K&S Flooring Pierre, S.D.

Enthusiasm and chutzpah lead to satisfying installation career


Enthusiasm for the trade, and the willingness to go outside one’s comfort zone, are two qualities that bring immeasurable value to a tile setter’s career path and success.

Kylor Knox

Kylor Knox, owner of K&S Flooring in Pierre, S.D., got his start working as a warehouse manager at a local flooring store. He had a burning passion for learning about the flooring industry. When he went online to learn more, the first thing that he encountered was NTCA University – which led him to join the association three years ago. 

Knox sought information wherever he could find it. He went to Schluter trainings, and then to Portland for an ARDEX training. He discovered the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and the vast resources it offers for someone starting out. 

He learned that the store he was working at was going to have a shortage of installers and he wanted to learn the trade at the hands of an experienced installer. He asked some local installers to mentor him, and was excited when most of them said yes. When push came to shove, though, no one really came through with the help he needed.

Not to be deterred, he connected with John Roberts, who was one of his CTEF instructors. Roberts recommended Knox call someone from the CTEF site. That’s where he found an installer to mentor him, and he wound up working with him and his wife for a while, and continues to reach out to area installers to see if he can help with projects to hone his skills.

About a year ago – Knox also became the South Dakota State Ambassador. “I saw the need for more education in South Dakota,” he said. 

Knox proudly displays the NTCA logo along with his own on his truck.

“I have jumped in head first, and have been learning from all my mistakes,” Knox said. “How else do you learn? The thing that sets me apart is I’m willing to go outside of my comfort zone and try something new.”

Knox specializes in residential installs right now – both new and remodels. Joshua Nordstrom has also inspired and encouraged him to take on more mosaic projects as well.  

With the high value he’s put on education and training, Knox wants to make that available to others who want to learn too. “I’ve been working really hard this past year with the help of my local reps to bring training events and [looking for] ways to bring installers together,” he said. He partnered with Anna Langsjoen – another South Dakota installer who recently joined NTCA – to establish a Facebook group for South Dakota installers to help each other and post events. “I am working on different kind of events with all the sales reps in our area, and working on having a bigger presence of the NTCA in South Dakota,” he said. 

NTCA offers Knox resources and support that enhance his growth as a tile installer: “Networking, having a team of installers and the technical staff that you can call on,” he said, “It’s great to be able to call someone because I always have questions, and it’s great for people to critique my work. Having this team helps me become a better installer. Every day – and every job I do – I do better because there is always someone giving me guidance.” Knox plans to pursue his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) credential next year. 

Learning and helping others learn go hand-in-hand for Knox, providing him with “great joy…seeing other contractors coming together and helping. I know I wouldn’t be able to make it if I didn’t have people rooting for me to succeed.” 

Two of Knox’s projects: a mosaic floor and river rock shower pan.

Midwest Mosaic: from possibilities to an American dream

A selfie with Malcom Campbell’s favorite tools: Sigma, Black Beauty and Suspenders.

Malcom Campbell said when opening his company, Midwest Mosaic, Inc., it represented possibilities. Now, 15 years later, the Toledo, Ohio-based company is still going strong with loyal clients, a customer-focused strategic business model, and a plan for the future.

Campbell began his tiling career in 1987 as a helper at a local commercial tiling firm. In 1999, he bought into a local tile firm, but became frustrated with the company after it went through years of jurisdictional disputes. Campbell then decided to start his own company. “[Midwest] Mosaic represented what could be possible if I just took what I knew and all the contacts I had and just did it my way.”

“Take Your Kid to Work Day” – Summer ‘18.

Midwest Mosaic, Inc. now has a long list of loyal clients. One of the reasons its clients are attracted to the company is that its installers are part of the selling package. “People hire us because they know what and who they are getting,” Campbell said. He makes sure the residential projects are assigned to the right installer for the job, while commercial clients know that Campbell will be their project lead.

Midwest Mosaic offers both residential and commercial installations and has two different teams that serve the different customer types. Campbell said the teams almost operate as separate divisions in the company, with the residential and commercial teams rarely crossing over. Installers on the commercial team may have the opportunity to work on residential projects if they the adopt certain habits crucial to working in occupied homes, such as cleaning up after themselves, protecting the homeowner’s belongings, and not smoking on property.

Testing the custom tile rack for Lourdes Cloister Walk in Campbell’s Toledo, Ohio backyard.

According to Campbell, operating the teams separately was a strategic decision that benefits the way the two customer types operate. “In commercial, time is of the essence,” he said. “In high-price residential, care is of the essence. The least caring thing you can tell a client while they suffer through disruption in their home is to tell them you are leaving because Kroger called and it’s your turn at the next store two states away.”

Midwest Mosaic has been a member of NTCA for the last 10 years, and became a NTCA Five-Star Contractor earlier this year. Campbell said the membership is worth more than its cost. He cited benefits such as regional training, webinars, professional services, and a pathway to Certified Tile Installer (CTI) certification as a few of the highlights of being an NTCA member. “If you are selling skilled tile installation and not a member at the NTCA, you are leaving money on the table,” he said.

Progress photo of Lourdes University Cloister Walk in Sylvania, Ohio

Campbell is hoping to use his recent NTCA Five-Star Contractor distinction to target more premium work. He said before becoming one, he wasn’t sure what to expect from the distinction, but now it is presenting interesting opportunities. He feels the NTCA Five-Star “grapevine” also provides good fellowship, and noted the targeted e-newsletter the group receives from Amber Fox as an additional benefit of being an NTCA Five-Star Contractor.

Campbell himself is a CTI and encourages his team to also become certified, crediting the test with providing necessary preparation for everyday occurrences in the field. He contends that it not only teaches you to work within ANSI standards, it forces you to perform at a high level even with time constraints. “The written test forces you to get educated about how to avoid a whole host of common failures,” he said. “By the time you finish that, you should have a new understanding about bonding, mixing cement, grouting, backer board, duty rating, ANSI, TCNA, the Robinson test and more. And the practical test you must finish. This presents a psychic challenge for all us. Anybody working at a high level will only do high-level work but [within] the time-management constraint.”

Getting dirty with the crew at a Burger King in Flint, Mich.

Campbell’s drive and hard work are factors of his company’s success, but he was quick to also note his estimator, Adrian Grec, as another factor. Campbell said Grec began working for him in 2013. After working with Grec, an engineering graduate, for a while, Campbell decided to train him in estimating. Campbell said Grec has become a champion of their commercial estimating. “He has taken it over and he does a really good job at it,” he explained

Campbell’s greatest joy about being a tile contractor is that it allowed him the freedom to spend time with his children. He has pictures and memories of them coming to work with him. Because of this, he feels is he is “living the American dream.”

Seven stars at the 2019 NTCA Awards during Coverings: two Rock Stars and one NTCA Five-Star.

Fischer Tile: enriching professional experience with association membership

Fischer Tile & Marble, based in Sacramento, Calif., (fischertile.com), was established in 1906 by Henry Prince Fischer Sr., 113 years ago. 

Trent and Taryn Fischer are the brother-sister team at the helm of this fourth-generation business, based in Sacramento, Calif.

Henry was Taryn Fischer and brother Trent’s great grandfather. This brother-sister team are now the fourth generation to lead the company. Trent runs the solid surface operation and Taryn is project managing the tile side. She got her start at the company, working during summers in high school and college, then went on to work for Daltile. 

“I worked for Daltile for 10 years after college, and have now been with Fischer Tile for one year,” Taryn said. “Daltile gave me an excellent foundation for the tile business, and helped me show my dad Jay Fischer my economic value when I came to Fischer Tile.” She now brings this corporate experience to the family business. 

A true family business, Fischer Tile extends that family ethic and respect to its employees as well. This contributes to longevity among its employees – Taryn said the average employment duration in the office is 18 years. 

“We have an excellent team and do excellent work,” she said. “I will be the first woman owner (co-owner with my brother) and I am thrilled. I am empowered to be working in the construction industry and very proud of what we do.”

Fischer Tile is a commercial tile and stone subcontractor with a residential, granite and Corian business as well. This union shop – a member of the Northern California Tile Setters and Finishers Union – specializes in ceramic tile, stone/solid surface fabrication and installation. The company works on a wide range of projects: education (schools/universities); hospitality (hotels, casinos, arenas); government (military bases, offices); corporate (utilities, offices); and healthcare (hospitals, assisted living communities). The company has won numerous awards for its stunning projects. 

Though a union shop, Fischer Tile has had a long association with the NTCA – even before it was officially “NTCA,” Taryn said. 

“My dad was a member of the Southern Tile Terrazzo and Marble Contractors Association (STTMCA) in the late 1970s, which then became the American Tile Terrazzo & Marble Contractors Association (ATTMCA), which then became the NTCA,” she said. “He also served as President.”

“I was brought up to understand the importance of membership in trade organizations that create community and strengthen the industry with education/new technology training,” she said. “For me, being active in trade organizations is a great way to enrich my professional experience. The tile business is changing, improving and growing. Standards and best practice methods need to be created and met. My dad and his dad proved they understood the flux of industry and have helped our business to thrive by being agile, ready to adapt and progressive. I see the tile business as a community. Staying involved in the community makes us all better.”

This union shop has a certified apprentice program. “As an Architectural Sales Representative with Daltile, I would share the benefits of the programming and specifying qualified labor,” she said. “The more training, the better for the industry.”

Taryn gets a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from her work within the tile industry.  

“I think the tile business is the best business,” she said. “I am so proud to be part of a business that builds beautiful things. Tile is a lasting finish; our 50-year life cycle is only the beginning. I love knowing I will leave a sustainable and beautiful impact on the world. I am also empowered to be a female in the tile business.”


Fischer Tile Projects

Harrah’s Northern California Casino

This project entailed setting large-format tile over a steel pedestal plate floor system on the casino floor. Fischer Tile and Marble created a system to make sure tile would be supported and effectively transition from the pedestals to concrete slab. With great communication with pedestal suppliers, underlayment representatives and the general contractor, the company was able to devise and execute the installation. 

Allstate Commercial Flooring

“The team approach is simply better.”

According to Gary Sharpe, co-founder and VP of Sales, there’s a guiding principle at work at Allstate Commercial Flooring in Spring, Texas: “The world record 400-meter dash set by an individual is 43 seconds. The world record 400-meter relay set by four people is 37 seconds. The team approach is simply better.” 

The team approach informs all Allstate does, Sharpe says. In fact, one of the company’s cornerstone approaches is to diversify its staff. Estimators focus on estimating. Project managers focus on bringing projects in under budget and on time.

This strategy has helped fuel the company’s success with large commercial projects with an emphasis on new construction. K-12 education is an anchor market for the company, but higher education, hospitals, high-end hotels, assisted living, and high-rise commercial development are among the company’s favorites. Allstate embraces smaller projects too. For example, Allstate does most of the Rudy’s BBQ stores in Texas and the surrounding market ranging into Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

The company was born when Sharpe was an estimator for another company and was thinking Tommy Vu would be the perfect complement to his skill set. “Turns out he was thinking the same thing!” Sharpe said. “He actually asked me to partner with him in this new venture back in 2008.” 

Vu himself had a long and luminous history as a tile installer, dating back to 1986 with well-known firms before he started his own, and has been key installer on high profile projects such as the Houston Astros Minute Maid Ballpark, Houston Rockets Toyota Center and Houston Texans NRG Stadium. Sharpe added, “His attention to detail, ability to coordinate with other trades and improve on the overall schedule of a project has won him favor with many customers over the years. In spite of his experience he believes there is always something new to learn.” In 2013, Charlie Adams purchased the company, and is now CEO; Rusty Dennison came on board that same year as VP of operations. 

The passion for learning something new is part of the reason that from day one Allstate was a NTCA member. “Tommy and I knew that the NTCA was the standard setter and bearer for the tile portion of our business,” Sharpe said. “We wanted to stay connected with the latest industry developments. Our budget was small back then but we carved out funds for NTCA membership. 

“Staying up to date on the latest installation trends is a big benefit,” Sharpe said. “Tommy is a stickler for ‘doing it right the first time,’ and the NTCA Five-Star Contractor program provides proof to our customers that we do it right. Going through the process to become one proves to yourself that you are doing it right. We were happy to do that because as it is said, ‘Truth has nothing to hide from inspection.’ There is no shame in finding out you need to tweak something you have done for 20 years when there is a better way to do it.”

Continually credentialing its staff is important to Allstate, which currently has three CTEF Certified Tile Installers (CTIs). Vu was certified in May of 2018. Robert Vasquez and Bill Nguyen were certified in February of 2019.

“We are working with our team to schedule certifying four more before the end of this year,” Sharpe said. “We are proud to include this certification on our proposals and believe – especially in an era where skilled labor is scant around the industry – this is helping our customers and potential customers in their decision-making process about which subcontractor is the best value.”

His company’s work is an ongoing source of pride and joy for Sharpe. “It is a science but it is also an art,” he said. “When you take a project through to completion and get rave reviews from a GC or his customer, there is a lot of satisfaction in that and knowing you didn’t cut corners to get the job or build it – and knowing it will last and your team’s effort is a large part of the reason why. For me personally I felt called to start this business as I was praying about my career.”

See more of Allstate’s work in the February 2019 issue of TileLetter cover story on the University of Houston’s Fertitta Center sports arena.

Allstate projects

Allstate came up with the unique way to lay the restroom wall tile in a pattern that was appealing to the eye yet still achieved the quarter-turn rotation of every three tiles as desired by the architect. Particular attention was given to providing a flat installation to the polished finish large-format tile in the lobby.

Katy Tompkins High School has over 100,000 sq. ft. of tile on it, and – as most schools do – had a tight schedule to work with. Allstate approached this job with utmost efficiency in terms of staging materials and scheduling. Each piece of the 32’ diameter waterjet logo was laid out in a separate location before installing it to make sure it was cut right, then numbered. Each large piece of tile around the logo is trimmed on all four sides in order to provide a clean radial look from the second floor balcony. “There is a reason we have done the last three Katy high schools over the past 10 years,” Sharpe said.

At the Hobby Doubletree, the work Allstate did has stood the test of time. There was a lot of detail to be worked out on the three fountains that incorporated mosaics, thick stone and stack stone. Specific details were needed for waterproofing, level waterfall edge work etc. Allstate also did the granite tops on this project.

The Klein Cain High School project was an over $2,000,000 tile project and included more than 120,000 sf. of tile. Allstate used a combination of in-house employees and subcontractors to get the job done. The project manager, Cecil Zachary of Satterfield & Pontikes, had not worked with Allstate before. Now, because of his experience with Tommy Vu’s attention to detail, Allstate has done four more projects in the last two years with Satterfield & Pontikes.

Doing things right the first time pays off for Omaha installer

Swoboda Tile & Stone melds family tradition, industry training into successful business


This shower is part of a bathroom renovation with all natural stone. “A challenge that I faced with this install was squaring up the walls and making sure my substrate underneath was super flat,” Swoboda said. “Being able to wet shim behind the foam board really helped speed up this part of the project.”

Six years ago near Omaha, Neb., budding tile setter Jake Swoboda (www.facebook.com/SwobodaTileStone) was learning how to “always do things right, the first time,” as his uncle taught him the basics of the trade. Swoboda now specializes in residential renovation and new construction, specifically tiled showers and bathrooms. To achieve the excellence he sought, he supplemented the foundation laid down by his uncle with manufacturers’ trainings, online resources and interaction with other installers in the Omaha area.

Two years ago, Swoboda took his tile setting career up another notch, by joining the NTCA and successfully passing his Certified Tile Installer test, becoming CTI #1398. 

“I joined the NTCA to help further my own knowledge and skills of the industry,” Swoboda said. “What really makes it worth it, for a younger installer like myself, to join the NTCA is the online resources and amazing technical support that is available to every member. Any tile question I have on the job, I know I can call the NTCA for an answer and solution.”

His CTI status adds another boon to his business. “Being certified has helped me and my business immensely,” he said. “I explain the certification to my customers, and I think it puts a lot of minds at ease that I know what I am doing. It shows them that it’s not just me saying that I know how to install tile properly, but that I have been tested and certified to install tile to industry standards.”

The biggest challenge on this project was the large-format tile on the walls. It is a 32”x48” tile. Proper substrate prep and the appropriate thinset helped Swoboda deliver a rock solid install for this customer.

 

 

 

 

Swoboda Tile & Stone projects

Swoboda has a passion for the artistry and technical excellence in his work. “The greatest joy that I get from being a tile contractor is working with customers to make their vision for their projects come to life, and knowing that the prep work underneath the tile will be rock solid for many years to come,” he said.

This kitchen renovation had many challenges that Swoboda had to overcome. The floor tile is a 8”x48” plank tile with electric heat underneath. Swoboda had to pour self leveler over the cable to get the floor flat enough for such a long tile.

This tub surround, completed early in Swoboda’s tile career, posed unique challenges. He had to frame in and tile the arched ceiling. Swoboda said, “The customer was ecstatic with how it turned out.”

Cutting Edge Tile meets client needs in a “Flash!”

Carl “The Flash” Leonard, owner, Cutting Edge Tile

Carl “The Flash” Leonard is a third generation tile setter, and owner of Cutting Edge Tile
(www.cuttingedgetilenj.com) in Florence, N.J. Leonard explains that he got his nickname because “I’m primarily known for my speed and quick turnaround of projects.”

Leonard has done commercial, residential, remodel work, new construction and custom work including gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP), exterior pedestal tile installation and bonded large-format tile on exteriors. 

Cutting Edge Tile prides itself on attention to details and offering new and exciting ideas helps it stay ahead of its competition and set the company apart. “I pride myself on being a well-rounded installer in my field of expertise,” Leonard said. “Listening to the client and understanding their needs is very important! I am also certified to install and use a variety of products to aid in providing the best installation available.” The company motto is “Quality YOU can afford.”

Carl “The Flash” Leonard poses with a group of fellow Global Tile Posse members in the module used for the CTI tile setting competition in the Installation Experience during Coverings ’18 in Atlanta.

Leonard joined NTCA in 2015, primarily for the education membership offered. “I love to learn new installation techniques and correct practices,” he said. “Also joining allowed me to be in contact with a network of tile professionals that I can reach out to for help or just advice.

Walk-in shower – in process: “This walk-in shower project posed many challenges,” Leonard said. The shower pan had a linear drain with large-format tile, so prep was the biggest challenge. The shower floor was recessed to allow the foam shower pan to be flush with heated flooring in the main floor area. To get the main floor level flush with the pan, self leveler was poured over the loosely strung heat cables. Once this was done, waterproofing could be completed and tile installation could start.

 

“The greatest reward of being an NTCA member would be all the knowledge I’ve gained through educational programs and events,” The Flash added. “This has helped me and my business to grow tremendously. The education and knowledge gave me the confidence to do tile installations properly. It also puts my clients at ease knowing that I’ve invested in my company to ensure proper installation on their projects.”

Leonard took his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test in Cherry Hill, N.J., in 2017 with nine other installers, and successfully passed to become CTI #1393. He makes it a point to tell potential clients all about his certification. “It is the determining factor in them choosing me over others in most cases,” he said.

Leonard said, “being a professional tile installer brings a lot of satisfaction, knowing that my clients will be using something that I built and will last a lifetime!”

White bathroom – In this project, Leonard used a recessed foam walk-in shower pan with a heated floor and underlayment on main floor. This was an old farmhouse, where nothing was level or plumb. “We sistered new 2 x 4s to all the wall studs and poured self leveler on the floors,” Leonard explained. “This was key to the success of this project. Prep is essential!”

NTCA transcends countries to attract quality-minded tile setters

Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone works to establish and update standards in Australia


Of NTCA’s nearly 1,600 members, a number of tile contractors make their homes and operate their businesses outside of U.S. soil – allowing our membership to spread to Australia, Mexico, Canada and other countries around the world.

Tim Christopher, owner of Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone

One such world member is Tim Christopher, owner of Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone in Canberra, Australia, who has been a tile contractor for 20 years in Australia. Upon completion of his three-year apprenticeship, Christopher was awarded Apprentice of the Year in his state. 

From there, Christopher formed his own company, Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone, which has completed various types of work including rural, residential and commercial. Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone has been contracted to work on several of national buildings such as Parliament House of Australia, and Australian Treasury.

Attentiveness to new technologies and products keeps Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone on the cutting edge of new products as they have become introduced in our market. “Moisture-sensitive stone would be a good example of this,” Christopher said. “My company was one of the first in my region to successfully install this type of product in a market where many failures were occurring through misunderstanding products such as reconstituted stone.”

Christopher is currently vice president of the Tile and Tiling Industry Association of Australia (TTIAA). “This is a small association set up to benefit the industry here, in an environment where tile is not particularly well supported as far as up-to-date training or establishment of relevant guidelines,” he explained. “I am actively supporting the update of our Australian Standard for tiling, as it is very outdated. Indeed, our standard was written when the iPhone wasn’t even in existence.”

In a quest for better training, standards and guidelines for his company and his country, Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone became a member of the NTCA. “It is evident to me that the USA is probably the most active region for ongoing support of the tile industry across all areas,” Christopher said. “The development in the area of setting tile is second to none. The Gauged Porcelain Tile Standards are an example of this. The guidelines in the USA are established with relevant input from all concerned to produce practical standards. I believe this approach would be of benefit to us here in Australia.”

Currently Christopher is undertaking some consultancy work for tribunals. “There is a certain failure rate of tile installations in Australia as in the USA,” he said. “I hope to help educate our industry through the knowledge I have gained by continuing to be a member of the NTCA.”

Modern Aspect Tiling & Stone Projects

Avalon Flooring: flagship store grows to 15 locations in 60 years

Expansive offerings and emphasis on training contribute to success


Avalon Flooring (AvalonFlooring.com) was started by John Millar in 1958 with a single store in Avalon, NJ. It has since grown to 15 stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with 330+ employees. In 2018, Avalon Flooring became 100% ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). As an employee-owned company, with its corporate office located in Cherry Hill, N.J., it prides itself in providing professional service and an exceptional range of quality products for each of its customers.

Original store opened by John Millar in Avalon, N.J.

The original store opened by John Millar in Avalon, N.J.

Avalon Flooring services the retail, contractor, builder and commercial segments in both new construction and renovation projects. It offers a variety of flooring and window treatment options and installs all the products it sells. 

Robert Showers

Robert Showers,
Avalon Flooring

Avalon Flooring has been a member of NTCA for 14 years. “At Avalon Flooring, making sure our tile installations are done the correct way the first time is extremely important to us,” said Robert Showers, Director of Estimator Sales at Avalon’s Cherry Hill location, and a NTCA Regional Director.

Inside Avalon Flooring’s corporate offices.

Inside Avalon Flooring’s corporate offices.

“To help guarantee a successful process, we take the time to educate our subcontractors to better their installation performances to ensure positive customer satisfaction.” Avalon has been a huge supporter of the NTCA education program, often serving as host for the regional workshops and training programs and Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exams.

“Being a NTCA member helps our contractor sales teams provide helpful and proper installation information to their clients by citing the NTCA Reference Manual, which is a very beneficial tool,” Showers added. “It also opened up the opportunity to learn more about the CTEF certification program, and we were fortunate enough to have hosted a certification this past December.” 

Avalon Flooring corporate office

Avalon Flooring’s Cherry Hills corporate office today.

Currently Avalon has eight CTI subcontractors that handle part of the ceramic installations for Avalon Flooring. “We also just hosted a certification on December 1st, at our Cherry Hill location, where 11 out of our 13 participants passed and became certified CTI contractors!” Showers said. 

“Our goal at Avalon is to keep working on the growth of our expert installers, as well as creating the awareness of the fact that tile installation is a very skilled trade that’s more than worthy of being considered a full-time career.”

The company’s employee cantina.

The company’s employee cantina.

Avalon Flooring also takes pride in maintaining an active role in the communities where its customers and employees live, donating both time and money to charities and non-profit organizations in order to give back to the community and raise awareness for important causes. It’s also a good steward of the planet, taking seriously the responsibility to care for the environment, so it constantly strives to preserve natural resources and reduce its environmental impact. The company features high-quality, green flooring options in its showrooms and operates its own recycling program that successfully diverts approximately two million pounds of used carpet and pad per year from landfills throughout the region.

What keeps the company going, Showers said, is “The sense of accomplishment when you step back, and realize you are part of a great company that started with one man’s dream that now employs over 300 people.”

Avalon Flooring is 100% employee-owned, with more than 330 employees.

Avalon Flooring is 100% employee-owned, with more than 330 employees.

Homegrown tile company

Deen Contracting melds art and problem-solving with great results


In the prairie of the Midwest – Springfield, Ill. – my career started with a broom, and the willingness to clean up construction sites and use a shovel. I was a summer helper for my friend’s father who built elaborate houses in Springfield, and worked on part of their extensive remodel on an old mansion. 

Andy Deen standing in his most recently completed residential shower.

My job was to tear out a custom shower that was installed pre-WWII. I still remember the lath cutting through my young hands as I burned through saw blade after saw blade – everything we had that day. Then I got to the pan, which was a bed in a lead liner base. Instead of a 40 mil or foam liner, this was a lead sheet. Amazingly, it never leaked, and lasted about 60 years. I thought to myself it is awesome how something so beautiful could last so long. That is when I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could construct functional beauty that lasted longer than me?”

At the end of the summer, I worked finishing concrete for a year after high school and eventually got in the electrical trade, but it didn’t satisfy me. There was an itch inside me that needed to create. I needed to explore construction and art; I needed to set tile. It was the only thing that would pass the time in an enjoyable way for me. I went to a local box store and picked up some material and tiled a kitchen in 2000, and then a friend’s mom’s backsplash, and then a shower. 

The prep work involved before the shower pans are poured and any tile is set.

Next, I met Rob Yates – a NTCA member – at the supply house. We had not met before, but had mutual friends and started talking. He mentioned that I should check out the TCNA Handbook and go to a NTCA seminar when it was in town. I did – and everything completely changed, again. I was invigorated with new knowledge and access to years and years of previous work the handbook contained. 

A homegrown tile company had been created: Deen Contracting, Inc. (deentile.com), based in Rochester, Ill. In the middle of a cornfield in Central Illinois, I got a job with one of our local farms. I was dying to try tile installation on a 3D-scale and I wanted to do crown molding with a waterfall off it for bathing. I had an idea and the homeowner, Dennis, made the plumbing work – he can probably fix an alien space craft if it crashed in a field! I field-framed the crown ledges from 1”x 4” pine and then I clad it in cement board and membrane. Next, I used foam. I have even used .050-gauge aluminum sheets and bent them into forms to be filled with mortar. My first ledge was in 2006 with a lot more geometric tile installs since. 

There are endless possibilities of which we have only scratched the surface. When I say “we,” I am referring to installers who truly care about their art. I have been on course to manufacture kits, however, funding to change an industry can be hard to obtain, so I have been utilizing my print reading skills from my electrical experience to bid commercial jobs. We have gone from 10% commercial work to 80% in about four years. 

Support through NTCA

Commercial restaurant project, recently completed.

The first time I had real guidance in the industry was in 2012 when Mark Heinlein from NTCA had a seminar in Springfield. His knowledge and approach to explaining setting techniques was top shelf. By attending the meeting and joining the NTCA, I was empowered with a great deal more knowledge. The TCNA Handbook has all of the ANSI ratings for products and installation, so by being aware of this, I was able to cite the proper pages and explain installations on my scope of work for commercial products. When I placed these references in my scope of work, I found that I was getting more jobs. By just attending a NTCA function and utilizing the information they gave me, I have increased my business.

Until now, I have been pretty guarded about my creations and patents. However, the February 2019 TileLetter featured RodKat and it inspired me to share as well. I am impressed and always intrigued when a fellow tile mechanic installs in three dimensions. Just because we have a two-dimensional material to work with doesn’t mean we must stay there. Hats off to setters who are pushing the limits and exploring new designs. 

Tile crown molding with waterfall feature.

I have been to the Coverings conference in Tampa, Fla., and had a great time. I plan on attending in Orlando this year as well. The conference is the best way for me to see new products and ideas and it is also the best way to re-charge my creativity.

The key to staying busy in a small town is diversity. My wife Karen, who is a ceramicist, has been an irreplaceable asset and inspiration helping run the business, making payroll and putting bids in on time, as well as executing simple organization that I have botched for years. So, with our small crew of 3-5, we have been remodeling commercial restaurants. We go in and demo all the tile, and then polish the floor with mechanical grinders and install new tile throughout the lobbies, kitchens and bathrooms. 

Waterfall feature in use.

Commercial restaurant tile job.

In the course of doing this work, I have noticed the commercial kitchen is under attack. This is where I got my start at age 21, repairing epoxy grout in commercial restaurants before I landed my first residential builder. Epoxy grout is a must. Incorrect installations and/or poor grout choices have hurt tile’s reputation in the commercial kitchen. Owners are switching to other products when they shouldn’t have to. A properly installed quarry kitchen could and should last 30-40 years with proper cleaning and minor maintenance. 

Residential tile bathroom project.

All in all, I love tile and I love to problem solve. To me, residential tile is art and commercial tile is problem solving and accuracy by the scheduled deadline. They are two different worlds that make both a great challenge and a rewarding career. I have been fortunate enough to have great product suppliers and so many local residential clients who have allowed me to create artistic spaces in their home. In addition, I want to give a big thanks to the people before me who have helped inspire me and continue to do so! 

Creativity and attention to detail characterizes Artisan Tile

Sometimes, good things can come from bad beginnings. By his own admission, Michael Moreno, the owner of Artisan Tile, was a “horrible helper” when he started out in 1987 in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he was employed for a husband/wife tile setting team. Eventually this couple went out on their own, hired Moreno, and over a period of 14 years, taught him everything he knows today. 

“I was still a bad helper,” he said. “I’m unsure if they felt sorry for me or if they saw something in me. I would like to think the latter. They were and still are an incredibly artistic team that started me from scratch.”

Michael Moreno, Artisan Tile owner (left), with his son, Michael Jr.,

Michael Moreno, Artisan Tile owner (left), with his son, Michael Jr., who recently moved and works for a tile company in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Moreno was 18 when he started working with them, and was their first employee, so he watched their outfit grow into a premier high-end company. In 2002, he left their employ, and started working for a one-man show out of Lompoc, Calif. But after two years, he was dissatisfied by the lack of learning anything.

“I was spinning my wheels, with no path forward,” he said. 

Though he never felt “good enough” to go out on his own, his two years with the Lompoc company made him feel that he was “going backwards. 

“That’s when getting my license ‘clicked’,” he explained. “It was like, 1+1=2. It was that simple and that jarring. It was like I woke up. This was unequivocally my path! Once that had entered my head there was no going back.”

Moreno got his license in 2005. “With no business sense, and a little skill, I put my head down and charged forward,” he said. “I’ve made all the common mistakes you can make when transitioning from being an employee to having employees. But I was learning and still moving forward hard.”

This 200-sq.-ft. project of round Saltillo was planned, and in great detail.

This 200-sq.-ft. project of round Saltillo was planned, and in great detail.

In 2008, he had six employees and spent most of his time on estimates. The recession was not kind to him, and his company fell apart. “But I did not give up, though it was one of the hardest personal struggles I’ve been through. I kept my license current and by 2010/11, I was back in the mix.” 

Today, he owns Artisan Tile in Lompoc, Calif., that gets 90% of its business – mostly residential – from referrals, without a website! Why? He stands out from the crowd due to his attention to detail and a certain artistic flair that stems from the artistry and precision he learned when working for the tile setter duo. 

“I was taught the trade by an artist couple, and their emphasis on meticulous details and creativity has stayed with me to this day,” he said. “I will always be far from perfect but the joy from that challenge of trying to be so strikes new on every single job I do. There are guidelines and proper methods, but there are few limits to the artistry of installation itself. I love to tile.”

This spontaneous, unplanned Saltillo corner sun was just fun to do, Moreno said.

This spontaneous, unplanned Saltillo corner sun was just fun to do, Moreno said.

Moreno has been a NTCA member for only a year, which he joined to bring himself up to date with proper installation methods and materials. Though he is still feeling out the ultimate benefits of the association for his business, he said he has “found great value in having access to a variety of tested methods, materials and professionals through the NTCA. What I do take away from it is knowledge and a community that wants to bring this age-old trade into the future with informed and educated installers.

“My greatest satisfaction is solving problems, and the finished product,” he concluded. “I thoroughly enjoy the challenges of the intricate and often monotonous details that make my work stand above my competition.”

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

This shower featured blue encaustic tile with 3”x 6” subway tile.

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