Editor’s Letter – October 2015

Lesley psf head shotUnless you have been living under a rock, you’ve been besieged lately by a torrent of political news — even more intense than usual since we are gearing up for the presidential election. The GOP have already held two televised debates, and the Democrats are working on generating enthusiasm through personal appearances and addresses. No matter which side you are on, one thing is for sure – there is a lot of NOISE going on about the conditions we are dealing with and how we’d like to see it change, evolve or grow.

Sometimes, amidst the volley of opinions on Facebook or television or the editorial section of the newspaper, I stop and wonder just how much power and influence average citizens actually have. Are we just treading water with our outrage and outspokenness? We have the power to gather and protest and voice opinions – and most importantly to VOTE – but without a fat bankroll with which to feed the lobbyists, sometimes it feels like our opinions fall on deaf ears. We just want to have a voice.

Well, good news – NTCA gives you that voice. No, it doesn’t give you a voice in Washington, but it gives you a voice in the progress and direction of something that affects you every day – your livelihood as a tile setter or a member of the industry. NTCA is powered by people just like you – and your participation is more than welcomed, it’s encouraged. When you are involved as a member of the NTCA, you have direct influence through participation on committees – including the NTCA Technical Committee — board membership, or directorship at state or regional levels.

NTCA isn’t called “The Voice of the Contractor” for nothing. You aren’t a nameless, faceless entity. You count. You are KNOWN. And you have access to decision makers, experts and leaders who are working alongside you to actually make the industry better. If only Congress took some lessons from the tile industry and the harmonious working and cooperation of associations like the NTCA, TCAA, CTDA and TCNA, we would all be in better shape.

When I watch the rhetoric that is inherent to the political process, it can be disheartening. There seems to be so many layers that actually stand in the way of someone making a direct impact on policy and conditions that affect their immediate world, their livelihood and their families. I encourage you, in this pre-election year, to take advantage of the influence you have as a NTCA member and get involved. And if you aren’t a member, step up and join the groundswell of interested and engaged industry leaders that shape your future.

A special note for those of you with a NTCA Tile & Stone Workshop coming to your area – from now through the end of the year, join for $500 at a workshop and get the rest of the year’s membership as well as 2016 membership included, with Partnering for Success vouchers for 2015 and 2016 to boot. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Step up and cast a vote for a prosperous future by joining NTCA today.

God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – September 2015

Lesley psf head shot“What kind of effort is asked of us? We need a strong, unmistakable message of steadfast commitment to a goal we’re convinced is worth achieving. Unless we get that, we’ll all default to the comfortable, routine, conventional way of going about our business and watch the clock until the rehearsal is over.”
– Roger Nierenberg

Last year at Total Solutions Plus, corporate business consultant, Sandy Smith, presented a talk on Creating a Culture of High Employee Engagement. He cited a Gallup study that revealed that 70% of all employees are disengaged, which results in burning out the other 30% of workers who are carrying the load.

Smith played a fascinating video from veteran symphony conductor Roger Nierenberg, which demonstrated Nierenberg’s Music Paradigm. In the video, CEOs got to listen to a performance of professional musicians from within different sections of their local symphonic orchestra to experience the difference of a range of conducting styles.

For instance, when conductors provided mixed messages to the musicians and embedded CEOs in a Music Paradigm performance, expectations were built to great results, but then the leadership and direction was weak and wan. Leaders who don’t walk the talk were found to inhibit others and emotionally “hang people out to dry,” Nierenberg said. “If [workers] only see the words, but not confirming action, it puts them into a quandary,” he observed.

Next, the CEOs experienced what it was like when the conductor “over leads” through micromanaging and not allowing professionals to do what they have been brought into the organization to do. Participants explained this leadership style “choked” and “demoralized” them, and demonstrated a lack of trust.

The liberating leader, in contrast, gave clear instruction, put trust in his “artists” and let them do what they know how to do. It’s not necessary to “babysit” professionals, the video revealed, but to give clear directions and good training, and allow your people to do the job for which they were hired.

The CEOs also got to hear what the performance sounded like from the podium when the different leadership styles were employed – running the gamut from discordant to powerful.

It was a fascinating illustration of how leadership style impacts the harmony and rhythm of an organization. Through clear, consistent direction and strong behavior modeling, leaders are able to guide the professionals under their watch to their best.

0915-editorisletterTo learn more about The Music Paradigm, visit www.musicparadigm.com or read Nierenberg’s book, Maestro: A Surprising Story about Leading by Listening.

Did this column intrigue you? Then be sure to attend Total Solutions Plus, held next month in Savannah, for more motivational messages and ideas you can put into practice to elevate your business to its highest and best. Need more convincing? Check out Bart Bettiga’s story about Total Solutions Plus on page 86 of this issue. See you in Savannah.

God bless,
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – August 2015 “Green Issue”

Lesley psf head shot“Sustainability can’t be like some sort of a moral sacrifice or political dilemma or a philanthropical cause. It has to be a design challenge”
– Bjarke Ingels

Is there anyone among you whose business is not touched by sustainable practices in some form? Recycling office waste and paper, purchasing products in containers with recycled content, selecting tile and setting materials that are Green Squared® Certified, following LEED parameters in the content, manufacturing and sourcing of products to obtain a Silver, Gold or Platinum certification, or adhering to Green Globes parameters, all of which helps safeguard the resources of our planet and the quality of our environment?

The importance of sustainability isn’t going anywhere but up. At its foundation is a conscious, responsible use of natural resources in a way that helps and does not harm air, land, plants, waterways and animals who live and breathe on this planet.

But coming to this consciousness and acting on it is a learning curve. It wasn’t so long ago that we would just throw things “away,” before realizing that on this closed system we call planet Earth, there IS no “away.” Sustainable and eco-friendly practices started out being optional; today more and more specs require implementation of pro-environment practices and product selections at every level of construction. And rightly so.

In some ways, it’s more challenging than ever before, with the ever-increasing transparency of EPDs and HPDs in LEED V4. And in some ways it’s easier to make eco-conscious choices with the broader range of responsible manufacturing processes being implemented by tile makers and Green Squared® Certified tile and setting materials from which to choose.

To wit, we look at “green” issues from a number of angles in this issue. From an update on the status of HPD deadlines from TCNA’s Bill Griese, to an A&D perspective from Anne Rue and Robin Wilson on incorporating sustainable principles and products into projects, to a sampling of green materials in our New Product section to Wally Adamchick’s original perspective on sustainability in your company from a people perspective, we venture a bit further into green waters with information we believe can help support your business and inform your decisions.

God bless,


Editor’s Letter – July 2015

Lesley psf head shot“Be prepared before you begin. You save yourself from delay if you are fully prepared. Preparation sets you for excellence.”
Israelmore Ayivor, Shaping the dream

Here is a question about a situation I am sure just about every contractor encounters – delays. In the sense that you tell your customer that you will be at their site at X time at X day, but something happens to prevent this. How do you handle it?

I ask, because I recently had such a situation develop. My very old rotting and rickety evaporative cooler (a popular form of air conditioning in hot, low-humidity climates) needed replacing and the plumbing contractor the store recommended was due to come to the house on Wednesday, June 10 at 2 pm. That time came and went. As a person with a very flexible relationship with time, I understood he might have been detained. But when the clock started ticking around to the quarter hour, I called. Yes, he did have a setback; his son who was helping him had been injured, but he could get here about 4 p.m. Then closer to the appointed hour, he called and said he’d come about 6. I had an appointment, but my sweetie stayed home to be available for the plumber. When I got home later, I learned he had called and said he couldn’t make it at all but he would come the next day at 9 am. I was disappointed and my sweetie was decidedly unhappy.

Now, I had never worked with this plumber before and we were over a barrel – temperatures were heating up and cooling was desperately needed. Plus he was picking up the new unit and disposing of our old one. So we waited. At 9:30 the next morning, he and a helper rolled in. Time was tight because BOTH my sweetie and I had appointments at about noon, which was cutting the installation close. All’s well that ends well; cooler was installed in the nick of time and we’ve been enjoying blessedly cool indoor temperatures ever since. My neighbor asked who my installer was, hired him, and he arrived on time to her home, to her delight.

So how do YOU handle delays? Do you call your client if you know you’ll be late? Is there an alternate member of your team who can go to a customer’s home to get the job started? Do you only give approximate times or suggest a time range – say, between 2 – 4 p.m.?

I’m curious about successful ways to manage delays and customer expectations and not only provide an expert installation for your clients, but keep them happy from the get-go with realistic time frames and contingency plans.

Please email me with your experiences at [email protected], and I’ll use your comments for a future Business Tip story that focuses on the topic of delays and successful management thereof. Many thanks!

God bless,

[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – June 2015

Lesley psf head shot“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.”
– Isak Dinesen

Recently I called NTCA headquarters in Jackson, Miss., (I work offsite from my home office in Albuquerque, N.M.) with a question, and wound up catching up with a member of the NTCA staff. We talked about recent vacations, and her observation about the tremendous amount of work and energy involved in participating and attending Coverings, among other things. I value these occasional phone chats, since it’s my best opportunity to stay connected with folks on the NTCA team, both in terms of work and personal aspects of our lives.

Our conversation drifted to news, and specifically bad news that is so easy to consume whether on television, in newspapers, magazines or social media. At the drop of a hat, we get besieged by political outrage, injustice, crime, threats of economic disasters, environmental woes, cruelty to animals or children, and more. You know – you’ve seen it all.

I shared that I often feel a need to call on my editing skills to censor what I let into my life and consciousness. There’s a similarity to how I work – I get a barrage of information streaming into my email inbox every day. To make sense of it and select the best content for TileLetter readers, I edit – delete, download and revise, shorten, expand. I can’t possibly include everything I see or TileLetter would be a 500-page tome each month, with lots of information that – while not completely irrelevant to the industry – is not targeted precisely for our readership. The same principle applies with all I see and experience at industry events like Surfaces, Coverings and Total Solutions Plus. Information and events need to be experienced, digested and summarized, often with links to where details can be obtained.

When I read the news (usually online) or see discussions on social media, I call my editing skills into play. Is this something of value for me, and those in my life? Do I REALLY have to engage in this political discussion (One of the wisest sayings I’ve ever heard is, “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.”)? Is this a cause that touches my heart? Is that story even TRUE? Will this benefit, support, inspire or delight anyone else if it is shared? Is it moving me closer to a goal? So, in a very real way, I need to delete, download and revise, shorten, expand, act on or ignore pretty much everything that comes across my five senses to determine if it’s in alignment to my vision for my life or if it brings some benefit to me or those I hold dear.

What does this have to do with our industry, you may ask? Everything! How many pieces of information do you encounter every day? How many opportunities do you have to be distracted by naysayers or complainers or drama queens (or kings) who thrive on controversy? Maybe it’s a staff member, employee, sales rep, or the news itself. The best way to counter information overload is to know your mission, be skilled in your role and trade, and sift through the wave of communication with wisdom and discernment to pare it down to usable kernels of knowledge. NTCA can help you do this, with opportunities for education and elevating your company to a higher level, all within a context of open discussion – such as what takes place within the Technical Committee meetings. There is also expert advice, helpful documents such as training manuals and the NTCA Reference Manual, and networking opportunities to talk through experiences with other skilled tile and stone contractors and industry professionals.

So be prepared for the onslaught, because in addition to death and taxes, the only other sure thing is bad news. Connect with NTCA, put on your editor’s hat and cut through the chaos like a hot knife through butter.

God bless!
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – May 2015

Lesley psf head shotSome of the articles in this issue come roaring out of the Coverings show: honors presented at the NTCA Awards Night, the uber-useful Lippage & Grout Tool introduced by NTCA member Davis Leichsenring, and a spate of shiny new products. There was so much that took place at Coverings, that these stories are just a taste of further awards, events and impressions from the show to come in June.

One of the key pieces of information shared at Coverings came during the TCNA press conference on Wednesday morning, where executive director Eric Astrachan shared state-of-the-industry numbers with the assembled group of journalists. Here are the findings in a nutshell:

  • 2014 U.S. ceramic tile consumption was up 2.49 billion sq. ft., with a 0.5% increase over 2013’s 2.48 billion sq. ft. – the fifth consecutive year-over-year increase in U.S. ceramic tile consumption.
  • The value of U.S. ceramic tile consumption in 2014 was $2.97 billion, up 6.1% from 2013.
  • 2014 showed a 0.7% decrease in imports over 2013, down to 1.71 billion sq. ft. over 1.72 billion sq. ft. Imports in 2014 comprised 68.7% of U.S. tile consumption in volume, down from 69.6% in 2013.
  • Mexico regained its status in 2014 as top exporter to the U.S. with a 29.5% share of imports, slightly edging out China’s 29.4% of exports; in 2013, China held the top title. In 2014, Italy was the second top importer, with 18.4% of volume exports to the U.S.
  • In terms of value, Italy was the top 2014 exporter to the U.S., comprising 34.8% of import value. China came next in terms of value, with 25.7%, followed by Mexico at 16.5%. The dollar value per square foot of tile imports (including freight, insurance and duty)rose from $1.00 in 2013 to $1.06 in 2014.
  • Looking at domestic shipments, there was a 3.3% increase from 2013 in terms of volume, up to 779.1 million sq. ft. In dollar value, U.S. F.O.B. factory sales for 2014 were $1.15 billion, up 6.8% over 2013, and the dollar value/square foot of domestically-produced tile rose from $1.43 in 2013 to $1.48 in 2014.
  • 2014 U.S. exports were up 7.7% from 2013, to 42.5 million sq. ft., with most exports going to Canada (66.5%) and Mexico (15.3%).

Not everything in this issue centers on Coverings, however. Pat O’Connor gives us an update about the Affordable Care Act and what it means to you and your business. And our NTCA Benefits Box story demonstrates ways NTCA and its members are reaching out to inform middle- and high-school aged students about tile apprenticeship programs and career paths. Among some of our regular features, we also spotlight Tom and Lane Meehan’s business at Cape Cod Tileworks, review the value the Certified Tile Installer program has for Ricky Cox of Memphis Tile and Marble Co., and take an in-depth look into the TCNA Handbook and what new language about crack-isolation membrane installation can mean for contractors, from NTCA Five Star Contractor Kevin Fox’s perspective.

Happy reading! God bless,

[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – April 2015

Lesley psf head shot“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
– Albert Camus

In the crunch of the after-Surfaces/pre-Coverings timeline, I am taking a moment to catch my breath and PONDER. I invite you to join me in my meanderings.

In the busy offices of TileLetter, we run (mostly) like a well-oiled machine, gathering content, writing, editing and sending it all off to our ace designer Michelle Chapman to be flowed onto the page and then printed. Content is planned, requested, created, collaborated on, sourced, researched, massaged, expanded, shortened, and refined to bring you the best information possible month to month (even with a few special issues squeezed in, like TRENDS, which debuted at Coverings, our annual Coverings issue and the upcoming TECH issue later this summer).

From time to time though, I awake from the sometimes-hypnotic stream of words and images flowing across my computer screen to marvel in the quality information we assemble for readers each month. I don’t mean this to sound grandiose – it’s more of an acknowledgement of the vast range of insight and expertise that exists in our industry and our membership, and gratitude for the willingness of individuals and companies to share all that with readers. That’s the big “WE” I am talking about.

This has not always been the case. Occasionally, in my many decades of journalistic experience, I’ve run across a person who – when asked to share tales about what they do and how they do it – balks and says “Why? Why should I share my hard-won information with you and with all your readers? How does it benefit me to do this?”

I can honestly say in my nine years of editing TileLetter for NTCA, I have never encountered a source who is stingy with their experience, holding it close to the vest in a protective stance. Instead, they choose to help advance the business and knowledge of others, by sharing experiences and lessons they have encountered. And reviewing the table of contents of stories that you’ll read about in this issue, I am taken aback with appreciation by the open-heartedness of our contributors, sources, columnists and other content providers.

These are the individuals, companies, and associations that make our industry tick. I am awed and honored – and very grateful – for each and every person who contributed to this issue and countless others over the years, and those who have invested their time in our membership by the wisdom they have shared with TileLetter readers.

I offer thanksgiving for this generosity in the form of a blessing of sorts, through the words of the immortal Mr. Spock, who grew to be larger than simply a Star Trek character brought to life for many years by the inimitable and fondly-remembered Leonard Nimoy: “Live Long and Prosper.” And always, thank you!

God bless!

[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – March 2015

Lesley psf head shot“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.”
– Adrienne Clarkson

Here we are in March, poised between the busyness of winter markets in Las Vegas and regional shows around the country, and the big reunion we have next month in Orlando at the industry’s major show in North America – Coverings 2015, returning again to the Orange County Convention Center.

This issue is shaped and flavored by the cluster of industry conventions and conferences that took place in Las Vegas at the end of January – The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), the International Builders Show (IBS) and the International Surfaces Event West (TISE West), all in town at the same time and known as Design & Construction Week. This was the first year I got to visit KBIS – I’d heard so much about this show, and for good reason – it is a carnival of product and services, complemented so well by the offerings at IBS and TISE West.

Peppered throughout the stories and products in this issue are snippets from the show – new developments in electric floor warming launched or seen in Vegas appear in the Tech Talk radiant heating story; a look at the importance of installer certifications gleaned from observers at the Certified Tile Installer and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers exams conducted at TISE West weave the Qualified Labor story; James Woelfel’s President’s Letter was inspired by his participation at show conference sessions; and of course the show review and new products, which come to you directly from the show floor.

I was struck also by the truth that underlies every conference and convention – they are a place for coming together with friends, business associates, meeting people face to face; and discovering new contacts on the show floor or after-show events. This is the deep truth that I’ve known for over 20 years of attending these shows. This year, new friendships were forged and old friends were missed in a constant rhythm of hello and goodbye that we who travel the trade-show circuit experience. Each convention or conference is a chance to say hello again, put faces to voices heard on the end of the phone or emails exchanged, reconnect and then return to our businesses renewed and reinvigorated for another few months until our next meeting.

For many of us, that next meeting will be in Orlando at Coverings, April 14-17. I am looking forward to seeing you there – or meeting you anew!

God bless,
[email protected]

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,

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