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#TransformTheTrade

A new initiative to promote qualified and quality labor

The industry – and the world as we know it – has been going through some changes. But in the midst of the upheaval, some new initiatives and energy are emerging to move the industry forward in a positive way. 

Even though the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) tests have been put on hold in light of COVID-19, in the latter part of April, some discussion began percolating about crafting a message that summarized the mission of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) and the broader mission of elevating the tile trade as a whole. This phrase would need to be easily and readily accessible by those on social media. 

CTEF board member Joseph Mattice, of On the Level Tile in Greenville, S.C., together with NTCA Assistant Executive Director Jim Olson, NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein, and CTEF’s Scott Carothers and Cathey McAlister, explored several slogans and tag lines. One of the contenders was “Transform the Trade,” which originally emerged from discussions with Mattice, and other newly-named CTEF board members, Erin Albrecht of J&R Tile, San Antonio, Texas; Trask Bergerson of Bergerson Tile & Stone, Astoria, Oregon; and former CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director Heidi Cronin.

Mattice brought this catch-phrase, as well as several others, to a Zoom meeting of CTIs the last weekend of April for feedback. “We polled everyone about messages – not just about the [CTI] test, but how it correlates with CTEF mission statement,” Mattice said. “Transform the Trade”
(#transformthetrade) was the overwhelming favorite of the group.

The alliterative phrase was also chosen because of the different ways it can succinctly highlight other core messages of the CTEF mission, such as:

  • Transform the Trade – Take the Test
  • Transform the Trade – Prove yourself
  • Transform the Trade – Become a CTI
  • Transform the Trade – Join CTEF

“We determined to begin using #transformthetrade as a hashtag on our posts and emails and YouTube, etc.,” Heinlein added. 

From there, Mattice connected with CTIs Jim Tsigos of Tsigos Construction, Delran, N.J., Ken Ballin of Skyro Flooring in West Creek, N.J., and Brandt Garrison of Garrison Tile & Renovation in Heyburn, Idaho, to create a Facebook group. The Facebook group is intended as both a place for CTIs to exchange information, but also where those who are interested in taking the test can come to get information from existing CTIs. Once live tests start up again, an announcement will be posted at the top of the page with locations and dates, Mattice said. Mattice also runs weekly Zoom meetings to address various aspects of the effort, such as addressing social media and programs for CTEF to support CTIs.

“Transform the trade” gives a context to discuss elevating standards and qualified labor in general: “It’s where we all want to go,” Mattice said. “It’s not just about taking the test – it’s also about getting industry partners involved. For instance, distributors have to eat a lot of terrible installs, so it benefits them to focus more on quality and qualified labor. And qualified contractors tend to buy better product, so that benefits the manufacturer. This is about the overall trade – the test is just one element of it.” 

Mattice is proud to be part of this effort. “An exciting thing is the energy the CTIs have poured into this in 1.5 weeks!” he said. “It just blew up! It’s a positive focus and a call to action. This is a step you can take that will actually transform things.”

Now when you see #transformthetrade starting to crop up on social media and industry communications, you’ll know what it all means. Check out the Facebook group to join in!

Evaluator boot camp focuses on making CTI exams more accessible

If you read our Training & Education feature by CTEF’s Scott Carothers on page 66 of our February issue, you learned about the efforts afoot by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), supported by The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), to bring more Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exams to contractors across the country. 

Carothers explained the beginning of the program in 2008 has led to the current stable of 1,600 CTIs. CTEF has been churning out about 150 CTIs a year but there’s an outcry from the industry for more opportunities to be tested, and for more contractors to have the opportunity to become CTIs. 

In 2020, there’s a goal of reaching 2,000 CTIs by year’s end. Yet with the current number of evaluators at 11, that has been impossible. Until now.

Starting in the middle of 2019, the CTEF board approved an intense week-long training of evaluators – an Evaluator Training Boot Camp, of sorts. Four intense trainings have been held, each with 14 evaluators-in-training: a mixture of Contractor Evaluators (CEs) and evaluators who hail from manufacturer technical departments; most were once tile installers themselves (Industry Evaluators or IEs). The goal is to have 56 evaluators by spring 2020.

Existing CEs go through an update, to learn the new grading system. They had already taken the CTI exam themselves to become evaluators. But the new recruits go through a rigorous curriculum that includes taking the CTI test themselves. 

Many manufacturers are supporting this program. “CUSTOM decided to participate in this value-add program because it aligns with our commitment to industry support through quality installation by our industries,” said Will White, of Custom Building Products. David LaFleur of wedi, added, “I agreed to become an evaluator as I saw it as a great opportunity to promote qualified labor in the tile industry. I was honored when wedi chose me as their representative to this program. The trade is suffering as a whole right now due to the lack of qualified labor. The CTEF and NTCA are doing a great job at working to improve this situation, and I feel this is a great way for me to help.”

Even though many of the IEs are technical representatives, the Boot Camp was no walk in the park. Ed Cortopassi of MAPEI said he was surprised by the “intricate difficulty of the task” especially time management when taking the CTI exam. CUSTOM’s White added, “With over 240 cuts in the certification test, you better have a plan that factors in the time allotted to complete.” 

For LaFleur, “The toughest part of Boot Camp was actually taking the CTI test,” he said. “I grew a new-found respect for those who completed it and passed. It is easy to assume, given the small quantity of tile installed, that the test may not fully test someone’s abilities. I was hugely mistaken in this thought process. After being away from tile setting for about one year, it was not only difficult to finish, but certainly tested all my abilities fully. I am grateful that I was able to finish and receive a passing grade.”

LaFleur praised the enthusiasm and dedication shown by Mark Heinlein and Scott Carothers in designing and implementing the training, and for making sure IEs were well prepared to administer and evaluate the CTI exam. “I learned how important it was to be accurate and precise when evaluating a test, in order to keep the test fair to all participants,” he said. “This will keep the integrity of the test in place, helping to assure consumers can trust they are hiring someone with the skills required to complete their projects.” Similarly, Daniel Grant of Ardex Americas said he was “happy to learn that the scoring was very clear, and mostly not subjective to the evaluator’s opinion or viewpoint.”

One thing White discovered  during the training was that installation technique and ability are perishable assets. “I have not installed tile on a production scale for 20 years – this camp showed me how an everyday task is not like riding a bike – you must practice this often to remain relevant and capable,” he said.

Ardex’s Grant said that in addition to the extended days in a hot warehouse, one of the tough aspects of the test was “Having to intentionally install several aspects of the module incorrectly for the evaluators to try to catch.” 

After completing the Boot Camp and the CTI exam, IEs had some words of wisdom for those planning to take the CTI exam. 

“My piece of advice is simple,” wedi’s LaFleur said. “Do not get worked up on the task at hand. All the information you need to pass is given to you in the study material. Treat the test like any other day at work. Devise a plan as to how you will complete the test in the time given and then execute it. The world is not perfect, so do not get hung up on any one detail.”

MAPEI’s Cortopassi added, “Make sure to attend the orientation the night before and pay attention to the many little details.”

And CUSTOM’s White said, “This is a certification test for those who earn it – not a guarantee you will pass. Study, plan and learn. May the Tile Force be with you always!”

One of the highlights of the Boot Camp was the “camaraderie from some of the other attendees,” said Ardex’s Grant, an opinion echoed by White. “What a great experience to understand we are in this together and quality can be achieved,” he said.

The Certified Tile Installer Program is on the move

The Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program began in April of 2008 with just five installers at the Coverings show in Orlando, Fla. Now, 11 years later, the program has grown to over 1,600 CTIs. Not bad, but in order to meet the current consumer demand, we need more qualified labor in the field – and that is exactly what the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) is doing in 2020.

The vapor retarding membrane is off to a good start.

With the help of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), CTEF is ramping up the CTI program in many ways. First off, Heidi Cronin was hired by CTEF as the Industry Liaison and Promotions Director. The NTCA is generously donating the skills of Assistant Executive Director Jim Olson and the expertise of Training Director Mark Heinlein to help move the CTI program to the next level.

Contract Evaluators: bringing the CTI exam to you!

The current group of CTIs who are evaluating the hands-on test were formally known as Regional Evaluators, but they are now known as Contract Evaluators. This dedicated group of evaluators, for the most part, are self-employed installers or employees of tile contracting companies that are also NTCA members. They have demonstrated that they have the passion to get the job done with high standards and integrity.

The backer board is being installed on the floor.

In order to test more installers who could potentially become CTIs, CTEF needs additional evaluators to conduct the hands-on tests. The idea of how to facilitate this increased number of evaluators came at the CTEF Board of Directors meeting at Coverings ‘19 from the suggestion made by board member Andy Acker of Schluter Systems. His idea was to use manufacturers’ technical service representatives rather than sales people to create a new category of evaluator. Program Managers Mark Heinlein and Scott Carothers developed a plan to train these new evaluators. Within three months, the plan was in place with the first class being held in July, 2019.

This stable of technical reps are being provided through the generosity of numerous tile industry manufacturers who realize the need for qualified labor to utilize their products and install tile successfully the first time. They have responded by placing key employees into this program that CTEF could not launch without their support.

Industry Evaluators: technical reps to expand opportunities for certification

The completed hands-on module is ready to be evaluated.

This new segment of test administrators is known as an Industry Evaluator (IE). The training class for the IEs, known as “CTI Boot Camp,” is an intense five-day program held at the CTEF facilities in Pendleton, SC. The curriculum of the program includes the history of the CTI, a concentrated classroom study of the TCNA Handbook and ANSI documents, how to construct, assemble, erect, and palletize the CTI test module, a thorough study of the CTI Evaluator Scoresheet and Installer Improvement Form, and actually taking the CTI hands-on test. The intensity of the first CTI Boot Camp was further strengthened in the July class where the average warehouse temperature was a sweltering 100° Fahrenheit with matching South Carolina humidity.

The next step finds the IE trainee shadowing one of the CTI Program Managers on one or more tests to score it in real-time. When their training is successfully completed, the new IE will conduct an actual test with a Program Manager monitoring. The final step is to hit the highway as an Industry Evaluator setting up tests at company facilities or distributor locations to grow the CTI ranks.

The existing Contract Evaluators also attended a similar training Boot Camp at CTEF in January, 2020 to ensure that all of the new program enhancements are understood and incorporated into the hands-on testing. An additional Boot Camp is in the planning stages for current CTIs who desire to become a Contract Evaluator.

At the end of the day, it all comes down.

The initial goal of the new CTI Evaluator program was to have 40 Evaluators working within the training process by the end of 2019. This goal has been met and will begin to show significant results in 2020. 

Catch the enthusiasm and help push the CTI wagon up to the top of the hill.

Use your time wisely

Most of us would agree that there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. There is always some sort of fire to extinguish, the unexpected phone call that takes longer than planned, or pleasing your customer who wants to add more work to the project just when you were planning to call it complete.

The work is on the schedule and needs to be completed as planned and promised. But how do you squeeze more time out of the clock or jam more stuff into the available time? The answer is time management.  

Wikipedia defines time management as: “The process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.” Further, planning or forethought is the process of thinking about and organizing the activities required to achieve a desired goal.

In order to apply these principles in the tile trades, an installer must develop a plan of action by either building the project in his or her head prior to beginning the work, or by sketching it out on a piece of paper. Having a plan in place is the roadmap to a successful project completion. 

Plan ahead with a grid pattern for layout

Waiting in line at the wet saw to make two cuts is a huge waste of time. 

The use of a grid pattern for floor tile layout is a good example. It may take a little more time to mark the layout on the substrate, pop key lines, and grid it out, but once in place, all the perimeter cuts can be made. Making these cuts on a snap cutter saves more time. In this case, almost all of the cuts, with the exception of “L” cuts, can be made right where they will be installed. No need to walk to the wet saw, make the cut(s), dry the back of the tile, and walk back to the install point. Additionally, once the mortar is properly mixed, the grid pattern allows multiple installers to work in the same area, which really increases productivity.

When cuts need to be made on a wet saw and the installer is working alone, mark as many pieces that can be safely carried to the saw and make all of them at one time. Making multiple trips to the saw with only one or two cuts can devour a huge amount of time. 

Better-grade materials can save time

Using a better grade of setting materials that have thixotropic (becoming flowable when moved in a back and forth motion) characteristics will yield better mortar coverage and transfer to the back of the tile. Many times, these products will eliminate the need to back-trowel (formerly known as back-buttering) the tile with additional mortar.

Keeping focused

Evaluators of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program routinely stress this phrase to the installers preparing to take the hands-on test: “Use your time wisely!”

Something that wasn’t even a factor ten years ago is now a significant drain on the productivity of a tile installation. Not surprisingly, a smartphone and Facebook bring new challenges to the workplace. Everyone needs to be connected these days, but the jobsite should be just that, with nothing to interrupt the thoughts that went into the plan. When focus is lost, so is the valuable time that is needed to get back on track and keep moving. 

One more thought; show up to the job early each day well rested and ready to go. Establish your plan and stick to it.

And finally, the Evaluators of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program routinely stress this phrase to the installers preparing to take the hands-on test: “Use your time wisely!” 

Let’s do this! #BecomeaCTI

There has been a lot of buzz lately surrounding the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer (CTI) testing program. As a newcomer into the organization, I see room for the program to grow, and its potential to change the industry. 

The foundation of the program has been established: the CTEF developed a test that incorporates industry standards and challenges. It stretches the common beliefs of an installer, and requires a great deal of time management. Those who are passionate, yearn for education, and like a good challenge are showing interest, and are registering to become a Certified Tile Installer. 

Those who have taken the test know its demands and challenges. What becoming a CTI does is show the consumer/customer you follow industry standards, take pride in staying educated, and strive to do things correctly. Whether you are residential or commercial, becoming a CTI can make a huge difference in the fight for qualified labor. 

It is time for the trade to change the consumer mindset on labor. Budgets on projects should include allowances for quality installation, and not be about the lowest bid. Becoming a CTI increases the leverage needed to engage change. With that leverage, we will be able to build upon the progress that the NTCA Five-Star Contractor program has accomplished in getting qualified labor specified. Getting the architectural, design, builder, and retail community to specify and require CTIs creates a channel for the installer to make the compensation that is deserved.

Joining NTCA is a conduit to becoming a CTI. The CTEF and NTCA are working closely together to educate the industry on tile industry standards, methods, and best practices found in ANSI A108/A118, the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, and manufacturer instructions, giving them the tools needed to become a certified installer. We are in the process of increasing CTI testing opportunities across the country, paying attention to the demographic areas where qualified labor is lacking. In 2020 we will be increasing efforts to secure sites for CTI testing and NTCA Workshops with our industry partners. 

Social media has played a huge role in CTEF’s recruitment of future CTIs, mainly from current CTIs mentoring, encouraging, and sponsoring future CTIs. This outpouring of support is how change gets initiated. The CTEF is grateful for our CTI graduates, and their participation in making the program a success. We are dedicated in 2020 to secure regional locations to expand the Advanced Certification (ACT) program, and have regular
scheduled opportunities available as well. 

I am excited to see what the future brings. 2020 will be a busy year. The opportunity to make a difference is at the industry’s fingertips. The CTEF and NTCA are dedicated to assuring qualified labor is required on jobsites. Become a CTI today. Please visit www.ceramictileeducationfoundation.org for more information. 

CTI testing stretches the common beliefs of an installer, and requires a great deal of time management. It shows your clients that you follow industry standards, take pride in staying educated, and strive to do things correctly.

JSG’s Stephen Belyea made the leap from chef to tile contractor

What do Legal Sea Foods of Boston and tile contracting have in common? Stephen Belyea, owner of JSG Tile and Stone LLC in Weymouth, Mass. (jsgtileandstone.com) is the common thread in both scenarios. Belyea gave up his career as head chef at Legal Sea Foods and pursued commercial flooring work with a small company while he was contemplating his next move in the restaurant business.

“When I realized how much better life could be not working 12-15 hours a day, I stuck to learning as much as I could about flooring,” Belyea said. “I worked my way up to a lead installer and enjoyed the work I was doing” – work that included installing carpet, wood, vinyl, rubber and turf in the gyms at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park.

Belyea gravitated towards tile, captivated by the rewarding technical aspects of the installations, and eventually focused solely on tile. Pursuing his passion for tile the same way he pursued his passion for food, he made excellence his goal. “I wanted to be as good as I could be,” he said. “I attended any and all events I could to network, meet people and learn as much as I could.”

The Tile Geeks Madison Fields Project in 2017 was one of the most rewarding personal and professional projects in which Belyea ever participated.

In 2014, he discovered Tile Geeks on Facebook – only 500 strong at that time. “I realized from that page that there was a hell of a lot of knowledge about tile I did not have.” Belyea said. “So I made a point to learn about all the new/different techniques and tools there were. I have attended Coverings in Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, and Atlanta.” Belyea met Salvatore DiBlasi through Tile Geeks and in person at the Journal of Light Construction show in 2015 and the two have been great friends since.

In Chicago 2016, Belyea met NTCA member Bradford Denny, who signed him up as a NTCA member. “Joining the NTCA has been a great choice for me,” Belyea explained. “It has given me access to some of

Brad Denny (L) signed Stephen Belyea to NTCA membership in Coverings 16 in Chicago.

the best and brightest in the business. I know that I have access to people like Mark Heinlein – who is a great friend and resource – to turn to when I have questions about an installation method I might not be well versed in. A year after joining, I became a State Ambassador for the NTCA. I attend workshops all over New England giving support to the NTCA at their events.”

In December 2016, Belyea and DiBlasi took a road trip to the CTEF in South Carolina to attend a Tile Love/Schluter/CTI event. Belyea also took the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test and passed as CTI #1274.

“I have the pleasure of seeing my test in Sal’s video, which is also used by the CTEF in a video to promote qualified labor,” Belyea said. “I am currently a Regional Evaluator for the CTEF and look forward to certifying more installers in my area. Being a CTI has helped me in my business because it shows my customers that I have a vested interest in the industry. Educated consumers realize that they are better off having their project done right by a professional the first time, rather than a costly failed project being done for a second time.”

CTEF’s Scott Carothers evaluates Belyea’s CTI hands-on test.

Today Belyea is cooking with gas, bringing artistry and excellence to high-end residential custom tile projects, from new construction on summer houses in Cape Cod to renovations on multi-million dollar residences in downtown Boston.

“I take great joy and pride in what I do,” he said. “I compare the finished tile project to a prepared meal. The customer’s approval of the finished project is very rewarding to me.”

Another rewarding experience – one of the highlights of both his life and his career – was to be part of the Tile Geeks Project last year in Dickerson, Md., for the Madison Fields Autism Foundation (see TileLetter, January 2018 issue). “It was nine grueling days of work,” he said. “But I am so glad I did it. I got to meet and work with great people, installers and now friends.”

JSG Tile and Stone LLC project work

Challenging mermaid pool and backsplash project

Handmade mosaic murals by Ruth Frances Greenberg required careful prep and attention to detail from Hawthorne Tile

Two challenging hand-made mosaic designs by Portland’s Ruth Frances Greenberg (rfgtile.com) have recently been installed in a Portland residence by Hawthorne Tile. The precision of the design and process of installation initially challenged Hawthorne Tile when the tile contractor set Greenberg’s mermaid mosaic in the bottom of a pool in summer 2017. But once the owner saw the beauty of the expertly installed pool mermaid, she immediately commissioned a Ruth Frances Greenberg backsplash for the pool house kitchen. 

Once the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in place, face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections, and numbers them.

Bringing a mermaid to life

The 14´ diameter mermaid project involved “pretty intense logistics,” said Travis Schreffler, project manager for the install. He explained that after the tiles are made by hand, fired and then re-fired for exterior use and the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in a huge circle and face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections and numbers them. They are then placed on pieces of cardboard to deliver them to the jobsite. 

That required Schreffler to build a map to clarify where the design was going – it had to be laid out and put back together like a puzzle. Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane, so it was a perfectly flat curved arc: an intersecting plane that was flat in one direction and arched in the other. 

The crew, with Schreffler, three Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early
in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable.

The bottom of the pool needed to be prepped first with ARDEX AM100 rendering mortar with a radius established based on the arc; then an installer and an apprentice created a series of screeds that followed the pool’s arc. The installation prep took two and a half days. 

Each piece of the mosaic puzzle had to be moved down to the swimming pool, and the relationship between the pieces appraised since, as Schreffler said, “each piece relates to the other pieces in that they are loosely mounted, and needs the next piece to be adjusted, like a gear.” This meant that once the installation began, it had to be done in one four-hour take. 

Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane.

The crew, with Schreffler, two other Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable. ARDEX’s William White was onsite to help with the logistics, providing extremely attentive support, said Schreffler. 

There were some nail-biter moments during the install. “Every piece you put down, you felt like it wasn’t going to fit,” Schreffler said, so at times he also jumped in to lend a hand. In the end, the job was done by noon, and left to sit protected overnight. The next day, the plastic was removed, loose tiles reattached, and it was cleaned. Two days after the install, it was grouted with ARDEX FL and was ready for the plasterers to come in and finish up with pool plaster. 

The Hawthorne Tile crew admires their work – a job well done: (L to R) Sean Carline; Travis Schreffler; Bo Carney; and Yakov Blashchishchin.

Mosaic mural adorns pool house kitchen backsplash

Installing the mosaic mural are (L to R) Bo Carney, Vladmir Blashchishchin and Yakov Blashchishchin.

The mural for this backsplash was a 6´ x 8´ Hawaiian beach scene with breaching humpback whales, sea turtles and tree frogs, again created by Ruth Frances Greenberg. Plus the homeowner had befriended stray cats while in Hawaii, so the mural included them as well. 

The process of assembling all the parts and pieces was the same as with the pool, but Hawthorne Tile was now familiar with this system. 

Schreffler said, “Ruth laid them out with me so I knew where everything was to go. She gave me some creative license – with relief flowers and some other pieces. Before the first install in the pool, she never experienced CTI installers before, so the experience for her was very welcoming.” 

Again, the mural needed to be installed in one fell swoop, using ARDEX X77 as thinset. “We started this one at 7 a.m. and were done by 11 a.m.,” Schreffler said. This was after the crew spent a day prepping the wall surface to be sure it was flat. “We had the same crew,” he said, “So they knew exactly what they were doing and acted as a fantastic team. They took the bull by the horns, were confident and did a fantastic job, impressing the homeowner.” 

Mural detail. After the CTI-certified install team won the artist’s confidence with the pool install, she gave them some creative license to place flowers and some other pieces at their discretion

This is the kind of work upon which Hawthorne Tile thrives. “We welcome this kind of challenge,” Schreffler said. “Exactly this kind of thing – outside the box – we set out to do this a long time ago. Those moments that feel like you can’t get there from here are extra sweet when you step back and it’s done.”

 

The finished backsplash.

 

 

 

New NTCA member Skyro Floors, turns knack for flooring into satisfying profession

Certifications and NTCA membership feeds his hunger for knowledge

New NTCA member Ken Ballin, owner of Skyro Floors in West Creek, N.J. (www.skyrofloors.com), located near the Long Beach Island and the Jersey shore, got his feet wet learning about tools from his grandfather, who

This Skyro vehicle is as beautiful as the floors it helps Ken to install.

was a carpenter and a Seabee in the Navy. “He taught me everything I know about tools,” Ballin said. “After my wife and I purchased our first home and started renovations, it was pointed out that I have a knack for flooring. I started installing for customers on my days off from my ‘regular job’ and business took off. I was lucky enough to pick up a contract with a local box store and quickly became the guy they called to fix the mistakes.”

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein (L) signed Ken up as a member at a recent training event.

Ballin  started out installing only laminate flooring but learned about other types along the way. The box store “asked if I could install hardwood (so I learned),” he said. “Then they asked if I could install tile (so I learned). Then they asked me if I could install carpet (so I hired a couple carpet crews). At my peak with them I was running about a dozen or so crews and we did the work for about a dozen or so stores.”

Ballin says that unfortunately the proverbial rug was pulled out from under his feet when the box store decided to go with a work room format instead, jettisoning the small companies doing their installs. Today, Skyro Floors installs tile, hard surface flooring, and concrete overlays in mostly residential remodel projects with some new construction. 

Though Ballin has only joined the NTCA in the last few months, he’s always been focused on training and bettering himself. “I’m hungry for knowledge so first I got certified for hard surface flooring with CFI, then I took and passed the CTI test, and most recently joined the NTCA,” he explained. “I try to focus on higher-end/higher-paying customers since I live in a tourist market. While I’m still learning every day myself, I try to share my knowledge with others as much as possible. 

“I joined the NTCA because aside from my love of the industry I wanted to see firsthand what it can do for my business,” he continued. “I’ve heard the ‘voucher argument’. I’ve also heard that some small business owners felt it was more geared towards bigger companies so instead of just listening to stories I decided to find out for myself. What better way than to jump right in?

“So far the greatest value in joining the NTCA is the support,” he said. “I don’t mean technical support. I mean from the other members and yes, I know, I didn’t have to join the NTCA for that but the reassurance from other members and knowing that I’ve got someone to turn to if I need a hand is well worth it. The vouchers are nice too.” (Learn more about the Partnering for Success program here: https://www.tile-assn.com/page/vouchers?)

Ballin feels a great responsibility as CTI #1392. “Responsibility to my customers, responsibility to myself, and responsibility to the other men and women who’ve decided to make it their responsibility to represent high standards,” he said. “Being a CTI has given me the confidence to charge a premium for my services and the confidence to know I’m worth that premium.”

Ballin said the greatest satisfaction he gets in being an installer is “knowing that  my customers will be making memories for the rest of their lives on one of my floors,” explained. “Something I did will be with them through birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and everything else a family goes through. I shouldn’t say I don’t do this for the money because it’s how I (attempt to) pay my bills, but I genuinely love what I do and I love being around others who feel the same way.”

NTCA recognizes Superior Tile & Stone as Five Star Contractor

National Tile Contractors Association has awarded the prestigious Five Star Contractor designation to member company Superior Tile & Stone, Oakland, CA.   NTCA now recognizes a total of 35 Five Star Contractors.

Five Star Contractors are required to complete a rigorous peer-approval process, demonstrating their commitment to training, service, quality, safety, fiscal responsibility and superior job performance.  More strict qualifications for applicants in 2012 include certifying a minimum of 10% of installers through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer program.

Both NTCA Five Star Contractors and CTEF Certified Installers are listed in recently approved TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation language recommending the inclusion of installer and contractor specifications.  The revised Handbook stresses, “Matching installer ability to the project at hand requires close evaluation of their experience, training, state licensing…and certification/credentials.”  Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA) Trowel of Excellence certified installers are also listed in TCNA Handbook recommendations for contractors who have demonstrated a record of successful installations; Superior Tile & Stone additionally holds membership in TCAA.

Tommy Conner, president of Superior Tile & Stone, Inc., said, “NTCA’s Five Star Certification and TCAA’s Trowel of Excellence demonstrate to the world of general contractors, developers and designers that Superior Tile & Stone is qualified to perform complex tile and stone installations, and may be relied upon to provide the highest level of professional service.  Superior is proud to hold both certifications, and to work in concert with NTCA’s other Five Star Certified tile and stone contractors to improve our industry.”  Superior is currently scheduling testing and certification of its field crews by CTEF.

Superior Tile & Stone, founded in 1929 and headquartered in Oakland, CA, provides installation, fabrication and preconstruction services for ceramic tile, natural stone and terrazzo for commercial services throughout California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest.  Superior recently completed Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, NV and is in progress on the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Oakland, CA.

Five Star Contractors may display the “Five Star” logo on all marketing materials.  In addition, each company is prominently displayed in a special section on the NTCA website, with a direct link established from this website to each firm.  Product rebates and insurance discounts are available, and AIA-accredited PowerPoint programs give Five Star Contractors the opportunity to be THE tile and stone source for their local architects and designers.

For more information on the NTCA Five Star Program, visit www.tile-assn.com and click the Five Star link on the scroll bar, or contact Jim Olson, assistant executive director, at 601-939-2071.

To contact Superior Tile & Stone, visit the website at www.superiortilestone.com or call 510-351-1700.