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Louisville contractor practices unwavering commitment to employees and customers

Vesta Tile & Stone, LLC (https://vestatile.com), based in Louisville, Ky., is a leading regional contractor in the commercial tile and stone market since 2010.  Vesta quickly evolved as a respected regional contractor by inspiring the commitment of its employees and doing the right thing for its customers, which are two of its core values.  As tile products and installation technologies evolve, it has continued to invest in the resources to deliver high levels of responsiveness along with consistent and reliable performance every day.

In fact, as demand for large format porcelain tile continues to grow, a concerted effort has been made to train Vesta mechanics and employ the most advanced installation techniques in this product category. 

Vesta joined the NTCA in 2019 for two reasons: First, for the appealing resources available to members for education, problem resolution, and standards development. Second, the commitment to collaboration with the entire tile industry – contractors, distributors, and manufacturers – was compelling, as well.

“To date, we have enjoyed the benefits of participating in regional training programs along with the manufacturers’ material support offered for training,” said Louis Cristofoli, President of Vesta Tile & Stone. “In the future, we plan to make better use of the business management, technical advice, and marketing tools offered.”

Vesta Tile & Stone, LLC is one of the most recent contracting firms to gain NTCA Five-Star Contractor status. Cristofoli explained that “after significant research and due diligence, we determined that the NTCA’s Five-Star Contractor Program offered the optimal combination of resources that could best support our efforts to address and resolve the constraints often faced in today’s dynamic construction environment. The specification community has shifted more emphasis to ensuring qualified subcontractors are selected for their projects and the NTCA Five-Star designation is becoming a key selection qualifier. In summary, we believe the broad assortment of benefits offers a unique opportunity to strengthen our foundation and fortify our brand reputation.”

One of the requirements for the NTCA Five-Star Contractor credential is having Certified Tile Installers (CTIs) on staff. Vesta Tile & Stone has two employees who passed the exam, held at Louisville Tile in January 2020. “We intend to continue having additional mechanics take the exam and ultimately hope to have all mechanics achieve the CTI designation,” Cristofoli said. “The preparation for the exam was enlightening and attaining the CTI designation will be a mechanic benchmark for progression within our company.” Vesta Tile & Stone takes a tremendous amount of satisfaction in its work. “We are extremely proud of the impact we have on the projects we complete,” Cristofoli said. “The ability to elevate the experiences of our direct and indirect customers in the spaces they live, work, and play provides tremendous satisfaction to everyone in our organization.”

Historic Lexington Courthouse 

Photo of Lexington courthouse atrium
Lexington courthouse atrium containing 24” x 24” marble floor laid on a 45-degree-angle pattern, with 3 cm marble tread and risers, and 6’3” x 2 cm marble wall panels.

This renovation project in Lexington, Ky., presented a unique combination of installation challenges. The products and applications involved included: 

  • 15,000 sq. ft. of 24” x 24” porcelain floor tile – 14 common areas and two elevators.
  • 2,000 sq. ft. of 12” x 24” porcelain floor tile and 4,900 sq. ft. of 2” x 2” mosaics – eight gang restrooms.
  • 2,200 sq. ft. of 6’3” x 2 cm marble wall panels – atrium.
  • 350 sq. ft. of 3 cm marble tread and risers – atrium.

The first challenge was designing a logistics plan to efficiently accommodate the delivery, receipt, and disbursement of the materials. There was no elevator available in the four-floor building so Vesta orchestrated the material distribution throughout the building with a crane and operator utilizing the windows on each floor for material receiving.

Next, surface preparation had to be completed prior to the installation of the 24” x 24” floor tile with multiple elevation variances up to 3 inches. The elevation challenges were successfully addressed with both traditional mud bed and self-leveling approaches.

A third difficult situation related to the 24” x 24” tile installation included the layout of two special event rooms involving 2,000 sq. ft. in each room laid on a 45-degree angle pattern and flowing into an 8’ octagon shaped floor. An extensive effort was exerted to use plan layout in conjunction with laser technology to meet this challenge. The project was completed fall, 2018. 

Republic Bank Foundation YMCA

Photo of tile on YMCA pool deck
The YMCA pool deck featuring a 2” x 2” unglazed ceramic mosaic tile.

This was a new 77,000-sq.-ft. YMCA facility in Louisville, Ky. Selected as the project of the year by Louisville Business First, the doors were officially opened in December 2019. The tile products included:

  • 6,200 sq. ft. of 39” x 39” porcelain tile panels – three locker rooms
  • 4,500 sq. ft. of 2” x 2” unglazed ceramic mosaic tile – five pool areas including deck and three locker rooms 
  • 700 sq. ft. of 8” x 24” ceramic white body wall tile
  • 300 linear feet of 1/2” x 12” ceramic wall tile liners
  • 2” x 2” glass wall tile

The project entailed multiple installation method challenges involving substrate preparation, wet area waterproofing, and elevation transitions.

All pool area and locker room floors were mud set. With the specifications for mud-set applications declining over the last several years, Vesta relied on its experienced project manager and crews to lead its younger mechanics and finishers to deliver an excellent substrate on time, ready for tile.

The locker room walls were concrete block and presented significant planar challenges for the installation of the 39” x 39” panels. With all mechanics having received prior training on large thin porcelain tile handling and installation, Vesta was prepared with the tools, equipment, and mortar product to meet the stringent substrate flatness required.

NTCA Five-Star Contractor report

For those not familiar with the NTCA Five-Star designation, this is a group of NTCA member contractors who have demonstrated integrity, professionalism, and craftsmanship, and have a proven track record of success in tile and stone installation and business management. This report is an overview of developments in store for the NTCA Five-Star Contractor membership this year.

One key factor that you find in NTCA members overall is a culture of dedication to the tile industry. NTCA members are companies that love the tile trade, invest in training, and stay connected with current standards and methods. Many NTCA Five-Star 2020 objectives will work to cultivate this dedication. These objectives include the process of reverifying NTCA Five-Star Members, reaching out to artisan tile manufacturers, updating the format of our annual meeting, continuing to promote qualified labor language, and changing our application requirements and process.

The importance of reverifying members

This year the NTCA Five-Star program has started to reverify current members. As qualified labor grows, interest in this group has steadily grown with it. Because the NTCA Five-Star members are a unique blend of contractors of all sizes, labor pools, and specialties, it is important for NTCA to re-verify that they are continuing the practices that are required by the program such as licensing, insurance, safety program, ongoing education, certified labor, etc.

Outreach to artisan tile manufacturers

Artisan tile, while often offering rare beauty to a space, can sometimes be a challenge to install. Because of the unique nature of these specialized tiles, it is especially important that the right contractor be involved in the installation process. With that in mind, a contingent of high-end NTCA Five-Star contractors will take part in an outreach effort to artisan tile manufacturers. By reaching out to the manufacturers, the NTCA Five-Star contractors hope to learn more about their specialized products, be better prepared to install their products, and be a resource for each other.

NTCA Five-Star Partnership Summit

Much of the value of the NTCA Five-Star group is the education and peer interaction it offers. This is especially true at the annual meeting which has traditionally been a NTCA Five-Star trip during the summer. This year, to ease schedules for members and sponsors, the NTCA Five-Star Partnership Summit will take place in conjunction with the Total Solutions Plus (TSP) conference in Palm Desert, Calif., at the end of October. This year’s format and curriculum really elevate it above a mere meeting, and this new name for the gathering represents that. The curriculum for the meeting will expand to cover both the field and business components of members’ businesses and will bracket the TSP conference. 

Sunday, October 25th before TSP starts, the first part of the Summit kicks off with a Foreman/Superintendent Bootcamp. Project foremen and superintendents have some of the most difficult jobs, and represent a key component to a successful project, so this program gives them an opportunity to learn and grow. The more they know and understand about leadership, communication, planning, organization and cooperation, the more value they bring to the project team.

Part two of the Summit takes place on Wednesday, October 28th, after TSP. A full day of business education is planned with a speaker, and time for program sponsors and NTCA Five-Star Contractors to come together to talk about how we can best help each other and the industry.

Specifications and NTCA Five-Star Contractors

From day one, specifications have been a focus for the NTCA Five- Star group since they are key to the qualified labor cycle. The introduction of qualified labor language into Masterspec/ARCOM was the first major hurdle. Then in 2019, the NTCA was able to get the language into BSD SpecLink as well. This new platform has seen steady organic growth – a step in the right direction to help give projects a resource to finding qualified labor in its many forms. When architects/designers and owners’ representatives include qualified labor language, they are signaling that they value the craftmanship that trained labor brings. It shows they do not see our trade simply as a commodity.

That craftsmanship recognition is why as a community we need to embrace the certification process on all levels: at the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) level and the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) level. The ability to demonstrate and quantify basic and advanced skills elevates the trade for all involved.

Changes to the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program

This year, you will see significant changes to the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program. The most notable change is in membership requirements. We have begun accepting applications from non-NTCA members into the program. I am excited to say that the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program has become a recognized asset to the industry. Because of this, I, along with NTCA leadership, feel the program will have an even bigger impact if it is open to both NTCA members and non-members. Non-members will be subject to the same terms and conditions as members, but there is a separate fee structure. 

A final change we are making is we are working to have the application process reviewed by a third party for group inclusion recommendations. We feel these changes will enhance the group and our focus as an association to improve our industry. 

The NTCA Five-Star Contractor group has one clear intention: Do what is best for the tile industry. NTCA is committed to keeping this focus when working on programs for members, with the goal of continuing to bring value to them in many forms.

To learn more about the NTCA Five-Star contractor program, please visit the website at http://bit.ly/FiveStarMembers. If you are interested in becoming a Certified Tile Installer, visit CTEF website at: http://bit.ly/BecomeaCTI.

Terra-Mar, Inc.

Oklahoma contractor prides itself on doing the job right

Mike DeGuisti, Terra-Mar, Inc.

Back in 1964, Mike DeGuisti’s father started Terra-Mar, Inc., in Oklahoma City, Okla., with an emphasis on terrazzo and marble (hence the name Terra-Mar). The company installed tile, but got away from it for awhile in the early days. DeGuisti himself – a third generation Italian craftsman – got involved in the company in 1968, and around 1980, the company started turning back to tile. 

Back then, “setting tile was simpler, and it was easy to find qualified tile help and people who wanted to work,” DeGuisti said. 

Time brought a lot of changes to the company, including DeGuisti becoming a second generation owner. The company is very hands-on and family oriented, with his sons Adam and Noel, who are both Certified Tile Installers (CTIs), running all of the tile jobs.  

“They are hands-on, and do their own estimating from start to finish,” DeGuisti said. “The two of them know everything that is going on. As the superintendent, Adam goes by every job almost every day; he pulls up tiles and checks coverage. We play by the rules.” 

In the late 1980s, Bob Young, who purchased the other half of the company the DeGuistis bought in the ’60s, encouraged Terra-Mar to join NTCA. 

“I learned all the things I thought I knew,” DeGuisti said, adding, “I do not see how you can be a tile contractor and not be an active member of NTCA.” He contends that there’s so much that tile contractors don’t know. When he does local workshops, he says, “I am not here to teach you to set tile, but I can teach you how to make more money. You should get paid for leveling, control joints, etc.” 

This Oklahoma University Football team locker and training room project challenged Terra-Mar to be done by football season, after other trades took so long. The NTCA Five-Star Contractor ran into pools built wrong, which required the crews to chip out considerable concrete and rebuild. In addition, pools would not hold water, and logos came with unacceptable mounting. But DeGuisti said, “Through it all, thanks to our excellent crews, we were done on time, with a job to be proud of.”

About five years ago, DeGuisti took his NTCA membership to the next level by becoming an NTCA Five-Star Contractor. Because Terra-Mar was already a high-caliber company, it was a perfect fit. “We didn’t do anything except fill out the paperwork, and wait for Adam and Noel to complete their CTI exams,” DeGuisti said. “I tell A&D professionals who ask why we are Five-Star Contractors and others are not: ‘I don’t know if we are any better than [our competition], but I’ve gone through the trouble to prove it.’ Any other trade that is licensed has a continuing education program like our Five-Star Program. So why shouldn’t we?”

DeGuisti currently sits on the NTCA Board of Directors for Region 8, the NTCA Technical Committee, and chairs a committee for a new section in the NTCA Reference Manual called “Submerged Applications.” 

For DeGuisti, tile work is a good living, and he enjoys cashing the check at the end of the day. But the joy and satisfaction he has in his company’s work comes down to pride. “I love to take my grandkids or customers to see some of the beautiful, hard, complicated work we do,” he said. 

What’s more, by doing things by the book and keeping on top of jobs – knowing everything has been done right – he leaves the job “with a clean conscience,” he said. Though a GC may not hire his company back because of cost or Terra-Mar wouldn’t agree to cutting corners or skimping  on prep work, he explained, “We’ve never had litigation on a job, and we have never not been rehired due to our craftsmanship.” That allows him to sleep well at night, confident in a job well done and proud of the craftsmanship that went into the project. 

This private residence took three two-man crews just over 12 months to complete. The pool area floors and walls were done using stone from Jerusalem, and floors had to be fresh set and laid dry first to ensure a similar pattern from end to end. The pool interior encompassed six different tiles from different manufacturers, ranging anywhere from 3/16” to 5/8” thick, which made the mud work critical. The entry speaks for itself, with stones up to 24” x 24” with mosaic emblem.  

NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting Offers Education and Connections

NTCA Five-Star Contractors Summer Meeting attendees sharing insights.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the world’s largest tile contractor association, hosted its 2019 NTCA Five-Star Contractor Annual Summer Meeting in Montreal, Canada. The objective of this year’s meeting, hosted by Schluter Systems, was not only to provide valuable education, but also to help the attendees form connections so they would feel comfortable reaching out to one another when advice or support is needed.  

“The NTCA Five-Star Contractor group is grateful to Schluter Systems for their support in this endeavor,” said NTCA Five Star Program Director Amber Fox. “They helped us create a unique experience to connect and to refine and grow our businesses together.” 

The NTCA Five-Star Contractor designation recognizes NTCA members who have demonstrated integrity, professionalism, and craftmanship and has a proven track record of success in tile and stone installation and business management.  

“One of the great benefits of being an NTCA Five-Star Contractor is the custom educational opportunities that come from generous supporters, said Fox. “This meeting creates multiple opportunities for NTCA Five-Star contractor members to come together and work on their business through speakers and from each other.”   

Keynote speaker Mike Moore speaking to NTCA Five-Star Summer Meeting attendees.

Keynote speaker Mike Moore speaking to attendees.

Keynote speaker Mike Moore opened the event with a session on how to approach the task of attracting, developing, and retaining inspired motivated employees. Moore’s process will help the NTCA Five-Star Contractors separate themselves from their competitors by creating an organizational culture that delivers a higher quality of work and customer experience. Besides being a professional keynote speaker, Moore is the author of Build Trust and a leadership, sales and peak performance coach. 

While at the meeting, attendees had two opportunities to attend sessions that focused on addressing current challenges they were facing. The first consisted of small peer groups that tackled specific obstacles attendees were experiencing. Attendees benefitted from insights and solutions offered by their group members. The second session was structured as an in-depth roundtable discussion that covered topics attendees had pre-selected via a poll that was distributed before the meeting. The four topics chosen were: 

  1. Growing and improving your labor force 
  2. Customer and employee engagement/communication 
  3. Vendor relationships 
  4. Profitability 

“This year’s attendees returned home with new plans and strategies designed to help them start, manage, and successfully finish their jobs and reinforced connections that will offer them support they need to help their business to continue to be prosperous,” Fox said. 

To learn more about the NTCA Five-Star Contractor Program, visit www.tile-assn.com/page/FiveStar