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]

Editor’s Letter – April 2014

Lesley psf head shotHere we are, on the cusp of Coverings, about to be filled with knowledge, networking and inspiration.

I don’t know about you, but I love to learn (OK, maybe not math, but everything else). Even more than that, I love to be inspired. My favorite parts of Coverings and Total Solutions Plus conferences are the speakers that spark my imagination, ignite new ideas, provide me with a new perspective and inspire me to tackle a challenge in a way I never dreamed.

I know that business is largely about planning and strategy. You need to project, predict, look ahead and foretell. It’s good to know what’s coming so you can be ready.

But sometimes you can’t. And sometimes the best things come from an inspired choice in the moment, or in a situation that you didn’t see coming.

I’m not always a fan of the risk-taking path. I am a planner extraordinaire (as anyone who knows me well will tell you). I like to plan out a project and then plan for contingencies and then plan for the contingencies of the contingences. But sometimes something vital and alive gets lost in that extreme planning.

I recently drove from Albuquerque to Denver to attend an inspirational conference that gathered together cutting-edge thinkers and speakers in the realm of medicine, spirituality, communication, neurobiology, psychology and health. It was an impulsive thing for me to do, right in the middle of our busiest work cycle of the year. And yet, it felt necessary – I felt a strong pull to break free of my usual nose-to-the-grindstone first six months of the year, and take a weekend to get inspired.

So I did it.

I don’t have enough space here to share with you all I learned. But a few messages stand out – actually variations on a theme.

The first is a quote from Alex Woodard: “You can make your way through life with a compass; you don’t necessarily need a map.” I literally found that to be true, using GPS to navigate my way from Albuquerque to Denver (pretty much a straight shot up I-25, until you get into the city). I needed a general idea of where I was going, with guideposts along the way. And I realized that works best in my life as well – a general direction, with course corrections and updates as I navigate the sometimes bumpy ride that is known as life.

Your business can be like this too. Sure, you are an ace tile and/or stone contractor, and you know you want to do excellent work. But sometimes you need to course-correct. Maybe a recession hits (we all know THAT experience all too well) or you have changes in your staff or suppliers. You’re aiming for a goal, but you might need to take a detour or look for the lighthouse to get you further down the road.

The next message was from Dr. Joe Dispenza, who said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it from the unknown – NOT from the comfortable or familiar.” This is akin to Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

What this says to me is that sometimes we need to break out of the box of our own thinking and expertise. This does NOT mean throw knowledge and expertise to the winds or disregard them – it means climb atop them and use them to get a fresh perspective of how you can do what you do. See from a new vista. Don’t ignore the facts of your business, but don’t be weighed down by them either – they are a factor in your success, not the complete predictors of it. Your creative mind – and the creative minds of your co-workers and staff – has what it takes to overcome any problem that comes your way.

What inspires you? Maybe it will be something you learn at Coverings. Maybe it’s something that you’ve learned from your mentor and has been your watchword all your life. I’d like to know it. Inspire me and TileLetter readers! Please share your greatest quote or inspiration with me at [email protected], and I’ll share it with our readers in a future article.

Stay inspired,


Editor’s Letter – March 2014

Lesley psf head shotThis month, it seems NTCA president Dan Welch and I are thinking along the same lines – pondering the frailty of human life and appreciating and valuing those who impact, guide or accompany us on our paths on this planet.

You’ll notice in this issue, we have an “In Memory” section for two folks who are well known in the industry, but who passed on in February: NTCA regional director Tom Hambrock, and Stone World’s Mike Reis. In addition, at the 11th hour of putting March to bed, we learned of the passing of industry legend, Dr. Henry M. Rothberg, founder of LATICRETE International, Inc., who you will find honored in a special section in this issue. They join a growing crowd of industry (and personal) friends, acquaintances and family who have left us in recent months and years.

Tom, Mike and Dr. Rothberg’s dedication to this industry was clear to anyone who knew them. And they made many important business connections and sparked many deep friendships during their time with us.

But their passing makes me stop and pause as I consider the larger context. Since you are reading this article printed in an industry magazine or its corresponding website, I assume you work in this industry. I hope you get great pleasure and fulfillment from your job, from your craft, from the network of great people that this industry is and from the opportunities to exercise your skills and creativity within the daily scope of work.

If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, stop right now and put plans in motion to do something else.

Life is short. Damn short. It’s way too short to invest decades of your precious time into something that doesn’t bring you joy.

Here at TileLetter, we bring you motivational articles about how to excel at your business. We have articles about how to lead, how to motivate yourself, how to motivate employees. Perhaps the best motivation is loving what you do and engaging in work that brings you pleasure. It is said that those who love their work, never “work” a day in their lives.

If this doesn’t describe you, stop and take stock right now. Maybe there are changes you can make with your team, your employer or your employees that would bring you greater satisfaction and service. If the company culture does not support that kind of change, and you’re in charge, seek to change the culture. If you are an employee in a company that does not support your wellbeing on all levels, it might be time to find one that does.

As far as any of us know, this time on earth is our one chance at life on this planet. At any rate, it’s our one chance at life with this unique set of skills, relationships, challenges, gifts and abilities. Make the most of them. Make the most of your life. Make your life count and choose a joyful path. It’s the best stewardship you could employ for this gift called life.


Editor’s Letter – February 2014

Lesley psf head shotWell, we’ve done it, folks. We’ve made it through another year and the holidays and the start (and perhaps the failure already) of New Year’s resolutions.

And now we are squarely into 2014, which in the Chinese calendar is the Year of the Horse. To be exact, it’s the Year of the Green Horse, or the Year of the Wooden Horse.

Just to get a little woo – woo for a minute (hey, I live in New Mexico), the Year of the Horse is all about ACTION. The last two years have been “water” years – years steeped in contemplation and introspection, caution and planning. All together, we have completed five years of a degenerative cycle (how has THAT shown up in your personal life and your business?) and now we are primed towards intuitively-guided action, freedom, optimism and extroverted energy. The “green” of the Green Horse corresponds to the element associated with 2014 in the Chinese tradition – wood. Wood represents new budding and branching out of life we are now embarking upon – symbolized by green.

So, what has this got to do with tile and stone contracting?

This time of year kicks off the trade shows, which for me means Surfaces, and its new Tile Expo, which trumpets the importance of this surfacing material and its installation. Each year while I am at Surfaces, hotels and casinos in Las Vegas are decked out for the Chinese New Year. That got me interested in researching a little about what is in store this year.

I see some echoes of truth in the Chinese predictions in our industry. These last few years have been cautious ones, slowly emerging from the struggling economy of the recession into more palpably optimistic times. There has been a lot of loss and chaos, pruning away and planning as we hung in the balance between a crashed economy and one poised to bloom. Those who took this time to get prepared are smart, because the Chinese astrologers say this is about to change – and hang onto your hats when it does, because it will be a wild ride.

And oh – because my mind works this way – wood is a huge style trend in the tile world right now. As I mentioned in a previous issue’s report on CERSAIE – you couldn’t turn around at that Italian show without seeing wood represented in some way in ceramic or porcelain. I expect that to continue at all the shows I attend this year as well. And I’ll take it as a good sign, symbolizing growth and the blossoming of opportunity, action, energy and prosperity for us all!



Editor’s Letter – January 2014

“Do what you love to do and give it your very best. Whether it’s business or baseball, or the theater, or any field. If you don’t love what you’re doing and can’t give it your best get out of it. Life is too short. You’ll be an old man before you know it.”
– Al Lopez

Lesley psf head shotHappy New Year one and all!

We find ourselves with a blank canvas stretching before us – 12 months of 2014. What are your plans to make it a good year, both personally and professionally? With what attitude will you enter the new year?

I’d like to draw your attention to one new section in TileLetter: Qualified Labor. We are dedicating some ink each month to bringing you news about certification events that are upcoming – or notable ones that have been held recently, like the Albuquerque certification for TWENTY local installers held last month.

Now that qualified labor language is in both the TCNA Handbook and is part of Master Spec, it will be easier for the A&D community to recommend qualified labor on their jobs. And why wouldn’t they? With highly technical products in the marketplace, like huge porcelain panels, A&D professionals aren’t going to want to specify beautiful product and leave its installation to the unskilled. Be sure you are taking full advantage of educational opportunities sponsored by manufacturers and suppliers as well as taking part of the NTCA workshops in your area. We list the upcoming ones in each issue of TileLetter, or you can go to https://tile-assn.com/Training/EducationOpportunities.aspx?mid=41 to see a list of workshops planned for the year, as well as a list of upcoming webinars.

0114_qualified_installerAnd if the workshops weren’t enough value in themselves, this year, NTCA is giving away a free NTCA membership at each workshop and giving you a chance to win a free trip to Coverings in April or Total Solutions Plus in October. We offer 70 workshops this year, so you have a one in 70 chance of winning – you can’t beat those odds! If a workshop is in your area, be sure to attend!

Also consider VALIDATING your skill with a Certified Tile Installer evaluation or if you are already a CTI, with ACT – or Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers – credentials. This is a tool that sets you apart from the competition and brands you immediately as the cream of the crop to potential clients. To help prepare you for the tests, this year there are a number of pre-test programs in select cities around the country that give you a sense of what will be asked for and expected on the test to increase your chances of passing. Look for more information in the Qualified Labor section of this issue.

It may only be January, but I have Vegas on my mind – that’s the site of the 25th edition of Coverings this year, from April 29-May 2. Those of you in the West who have longed to visit Coverings, now’s your chance. It promises to be a winning experience!

It’s my privilege and pleasure to begin this new year with you and journey along its winding paths together. Here’s to a prosperous, passionate and powerful year for us all!

God bless!
[email protected]

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