NTCA contractors sound off on Coronavirus and their businesses

We’ve been reading a lot about legislation being rushed through to address the Coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis, amidst rumors of work slowdowns and layoffs. But how are our members dealing with the new normal? How are their businesses being affected, how are they keeping safe and healthy and if there is downtime, how are they using it to their best advantage?

The weekend of March 28, TileLetter.com contacted a number of NTCA member contractors to take their pulse on the state of business in the time of Corona.

Working status: green light

All of the NTCA contractors contacted are still working, to various degrees, with residential and construction projects deemed essential. But some areas are cutting back such as Michigan, where Dan Welch of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Welch Tile & Marble admitted that they have ceased in-state operations, except for food plants, and hospitals that are only employing a third of his team.

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Chris Walker of NTCA Five-Star Contractor David Allen Company said that DAC was told that “as long as there are successful efforts to follow all protocols, construction is considered an essential activity — even in shelter-in-place states – and work will continue.”

Chris Walker, David Allen Company

For Martin Brookes, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble &  Tile located in Mill Valley, Calif., right outside San Francisco, his area was one of the first hit by shelter-in-place (SIP) orders, which were vague on which industries could continue operation. Brookes swung into action.

“I immediately stocked jobs with tile and setting materials to the best of my ability,” he said. “I was able to implement an infectious disease mitigation strategy with my employees and general contractors. We started to have morning tailgate safety meetings practicing social distancing measures. The conditions we put on our GC’s was that only ourselves (limit 2 man crew) be in the workspace and have access to clean water and hand soap. They all agreed to these conditions and to date it’s worked out well.

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile

“I also created a letter with the current SIP order referenced and check with each county and city to see if it differs from the state,” he added. “The information clearly states the order and has my information on the letter for them to contact. This will hopefully resolve any issues if law enforcement enter a job site. They are also told to have the infectious disease mitigation strategy document with them on the job site and practice good personal hygiene throughout the day.”

John Cox, Cox Tile

Though contractors are working, for many, phones have virtually stopped ringing and no new work is coming in. “People are in fear of what’s happening,” said John Cox, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Cox Tile in San Antonio. “They are no different than us, and not spending money unless it is a necessity.”

Gianna Vallefuoco, Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC

For others, things are still percolating. “Some jobs are delayed indefinitely due to social distancing concerns by clients, especially in buildings where there are bylaws restricting work,” said Gianna Vallefuoco, of Maryland-based NTCA Five-Star Contractor Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC. “We are definitely slowing down, but some jobs are still being pushed to finish. Our trade clients, like builders and remodelers, are trying to stay busy. We are still bidding many new jobs. We’re staying positive, but realistic.”

Protecting workers

Contractors say their worker safety is top priority. Brookes added, “The most important thing is the health and safety of my employees. They are asked if they feel safe and well protected, and if they are in any doubt about their health and safety they are welcome to stay home. The talk every morning is repetitive but is important to understand how the virus is spread and how to protect against it. It is so far working, but we are in the early stages and we hope through social distancing and isolation measures that the risk will be reduced.”

John Mourelatos, Mourelatos Tile Pro

In Tucson, John Mourelatos of Mourelatos Tile Pro said, “We are only working on remodeling projects where we can isolate our work area from the main part of the house. For example, we are working in a master bathroom project and we can access the area through a master bedroom door. We don’t have to access the main part of the house at all, using a separate bathroom from the homeowners. We are wearing gloves and washing our hands and tools frequently.” 

Walker said that for DC area work, DAC is eliminating crew vans and paying for parking or gas/mileage for out-of-town crews. “Construction  by its nature, is typically in social-distancing mode,” he said. “Superintendent’s offices are essentially their trucks, so those are controlled environments.” He also said that high-touch surfaces are wiped down several times a day, limited unannounced visitors and asked delivery services to leave and pick up packages without signature.

Bradford Denny, Nichols Tile & Terrazzo

Bradford Denny, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co., Inc., in Joelton, Tenn., said “We have asked everyone to check their temperature daily and stay home at the first signs of not feeling well. To further separate ourselves from one of our clients, we created a negative air space with HEPA filtration unit in our working area and have been sanitizing areas outside of the working area we travel. After finishing for the day, we’ve encouraged employees to return home and remain as isolated as possible.”

At Vallefuoco Contractors,  installers are using gloves and masks, though they are in short supply, and disinfectant. “We are implementing a 6 foot social distance protocol. We are moving toward single man crews for many jobs, especially small jobs,” Vallefuoco said. In the office, desks are separated and workers are at their own work stations. In addition, new technology will allow office staff to address tasks remotely from home. Health is number one, and we are taking this seriously. We need to respect social distancing protocol vehemently. None of us wants to put ourselves, employees, clients, vendors, fellow tradesmen/women, nor their families at risk. We are truly in this together.”  

Dealing with layoffs

New laws designed to provide support for workers and small businesses are creating some hope, confusion and prompting a learning curve as to how to navigate the details.

“This is definitely new territory,” Vallefuoco said. “Our future financial needs and our eligibility for benefits are still unclear, and we are always looking for guidance and insight from those who understand the options. Our goal is to keep employees on payroll for as long as possible, with the hope of riding out this storm with minimal financial consequences to employees.

“As a small business, this is of course a big concern,” she added. “Our main goal is to protect employees from becoming ill. We have specifically instituted measures to keep our employees safe and well, and home if needed. Fortunately, we’re able to provide excellent health insurance. For installers who are subcontractors, we are doing our best to keep them as busy as they desire. By implementing one man crews, we hope to keep people working safely, while respecting social distancing measures.”

Welch said, “The new law that requires people to be laid off and gives them a bonus to be laid off is creating issues. Some workers don’t want to work because they would rather be unemployed and make more money. When the government offers this, it cuts our hands off to be able to handle these essential projects.

“We’re trying to see if overhead can be cut,” he said. “A lot of people are working, but how to do that at a lesser cost? If we are going to lay them off, do we go part time or PTO; we’re not sure yet. We have until Thursday to make that decision.”

Denny said, “The uncertainty of their income and livelihood, as well as the pandemic, has given some of our employees justifiable concerns. We have been forced to sit down as a collective (employees and owners) family and consider our responsibilities to the company, our families, our community, our country, our economy, etc. These challenges have seemed to  knot us tighter together.”

Ricky Cox, Memphis Tile & Marble

And Ricky Cox of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Memphis Tile & Marble added, “I have been keeping up with this last stimulus package and will be applying for the small business loan.  It will cover payroll, rent, and utilities for 8 weeks and won’t have to be repaid.”

Lack of PPE

Early on, masks were one of the elements of personal protective equipment (PPE) in huge demand by the public at large as well as for health care workers who are face-to-face with Coronavirus on a daily basis. This has left the construction industry wanting for dust masks, and respirators that protect against respirable silica. Welch said he hasn’t been able to procure masks for months, though gloves are plentiful.  Mourelatos said that in addition to limited PPE, cleaning supplies are scarce. Cox, at Memphis Tile & Marble, said. “Masks are VERY hard to come by,” he added. “We were low on stock when all this started and had to order online.  Shipment of masks was two weeks out.”

Technology  helps keep business alive

One of the unintended positive consequences of COVID-19 upsetting the apple cart is the blossoming of the use of technology like Facetime, Zoom and more that will surely open up additional opportunities once the crisis has abated. Vallefuoco said, “I’ve been doing tile design and selection meetings with clients and vendors using Zoom platform. Our vendors have been offering great virtual showroom services.” Welch Tile is using the Boom Boom video software to create videos and talk directly to staff “with words of affirmation that we are all in this together.”

Helpful resources

In addition to the news and CDC recommendations, contractors are turning to a range of resources to keep abreast of changes in legislation that may affect their businesses and workers, and their health. Welch taps into the .gov websites, and is grateful for webinars on insurance developments his attorney offers. Mourelatos mentioned a COVID-19 Facebook group that LATICRETE’s vice president of sales and marketing Ron Nash established, as well as the NTCA website (www.tile-assn.com) that “has a wealth of resources and links that have been helpful.”

Using your time

For some, since work is not bustling, there is opportunity to channel downtime into useful activities.

Vallefuoco is working from home, and has used the time to get “back on track with things formerly put on the back burner. I’ve been writing our INTENTIONAL SPACES blog , and addressing life during the COVID-19 era as part of it.”

At Welch Tile, work is afoot on a new logo and sales and marketing projects, as well as refining company purpose and values statements.

Finally, some contractors are evaluating priorities and making time to spend with the special people in their lives.  “We, and our team, are spending much more time home with our families,” Vallefuoco said. “This has truly been an unforeseen gift. We are all concerned for our health and our livelihoods, but we continue to look forward and find the positive.”

Go Fish!

MAPEI products help volunteers beautify Washington hatchery with recycled glass mosaics

Among the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hatcheries, the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is one of the most frequently visited. Tours are regularly conducted at the hatchery – constructed in 1936 – during which visitors can see salmon return home to spawn. Community education programs are also held at the facility, as well as various fundraising endeavors.

Artist Cheryl Smith wanted to beautify the walls in the local salmon hatchery with colorful mosaics installed by community volunteers.
Artist Cheryl Smith is flanked by MAPEI reps Chris Anderson (l.) and Ed Cortopassi.

In late 2016, MAPEI representative Chris Anderson received a call from local mosaic artist Cheryl Smith, who asked if MAPEI could provide a system that would allow tiles to be placed over salmon-holding tanks at a local hatchery. Unfortunately, MAPEI determined that without the design specification for the tanks themselves, the company would not recommend installing artwork on the outside of the holding pens; therefore, MAPEI had to turn the project down.

A few weeks later, Smith called again. She said that the project was still viable, that she had found a new location in the hatchery for her mosaic and, because MAPEI had been so helpful, she wanted the company to provide the tile system.

The mosaic, simply named “Salmon,” serves a dual purpose. Not only does it brighten an otherwise drab wall, but it also helped to involve members of the community in the renovation of their own local fish hatchery. The fact that the artwork is a mosaic and required no prior art training or knowledge made it the perfect vehicle to bring the community together across all ages and abilities.

According to Smith, a key objective of the project was to minimize the impact on the environment, specifically the ecosystem of Pacific Northwest salmon. “Using recycled materials reduces potentially dangerous additions to landfills, keeping streams clean and the salmon population thriving,” she said.

An array of MAPEI products, from waterproofing to grout, were used in the project. 
The “Salmon” mosaic brightens a drab wall, and involved 100 members of the community in the renovation of their own local fish hatchery.

The recycled glass used in the piece was sourced from vendors around Washington. Local glass retailers Perry Stained Glass Studio and Northwest Art Glass donated stained glass. Pental Surfaces donated glass bubble rounds for the background that were collected from the International Interior Design Association’s Northern Pacific Zerolandfill event. In addition, Bedrosians Tile & Stone donated tile to the project. 

One hurdle for the project remained: The 76 sq. ft. (7.06-m2) mosaic would be installed by volunteers, so any products designated for the job had to be user friendly. MAPEI was on board to provide technical support and training necessary to use its products.

MAPEI representative Keith Haney went to the site and conducted a seminar on MAPEI’s Mapelastic 315 waterproofing membrane. MAPEI’s Anderson provided technical training by phone and email throughout the course of the entire project.

MAPEI products on the jobsite

Because the mosaic would be installed by volunteers, products designated for the job had to be user friendly. MAPEI provided the products and the technical support for the installation.

All of the products used on the project were applied by a team of over 100 volunteer artists who worked under the direction of MAPEI representatives. These products included Mapecem Quickpatch to patch and smooth the existing concrete wall, Mapelastic 315 for waterproofing, Adesilex P10 and Keraply (used together to produce a high-performance mortar), and Mapesil Tsilicone sealant for joints.

MAPEI Flexcolor 3Dgrout – in the color “Crystal Moon” – also played an integral role. Not only did this product complement the “green” goal of using recycled products, it also provided an iridescent-effect finish to the glass tile.

Mosaics were applied piece-by-piece, using MAPEI setting materials. 

The Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) mosaic wall project has been featured in several news articles for its artistry, creativity, community involvement and recyclable qualities. In addition, the project was submitted for the MAPEI North America “Show! Place! Win!” reference project competition and unanimously selected by the senior leadership committee for submittal to MAPEI’s international competition in Italy. MAPEI is honored to have been a part of this exceptional community effort.

The recycled glass used in the piece was sourced from vendors around Washington.

One-to-One with Lee Callewaert and Joshua Nordstrom

I have been working closely with tile contractors for more than 30 years. The diverse backgrounds and skills that so many of our members have amaze me, and it fascinates me to hear their stories on how they evolved into successful business owners.  

In this month’s issue, I was able to catch up with two highly respected artists in our industry: Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Grafton, Wis. and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska. Callewaert was the recipient of the inaugural NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award in 2019 for installation excellence, and Nordstrom exploded onto the scene in social media with incredible artistic installations that invoked peer respect and support. The two will collaborate with NTCA trainers at Coverings in April in New Orleans to offer a glimpse into the intricacies of their trade and they will share some insight into the skills they have honed over the years with attendees. NTCA is proud to sponsor their participation at Coverings.  

Lee and his wife Jane have built a successful business and they take special pride in sharing their knowledge and expertise with their employees.

Briefly tell me how you came to enter the tile trade and what background in your youth – either in the classroom or in the real world – helped prepared you for the success you have had? 

Callewaert: I come from a long line of artists and my dad was an industrial contractor. I learned to work with tools at an early age. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t interested in college. Young and dumb, I was introduced to a great guy (Dave Brown) who took me on and taught me the trade. I didn’t know where that was going but I was learning the craft and all that goes into it.  Eventually I started looking at it differently. Quality craftsmanship is art. I found my passion.

Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska entered the tile industry through his love of pottery and ceramics. He has earned national respect for his artistic and highly-detailed installations. 

Nordstrom:I thoroughly enjoyed pottery class in high school, so upon graduation I purchased my first kiln. I had the opportunity to make some tiles for a friend’s entryway and quickly realized that there could be a market for handmade mosaic tile. I started off making tiles from scratch and firing them in my kiln. Over the course of a few years, I stumbled into setting tile and realized that if I became a tile installer, I could have better luck selling my art. A few more years went by and I stopped making my mosaics from scratch and started cutting factory-made tiles.

What is that you love most about being a tile contractor?

Callewaert: The challenge. It’s all about the challenge for me. Every project is different and unique.  Bringing the best design and installation to each project feeds me.

Nordstrom: The part that I love most about being a tile contractor is that every job is different and has its own unique set of challenges. With that, the job never gets boring and always keeps you thinking and on your toes, literally. It is also the only trade I can think of in the whole industry that requires you to think creatively on a daily basis.

What are the biggest challenges that you face as a small business owner?

Callewaert and his crew at Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works have gained a reputation with their clients for both design and installation excellence.

Callewaert: Initially for us, it was understanding all the nuances and unique requirements of our market, establishing our standards, and then staying true to that purpose.  At this stage, I’m all about passing it on, training the next generation.   Managing my projects to the standards we’ve set, WHILE training the apprentices and young setters can be a juggling act and there is cost involved.  

Nordstrom: The biggest challenge for me by far is constantly learning the business side. The work and artistry come very natural but learning the aspects of how to run my business properly and profitably proves to be a constant learning curve. 

About two years ago I changed from a sole proprietor to an LLC S corp. This has pushed a lot of new learning my way and I am trying to make sense of how all of the tax laws can benefit me and how it all works. I quit attempting to do my own taxes years ago and hired a professional. Every year I seem to be learning a little more. 

Another challenge for me is that I have always worked by myself. I am looking at 2020 to be the year that I can hire an employee full time. The thought of this makes me a bit nervous knowing that it will be up to me to keep them busy and that I am ultimately responsible for their stream of income when mine has not always been steady over the course of my career. 

Nordstrom’s glow-in-the dark octopus installation gained thousands of followers in the industry and on social media. 

How do you use technology to successfully install your complex projects? Computer software, template designs, scribing and cutting equipment, etc?  

Callewaert: I’m not a computer guy much. I draw pictures.  Sketches with pencil actually appeal to many clients. We use templates for most of our designs.  We fabricate our pieces using the template, then mount them and trace them onto the field for scribing. We use wet saws, grinders, ring saws, shapers and more, depending on the project. 

Creating artistic installations like this anchor by Joshua Nordstrom includes detailed planning and execution.  

Nordstrom: My technology is prehistoric in modern terms. It consists of using a search engine to research a particular project and then drawing the design to scale on graph paper. I like to use an overhead projector to scale the design up to the project size. I do the majority of my cutting on my wet saw with the occasional grinder cut for the hard-to-reach places. I try to be really aware in the design phase and patterning on how I anticipate making my cuts being sure that they are all feasible. With advice from Lee, I have just acquired a new ring saw that is opening up new doors for me, turning previously impossible cuts into possible ones. This one tool alone can shave off hours on a single project and help me make more money in the end. 

If a young person wanted to follow in your footsteps, what is the path you would recommend? Working for someone like you, business training or classes, internet-based training, apprenticeship training in a formal program, etc. or a combination of all?

Callewaert: It’s a combination of all. You have to have knowledge of proper prep and installation methods first and foremost, and an apprenticeship with a qualified contractor that incorporates hands-on, online learning like the NTCA University, as well as classes offered by industry partners are all important. But learning from a skilled installer is in my opinion, crucial. There is nothing like that real-world experience. This a craft.  It has to be practiced. 

NTCA 2019 Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year recipient Lee Callewaert incorporates art and technical precision into his creative installations.

Nordstrom: I recommend for a person that wants to follow in my footsteps to start with small projects and work your way up from there. Don’t start off by attempting something really complex because you may find yourself getting frustrated throughout the process and may not want to try it again. Be willing to take some risks and to challenge yourself. Make some sample pieces to show your clients. Try making something for yourself or a friend or family member at a discounted cost. Save bigger pieces of tile scrap, these will come in handy for future mosaics and to keep your overhead costs down. Be willing to take advice from others and accept criticism, good or bad. Keep a portfolio and try to show it to every possible client. Find a bookkeeper and a tax person. Save every receipt. Pay attention to the business side of things. You can be the greatest installer and have plenty of work, but by not understanding the business and taxes all you’re going to be doing is treading water. 

Fast-track tile installation helps drive customers into BMW dealerships

In this day and age, tile installation professionals are well aware that having the luxury of time to complete their projects is a thing of the past. We live in a faster-paced world today; it seems as if everyone wants something yesterday. That certainly was the challenge that faced Tim Naumann, owner of All Set Tile & Marble of Lancaster, Pa., relative to the project he was awarded at Sun Motor Cars BMW of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

“We were called upon for this specific application,” stated Naumann, “which was a 5,000 sq. ft. expanse including a 12”x24” exterior carport. It needed to be turned around as fast as humanly possible. As a matter of fact, its timetable mandated having same-day foot traffic and following-day car traffic, allowing for vehicles that were carrying heavy loads.  

All Set Tile & Marble contractors installing 1,400 sq. ft. of tile with a next-day deadline.

“So, we went to our distributor, H.H. Bealler & Co. of West Reading, Pa., looking for a new, fast-track installation product, clearly because the schedule for this project was so intense,” he added. “We had 1,400 sq. ft. of 12”x24” porcelain tile to install, and the showroom was opening the next day! To add to the pressure,” Naumann continued, “the only way to drive cars into the showroom would be through this carport!”

Naumann’s team found out about Bostik’s new rapid-setting mortar, BAM™,which had not yet even been officially introduced to the marketplace. “What happened after that was amazing,” Naumann declared.

All Set’s people installed and grouted all on the first day, and by the second, not only were cars driving over the newly tiled flooring, they were doing so along with all the construction lifts, as well.

“There is a definite need for a product like this out there,” Naumann said. “Construction schedules are forever changing, becoming more stringent on time constraints than ever before. Once a floor is down, all the other trades come in. If the product is still not 100% cured, tiles will chip and crack. We don’t even want to think about that! BAM had the PSI and bond-strength we were looking for. Other companies’ products simply do not have that turnover rate.

“BAM is a product that I am comfortable with,” Naumann added. “It absolutely proved itself in this installation. We will use it again. In the past, companies such as ours would have to wait two to three days for mortars to set before beginning the grouting process. Now, with BAM we’re done in 1-2 days with the entire installation!” beamed Naumann.

“I’ve been in business 28 years,” he said. “Everyone is always claiming to be coming out with something faster, better,  but BAM – this one really is! 

The only way to drive cars into the showroom was through this newly tiled carport, within 24 hours of setting with Bostik BAM rapid-setting mortar.

“Now it must be mentioned that the weather for this installation was ideal,” declared Naumann. “If [BAM] works well in all weather situations, and we believe it will, it’ll be one of the greatest new products to ever hit the marketplace!”

Bostik’s BAM is a high-performance, fiber-reinforced, extended-open-time mortar, ideal for installation of extra large and heavy tile material. Incorporating Bostik’s RapidCure™ Technology. BAM is specifically formulated for optimal performance in both commercial and residential applications of large-and-heavy tile, glass tile, mosaics, quarry, porcelain, ceramic, most natural stone tiles, and today’s gauged porcelain tile/panels. The RapidCure™ Technology that is included in BAM, results in a consistent cure that, in most applications, will be grout-ready in just four hours. Additionally, BAM offers “open and adjustability times” of up to 30 minutes at exceptional bond strength that exceeds ANSI 118.15 requirements. 

Ideal for use over uncoupling membranes and various sheet membranes, BAM is ideal for use over properly prepared concrete, cement backer boards, masonry, concrete block, mortar beds, cement terrazzo, structurally sound exterior-grade plywood (interior/dry use only), well-bonded vinyl composite tile (VCT), existing tiles, cutback adhesive residue (dry only), and much more.

“Bostik’s focus is to continually come up with high-tech chemical formulations that offer needed solutions, said Adam Abell, Bostik’s Market Manager, Tile & Stone Installation Systems. “We like to call this ‘the intersection of method improvement via chemical advancement’.” 

12” x 24” exterior carport installed with Bostik’s BAM rapid-setting mortar, ready for same-day foot traffic and following-day, heavy-load car traffic.

“Bostik has not only made the commitment to provide the marketplace with high-technology solutions for every stage of surfacing installation (surface preparation, applying mortar, grouting and sealing),” Abell added. “Our flooring installation products also must cure as fast or faster than ever before. This, of course, expedites the process, allowing our flooring contractors the luxury of confidently leaving early. It also makes it possible for the next trade in line to begin their magic ahead of the initial schedule.” 

All Set’s Tim Naumann summed up his first experience with Bostik’s new fast-track product. “We like to be a ‘one-stop-shop,’” he said. “Because of that, we favor bringing in full pallets of a full system from one manufacturer to ensure successful installation, and frankly, warranties usually require that, as well. It looks like BAM is not only a great installation product, it also may help me run our business in a way that we prefer!”

Jennifer Hoff, CEM, President Taffy Event Strategies

coverings logo

One-To-One with Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director

Jennifer Hoff

I got to know Jennifer Hoff when Taffy Event Strategies, a full-service trade show and event-management company she launched – took on the management of Coverings, of which NTCA is part owner. The show has benefitted from her experience and excellence in show management.

Jennifer is active in trade show industry organizations including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). She has served on the program committee and as Chairman of the Board for the IAEE Capital Chapter and has held various IAEE national positions including Board Director and Education Committee. She serves on the CEM (Certified in Exhibiton Management®) faculty for IAEE. 

Jennifer has spent her career producing trade shows and conferences. Most recently, she founded Taffy Event Strategies, which produces exhibitions and conferences including Coverings and ASPE-The American Society of Plumbing Engineers Expo. Prior to that, she worked with VP International to launch new events in a variety of market segments. 

She has also contributed to the Art of the Show, third edition, which is a textbook used in colleges and universities. In addition, she has instructed the Introduction to Exposition Management course at Northern Virginia Community College. During her trade show industry career, she has received several industry awards and accolades including the IAEE 2018 Woman of Achievement Award.

Jennifer has a Bachelor of Science from Virginia Tech in Production and Operations Management.

In 2020, Coverings will be coming to New Orleans for the first time in almost 20 years. What factors went into choosing New Orleans as the location, and what are the advantages of this venue as well as the challenges that your management team is facing to produce a successful show?

New Orleans is a vibrant city that offers Coverings a robust venue. Given the size of Coverings, there are only a limited number of convention centers that can hold the show. New Orleans enables us to expand the Coverings audience to a new part of the country and provides a new and fun destination for our loyal attendees. 

There are challenges for every show we manage and many times we can’t predict those until the show is moving in or out. Coverings is a very complex show from an operational perspective, so preplanning and preparation are critical especially in a new city. That being said, we have a great internal team and vendors we have worked with for quite some time, so we can collaboratively address the obstacles. In addition, our contacts in New Orleans have been easy to work with and they have been great partners. 

We are excited for Coverings 2020 being in New Orleans because the New Orleans Jazz Festival begins the last day of Coverings so it gives attendees the opportunity to not only attend the show but stay for the Jazz Festival.

Jennifer Hoff with the microphone, preparing for the ribbon cutting that marked the opening of Coverings 19.

What are some of the new or exciting programs that Coverings will offer in New Orleans this year?

We are excited to bring back the Installation & Design Experience. The Installation & Design Experience will showcase today’s best practices relative to a multitude of different tile installations, demonstrate why tile is a great product choice compared to other materials, how to become and find certified tile installers, and so much more. 

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) will be conducting live demonstrations in the lounge area, where trained and certified crews will educate attendees on the proper installation of large-format tile and gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs, as well as the importance of substrate preparation. Lunch, happy hours, giveaways and a game show in the late afternoon will also take place in the lounge. 

CTEF will be showcasing the features and benefits of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program and its importance to qualified labor as found in the TCNA Handbook and also contained in the Avitru (formerly ARCOM) MasterSpec for construction specifications.

A new feature for Coverings 2020 includes a Brand + Business Building Zone where attendees can get a professional headshot taken, create a video pitch for their social media channels and website, and amplify their profile across the web and social media for promotion. These business-building resources are complimentary to attendees. 

Special programs and events are also being planned, such as guided tours for attendees, product giveaways, lunch, happy hours, and customized games featuring ceramic tile-related content. This expanded and vibrant area of the show floor will be a great hub for learning, sharing best practices, and networking.

Also new for Coverings 2020 will be Tiler, Coverings’ very own EventBot. He will be available via attendees’ smartphones to answer any questions about Coverings. 

Coverings will focus on three key tracks relevant to today’s industry professional: Installation & Fabrication, Workforce & Profits, and Materials & Trends. Coverings’ robust educational offerings span all industry segments. Individually designed for every type of learning need, Coverings’ education keeps attendees current in today’s highly competitive marketplace with many offering CEUs. And, Coverings is still one of the only events that provides all learning benefits at no cost.

Representing Ceramics of Italy at Coverings 19 with Jennifer Hoff (second from left) are (l. to r.) Danielle McWilliams of Novita Communications, Luciano Galassini, Deputy Director of Confindustria Ceramica, and Kristin Coleman of Novita Communications. 

There are many local, regional and national shows and events. If someone was to pick one event to come to, why should it be Coverings?

Although Coverings is specific to tile and stone, it is unlike most trade shows due to a large number of international exhibitors, which gives Coverings a unique personality. Many of the booths are installed with tile and beautifully display the latest trends and technology. Given the international nature of Coverings, there is plenty of wine, espresso, pasta and paella on the show floor, as many of the exhibitors provide this type of hospitality in their booths. And the entire Coverings event is complimentary, including the educational sessions. Coverings has a robust education program offering CEUs that is completely free.

The tile industry has experienced market share growth for many years, but recently has experienced some concerns in losing sales to competitive products in key areas where we think tile should be the preferred choice by consumers. What role do you think Coverings should play in addressing this industry issue, if any, and what is your management team doing to support this?

Coverings is helping to facilitate a campaign to educate the industry regarding tile versus other competitive products. Our team has been supporting this effort by engaging with the campaign to help to move it forward.  

In addition, we feature the benefits of using tile throughout the promotion of the show. Our monthly newsletter, The Coverings Connection, provides stories and videos about tile projects – installation as well as trends – and promotes the use of tile. The content and programs developed for the show incorporate the benefits of tile and why it is the preferred choice. 

Jennifer Hoff (far left) celebrates with Freeman and Floor Managers after another successful Coverings. 


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MAPEI makes a splash

The Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark – Monticello, NY, U.S.A.

MAPEI’s tile and stone installation and waterproofing products are used throughout the indoor waterpark and adjoining hotel at one of the Catskills’ newest resorts – thanks to intuition and persistence.

In an area known for resorts, New York’s Catskill Mountains, the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark is unique. In fact, the Kartrite is unique in the world of resorts in general. Not only is it the largest indoor waterpark in the state of New York, it is one of the largest in the world. According to the resort’s website, the waterpark is comprised of 80,000 square feet, featuring 11 water attractions – which run 318,000 gallons of water through them. And, even in the dead of winter it is always a balmy 84º F inside thanks to the structure’s transparent Texlon roof, which ensures that sunlight is filtered in and that the comfortable heat stays in as well.

The fun at this state-of-the-art waterpark is included for guests of the Kartrite Resort, the luxury hotel/spa that is attached to the indoor waterpark. The all-suites hotel features 324 rooms with all of the expected high-tech conveniences. The hotel also features a spa, restaurants, and shopping and fitness activities designed to fill a weekend or an entire vacation with adventure. And, the resort and the waterpark both feature MAPEI products. But, the story behind how MAPEI came to be included on the specification is as wild as any tale from an adventure novel – and highlights the importance of perseverance and trusting your instincts.

MAPEI on the job

As MAPEI sales representative Darin Shocker related, prior to coming to MAPEI, he used to install tile. He said, “One day I received a call about a large job asking if I was interested in installing some tile on a 100,000 sq. ft. project. I explained that I wasn’t installing anymore. And that was that. But the project still was on my mind. I thought that I should go and see if maybe it could be an opportunity for MAPEI. When I arrived at the jobsite trailer, it turned out that MAPEI wasn’t even on the specification. Since I was new to the company, I contacted my supervisor, Matt Hess, Sales Director – Northeast Area. We were able to get equal representation on the spec. From that point, BK Tile, the project’s installing contractor, began using MAPEI products on the project.”

He continued, “They began by using MAPEI products in the hotel bathrooms and foyers. At this point, BK primarily used another manufacturer’s products in their installations. But, when they began to use our products on this job, we began to gain their trust. They proceeded to use MAPEI products in all areas of the hotel until eventually this job was 100% MAPEI systems throughout both the hotel and the waterpark.”

What were those “or equal” products that Shocker’s persistence got included on the spec?

The specification called for large quantities of products to be used between the hotel and the waterpark: 430,000 sq. ft. of waterproofing to be installed in the interior floors and shower walls of the hotel and the waterpark (Novoplan 2 and ECO Prim Grip self-leveling as needed, Mapesil T and Mapelastic Aquadefense), as well as 100,000 sq. ft. of ceramic/porcelain/quarry installation products (Ultracolor Plus FA Grout, Mapelastic Aquadefense, Ultraflex 2, Ultralite, Ultraflex LFT, Kerapoxy CQ, ECO Prim Grip to prime for Novoplan 2 Plus). “The hotel has 324 suites with restrooms and kitchens all using MAPEI systems. It also has a large lobby and other foyer areas,” Shocker said.

Located in a rural area of Sullivan County, New York, the large-scale commercial construction project required a 15-man crew and a year’s work to complete.

Shocker explained that whether working on the hotel or the waterpark, to complete this massive project, the BK Tile & Stone, Inc. crew, “trowel-applied the thin-set materials and used rollers and/or spray equipment to apply the waterproofing depending upon the application.”

The project ran from July 2018 to January 2019, with the resort and waterpark officially opening on May 10, 2019. “This project uses a complete MAPEI system,” Shocker said. “It is also a great example of providing customer service and product deliveries to a remote location. Both the contractor and the owners are happy with the MAPEI experience – people and products.” 

But perhaps the main lesson of this project is to trust your instincts and to visit those jobsite trailers. Shocker concurred, “Boy, am I glad I took the ride to check up on the jobsite that day!” 

Michael Kephart, President American Wonder Porcelain

One-to-One with Bart Bettiga

Michael Kephart, President
American Wonder Porcelain

While attending Total Solutions Plus in Nashville recently, I had the opportunity to tour the American Wonder Porcelain plant with its president, Michael Kephart. This state-of-the art plant that opened in 2017 and employs more than 200 people in the Nashville area, continues the trend of international investment in domestic tile manufacturing plants on U.S. soil. There are many distinct advantages these manufacturers enjoy, and this is especially true recently with the impact that tariffs have had on imported ceramic tile from China. 

Kephart was hired as president to oversee the development of the plant and to strategically launch the products into the U.S. market. He is uniquely qualified to lead this operation, with many years of experience in production and product development in the tile industry. While we toured the plant on an enjoyable fall Tennessee day, Kephart and I took the opportunity to chat about producing tile, strategy, and the tile industry.

What are the advantages you see of producing high-quality porcelain tile domestically in Tennessee and how have you taken advantage of this in today’s competitive market?

The technical aspects of delivering high-quality porcelain tile to the U.S. market from Tennessee are as normalized today as ever. The domestic production materials are stable and plentiful, the vertical sources for design and application are localized, the energy source is among the lowest in world cost level, innovation is where innovators are, the latest modernized equipment is readily available and domestic ceramic unit production scale has and will continue to grow. Capital intensive projects like tile factories require market demand and acceptance, segment growth, great teams of people working hard and smart, mix management, patience and a little luck. Heavy, large units are most effective produced closest to the customer base desired.

Explain your strategy towards growing your market share. Do you sell through independent distribution, specialty retailers, etc. and how do you see this evolving over the next few years?

We started our company with a simple but unique message. We are the “brand behind the brand” in the market. We worked to promote our customers’ brand as the prevailing factor with our tile in the box. The tile distribution market is changing and evolving quickly in the U.S. We are invested in manufacturing, not end-use promotion. Our assets are centralized to leverage this concept and not compete with the distribution or retailer unlike most of our competition. We believe the need for promotion, education and presentation of the broad use of ceramic tile today and in the future requires localization and investment to reach the end user or specification driver residentially and commercially.

What investments in technology are you making to continue to manufacture products that will appeal to consumers, specifiers and designers. What trends do you see developing in popularity, including patterns and sizes, and types of finishes that can be applied to porcelain tile?

American Wonder Porcelain has invested significantly in technology and resources to develop sophisticated, high-styled, market-driven products. We are innovating with glaze, graphics and finished surfaces to develop a realism and versatility in tile that energizes our customer. The “skin” of our new tile surface can be as smooth as satin yet react with high slip resistance when wet. The gloss of our polish is glass-like transparent, yet resistant to chemicals and staining. Clean rectified edges with mono-caliber matte, polished and honed options allow for wall and floor alignment with low maintenance versus natural stone. Combining digital graphics with new surface options, all in square or plank units up to
24” x 48”, we provide great value to our customers and capture the style and trend imagination of the market.

What are the biggest threats you see to growing tile market share and what is your company doing to address this?

The biggest threat to growing ceramic industry market share is ourselves (and LVT growing faster)! With an unprecedented tariff action pending against China for our U.S. tile industry, we must act to gain the domestic customer’s confidence as cost-effective, capable and reliable suppliers of the most sustainable, durable and fashionable floor and wall product on the planet. We have long been an industry “behind the curtain” with imports driving the development of our U.S. market and other floor and wall material options more heavily promoted than ceramics. Investment has been made and more will be made to grow a U.S.-based sustainable ceramic tile industry, supplying the U.S. consumer. Our retail and distribution customers are presenting tile in more creative and visually inspiring ways. Internal industry promotions such as “Why Tile” through TCNA are gaining traction to promote the positive sustainable facts of ceramic tile. More needs to be done. More industry alignment among the major labor, distribution and technical affiliations in the U.S. working with our international affiliations is needed to unite around promotion of ceramic tile features and benefits to the consumer. The current LVT category growth is certainly impressive. The plastic products, however, are simply not comparable in technical quality, sustainability, durability and safety with high-quality porcelain tile. It is exactly what it is.

How does American Wonder Porcelain Tile support the installer to ensure your innovative products are installed correctly?

American Wonder Porcelain is proud to support all of our industry affiliations in labor, distribution and technical services. We have doubled our Platinum Level commitment for 2020 to CTEF for certification of high-quality labor. We participate in the TCNA Technical Committee with labor for higher-quality standards in tile production. And, in 2020, we will host an NTCA training seminar supporting labor. All of the wonderful tiles we produce and our valued distribution and retailer may stock are unproductive in the warehouse without high-quality labor to install and light the torch of fashionable sustainability for our customers with ceramic tile.

NTCA 2019 Review and Industry Forecast

As we look to close out 2019 and look forward to a new decade starting in 2020, I would like to use one word to express how I feel as NTCA Executive Director about our industry and our association – GRATITUDE. There is so much to be thankful for, and it starts with a dedicated board of directors and executive committee and ends with enthusiastic support from members around the country and a dedicated staff of association and industry leaders. Thanks to all of your efforts, NTCA continues to make a positive impact on the ceramic tile industry. 

NTCA’s formal acceptance into the National Apprenticeship System from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Highlighting NTCA’s 2019 year was the announcement that the U.S. Department of Labor approved our application for Federal Apprenticeship Guidelines, allowing us to assist our members in training and recruiting new workers. These same guidelines can potentially enable members to apply for workforce development funding assistance in their state. To help in recruitment efforts, NTCA introduced several new videos and promotional materials to support members to promote the ceramic tile trade in their community.  

The biggest impact NTCA makes in our industry usually centers around the training programs we provide for our members. In 2019, we embarked on our most ambitious effort in our association’s history, adding multiple regional training events and roundtable membership meetings, in addition to continuing our traditional workshop seminars. The trainers at NTCA do an incredible job in educating installers and industry professionals, and in 2019, NTCA pledged to help grow the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation Certified Tile Installer (CTI) and Advanced Certified Tile Installer (ACT) programs.  

Membership growth continues to be a focal point of our association. NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein with new member Gabriel Hanceri at a NTCA workshop in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

2019 was not without challenges. Leading the way this year is a growing concern that plastic-based materials, like LVT and others, are taking industry market share. Rising tariff costs, concerns that economic growth is slowing down, and the continued lack of trained and certified tile installers are still at the forefront of challenges our industry faces. NTCA is committed to addressing these concerns but is additionally forging ahead to promote new opportunities that will help our members continue to thrive in the years ahead. We see the ceramic tile market as one with endless potential, with products helping us to grow per capita consumption for walls and floors and in interior and exterior applications.  

Membership continues to grow thanks to strong support from an active board of directors who helps to spread the word about the value of NTCA to their peers in their region. We will continue to add value by introducing new programs and benefits, and we hope to continue on our path towards 2,000 members in the next few years. 

In an effort to increase value for membership and serve our industry, NTCA added benefits programs for health, life and supplemental insurance, dental and vision plans, 401(k) plans, and more. We urge you to check out the NTCA website for detailed information on all of these programs.  

As NTCA Executive Director since 2002, I am honored to continue to serve this vibrant and growing association. 

NTCA Board Advisor Dan Welch in Michigan taking part in recruitment and training efforts to high school students.

NTCA has committed to a stronger level of support to the CTEF. NTCA and CTEF staff with CTI test takers.

Beautifying New York City one mosaic panel at a time

In the greater New York area, more than eight million people use the subways, commuter trains and buses of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) each day to navigate the busy city. 

The founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect to its customers and enhance the experience. Continuing that tradition during a massive rebuilding of the system, MTA launched an Arts & Design division in the 1980s. This division oversees the selection of artists and installations that are permanently installed throughout the MTA system, “creating a first-rate museum filled with more than 300 works by world famous, mid-career and emerging artists,” and connecting commuters with people, sites and surrounding neighborhoods.  

As part of major renovations to nine stations along the Sea Beach Line (N) in Brooklyn, artists were selected to create permanent artwork for inclusion in the station renovations. The nine stations under construction were originally opened in 1915, and the now-completed capital construction included improvements to each station’s platforms, overpasses, stairways, canopies and columns, in addition to permanent artwork.  

For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work.

Four of the artists selected for the Sea Beach Line projects – Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez – selected Mosaicos Venecianos De México, a member of TCNA Mexico, to translate their designs into smalti (enamel glass mosaics). The pieces were fabricated with LATICRETE® products and shipped to New York for their installation along the platforms at MTA New York City Transit Authority’s 86th Street, Avenue U, 18th Avenue and Bay Parkway stations.

“Given the architectural requirements of these stations, we pre-mounted and grouted the designs on aluminum panels using products from LATICRETE, a prestigious brand leader in installation systems that we knew were tested and guaranteed for high-performance and ideal for exterior applications,” said Malena Perdomo of Mosaicos Venecianos De México.

Margolis used local area maps in her mosaic panels design to represent the thought patterns of daily commuters.

High-traffic and extreme temperature challenges

High-traffic installation: Just like New York City, the MTA stations never sleep. Even though the company pre-mounted and grouted the artwork on aluminum panels ready for mounting to each station’s platform walls, the installations needed to be done quickly to minimize interruption to MTA customers. 

Extreme temperatures: New York City can range in temperatures from -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 Celsius) to upwards of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius), so it was important that the installation products chosen would be able to thrive in extreme climates to resist fractures and possible humidity issues.  

A LATICRETE solution 

Artists Karen Margolis and Sally Gil focused their artwork on pieces that reflect the local landscape. At the Avenue U station, artist Sally Gil’s work was recreated in a series of 14 mosaic panels titled “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky.” Each of the pieces she created reflects the surrounding Gravesend neighborhood. For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that similarly connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work. 

Gil’s work commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at its respective station. Gil’s work was adhered to fourteen mosaic panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive.

Artist Eamon Ore-Giron created an expansive mosaic project entitled “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe” that was based on six, original oil-on-linen paintings that were translated into 24 glass mosaic panels at the Bay Parkway station.

At the 18th Avenue station, artist Emilio Perez’s work was made into 22 abstract mosaic murals called “Fluxus/Rhythmus.” In an email conversation with Cuban Art News, Perez credited this installation as the first of his works to be translated into mosaic panels. 

“It was important for the mosaic to reflect the variations of color in a brushstroke to create the sense of movement,” said Perez. “What I discovered is that the process used for making the different color glass creates variations of tone much like a brushstroke. This made for a seamless transition of materials.”

Each of the art installations was adhered to aluminum panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive that is easily spread and tenaciously bonds to challenging substrate types. With this adhesive, the mosaic panels stayed perfectly in place while on their excursion to New York, as well as during the fast installations that took place once onsite at the stations.

SPECTRALOCK® PRO Grout, a patented, high-performance epoxy grout, was used to finish off the pieces. SPECTRALOCK PRO Grout is designed for use on glass tile applications and is great for exterior installations like those at the stations. This product also offers superb color uniformity, durability and stain resistance that will stand the test of time. Additionally, the grout is crack resistant and ideal for installation in areas with a wide range in temperatures – perfect for outdoors. 

Close-up of one of Gil’s Avenue U station mosaic panels, featuring the Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center to the right.

Each of the products used received UL GREENGUARD Gold Certifications for low chemical emissions for sustainable building and Health Product Declaration (HPD). This open standard provides complete, transparent disclosure of the potential chemicals of concern by analyzing and comparing all product raw materials to authoritative chemical hazard lists from around the world.


“Mosaicos Venecianos De México is a talented fabricator that brought the artists’ work alive,” said LATICRETE Strategic Innovation Manager Samantha Rothberg. “More than eight million people will get the privilege to enjoy the mosaic panel designs daily and LATICRETE products helped make that possible.” 

The work of Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at their respective stations. 

Ore-Giron’s expansive mosaic project, “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe,” visualizes the world as abstract forms and shapes and their interplay as a reflection of the ways in which people of different communities interact.

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