Editor’s Letter – February 2015

Lesley psf head shotHappy New Year! “What?” you may be thinking. “Lesley is a month behind!” Au contraire, my friends. February marks the Chinese New Year 4713, and 2015 is the year of the Sheep, Ram or Goat. After last year’s Year of the Horse – one of action and activity that sometimes spiraled into chaos – the Year of the Sheep promises ease, peace, harmony, intimacy, family, gentleness, love, tranquility, creativity and an appreciation for art and beauty.

I don’t know about you, but I think the world could use a little more ease, harmony and tranquility. Sign me up!

sheep-iconAnd it seems to me that the promise of the Year of the Sheep is great news for contractors in the business of crafting beautiful, long-lasting works of art with tile and stone installations. Apparently the Year of the Sheep will unleash appreciation for beauty, perhaps with homeowners and commercial establishments yearning to bring a fresh new look to their surroundings – and who better to bring that to fruition than the membership of NTCA who weave artistry and installation excellence into practical, functional beauty?

All that tranquility doesn’t edge out excitement. We at NTCA have new programs and plans afoot – and just for a taste, take a look at our newly designed and truly interactive website at

Our Partnering for Success voucher program now offers each new and renewing member $1,800 of vouchers to be selected out of a possible $4,500 bank of choices from sponsor companies to offset membership fees and either explore new products or get a break on favorite materials. And in April, the industry returns to Orlando for Coverings 2015, with a fantastic lineup of conferences (see related story in this issue), exhibits and more in store. NTCA has an exciting development in the works – details will become available as we get closer to Coverings!

The Year of the Horse 2014 brought great things, personally and professionally. In fact, we just calculated the final figures for NTCA membership in 2014, and discovered we exceeded our goal of 1,000 members by 28 – with a total of 1,028 members when the books closed on December 31. This growing network of quality-minded contractors only makes the industry stronger and creates more of a voice for contractors in the field and in the trenches, dealing with new products (like thin porcelain tile) and new technologies.

I’m looking forward to see how the gains of 2014 mellow and mature in the harmonious Year of the Sheep 2015. The Chinese New Year doesn’t start till February 19, so if the excitement of the Year of the Horse is still keeping you awake at night, instead of counting sheep, try counting the ways NTCA can help you make the most of this auspicious year.

God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – January 2015

Lesley psf head shotHappy new year! We start 2015  with a fresh roster of issues here at the TileLetter family of publications.

Due to the overwhelming acclaim we received for last fall’s NTCA Reference Manual issue, we decided to bring you a large-format 8″ x 10″ TECH issue of TileLetter in summer 2015. This issue will keep you informed in short, technical articles about advances in products, materials and methods.

Second, we learned a lot through publishing our large-format TADA magazine over the last three years. We forged new relationships with A&D professionals and learned more about the needs of the specifier community – including the fact that while they crave product and technical information, they don’t need yet another magazine to do it. Instead, we are channeling this important material into a new TRENDS issue of TileLetter, a lush 8” x 10” format publication that will be available at Coverings. It will explore new products, up-and-coming design, style, fashion and influences that we will see at the Coverings show and beyond. Together with TECH, it will give A&D professionals a one-two punch of essential information to better equip them for stunning and high-performance tile installations.

We will continue with two of our traditional special issues in the unique TileLetter format beloved by our readers: the Coverings issue which includes show and the TileLetter Green issue, which focuses on sustainability issues critical to contractors, architects, designers and specifiers.

Within our regular 12 monthly issues, we have some changes too. For instance, our Five Star Contractor Spotlight becomes our NTCA Member Spotlight, broadening our coverage of all our members while continuing to introduce new Five Star Members as they become approved as we are doing in this issue with Visalia Tile.

Our Handbook Highlights section also gets a facelift. Instead of focusing strictly on changes and updates to the TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, the new “By the Book” section features articles about issues appearing in the Handbook or ANSI, authored by industry experts. Our first installment, by Beverly Andrews of ProSpec, is in this issue.

The 2015 menu has six tasty stories about thin tile, and three features that focus on stone developments.

Business stories will also continue in Business Tip, authored in part from speakers who drew standing-room only crowds at Total Solutions Plus and Coverings. These pieces will be a shot in the arm to successful and profitable management of your business. Get ready also for impassioned business and technical perspectives from our new NTCA president, James Woelfel, in the NTCA President’s Letter.

So, stay tuned to the unfolding of this well-rounded roster of print education that aims to better your business. And as always, your suggestions and perspectives about industry issues are welcome. Just drop me a line at [email protected]

God bless,

Editor’s Letter – December 2014

Lesley psf head shotAnother year has come and gone. I hope it was a good year for you. It’s marked some real milestones for both NTCA and CTEF – NTCA celebrated its 1,000th member in October (see related story in this issue) and CTEF has certified its 1,000th Certified Tile Installer this year. Those are great accomplishments, especially with the pall hanging over the economy only a few years ago, and the continued need for an increasing labor pool.

Amidst these great accomplishments, there will always be something that can be done better – and dedicated members of our industry are working to make sure those things are improved. One of these key individuals is Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble, Kent City Mich., who finishes up this year as NTCA president. Dan has been extremely passionate and hard working during his tenure of leading this association, and I’d like to express thanks on behalf of our staff and industry for his tireless efforts to make this industry better for everyone in it. He’ll continue as the NTCA chairman of the board as James Woelfel of Artcraft Marble & Tile Co., takes the reins in January (welcome James!). James’ passion knows no equal, so get ready for another inspiring two-year ride with James as president.

As we enter 2015, I want to draw your attention to the Coverings Installation Design Awards call for entries (visit http://www.coverings.com/page.cfm/Link=18/t=m/goSection=5_17 or http://tinyurl.com/n7wa7fs for details). I know there is an abundance of stunning, mind-blowing projects out there – be sure to enter yours by January 20, 2015. There’s a related story in this issue that previews the new industry-wide event planned for the awards program at Coverings this year: a live showcase of products, combined with announcements and a cocktail reception, along with coverage in TileLetter and Contemporary Stone & Tile Design. This is a great opportunity to get exposure for your company and its expertise and artistry locally, and nationwide recognition for your excellence.

Finally, I want to wish you happy holy-days – whatever that means to you, your friends and family. This is a time of year to count blessings – and friends, colleagues, and co-workers in this industry are numbered among mine. May your celebrations be bright, warm, happy and healthy, and may your new year be prosperous.

God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – November 2014

Lesley psf head shotNovember. Already. How did that happen?

I am just putting the finishing touches on November TileLetter content, then I’ll be joining many of you in San Antonio for Total Solutions Plus. We’re on the verge of Halloween and then, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

One thing that comes to mind as I peruse this issue’s content is the amazing diversity in our industry. There are so many different ways to utilize the products and methods we have at our disposal, and so many ways we can support each other as we participate in this industry. For instance, among other stories this month, we’re looking at a handmade mosaic that uses backer board as its canvas, the pros and cons of installing stacked natural stone and manufactured stone veneer, how the Affordable Care Act impacts companies and individuals in our industry, and taking a walk down memory lane for our NTCA Tile & Stone Workshops over this past year.

1114_EditorsletterSpeaking of our NTCA workshops, one of the aims of our educational outreach is to encourage new contractors to join and grow our association’s wisdom and strength with their expertise, and give them the tools to consistently achieve excellence in their day-to-day business. I’m pleased to say that just before press time, NTCA achieved a long-held goal – welcoming its 1,000th member to the association! Salvator and Becky Rodriguez of Sal’s Tile in Corpus Christi signed up at the Corpus Christi workshop hosted by Daltile on October 22, 2014! More info will be forthcoming, but for now, we want to congratulate and welcome them, and we encourage you to do the same!

On this celebratory note, I’d like to turn your attention to the holiday of the month – Thanksgiving, fast becoming my favorite holiday. This is indeed a time to count your blessings – and let your employees, employers, colleagues and customers know that you are thankful for them too. One major industry player sends out Thanksgiving cards each year, and it always gives me pause, and triggers my OWN gratitude to receive a note of thanks. How might a similar gesture to those you work with or even to treasured customers be received? We’re all people first, and all enjoy knowing we are appreciated. Take this opportunity to not only feast with family and friends and watch your football favorite teams spar for the win, but to let those who support your business and your success know you recognize, with gratitude, their effort and contributions.

Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – October 2014

Lesley psf head shotAs I was researching stats for women in construction and in the tile trade, I came across a slew of statistics at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Here are some select stats from that collection that I thought would interest readers and give a snapshot of the industry in terms of “tile and marble setters,” which is how BLS defines tile and stone installers and contractors.

For instance, in 2013, the BLS shows that there were 30,090 tile and marble setters with a mean (average) hourly wage $20.68, and a mean (average) annual wage of $43,010.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the highest employment level was in California, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois. Top paying states were Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Washington and Illinois.

0914-stats-1The five metropolitan areas with the highest employment level were New York-White Plain-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA; Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division; and Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ came in sixth.

Top-paying metro areas were Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA NECTA Division; Atlantic City- Hammonton, NJ; Akron OH; Nassau-Suffolk, NY Metropolitan Division; and Honolulu. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division – the metro area with the highest employment level – also is a top payer.

0914-stats-2Nonmetropolitan employment concentrations are highest in Hawaii-Maui-Kauai; Northeast Florida; North Central Colorado, Southwest Alabama and Southeastern Oklahoma. And top paying non-metro areas are Hawaii-Maui-Kauai; East Central Pennsylvania; North Central Colorado; Southwestern Wyoming; and Southwest Alabama.

14-stats-3How do government figures jive with your experience? Email me at the address below and let me know the going rate for wages in your region and employment conditions for a tile-setter-on-the-street perspective of the government overview.

Find more information and details at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes472044.htm



[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – September 2014

Lesley psf head shotOne of the things I love about this industry is its good works. Not only is there a lot of excellent craftsmanship and good work done on projects, but there is a lot of work done for the betterment of others.

What I’m referring to are the generous donations of different companies and members of the industry for excellent causes – races, events, tournaments for different charities, raffles and fundraising for ongoing education and elevation of the craft of tile setting. And I am also referring to the tremendous good work done by Tile Partners for Humanity/Mountain Re-Source Center, and those who contribute time, talent and treasures to it.

Tile Partners for Humanity (TPFH) was formed in 2002 when Curt Rapp, CEO of The Tile Doctor, and Gray LaFortune, executive director of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America, partnered with Habitat for Humanity (Habitat), a nonprofit organization that builds, rehabilitates, repairs and improves homes with families in need. TPFH pledged to provide $1.25 million worth of tile industry products and services to Habitat affiliates over a five-year period. After meeting that pledge, TPFH successfully repeated it, and then made a third pledge to provide $5 million worth of materials and labor to Habitat partners in 2010.

Rapp and LaFortune worked with the Tile Council of North America, Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, National Tile Contractors Association, and Tile Heritage Foundation to guide TPFH and direct more than $18 million of materials and services to Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit partners over an eight-year period. TPFH merged with Mountain Re-Source Center (MRC), a nonprofit organization working to place donations of building materials and other products with nonprofit partners around the country, in June of 2011, carrying on the mission that TPFH had established. TPFH and MRC work with Habitat affiliates as well as other nonprofits working to improve communities or to rebuild after natural disasters.

Tile manufacturers and distributors have donated tile, installation materials, tools, and other products to this cause for direct use on projects or to benefit Habitat through retail sale in the organization’s ReStores. You can read about some recent projects on page 76 of this issue in our “Helping Hands” story. In addition, tile contractors have donated goods as well as time and labor to either install tile in Habitat homes or work alongside volunteers and Habitat homeowners, teaching them how to install tile in their own homes. This widespread industry effort has provided beautiful, durable tile for homes and community improvement projects across the county.

editor's letterAnd the efforts of TPFH/MRC don’t end there. If you’ve ever attended a trade show, you may have wondered what happens to all the displays of tile and product you see on the show floor after the lights go down. TPFH/MRC works with show management and individual exhibitors to be sure these materials are diverted from landfill into the best use possible – building materials for deserving nonprofits or products that are sold through Habitat ReStores. Executive director Herb Miller, public relations director Kathy Miller and networking director Allyson Venugopal make it all happen, combing the country to secure donations from companies and scheduling the collection of truckloads of tax-deductible materials after trade shows.

If you would like to donate labor or materials, visit www.mountain
re-source.org, call the main office at 304-678-4229 or contact Venugopal at [email protected]; phone 425-429-6188 office or 404-550-4932 mobile.


God bless
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – August 2014

Lesley psf head shot“In beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities.
In expert’s mind, there are none.”
– Shunryu Suzuki (Suzuki Roshi),
author of Zen Mind, Beginner Mind.

Welcome to the green issue of TileLetter. For several years running now, this issue brings you news of new eco-friendly products, development in sustainable materials, LEED and projects that use environmentally-friendly materials, sourced in planet-friendly ways. And we’ve got plenty of this content in the issue you hold in your hands.

This year, I’d also like to explore another understanding of the word, “green,” as in fresh and new – possibly even naive. How can the concept of “beginner’s mind,” and temporarily putting aside everything you think you know, be a positive practice for your business?

You might ask, “Why, should I – an experienced expert in setting tile and stone – think of myself as a beginner?” Stick with me here.

The idea of beginner’s mind or “shoshin” is not to abandon the wisdom you have gleaned over the years. But it does recommend periodically setting all you know aside, in order to be open to new possibilities, ideas and insights. This is an approach that Steve Jobs regularly used to make quantum leaps in creativity and product development.

In addition to the possibilities the opening quote alludes to, the brilliant Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.” That’s because expert mind keeps running on the same tracks without bringing in fresh ideas, or opening to untried possibilities.

Beginner’s mind observes what is, asks questions, invites in fresh perspectives and novel solutions. It’s not so much about learning as it is about questioning what is to come up with never-before-thought-of solutions. It may all begin with admitting that you don’t know, and being open to what colleagues, employees, spouses or your own intuition might say.

There are a lot of “new” products emerging on the marketplace. For instance, take a look at the Large Thin Porcelain Tile story, Part 2, in this issue. This is a new product that it’s difficult to have expertise about. Can you imagine using the openness of beginner’s mind when encountering these new products and the installation challenges they represent?

But taking a green, fresh attitude when approaching a problem is not limited to new products, technologies or methods coming into the industry. It could just as easily be applied to problems that keep confounding your operations, areas where you get stuck in the tendency to “do what you’ve always done,” or “push through” to a solution.

What might happen if you temporarily “forgot” those approaches and looked at the problem as if you were seeing it for the very first time? For more information about how to invoke beginner’s mind, visit these links:


God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – July 2014

Lesley psf head shot“In my eyes, every day is a celebration. Our love, business, and family are not a result but a constant reminder why we must celebrate this success we’ve built out of passion.“ – Jermaine, quotevila.com

In business, we often talk about cultivating relationships with customers and vendors, colleagues and coworkers. There is value in being amiably connected to people with whom you repeatedly do business. Friendliness and affability can grease the wheels of commerce and contribute to everyone’s success.

I’d like to posit that there is another reason why cultivating relationships with those you work with is important – because, in a very real way, they are your family. You probably see coworkers, crews and teams at least as often as your blood family members, maybe more. You work on problems together to come to solutions, press on toward common goals, assist and support each other, and then take time to kick back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Much of that is what’s done at home with loved ones, even if the goals differ.

Even those of us who do business in home offices have daily or frequent connection with our coworkers and staffs and regular communication with those in the industry we serve. In my case, with parents who live in New Jersey while I live in New Mexico (here’s a shout out to you, Mom and Dad!), I may see my work “family” more often than my blood family due to the network of meetings, events, conferences and trade shows that tie the tile industry all together.

And some of the businesses in our industry are built on actual familial partnerships – spouses, siblings, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons all working together on a business that’s been passed down through the generations.

How would your business change if you started seriously thinking of those in your business as treasured members of your family? When NTCA president Dan Welch was presented with the NTCA Tile Person of the Year award at Coverings in April, he commented that he considered NTCA family, and said “without the NTCA, we wouldn’t be here; we would be out of business.”

The myth of rugged individualism in our country is being exposed as just that – a myth. We all need each other to survive, and to thrive. Education and training is about people helping each other and sharing their wisdom to help others do better – witness this in the Large Thin Porcelain Tile Update story, part 1 in this issue. Contractors are sharing their experience and knowledge with others to help ensure success with this new product category – even before standards are established. In fact, the whole goal of our association is to educate, support, recognize, celebrate, nurture and negotiate what is best for the industry as a whole – the large family of which we are all a part.

I, for one, am very grateful for this tile industry family that I work with and enjoy – from the NTCA staff that I hold in highest esteem and appreciate for their integrity, energy; skill, vision and commitment to excellence; to fellow trade journalists and publicists that form the media and press corps that populate each event – several of whom have become dear and trusted friends – to the contractors, suppliers, distributors and individuals who all contribute in their own way to this industry we call home.

Did you know we have a family reunion planned? It’s called Total Solutions Plus and it brings the industry together for a chance to learn and visit with each other. Mark it on your calendar October 25-28, at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio, and read more about it in this issue. Be sure to attend. It just wouldn’t be the same without you!

God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – June 2014




“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.“
– Vincent Van Gogh

Lesley psf head shotOur June issue is always an interesting one to put together, since it comes on the heels of the Coverings show. This year’s show – the event’s 25th anniversary held at the Las Vegas Convention Center – was especially full, and packed with a growing roster of events and features for every market segment in the industry. Trust me when I tell you that this issue could easily stretch to 300 pages long, but we’ve elected to give you a taste of the expo to deliver essential news and whet your appetite to attend next April 14-17, when Coverings returns to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

There’s good news for the tile industry coming out of Coverings. According to TCNA figures and the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2013 market showed 12.9% growth in volume over 2012 to 2.48 billion sq. ft., and value figures were up 16% for $2.80 billion. The U.S. volume import trends through Feb. 2014 year to date (YTD) show 267.7 million sq. ft. of ceramic tile arrived in the U.S., a 3.4% increase from Feb. 2013 YTD. Visit the TCNA update story in the Industry News section for more details, and the Coverings Review for an overview of the show. Register for Coverings 2015 at www.coverings.com.

One thing that is exciting is to see the growing level of excellence in our industry, fueled by the effort behind certification – both for basic skills in Certified Tile Installer (CTI) validation, and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT). The trade is really getting behind these industry-recognized certifications, giving installers a way to showcase their expertise and raising the bar for the industry as a whole. Check out the Qualified Labor section to learn how LATICRETE is expanding its support and making it easier than ever to get certified.

Also, just a plug a year in a advance for both the Coverings Installation Design Awards (www.coverings.com) and the NTCA Five Star Contractor Awards ([email protected]) – riffle through your best projects and enter them in these competitions – there’s no entry fee, and it’s easy to do. There’s great prize money and recognition of the awesome tile and stone contractors you are!

‘Til next time, be well and God bless.


[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – May 2014

Lesley psf head shot

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.“
– Vince Lombardi

It takes a village to make an industry.

Actually, that’s what an industry is, isn’t it? A village or community of people who come together to mutually support each other with products and services and reach out to those who can benefit from what they have to offer (a.k.a customers or clients).

One thing that strikes me about the tile and stone village of which I am a part is the tremendous dedication of its members. I think we take this for granted when we are in the thick of a project or a deadline. But when I view the contributions to this issue, I see a collection of dedicated individuals, sharing technical expertise, sending stories about the history of their business, flocking to NTCA Tile & Stone Workshops or going the extra mile to make them an even more memorable event, being willing to test their skills as a Certified Tile Installer – and those CTEF and industry folks who administer, host and sponsor the tests, and publicists that work diligently to get news about their companies into the media. All these efforts, working together, make our industry a mostly-very-smoothly running machine!

Something else that isn’t in this issue – but will be next month – are the Coverings Installation Design Awards winners. I’ve spent the last two weeks reviewing the winners and developing the awards presentation. And I am struck by the partnership and interdependence of all players of each project – investing their best efforts to make their projects shine. I’m also struck by the willingness and help of everyone involved in recognizing these projects – the entrants themselves, the sponsors of the CID Awards program, and of course, the National Trade Productions team members who culled and organized the entries for the judges (thanks for their efforts as well!) and then sent the winners to me to create the presentation.

Next time you have a moment to ponder, think about all the people who participate in making this tile and stone village – and your jobs – great: designers of products and projects, suppliers, delivery people, your crews and foremen, visionary company owners and leaders, your association and the volunteers that make it such a viable and important force in this industry. The list is endless. And though it’s not November, take a moment to give thanks for all these people, parts and pieces that help you do what you do, and for your very own gifts, skills, expertise and vision that make you an important contributor as well.

God bless,
[email protected]

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