Kerry Rogers, in business 40 years, trained NTCA trainer/presenter Robb Roderick as a helper
By Lesley Goddin
Forty years ago, a school-age Kerry Rogers started helping out his dad and granddad in the tile trade, as a way to earn some pocket money and work with his hands at something he enjoyed. This hobby became a profession over the years, as Rogers gained proficiency and helped his family members tile the country’s first Bass Pro Shop and chain restaurants like McDonald’s, KFCs and Burger Kings in the Springfield/Kansas City, Mo., area.
“I mixed my first bucket of grout in 1969,” Rogers said. “We didn’t have mixing drills – we made our own grout. I didn’t know how to work the tool, and I splashed it up and got it in my eye, and that helped me remember when I first mixed grout!”
After Roger graduated high school, he moved to Arizona in 1980, opening his first company and doing business in the Tempe area. He had his own employees – mostly running a crew of four, which was his sweet spot in being able to keep tabs on quality – but when working on a large hotel project, he had the challenge of maintaining quality while running a 15-man crew.
In 1989, he moved back to Springfield and started the Missouri Tile Company, installing tile at restaurants like Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Popeyes.
It was during this era when he took a tender, young tile helper under his wing – none other than the NTCA’s own trainer/presenter Robb Roderick!
“In all of my years of helpers, Robb has really stood out as one of the best helpers I ever had,” Rogers said. “He was polite, on time and energetic.” Rogers also trained John Allsbury, who is now Schluter’s Director of Sales, Western Region.
Missouri Tile Company continued till the dearth of work in 2008 during the recession forced him to shut down and travel the country doing any work he could find, until three years ago when the market improved and he reinvented his business once more as a solo contractor doing residential work, 98% of which is new construction.
“We sold our big house so I could stop traveling, and find a little work around here until things got better,” Rogers said. “And then we rebuilt a house right next to the old house on six acres, since we loved this area.”
As a solo contractor, Rogers was attracted to the technical support and vouchers that the NTCA offered. Plus, he said, “Robb is a good salesman. Vouchers help out with supplies and 24-hour support is important when I need help and a question answered.” His local setting materials rep also offers great technical support, but the “vouchers, the Handbook and having technical support there when I needed” made it easy for him to decide to join.
The satisfaction Rogers gets from his work keeps him going, earning a living doing something he enjoys. “I love to go into a place and it’s nothing but a room with sheetrock and when I walk out, it looks fantastic and ready to move into,” he said. “And to watch the smiles on [my customers’] faces and hear what they say even before we are done.”
His four decades of experience also provide a unique perspective over how things have changed.
“Nothing now is like it was then,” he said. “We made our own grout and floated mud floors…we hardly used any thinset. It’s totally different now, but I get the same result. I think it has changed for the better. It’s safer, it’s neater and cleaner and you can get more done than we did in the old days.” And, he pointed, out, “Showers used to fail all the time. Now I can do 100 showers – and they don’t fail. Showers are changed for the better, and so is the education about how products work.”
Third generation tile setter carries on a tradition of quality and artistry
Gemini Home Remodeling
Jon Vanarthos started Gemini Home Remodeling three years ago with one additional employee, specializing in mostly residential remodels. Building from the ground up, today, the company has more manpower to provide the highest possible quality while meeting industry standards.
“As the owner and CEO, I try to incorporate something different from ‘the run of the mill contractors’,” Vanarthos said. That ranges from crafting his own bullnose for jobs, mitering edges, or hand scribing in designs.
Vanarthos grew up around tile, since his grandfather and father had a tile shop located in Kennett Square, Pa. “I remember going on jobs with my grandfather, passing him tools and cleaning his trowels as soon as he put them down,” he said. “Every summer I was working, learning a trade that I never knew would turn into my passion. I named my company Gemini Home Remodeling in memory of the two role models in my life, considering they passed away over a decade ago.”
Vanarthos has set the bar high for his business. “Each day I strive to gain as much knowledge as possible and utilize what I’ve learned to be a better contractor,” he added. “I am not only the owner, but the designer and installer on all jobs to assure each and every client’s dreams comes true.”
Gemini Home Remodeling is doing something right, with all its work coming from word of mouth without any type of advertisement.
In February 2017, Vanarthos decided to join NTCA after attending a NTCA Workshop presented by Mark Heinlein. “After talking with him for 10 minutes, I knew there was a whole other world of knowledge out there I was missing,” he said. The greatest value of being a NTCA member, he said, is “the knowledge gained from this industry – all of the help and support provided by this vast industry to be successful.” What drives Vanarthos to do quality work every day? “The joy of knowing I am carrying along the family tradition keeps me pushing forward every day to better myself as a tile installer,” he said. “Every year I set the bar higher for myself and my employees. I am not only pursuing a passion for myself but I am also providing joy to those who trust in my work to redesign their homes.”
Dutchess County Tile lays the foundation for the next generation of tile setters
“The greatest joy of being a tile contractor is an easy one: seeing the smile on your customer’s face when you can bring the vision in their head to reality.”
– Darin Shocker, Dutchess County Tile
Darin Shocker, owner of Dutchess County Tile, who recently was recruited by a setting materials manufacturer as a New York-area rep for his integrity and knowledge, tells a fascinating story of his journey through the tile trade and his hope for the industry’s future.
Shocker started working for a local bathroom remodeler/tile setter when he was 16. Although, in Shocker’s words, his boss was a “hack and a crook; he took advantage of everyone he could,” and “even at 16, I could see how bad his work was,” Shocker discovered a love of ripping out bathrooms and being a helper!
Shocker worked with him through high school, and shunned scholarships to play sports in college because he had gotten what he considered a better opportunity: an offer to be “a tile setter apprentice for the biggest union company in NYC: Port Morris Tile and Terrazzo,” he said.
“I knew in my heart this is exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” he explained. “I wanted to learn the trade properly and then go start my own business, just like my old boss – only I wanted to give my customers a quality job and never take advantage of them.”
Shocker worked for Port Morris for eight years. This huge company with hundreds of employees gave him the chance to work on all types of projects from building exteriors, malls, lobbies, and swimming pools to luxurious hotels like The Essex House and the Ritz Carlton.
“The Port Morris family, Giacomo DeLazerro and Vincent DeLazerro, really took a liking to me and put me in every possible position to succeed,” Shocker said. “They put me with all their best foremen and set me up to go to the Local 52 apprentice school. I went through five years of schooling and working in the field before I was given my full tile setter’s union book. For the next three years I was a journeyman tile setter on various projects throughout Manhattan and became a foreman for the company.” And one important thing he learned along the way was that “the reward for good work was more work. ”
Moving from the unionto breaking out on his own
About this time though, work started to get tight and he was out of a job. After three months, Shocker went out on his own looking for work – knocking on doors of new home builders and going into local tile stores with pictures of his projects. Soon, tile stores sought him out as a good, honest setter they could refer to customers.
“Then one day I got my first big break – a small contractor for whom I worked got hired by the folks who invented caller ID,” he said. “They bought an old IBM building in Valhalla, N.Y. for their headquarters. He hired me to do four lobbies, a ton of bathrooms and a big cafeteria. I couldn’t do this with the small crew I had, so I reached out to all my old foremen and good setters and finishers I had met in the union who were still out of work to give me a hand.” This job put his company Shocker Tile and Marble on the map, which had a great run and developed an excellent reputation for doing outstanding work.
Enter the recession in 2007, which decimated work all over the country. Shocker went back to his union roots and called Port Morris Tile and Terrazzo, and the new big guy on the block, Jantile, Inc. Owner Anthony Casola hired Shocker the day he called, and he worked there for four years until city work evaporated.
Ever resourceful, Shocker switched gears to take advantage of the wave of residential projects as his own company, Dutchess County Tile. His goal for his small company was to do high-end jobs, one at a time.
Then in 2014 – the first of four years his company was named Houzz Contractor of the Year (2014 – 2017), his 18-year old son DJ (Darin Jr.) Shocker decided that the school route was not for him and asked if he could come work for Darin. “I was happy and it rejuvenated me,” he said. “It gave me new energy.”
The elder Shocker said he was “pretty much installing tile the same way over and over again because of past success. I wasn’t really keeping up with the newer methods. I wanted to teach my son the old-school ways but knew I better get myself educated with the new school ways so I could teach them to him as well.
“The very first thing I did was join the NTCA,” he said. “That was the best move I ever made. I would have turned into a one trick pony if it wasn’t for all the NTCA, which gave me all the tools I needed to make me an all-school tile setter – a great mixture of new and old proper standards of setting tile, which I have been passing down to my son in hopes he will carry on the family tradition of quality tile setting. Following the NTCA standards, he is doing great installing and grouting while being super respectful to the clients.”
Within the last year, the elder Shocker was recruited by a respected setting-materials company to be an area rep. “With over 30 years of setting tile and the body breaking down a bit, I feel this was a perfect change for me to continue in this great business of ours for years to come,” he said. “For this I am truly blessed. I will put the same passion into being a rep as when working for myself.”
The next generation
Shocker is confident his son will “keep learning and getting better and better,” with his guidance and experience. “He has a passion for this industry and will do just fine as long as he follows the path laid out for him. I’m hoping within the next couple years he will take his CTI [Certified Tile Installer exam]and pass. He will continue to learn and stay with all the new setting trends. He will be keeping up with the NTCA and attending workshops along the way.”
DJ plans to pursue both union training and CTI certification with plans to continue to run his own, residential business, after a stint as a union foreman. “I’m good with patience,” DJ said. “I like putting stuff together like puzzles and I like doing a job that someone will appreciate at the end. That’s a satisfying feeling. I will be doing this for a long time. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Shocker, Sr. is adamant that the industry has to start urging schools to bring back shop as part of the curriculum to garner interest and opportunity for youth. “I feel the kids that learn trades are going to be in high demand in the near future,” he said. “Most kids would rather take an easy job cold-calling than going through the hard work of learning a trade. If they could see into the future then maybe we could attract more youth into the tile trade.”
He advised anyone starting a business, “To do every job like it was for your mother’s or father’s house. Make it look great, but more importantly make it last. When you put your name on something you do, make it something you’re proud of. And last but not least, remember good work always leads to more work.”
Added DJ, “If you find a job you don’t mind waking up to do and enjoy it – and that’s the job to do!”
High-profile projects get a professional Five Star Contractor touch
Greg Games, the owner and president of Premier Tile, began his career in the tile industry in the late 70s working for his father, Ray Games. The senior Games owned Orange County Tile, which focused on residential tile installation.
Greg Games joined the union and became a journeyman in 1982 while working for Venetian Tile. Soon, he began estimating and eventually became vice president until its owner retired.
In 1993, Premier Tile & Marble (www.PremierTile.com) was established in Gardena, Calif., with many field and office employees who had worked together for many years. This family-run business prides itself on employing second and third generations of highly-trained craftsmen, who have helped build Premier Tile into one of Southern California’s leading commercial tile installers.
2018 marks Premier Tile’s 25th year providing the highest-quality commercial tile and stone installation that clients have come to expect. The company’s reputation in the industry comes from its dedication to professionalism and strict adherence to the highest standards. The company is proud to have played integral roles in the building of many high-profile projects such as: the award-winning Oaks Mall; The Brickhouse at Playa Vista; Disneyland; Los Angeles Football Club; USC; UCLA; Entrada at Santa Barbara; Glendale Galleria; Santa Monica Mall; Westfield Century City Mall; PetCo Park; Kodak Theater; Del Amo Mall; Kaiser Hospitals; Torrance Memorial Hospital; Great Wolf Lodge; Los Angeles International Airport; LA Federal Courthouse; Waldorf Astoria; Rady’s Children Hospital and many more.
Premier Tile joined NTCA initially in 2010, re-upped in 2017, and recently became a Five Star Contractor. “Collaborating with the NTCA gives us the avenue we need to keep our finger on the pulse of our industry,” said Greg Games. “We believe the Five Star program is very reputable, and a good tool for contractors to use in hiring subs. We are proud to have qualified for the program. We believe that being a member of the Five Star program will set us apart from other companies, and general contractors will choose a company that merits this certification.”
All Premier Tile employees are either enrolled or have graduated from the Local 4 (previously Local 18) apprenticeship program, which helped qualify the contractor for Five Star status. “We encourage all our apprentices to compete in the annual contest, and we are pleased to say that Premier Tile employees have won that contest many times,” Games said. “We require our key personnel to take and pass the UofCT program offered by The University of Ceramic Tile & Stone. Other construction-related areas of education include: OSHA Training, Forklift Certifications, Scaffolding Certifications, ICPI Concrete Paver Installer Certifications and First Responder Certifications. Employees are always encouraged to continue their education and share their experiences with their fellow employees.”
As California continues to build and grow, Premier Tile forecasts continued growth and expansion. Currently it is in negotiations with many general contractors for a variety of large and exciting projects. The evolution of products in the tile industry has opened many new avenues and Premier Tile is at the forefront of new and innovative installations, looking forward to another successful 25 years!
“After being in business for 25 years, we proudly look back at many successful projects,” Games added. “We have helped build a city where our families live and given employment opportunities to many long- time employees.”
Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc., was founded in 1929 by Earl J. Trostrud Sr., originally concentrating primarily on residential construction as it worked hard to create a solid reputation.
At the end of 1939, with the outbreak of war in Europe, the company temporarily closed, and Earl Trostrud Sr. went to work making aircraft engine parts, and in the construction department of Kraft Foods. In postwar 1946, Earl Trostrud Sr. reopened Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc., still focusing on the residential market and building its reputation for quality and craftsmanship.
In 1957, Earl Trostrud Sr. started pursuing commercial contracts and was awarded several gas station projects. These successful projects whetted the appetite for more commercial work.
In the spring of 1958, after graduating St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Earl Trostrud Jr. joined his father in the tile business and they both pursued commercial contracts, with the same ethics of quality workmanship, integrity and honesty that the company was founded on. They committed to treating everyone – no matter your role in the company or as a business partner – the way they would want to be treated.
In the summer of 1975, Earl Trostrud Sr. retired from the tile business. Ten years later – after graduating from University of Wisconsin Stout with a major in industrial design/product design and a minor in graphic design, and working in these fields – his grandson Brad Trostrud decided to give estimating a six-month try, working alongside his father Earl Trostrud, Jr.
Brad relished the opportunity to work with his father and to strengthen the bond. By now the company, based in Wood Dale, Ill., had grown to be 15% high-end residential and 85% commercial. It turned out to be a rewarding decision for both of them. Earl, now in his early ’80s, is still working every day, and holds the title of president. Brad is the vice president.
Earl and Brad have always been very active in the Ceramic Tile Contractors Association of Chicago (CTCAC) and Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA), both serving in every position. Earl helped found the Chicago Tile Institute promotion fund to uphold the value of union-installed tile and stone. Earl is also the chairman for the Pension and Welfare fund since 1990, and served as a Zone Director for the TCAA in the ‘70s. In 2013, Earl was awarded the Carl V. Cesery Award that recognizes distinguished service to the tile industry.
Brad serves on The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Technical committee and Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook committee. Brad was also involved in the creation of Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT), a certification program to provide a level of consumer confidence for installation procedures that exceed ANSI Standards and TCNA guidelines. Brad has also served as director, treasurer and now is president elect for TCAA.
Brad came to NTCA through a Trowel of Excellence/Five Star Contractor meeting at the Crossville plant a few years ago, where he met Artcraft’s James Woelfel and David Allen Company’s Chris Walker.
“James and Chris are two of the sharpest minds in the tile industry I have ever known,” he said. “By the time I left Tennessee, I felt like we were all old friends. “
Brad also met Welch Tile & Marble’s Dan Welch, David Allen Company’s Martin Howard, Cox Tile’s John Cox and CTEF’s Scott Carothers in 2013, at the first Total Solutions Plus to include TCAA in Scottsdale, Ariz. “What a group of wonderful gentlemen, not afraid to share the great knowledge they have acquired during the years in our industry,” he said. “Getting to know them over the years has been a great blessing. So after a time, I felt compelled to join their NTCA.”
Since union setters and finishers go through an extensive apprenticeship program, CTI certification wasn’t a requirement for Trostrud’s Five Star Contractor status – NTCA’s 50th Five Star – but the company has five ACT-certified setters nonetheless, one of whom was tapped by the union to be the Chicago-Midwest head instructor for the BAC IMI.
Trostrud Mosaic & Tile Co., Inc., has been honored with various awards over the years, most notably the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Craft Award for Best Mosaic in 2015 and best Tile Project in 2008. It also received TCAA’s 1st Place Commercial Project award and achieved Trowel of Excellence certification in 2012. It contends that it employs the best union trade installers in the business. The company – which has grown to 90% commercial – holds as its top priority providing the best tile installations
“We are not interested in being the largest or the least expensive tile contractor – we will not compromise on quality – we just want to be known as the best,” Brad Trostrud said.
Lots of good things get their start in the garage. Bands, science projects, and in this case the company now known as H.J. Martin and Son, founded when Henry John Martin began selling paint and tile out of the family garage in 1931. Eighty-six years later H.J. Martin and Son is a multi-divisional specialty contractor, self-performing commercial and residential flooring, walls and ceilings, glass and glazing, doors and hardware, and fixture and millwork installation nationwide.
The company’s diversity helps it cross-train its installers and helps to retain top talent. If one department is slow and another is busy, it can readily adjust. The company also can offer package discounts to the general contractor or end user on multiple phases of a project.
The contractor gets great satisfaction from the entire process of contracting, from showroom to installation, and the customer’s excitement about the final result.
“We go to great lengths to maintain an extensive selection of tile products within our two showrooms,” said David Martin, the 4th generation of H.J. Martin and Son. “Many of these tiles are exclusive to H.J. Martin and Son, so we often will have customers travel a great distance to purchase from us.”
H.J. Martin and Son prides itself on its team of in-house designers, who have detailed knowledge of its tile products, and are experts at finding the right fit for each individual client.
“We have long believed the thing that sets us apart from other tile contractors is our highly experienced team of installers,” David Martin said. “They are true artisans, who continue to train on the newest installation processes.
“All of our people, from designers to installers, try to delight our customers with an exceptional tile experience to last a lifetime.”
H.J. Martin and Son specializes in ceramic tile and natural stone for both residences and commercial projects. On the residential side, the company displays a wide variety of tile and stone products within its two showrooms and employs a team of aforementioned 14 in-house designers who help guide the client to the perfect tile or stone for his or her home. And company installers are experienced with a popular in-floor electric heating/uncoupling system
The commercial division installs tile and stone in office and government buildings, automobile dealer showrooms, educational and healthcare facilities, hospitality spaces and retail locations, among other places.
In addition, H.J. Martin and Son has an in-house team of floor-care specialists. They are experts at ceramic and natural stone cleaning, sealing and restoration, along with grout cleaning, sealing and recoloring. If a new tile floor is not an option, refreshing existing flooring is a great option.
Since H.J. Martin and Son strives to deliver quality products and installation to all of its customers, it joined NTCA in July 2014, with the belief that existing and potential customers will see its NTCA Five Star affiliation and know that they are receiving the highest quality of installation available.
“As a company, we believe strongly in continuing education for our installers, designers and other flooring specialists,” Martin said. “We always strive for our people to be knowledgeable in the latest product advances and installation techniques through attendance at outside seminars or in-house training sessions. We believe that the mission of the NTCA embodies many of the same ideals.
“NTCA membership, particularly as a recognized Five Star Contractor, assures clients that they are receiving the highest quality of workmanship for ceramic tile and natural stone,” he added. “Having the NTCA member designation helps to communicate our expertise level to those outside the company.”
Although the company does not currently have Certified Tile Installers or ACT-certified installers on staff, more than 80% of its in-house installers are Journeymen and have completed the requisite four-year apprenticeship.
Partnership parlays passion and change for good into benefits for business and the industry
Greg Twarog and Edwardo Martinez formed the partnership Surfaces15 (www.facebook.com/surfaces15) three years ago with the concept of creating a diverse clientele and body of completed work. The company has held true to that goal, with an average of 25 projects going at all times, varying in size and job scope. By utilizing the vast talents of its teams, Surfaces15 (S15) – located in Downers Grove, Ill. – can tackle projects ranging from small remodeling repairs like replacing sealant on an old tub back to full scale remodeling projects refinishing basements, kitchens and baths or small to medium scale commercial build outs.
The company focuses on detailed, custom jobs, but also undertakes install production type projects on occasion, never sacrificing quality. S15 utilizes CTEF Certifi ed Tile Installers (CTIs) to install stone tiles, Saltillo, stone slabs, large thin gauged porcelain panels, LVT, VCT, custom and commercial carpet, hardwood, hardwood refinishing, engineered hardwood flooring, large-scale floor prep, epoxy, and conduct moisture mitigation. The team is Nuheat pro certified, skilled in wedi waterproof shower systems, and steam
shower installations. Though leading a young, three year old company, Twarog and Martinez have over 50 years of installation experience between them. Martinez is a second-generation flooring installer, working in the commercial and residential arenas;
Greg Twarog with recently-completed residential remodel in Crete, Ill.
Twarog is a first-generation tile setter, classically taught the tile trade from laborer to journeyman and eventually business owner – all the while specializing in the custom residential market. Both men bring the experience of owning their own flooring businesses to the mix. Twarog transitioned from business owner to working for a Chicago-area distributor during the recession, eventually moving up to outside sales rep. “When Edwardo and I met, and we both realized we shared the same passion and philosophy for the industry, we decided to move towards our common goal and form Surfaces15,” Twarog said.
Both agreed to build S15 from scratch from hard work and from their own skills and contacts and networks. After a year of business they decided – as Coverings 16 Chicago approached – that they would make it a point to attend and to participate with their vendors and network as much as they could for the week.
This project is a private residence and contract for a remodel in Crete, Ill. A Leveltec tuning system eliminated the chance of lippage on this job.
“We went and after a weeklong discussion we both decided to make the investment into the NTCA,” Twarog said. Why did it take a week? Why not sign up right away? After all, there are vouchers after all and many benefits to be had. “Edwardo and I don’t do anything halfway,” Twarog said. “We knew if we decided to sign up we would be all-in. All-in for us, means we would want to both be CTEF CTIs and we would also both want to be State Ambassadors so we could both be a bigger part of the tile industry in a way that would set us apart from all the rest.”
Now, just over a year later they are both CTEF CTI certified as well as many in their network of installers. “In this short time we have been involved with many of our vendors through both the NTCA and the CTEF,” Twarog said. “This has been extremely gratifying to see the positive changes in both ourselves as well as our local industry.”
Surfaces15 and NTCA: creating change for good
As Martinez and Twarog show up as new NTCA Illinois Ambassadors, they have shared their vision with vendors and discovered they share the same passion for the goal for change. “We asked if they would be interested in hosting NTCA events and CTI test days,” Twarog said. “They liked the idea so much, that they have made special provisions with the CTEF for eligible contractors to take CTI tests at their local stores anywhere nationally. This is not only a huge commitment to their contractors but also their clients to help assure a successful install of their products they sell.
“That has been the greatest value that the NTCA has yielded to us, being able to successfully make a positive change and impact to our industry as a whole,” Twarog
added. “When you see Mark Heinlein drive into your town in the NTCA truck you know something will be learned and good change will come from it,” Twarog said. “That’s what is most important to us, and that is what we volunteer for – the positive change and the sharing of good installation practices so fewer failures occur.
Failures are never good for our industry. They make all our jobs more difficult when we go out to sell that big project we want to work on to the Mr. and Ms. Smiths or the general contractor that we have just met. “As you will see in our installations, it does not matter if Edwardo or I install the project, or if it’s our team members from our network, Surfaces15 has a passion for what we do that shows through in our workmanship and finished product,”
Twarog said. “We are always willing to lend an ear and offer or research advice to help,” he added. “Many already know this about us and it’s something that I don’t see ever changing.”
A residential project in Lincoln Park, Chicago.
Surfaces 15 used The Tile Shop 8″ x 48″ planks, with Blanke edging and tuned with MLT Mechanical Lippage Tuning system in this Indian Head Park, Ill., balcony.
This 32,000-sq.-ft. office buildout and warehouse space on Bradley Street in Chicago was for Power Homes. Surfaces 15 did all flooring aspects including grinding down entire building using large industrial equipment and edgers, and moisture mitigation. Tile is from Daltile, carpet tile from Mohawk and warehouse sealer coat from Sherwin Williams.
NTCA opens the door to a new career
for Dave Rogers
Have you ever wondered – when you got involved with something – where it would take you in life? Today, I am the Training and Development manager for Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., the chairperson for the NTCA Training and Education Committee, and I serve on the NTCA Technical Committee. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would have this much responsibility, I would have told you that you were crazy.
My journey in the tile trade started about 27 years ago at a flooring store in Port Clinton, Ohio. There I learned about diverse types of floor coverings, including carpet, sheet vinyl, and of course ceramic tile. Tile wasn’t the focus of the business, but it was enough to spark my passion for the trade. As years went on, I started my own business after marrying my wife Jenny and moving away from my home town. In my company, I provided carpet, vinyl – and of course ceramic tile – but again it was not the focus of my business. I took every tile project I could and learned along the way. I soon realized I needed more training. This is where my journey with the NTCA starts.
I attended Coverings in Orlando, Fla., in 2007. I must have gotten on the NTCA’s mailing list because I started to receive the TileLetter magazine and began reading about the NTCA and what it had to offer. Being a small company, I initially didn’t think it would work for me, but I was wrong. I joined in 2009 and started using the benefits of the association by requesting technical advice and attending workshops whenever I could. When I wanted to get more involved, I was offered the opportunity in 2011 to serve on the Board of Directors, and attended my first Total Solutions Plus in Naples, Fla.
Brad Denny (left) with Dave Rogers during the Regional Evaluator training at TISE West this year
This is when I realized the true value of the NTCA. I can still remember sitting in on my first Technical Committee meeting and hearing James Woelfel ask if any of the contractors in the room had any comments. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I then realized that I had found what I was looking for and why I was a member of the NTCA. The association made it easy to make friends and get involved. I took every opportunity I could to lend a hand, from helping design the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) shower test, to assisting CTEF’s Scott Carothers set up demonstration modules, to becoming a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) evaluator. My wife always teased me that I went on these trips to relax and sit by the pool, but that was never the case.
As I got more involved with the association, I got to know more and more people – especially a contractor from Grand Rapids, Mich. named Dan Welch. I remember calling him a few times looking for technical advice, then working with him to develop the ACT shower test. After a while – and a few trips to NTCA functions – we started to talk more and more about technical issues as well as what happened that day and life in general. Dan was generous with his help, so I made trips up to Grand Rapids to learn what I could do to grow my business. And I traveled with the Welch team in 2013 to install the temporary flooring at Coverings in Atlanta. Along the way, I’ve had some unexpected adventures, from changing an alternator in Dan’s truck along the side of the road, to tiling the inside of a shipping container at coverings in Chicago. When Dan says “So, I’ve been thinking…” you know it’s about to get interesting.
Dave Rogers (left) with Jim Olson at a Training and Education Committee meetings during TISE West in Las Vegas in January 2017.
As Dan’s and my friendship grew, I realized that my calling was not to be a business owner – but I felt I would make a great employee. So, I shifted gears and started looking at different opportunities in the industry for employment, including working for Welch Tile, but the distance always seemed to be a hurdle, or maybe I just wasn’t ready. In the fall of 2015, I helped Welch Tile as temporary labor on a project in Kalamazoo, Mich., and became convinced that I wanted to abandon business ownership and be part of a larger company that offered camaraderie and support. Dan and I talked about it in December 2015, and I revealed I was ready to make the leap away from self-employment the following year. A week later, while driving home from work, Dan called with his signature, “So, I’ve been thinking…” greeting – then offered me the opportunity to run the training program at Welch Tile.
The week after Christmas 2015, my family and I made the trip to Grand Rapids for an interview. It was a tough decision for my family to make, but we focused on the quality of life we had as a family, going back to the adage that “You don’t know until you try!” January 25, 2016, marked a new start to my career and a new way of life for my family in Grand Rapids, with Welch Tile.
Remember the question I asked at the beginning of this letter? I would have never dreamed by becoming an NTCA member I would be where I am today. If I never made that first trip to Coverings in 2007 and hadn’t joined the NTCA, where would I be today?
New Five Star Contractor Phil Kozey and Stuart Tile Company in Macomb, Mich.
Family pride sets foundation for excellence and passion
The Kozey family has a long history in the tile industry – over 45 years, according to Phil Kozey, project manager at Stuart Tile Company (www.StuartTileCo.com), in Macomb, Mich. The company now installs mostly commercial projects, specializing in assisted living facilities, car dealerships, and large commercial, as well as some residential projects.
Phil Kozey, project manager, Stuart Tile Company
The company prides itself on its ability to complete projects with very difficult time schedules, but not compromising quality by cutting corners.
“The greatest feeling is when we have worked for weeks — sometimes months — on a job, and finish before the deadline,” Phil said. “I love seeing the happy faces of the owner/GC. It makes me feel accomplished when I see the finished project.”
Stuart Tile Company is composed of mostly family members. “This makes it unique and very personal to me,” he said. In addition to Phil himself, it includes his parents, Janet and John Kozey, as well as two uncles, and some cousins and other highly valued employees.
Kozey noted that Stuart Tile Co. is in fact owned by his mother, Janet Kozey, making the outfit a minority/women owned business. “She is mostly in charge of the administration end of the business,” he said. “My father and I manage onsite day-to-day production.”
Phil started out watching his father in the industry since Phil was a toddler in the early 80’s. He even remembers his dad mixing up thin-set mortar with Portland cement, silica sand, and liquid latex. “My father always took great pride in the quality of his work, and watching him over the past three decades has made me a perfectionist when it comes to the detail of our work,” Phil said.
Stuart Tile Company rejoined NTCA three years ago after a hiatus, and since then has been going strong in the association.
“Joining the NTCA and becoming a Five Star Contractor has relit a fire in my passion for the industry,” Phil said. “Tile has been a huge part of my life since I was a small child. I am a second-generation tile installer, but to be honest, I was starting to get burned out on the tile business entirely. Approximately three years ago I started researching NTCA, and it kind of helped me look at the whole industry in a new light. It taught me how and why the products work, and how they are made. It offered great opportunities to talk with people with similar passion and interest. The NTCA has definitely opened a doorway to keeping me in the loop with ever-changing technology, products, and methods and standards. Since Joining the NTCA I have gained knowledge — and even confidence — in my methods, via the TCNA Handbook and NTCA Reference Manual. I have discovered a community of like-minded professionals that actually care about the installation, and this is something I plan on being a part of for as long as I am in the tile industry,” he said.
Stuart Tile has recently been awarded and now recognized as a NTCA Five Star Contractor. “It is a great honor to recognized by an organization that has such high standards,” he added.
The company has two Certified Tile Installers, but aims to have all its setters be certified. “I can see that our Certified Tile Installers are proud of their certification, and they should be — it’s an accomplishment,” he said.
Not immune to occupational hazards of working in the industry, late in 2015, Phil started having respiratory issues and was diagnosed with a form of COPD. “I believe this is from all the silica/cement dust I was breathing through all the years of mixing, grinding without proper dust mask protection,” he said. “This is why I feel so strongly about proper dust containment/equipment. I will not even prep a floor without a mask now.”
Phil considers it an honor to represent NTCA as a Michigan State Ambassador since 2015. “It has been because of the NTCA I have formed lifelong relationships and friendships with individuals at some of our top suppliers,” he said. “I am very grateful to the NTCA for the different educational and social events I have been able to attend all over the nation.”
Stuart Tile Company installed colorful tile in the brand new Madison Elementary school, the first new school in the district in nearly 40 years. The bright colors on walls and floors of this technology-centered school keeps kids alert and engaged. Stuart Tile Company installed two radius mosaic walls, 15 bathrooms and hallway tile. For more information, visit www.fox2detroit.com/news/184579-story
Phil Kozey, speaking at his first NTCA Workshop with Mark Heinlein at Daltilein Farmington Hills, Mich.
Phil Kozey uses the Mechanical Lippage Tuning System (MLTS) to reduce lippage on this gauged porcelain Laminam wall tile installation.
At the NTCA Workshop at the Farmington Hills Daltile, Phil Kozey (front right) poses with Mark Heinlein (front left), and other Daltile associates in front of the NTCA van.
Phil Kozey preps the floor at the Palace of Auburn Hills
NTCA is an international association, and as such, in this issue, we present to you a member from Manitoba, Canada – Gudbrandsson Tile & Stone (www.facebook.com/gdtileflooring), which installs tile and stone in mostly residential renovations and new homes, with occasional commercial hand-crafted specialty projects.
Brandur Gudbrandsson was working as a trucker until the discovery that he would soon be dad to a daughter helped bring his passion into laser-like focus. At the time, he learned his best friend for 17 years was also having a child. That became the impetus to start in the tile and ooring industry, with Gudbrandsson’s only knowledge stemming from “being in and out of the trade for 10 years.”
Gudbrandsson drove from Manitoba to Chicago in 2016 to attend Coverings; Dave Karp gave him a warm welcome.
Gudbrandsson quit driving and began buying tiling tools until he hit a bump in the road. “Ironically, my buddy of 17 years did not want to continue after one month of work and we found out our sixth-great-grandfathers were half brothers,” he said. “He became a professional trucker; I became a professional tilesetter.”
Gudbrandsson’s grandfather said, “Stand still, nothing accomplished.” Standing still wasn’t good enough for Gudbrandsson. “ When I had to take the leap of being a dad, I told myself follow my passion and I will succeed,” he said. “I thank my daughter for where I am today – and my grandfather’s hard working roots. Everything I do – on a job or in the industry – has my family name on it. It signifies quality.”
Brandur Gudbrandsson joined NTCA in 2016 due to the influence of fellow Tile Geeks tilesetters he admired.
Gudbrandsson joined NTCA in 2016 due to the influence of fellow Tile Geeks tilesetters he admired. “I believe the industry is being re-pioneered today, and I came into the industry at the best time,” he said, adding that he wants to “be involved with the industry as deeply I can get.”
Gudbrandsson said, “The greatest aspect of becoming a NTCA member is the support and net- working from so many GUD people. I had the pleasure of meeting many in Chicago at Coverings 2016. It was a GUD drive; Dave Karp, owner of Tile Fusion, was the first to greet me on the journey from Manitoba.”
He continued, saying, “It is a GUD satisfaction to be a part of an ancient art. It gives me great joy to see more people involved every day. The networking is very GUD locally and abroad. Becoming a Tile Geeks member led me to create Tilesetter Canada Facebook group for more regional connections. I see now setters from Canada helping each other nding work, becoming friends and helping troubleshoot problems, or connecting with a tile company representative.
Brandur Gudbrandsson (far left) and a group of NTCA members and Tile Geeks at the NTCA booth during Coverings 2016 in Chicago.
“Seeing the tile community through social media using the word GUD is also attering,” he added. “Perseverance, consistency, details – meeting anyone with the same passion is always a pleasure.”