacturers, etc., great work is a special way of showing off your product as well. General contractors, home builders and home owners can also share in the fact they helped to facilitate these fantastic installations. At the end of the day, great installations show off the professionalism of our industry.

For the truly special, technically-perfect or unique installations, national industry awards are the prize.

However, the flip side to these recognitions or awards is the fact a lot of great installations are not credited to the installer or installer’s team. This happens when people are not doing their due diligence, being lazy or just flat-out taking credit for other people’s hard work.

This problem is not an isolated incident. I have read a lot of trade magazines where the stories or the advertisements acknowledge manufacturers, designers, construction companies, etc., without recognizing the installer or installation companies that put it all together and made it look gorgeous – and who did it correctly, so it will perform for years!

My own company felt a little of this sting at Coverings this year, when the tile and setting material manufacturers were recognized in one of the booklets for the Installation Design Showcase, but all of the installation companies (Welch Tile & Marble, Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Grazzini Brothers & Company, and our company, Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co.,) were left off the page. It kicked me in the stomach.

Quite a few installers have told me this issue happens all of the time on the internet, especially with social media. This is WRONG: the installers and their companies need and must be recognized. Installers are called out when the installation is bad, but when an installation is special enough to be shown off, the recognition and credit needs to be given. If you are a manufacturer, architect or designer looking at an installer’s website, I implore you, if you see an installation that involves your materials, just ask permission before you use it elsewhere. Most of the time you will get a yes. Please don’t just list it to show an example of design, architecture or product without giving credit to the installer.

At the beginning of a job, you have boxes of tile, bags of mortar and grout, buckets or rolls of membranes, but the installer puts all of that together to create beauty. Without good professional qualified labor those boxes, bags and rolls will look better in their pre-installed state than on the walls or floors. All I am asking is that as reputable manufacturers, distributors, architects, designers, construction companies and home builders, do right by your installers and their teams, and give credit when credit is due. It will buy you good will and may help you earn a good installation partner and a customer as well.

James Woelfel, President NTCA

President’s Letter – May 2016

JWoelfel_headshotMy wife’s strength and courage

As many of you know, I am blessed to be married to such a great person; my wife, Chris. She is outgoing, beautiful, a great mom and she is very intelligent. Chris is truly my better half. She is also the major driving force in my creating and reaching my goals.

Last year after Total Solutions Plus, Chris went to get her yearly mammogram. A few weeks later, the radiologist called and said he wanted additional images. When she went in, the images revealed patterns in the film that the doctor said must be biopsied. It wasn’t an easy procedure and it created a massive and painful hematoma that she didn’t need to be dealing with during the holiday season. Between Christmas and New Years the doctor called and told us that Chris had breast cancer. We were stunned. It was denial combined with shock. We met with the surgeon and told a handful of family and friends. My wife, always the steadfast and focused one, told the doctor that we were going to Spain because her husband was going to speak at a world tile conference and she was going to support him and make sure he was successful. The doctor scheduled surgery for the week after we returned.

After four surgeries in four weeks and a week of cutting-edge, highly concentrated radiation therapy delivered through a bio-mechanical device that made a big guy like me cringe at the thought of it being implanted, the medical oncologist now has Chris on a five-year course of medications. We were also told that she may have the same issue in her other breast. All of this has my head spinning. It has been a challenging time, but Chris is proving her resilience, staying positive and focused on the things she needs to do to stay on course and get all of this behind her.

I know that many of you have been touched in one way or another by cancer. It is a horrible and scary disease that attacks people unfairly. We are fortunate that Chris’s was discovered early as other people are not as fortunate. It seems so cliché, but I never thought it would happen to us.

I reached out to people I knew had experience with cancer: Nyle Wadford, whose father died of cancer, Dan Welch whose father just recently passed away, and Bart Bettiga – his wife Sandy was in a similar situation as Chris. They have been so supportive and were there when I needed to talk or vent. I also found out how giving and loving our friends are. Chris received flowers, cards, gifts of comfort and well wishes of support, a true outpouring of love and understanding. People in our industry have given their time and hope so that Chris would feel just a little better.

My wife, always the one offering empathy and concern, did not want a lot of people to know. I have respected her wishes until now. You see, my wife is my hero. She is battling this disease with all of her strength and determination. I have always thought that there is strength in numbers; all of the prayers, positive thoughts and kind words will help her in this battle. As I write this we are preparing for our trip to Coverings. Chris is coming with me and our son, Preston. She looks forward to seeing, talking and being with the best of the best in our industry.

After experiencing this in the last six months I urge each of you reading this to go get your exams. Schedule them now and get the prostate exam, the mammogram, the CT scan – whatever test that can help catch this disease early. We caught it early and it is still a heavyweight fight.

Finally, I want my wife Chris to know that I love you, that Preston loves you and that you are the strongest, bravest and most wonderful person I know.

James Woelfel, President NTCA

President’s Letter – April 2016

JWoelfel_headshotMutually assured destruction: fight it with product testing, investing in training, and hiring quality installers

Mutually assured destruction. This is a pretty ominous statement, but a very provocative statement as well. Among manufacturers, distributors and installers, in my opinion, we are headed down this road.

It seems every day we are being introduced to new tiles, thin tiles, plank tiles, recycled-content tiles and so on, and it seems that a lot of these tiles have not been tested in real-world applications. Thin tile and its installation does not even have national installation or manufacturing standards yet. Plank tiles are getting longer and longer, and their warpage and lippage tolerances are still based on a manufacturing standard last updated a few years ago. Recycled-content tiles that contain glass, porcelain and other materials have hit the market, and we installers are the guinea pigs on what type of setting and grouting materials we need to use to set these tiles.

In short, new tiles introduced into the marketplace have inadequate testing and the tile setter is trying to learn on the fly how to set these products without problems.

Some distributors are pushing these products out into the marketplace and getting tiles specified even though they do not understand all of the installation issues that need to be solved in order to have a successful installation. These distributors are putting sales numbers in front of success numbers, and this damages the industry. Some of these same distributors are also failing to vet their recommended installers on their qualifications. More than once in discussions with various distributors, the first question to me is “Why are installations so expensive?”

My response is, “I train my people, I certify my installers, I take money out of my bottom line to go to various training courses, both for installation and business. It takes my hard-earned profits to do this.” My other response is a little less political, “Am I not allowed to make money? Is it unfair for me, the installer to make money on the installation as well?” Sometimes I think these distributors forget that we as tile contractors are taking the installation liability on, and we need to be monetarily rewarded for this liability.

As installers, our companies have to do a better job of training our employees. If you sub-contract your installers or if they are paid by the hour, training is the number one priority. In our industry, we have CTEF/Certified Tile Installer certification, Union apprenticeship training and ACT certification. These classes and certifications need to be fully attended and we have to educate our people to install tile properly. The manufacturers and distributors have every right to call installers out when there is a job failure due to poorly trained people – and we tile contractors have to spend money to train our people.

Our industry thinking and the way we do business has to change. Manufacturers need to test their new tiles more effectively and be more open about real-world testing in real-world applications. Distributors need to be more focused on long-term success and need to partner with qualified quality labor. Both manufacturers and distributors need to invest more in the training of installers because without proper installation our industry will NEVER achieve its potential and we will continue to lose dollars and market share to inferior products like VCT, carpet, LVT, polished concrete and so forth. Tile contractors have to invest in their people. Numerous studies have shown that training your employees builds better attitudes and retention. And installation failures need to be reduced drastically.

If we, as an industry, do not change our mindset we will condemn ourselves to a smaller piece of the economic pie.

James Woelfel, NTCA president
[email protected]

President’s Letter – March 2016


James Woelfel, NTCA president

TISE WEST/Surfaces is a great success for NTCA

I just returned to the office after attending the TISE West/Surfaces show in Las Vegas. It was a quick four-day trip, where the NTCA held Executive, Board and Technical Committee meetings. We also hosted our first State Directors Reception.

The State Director position was past NTCA president John Cox’s idea. His thought was, “How do we develop the next generation of NTCA leaders?” The reception was a great success, with 25 State Directors at the reception. Each director was asked to stand up and tell about themselves. A new NTCA video showing the rich history and tradition of our 69-year-old association was shown. If you have a chance, please watch this excellent video at or Knowing our history can help guide us into the future.

Past NTCA president Nyle Wadford and I spoke at a seminar about how to avoid installation failures, attracting a crowd of about 60 people. Nyle discussed the importance of proper movement joints, and I discussed other types of failures like improper layout, and lack of coverage.

Nyle and I agreed that you can stop installation issues with the following four steps:

1. Use the proper leveling, setting and grouting products as recommended.

2. Know the ceramic tile industry standards.

3. Use properly trained and qualified labor to install ceramic and stone tile.

4. Employ proper oversight.

At the show, the NTCA booth was a hit. It seemed like every time I walked by the booth, there were contractors signing up to be members. In fact the NTCA set a record for new members at this show: 15! Increasingly, contractors are seeing the value of NTCA membership.

In the Board meeting, we reviewed the past year. 2015 was a very successful year for the NTCA. Our membership is now around 1100, and we are projecting membership to reach 1200 by the end of 2016….WOW! We also discussed the upcoming NTCA Five Star Contractor business meeting being hosted by TEC Installation Products in Chicago in June. This will consist of a day and a half of business seminars. I implore NTCA tile contractors that are not Five Star Contractors to call or email NTCA’s Jim Olson at 612.788.4726/[email protected] to get your application and join, since more specifications are being written around Five Star Contractors – and the manufacturers’ rebates don’t hurt either.

In the NTCA Technical Committee meeting, new white papers dealing with wall wash lighting, linear drain installations, thin panel tile and nano coatings on porcelain tile were voted on and accepted into the NTCA Reference Manual. Noah Chitty from Crossville updated the committee on the progress of ANSI 108.19, the installation standard for thin porcelain tile. This installation standard is coming together and will be updated at Coverings during the ANSI meeting in Chicago.

Those of you who could not attend, I understand how busy our personal and professional lives can get. Try to make time for Coverings in April. If you can’t, make sure you come to Total Solutions Plus in Palm Springs in October. In response to recent contractor surveys that reflected the desire for business training, the NTCA is putting together educational seminars at TSP that are more business related and that relate to each other. As I heard more than once this week, “the seminars were better” and “we got our money’s worth.”


James Woelfel, President NTCA
480.829.9197, [email protected]

(Ed. note: read more about TISE West in TileLetter, April issue)

1 2 3 4 5 8