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Turning Negative Emotions and Thoughts into Positive Actions

Millions of people out of work.  Family members concerned for loved ones, especially those vulnerable or at risk to COVID-19. Employees fearful of working with co-workers in close proximity of each other, for obvious reasons.  

It is no wonder that an alarming number of people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety, and even in extreme cases, are suffering from depression.  There is so much negative energy circulating that you just simply can’t avoid it.  

As NTCA Executive Director, I have been on the phone with many members and peers. We all have tried to support each other in different ways. At first, I tried to tell myself that I mustn’t let people see how this situation was affecting me personally and professionally.  But as time has progressed, and more people have been transparent with me and opened up and shared with me how they are really doing, I began to feel it was okay to do the same.  

I have to admit that the situation has at times gotten under my skin. You just flat out get tired from the negative commercials, social media, phone calls, etc. Business starts to become affected. The money dries up. The first thought is that you just want to curl up in a ball, put your hands over your ears, and simply pretend that this stuff is just simply not happening.  

I tried it. It doesn’t work.  

So I started trying to find sources of positive mindsets. People who weren’t surviving in these times, but actually thriving in this environment.  

One video podcast I watched really rang true with me. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative. In fact, stress can be positive. I think about times I played sports when I was young, or when I had to prepare for a large presentation in a big crowd, etc. These were stressful times, but overall they became positive experiences. This has helped me to realize that these times can be the same.  

For instance, I joined some peer groups of other association leaders in both the construction industry and outside it  This was extremely helpful because I gained some empathy and also was able to feed off of their enthusiasm and energy.  

My goal is to turn this negative energy around immediately.  I want to use this time where I am not traveling and really assess changes that need to take place in both my personal and professional life. I want to to instill this energy into those that I work with and interact with. I am excited about it and admittedly a little fearful too. But fear can be a motivating factor, if you channel this the right way.  

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on many of these initiatives.  

10 steps to understanding the Paycheck Protection Program

An NTCA perspective on the CARES Act for companies with fewer than 500 employees

NTCA has been reviewing details as relates to new legislation enacted as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, and how it impacts our members and the tile industry at large.

This piece is an NTCA perspective on the Paycheck Protection Program aspect of the CARES Act and how members and small businesses can best take advantage of what is currently being offered by the government. Keep in mind that even though legislation has been passed, some details continue to change, and lenders are struggling to meet all the demand suddenly flooding in for loans. Your experience in applying for loans and the amount of time it takes you to receive funds may vary.

The CARES Act is over 830 pages long and has 16 laws attached to it.  The main item we want to focus on involves the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which helps businesses keep their workforce employed for eight weeks during the Coronavirus outbreak.

This is also a potentially forgivable loan if you follow the guidelines. The SBA stipulates that at least 75% of the PPP loan must be used for payroll. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels.  Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

The following steps can help you know what to expect as you navigate through the labyrinth of applying for a loan, obtain funds, and qualify for the forgivable loan status. This latter point is doubly important since loans that are forgiven – or portions of loans that are forgiven — are not counted as taxable income. 

  1. Call Your Bank
    • Ensure your bank is FDIC-insured and is approved to handle SBA loans and is able to handle PPP application.
    • There is only $350 billion available in the PPP coffers so get your application in as quickly as possible.
    • This is a fluid situation.  The banks are on the front lines and are trying to navigate uncharted waters.
    • Most banks are only working with customers they currently do business with.  This is because there is a limited amount of money and they want to take care of their customers first.
    • Once applications are submitted, they are assembled into a queue for the banks to sort out. This could take up to 10 days. Once submitted for approval, it could take up to 30 days for the funds to be deposited into your account.
  2. Go To Treasury Department for Information
    • http://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses
    • You can access a fact sheet on PPP loan application form and get a downloadable form that may or may not be accepted by your lender. The advantage of accessing this form is that it will help you compile the information you need whether you use the SBA or lender form.
    • The program application process is open to June 30. Due to limited funds, it is to your benefit to start this process as soon as possible.
    • April 3rd was the date that many banks opened application process for small businesses. 
    • April 10th is the date that independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply.
    • Go to www.sba.gov for more information
  3. Check your company governance requirements and other lending commitments to ensure there is not a problem in applying for this loan
    • The SBA form requires all owners with 20% stake or more in the company to answer questions on the loan (examples include bankruptcy, have they ever been barred or declared ineligible by any federal department or agency, have they been convicted of a felony, etc.)
  4. Calculate your payroll expenses
    • To qualify for forgivable loan status, the amount you can borrow is 2.5 times your average monthly payroll from the previous year (2019).
    • Payroll costs include salaries, wages, commission, tips, vacation, PTO, health care benefits, retirement benefits, state and local taxes. Payroll costs in the loan calculation do not include federal taxes.
    • There is a cap on payroll for an employee making over $100,000 in 2019.  You can only claim $100,000.  That is salary; benefits are not counted. For example, an employee made $140,000, but you would only claim $100,000 when you calculate your payroll for the loan. 
  5. How much are you eligible for? Add average total monthly payroll and divide by 12. Then multiply by 2.5. 
    • If you already applied for or were awarded an SBA Disaster Loan, you can add that amount to the PPP application. Note that the PPP loan has restrictions on how you spend the money. 
    • SBA Disaster Loans allow more freedom with how you use the loan money, but may not be forgivable, are subject to underwriting, and require personal guarantees attached to it. Visit sba.gov for details.
  6. Document and keep excellent records of paperwork used in your application
    • Print and electronically store your records and have them available for submission if the bank requires these material or if the federal government later checks for fraud or misuse.
  7. Sign a certificate
    • All owners with 20% stake will be asked to sign a statement certifying the funds are necessary and will be used for what the loan stipulates: to maintain or to hire staff back that was let go after February 15th, 2020.  
    • No collateral or personal guarantees will be required for these funds.
    • This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1% should it need to be paid back. However, funds should be forgivable if you document your paperwork, keep honest and thorough records, and use the money for what the PPP is designed for within the 8-week time frame.
  8. Make sure you use the funds for authorized purposes
    • 75% needs to be used for payroll which includes costs related to group health care benefits and insurance
    • Payments of interest but not principal on any mortgage obligation
    • Rent (including rend or lease agreements)
    • Utilities
    • Interest on any other debt like equipment, vehicles, etc.
    • Keep funds segregated into a designated account and use the funds to document a paper trail for the authorized uses listed above.
  9. Understand the impact of your past and possible future firings or layoffs of employees, or reduction or furloughs in their salaries.
    • The PPP is designed to encourage employee retention and discourage layoffs and wage cuts. If you need to do massive amounts of layoffs or cuts, reconsider applying for PPP and investigate a different loan option at sba.gov.
    • Talk to your accountant and lawyer about other tax credits or employee retention credits that may be available apart from the PPP loan.
  10. Keep up to date on changes or interpretations to the law. 
    • This is a very fluid situation, and things can change.
    • Get legal and accounting advice and establish communication with your banker. 

We will continue to post salient articles on legislation topics here. Also be sure to visit the Coronavirus Resource Page at tile-assn.com for links and ongoing information, designed to support you and your business.

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO MAPEI North America

One-to-One interview with Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director

Luigi Di Geso, President and CEO of MAPEI North America

Italian-based MAPEI Corporation has been a leading installation material manufacturer for many years, and has a strong, established presence in North America. As Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association since 2002, I have worked closely with MAPEI leaders to collaborate on many efforts related to training and education of the trade. MAPEI’s support of our programs has enabled us to expand our outreach in many ways. MAPEI North America is known for outstanding product development, customer service and training. Because it offers a complete line of products that appeal to many trades, MAPEI has a strong presence in all flooring and surface preparation categories.  

President and CEO of MAPEI North America Luigi Di Geso has led this group for more than a decade. I caught up with him recently and asked him to share with us some insight into the company and its strategic direction.


It has been several months since the tile industry lost an icon in the passing of MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi. Tell us a little bit about the relationship you formed with Dr. Squinzi, what legacy he leaves behind, and explain how the company is moving forward with a new leadership team. 

MAPEI Group President, Dr. Giorgio Squinzi, was a true mentor, said Di Geso.

Dr. Squinzi was a true mentor in every sense of the word. As I look back over the past 10 years where I reported directly to him, he allowed me to learn from his vast experience, while all along allowing me to form my own experience as I developed in my role as CEO. Always asking the right questions, while always listening to the answers I would provide, he empowered me to go forward and succeed. He built his empire in this manner and earned the respect and admiration from all his employees for making us truly feel that MAPEI was our company and that we are all part of his family.

MAPEI is moving forward under the careful guidance of Marco and Veronica Squinzi. They have been co-presidents, together with Dr. Squinzi, well prior to his passing and will continue the path that he put in place. As they say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and both Veronica and Marco have their father’s vision on how to take MAPEI to a new level, even beyond where he has taken it. Despite the seamless continuity in the leadership of MAPEI, I can say Dr. Squinzi will always be missed.

TileLetter readers know MAPEI for its tile and stone installation products. But your company is much more than that. Tell us a little about the different divisions of products you offer that serve multiple markets in the construction industry. 

We like to say that we are “more than our products.” We offer system solutions. MAPEI Corp. offers 11 different product lines including the Tile and Stone Installation Systems, Floor Covering Installation Systems, and Products for Wood Flooring lines: 

  • Products for Sports Flooring (which also includes products for synthetic turf and soil stabilization)
  • Concrete Restoration Systems (includes solutions for bridges, stadiums, and public facilities) 
  • Waterproofing Systems (we even offer a 100% solids, cold-fluid-applied waterproofing membrane that is so low in VOCs it can be applied in occupied spaces) 
  • Products for Structural Strengthening (epoxies, repair mortars and wraps) 
  • Admixtures for Concrete (superplasticizers, water reducers, accelerators, fibers) Products for Underground Construction (UTT – team of experts and products to solve underground construction problems) 
  • Cement Additives (C-ADD – grinding aids, pack-set inhibitors, strength enhancers) 
  • Products for the Marine Industry (anti-corrosive primers, acoustic underlays, waterproofers) 

From the macro of tunneling to the micro of admixture chemistry, MAPEI is intricately involved in a wide scope of protective solutions for the building industry. We have seven new product lines to go in order to match our European counterparts.

What new product introductions can we expect to see from MAPEI in 2020 in your tile and stone installation systems division?

We have developed quite a few exciting new products for 2020 and are even entering into the radiant flooring heating market with the introduction of our Mapeheat line of products – customizable mats, membranes and programmable thermostats, that allow users to target and control their floor heating options with a simple app. 

Some of the other new products that we are debuting this year include our Ultracolor Plus Max, exclusively available in Jet Black and Pure White, the blackest black and the brightest white grout available on the market. These grouts are based on our popular FA formulation, which means that they won’t shrink or scratch the surface of tile or stones.

Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slum Keraflex Super is MAPEI’s new extra-smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology, being applied over the new Mapeheat membrane for electric floor warming.

Keraflex Super is our new extra smooth, non-sag, non-slump mortar with high-transfer technology. We have a hybrid adhesive that is designed to make installing large-format and gauged porcelain tiles a faster and easier process. 

Ultrabond ECO GPT is a rapid-setting, low-VOC hybrid polymer adhesive that can be used in dry and wet residential and commercial applications. 

And for wet environments, our Shower Perfect Integrated Flange Drain and our Mapelastic Turbo waterproofing membrane provides one-day turn-around for shower installations. 

We are constantly innovating ways to improve our products, reduce waste, and save our installers time, which on the job, means money.

The industry continues to be concerned about a lack of qualified installers being available to meet the needs of the market. What is MAPEI doing to address this glaring need?

We feel very strongly about the need for properly trained installers, especially as new technologies come on board that make applications more involved than simply spreading mortar with a trowel. Our MAPEI Training Institute (MTI) is designed to ensure that the correct standards are being adhered to and that the proper installation techniques are being followed. Classes are offered at our facilities, at our clients’ facilities, and at other suitable locations upon request. We also offer the MTI-TV series of videos, which offer advice and tips on popular subjects. We collaborate with all of the industry associations of which we are members, as well as with national colleges and universities, to help promote and grow the industry.

There seems to be increasing competition in the tile and stone installation products category. What are some of the strengths you feel that MAPEI has over its competitors, and are there areas where you feel you need to strengthen?

MAPEI’s system solutions come with unparalleled product support and a warranty program that is unmatched in the industry. But it is more than our products that truly sets us apart – it is the power of MAPEI in general. We have synergies between our technologies and divisions that help the entire company – geographically, as well as within and across product divisions. We are a truly international company with 89 subsidiaries, including 83 plants in 56 countries. We have 31 research and development centers around the world and more than 12% of our 10,500 employees work in R&D.

We are always looking for opportunities to grow – whether it be through acquisition or physical expansion. We recently opened new facilities in Wildwood, Fla. (below left) and Calhoun, Ga., as well as opening new production lines at five of our existing facilities. MAPEI is always moving forward, always innovating, always growing. 

One-to-One with Lee Callewaert and Joshua Nordstrom

I have been working closely with tile contractors for more than 30 years. The diverse backgrounds and skills that so many of our members have amaze me, and it fascinates me to hear their stories on how they evolved into successful business owners.  

In this month’s issue, I was able to catch up with two highly respected artists in our industry: Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Grafton, Wis. and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska. Callewaert was the recipient of the inaugural NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award in 2019 for installation excellence, and Nordstrom exploded onto the scene in social media with incredible artistic installations that invoked peer respect and support. The two will collaborate with NTCA trainers at Coverings in April in New Orleans to offer a glimpse into the intricacies of their trade and they will share some insight into the skills they have honed over the years with attendees. NTCA is proud to sponsor their participation at Coverings.  


Lee and his wife Jane have built a successful business and they take special pride in sharing their knowledge and expertise with their employees.

Briefly tell me how you came to enter the tile trade and what background in your youth – either in the classroom or in the real world – helped prepared you for the success you have had? 

Callewaert: I come from a long line of artists and my dad was an industrial contractor. I learned to work with tools at an early age. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t interested in college. Young and dumb, I was introduced to a great guy (Dave Brown) who took me on and taught me the trade. I didn’t know where that was going but I was learning the craft and all that goes into it.  Eventually I started looking at it differently. Quality craftsmanship is art. I found my passion.

Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska entered the tile industry through his love of pottery and ceramics. He has earned national respect for his artistic and highly-detailed installations. 

Nordstrom:I thoroughly enjoyed pottery class in high school, so upon graduation I purchased my first kiln. I had the opportunity to make some tiles for a friend’s entryway and quickly realized that there could be a market for handmade mosaic tile. I started off making tiles from scratch and firing them in my kiln. Over the course of a few years, I stumbled into setting tile and realized that if I became a tile installer, I could have better luck selling my art. A few more years went by and I stopped making my mosaics from scratch and started cutting factory-made tiles.

What is that you love most about being a tile contractor?

Callewaert: The challenge. It’s all about the challenge for me. Every project is different and unique.  Bringing the best design and installation to each project feeds me.

Nordstrom: The part that I love most about being a tile contractor is that every job is different and has its own unique set of challenges. With that, the job never gets boring and always keeps you thinking and on your toes, literally. It is also the only trade I can think of in the whole industry that requires you to think creatively on a daily basis.

What are the biggest challenges that you face as a small business owner?

Callewaert and his crew at Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works have gained a reputation with their clients for both design and installation excellence.

Callewaert: Initially for us, it was understanding all the nuances and unique requirements of our market, establishing our standards, and then staying true to that purpose.  At this stage, I’m all about passing it on, training the next generation.   Managing my projects to the standards we’ve set, WHILE training the apprentices and young setters can be a juggling act and there is cost involved.  

Nordstrom: The biggest challenge for me by far is constantly learning the business side. The work and artistry come very natural but learning the aspects of how to run my business properly and profitably proves to be a constant learning curve. 

About two years ago I changed from a sole proprietor to an LLC S corp. This has pushed a lot of new learning my way and I am trying to make sense of how all of the tax laws can benefit me and how it all works. I quit attempting to do my own taxes years ago and hired a professional. Every year I seem to be learning a little more. 

Another challenge for me is that I have always worked by myself. I am looking at 2020 to be the year that I can hire an employee full time. The thought of this makes me a bit nervous knowing that it will be up to me to keep them busy and that I am ultimately responsible for their stream of income when mine has not always been steady over the course of my career. 

Nordstrom’s glow-in-the dark octopus installation gained thousands of followers in the industry and on social media. 

How do you use technology to successfully install your complex projects? Computer software, template designs, scribing and cutting equipment, etc?  

Callewaert: I’m not a computer guy much. I draw pictures.  Sketches with pencil actually appeal to many clients. We use templates for most of our designs.  We fabricate our pieces using the template, then mount them and trace them onto the field for scribing. We use wet saws, grinders, ring saws, shapers and more, depending on the project. 

Creating artistic installations like this anchor by Joshua Nordstrom includes detailed planning and execution.  

Nordstrom: My technology is prehistoric in modern terms. It consists of using a search engine to research a particular project and then drawing the design to scale on graph paper. I like to use an overhead projector to scale the design up to the project size. I do the majority of my cutting on my wet saw with the occasional grinder cut for the hard-to-reach places. I try to be really aware in the design phase and patterning on how I anticipate making my cuts being sure that they are all feasible. With advice from Lee, I have just acquired a new ring saw that is opening up new doors for me, turning previously impossible cuts into possible ones. This one tool alone can shave off hours on a single project and help me make more money in the end. 

If a young person wanted to follow in your footsteps, what is the path you would recommend? Working for someone like you, business training or classes, internet-based training, apprenticeship training in a formal program, etc. or a combination of all?

Callewaert: It’s a combination of all. You have to have knowledge of proper prep and installation methods first and foremost, and an apprenticeship with a qualified contractor that incorporates hands-on, online learning like the NTCA University, as well as classes offered by industry partners are all important. But learning from a skilled installer is in my opinion, crucial. There is nothing like that real-world experience. This a craft.  It has to be practiced. 

NTCA 2019 Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year recipient Lee Callewaert incorporates art and technical precision into his creative installations.

Nordstrom: I recommend for a person that wants to follow in my footsteps to start with small projects and work your way up from there. Don’t start off by attempting something really complex because you may find yourself getting frustrated throughout the process and may not want to try it again. Be willing to take some risks and to challenge yourself. Make some sample pieces to show your clients. Try making something for yourself or a friend or family member at a discounted cost. Save bigger pieces of tile scrap, these will come in handy for future mosaics and to keep your overhead costs down. Be willing to take advice from others and accept criticism, good or bad. Keep a portfolio and try to show it to every possible client. Find a bookkeeper and a tax person. Save every receipt. Pay attention to the business side of things. You can be the greatest installer and have plenty of work, but by not understanding the business and taxes all you’re going to be doing is treading water. 


Jennifer Hoff, CEM, President Taffy Event Strategies

coverings logo

One-To-One with Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director

Jennifer Hoff

I got to know Jennifer Hoff when Taffy Event Strategies, a full-service trade show and event-management company she launched – took on the management of Coverings, of which NTCA is part owner. The show has benefitted from her experience and excellence in show management.

Jennifer is active in trade show industry organizations including the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). She has served on the program committee and as Chairman of the Board for the IAEE Capital Chapter and has held various IAEE national positions including Board Director and Education Committee. She serves on the CEM (Certified in Exhibiton Management®) faculty for IAEE. 

Jennifer has spent her career producing trade shows and conferences. Most recently, she founded Taffy Event Strategies, which produces exhibitions and conferences including Coverings and ASPE-The American Society of Plumbing Engineers Expo. Prior to that, she worked with VP International to launch new events in a variety of market segments. 

She has also contributed to the Art of the Show, third edition, which is a textbook used in colleges and universities. In addition, she has instructed the Introduction to Exposition Management course at Northern Virginia Community College. During her trade show industry career, she has received several industry awards and accolades including the IAEE 2018 Woman of Achievement Award.

Jennifer has a Bachelor of Science from Virginia Tech in Production and Operations Management.


In 2020, Coverings will be coming to New Orleans for the first time in almost 20 years. What factors went into choosing New Orleans as the location, and what are the advantages of this venue as well as the challenges that your management team is facing to produce a successful show?

New Orleans is a vibrant city that offers Coverings a robust venue. Given the size of Coverings, there are only a limited number of convention centers that can hold the show. New Orleans enables us to expand the Coverings audience to a new part of the country and provides a new and fun destination for our loyal attendees. 

There are challenges for every show we manage and many times we can’t predict those until the show is moving in or out. Coverings is a very complex show from an operational perspective, so preplanning and preparation are critical especially in a new city. That being said, we have a great internal team and vendors we have worked with for quite some time, so we can collaboratively address the obstacles. In addition, our contacts in New Orleans have been easy to work with and they have been great partners. 

We are excited for Coverings 2020 being in New Orleans because the New Orleans Jazz Festival begins the last day of Coverings so it gives attendees the opportunity to not only attend the show but stay for the Jazz Festival.

Jennifer Hoff with the microphone, preparing for the ribbon cutting that marked the opening of Coverings 19.

What are some of the new or exciting programs that Coverings will offer in New Orleans this year?

We are excited to bring back the Installation & Design Experience. The Installation & Design Experience will showcase today’s best practices relative to a multitude of different tile installations, demonstrate why tile is a great product choice compared to other materials, how to become and find certified tile installers, and so much more. 

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) will be conducting live demonstrations in the lounge area, where trained and certified crews will educate attendees on the proper installation of large-format tile and gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs, as well as the importance of substrate preparation. Lunch, happy hours, giveaways and a game show in the late afternoon will also take place in the lounge. 

CTEF will be showcasing the features and benefits of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program and its importance to qualified labor as found in the TCNA Handbook and also contained in the Avitru (formerly ARCOM) MasterSpec for construction specifications.

A new feature for Coverings 2020 includes a Brand + Business Building Zone where attendees can get a professional headshot taken, create a video pitch for their social media channels and website, and amplify their profile across the web and social media for promotion. These business-building resources are complimentary to attendees. 

Special programs and events are also being planned, such as guided tours for attendees, product giveaways, lunch, happy hours, and customized games featuring ceramic tile-related content. This expanded and vibrant area of the show floor will be a great hub for learning, sharing best practices, and networking.

Also new for Coverings 2020 will be Tiler, Coverings’ very own EventBot. He will be available via attendees’ smartphones to answer any questions about Coverings. 

Coverings will focus on three key tracks relevant to today’s industry professional: Installation & Fabrication, Workforce & Profits, and Materials & Trends. Coverings’ robust educational offerings span all industry segments. Individually designed for every type of learning need, Coverings’ education keeps attendees current in today’s highly competitive marketplace with many offering CEUs. And, Coverings is still one of the only events that provides all learning benefits at no cost.

Representing Ceramics of Italy at Coverings 19 with Jennifer Hoff (second from left) are (l. to r.) Danielle McWilliams of Novita Communications, Luciano Galassini, Deputy Director of Confindustria Ceramica, and Kristin Coleman of Novita Communications. 

There are many local, regional and national shows and events. If someone was to pick one event to come to, why should it be Coverings?

Although Coverings is specific to tile and stone, it is unlike most trade shows due to a large number of international exhibitors, which gives Coverings a unique personality. Many of the booths are installed with tile and beautifully display the latest trends and technology. Given the international nature of Coverings, there is plenty of wine, espresso, pasta and paella on the show floor, as many of the exhibitors provide this type of hospitality in their booths. And the entire Coverings event is complimentary, including the educational sessions. Coverings has a robust education program offering CEUs that is completely free.

The tile industry has experienced market share growth for many years, but recently has experienced some concerns in losing sales to competitive products in key areas where we think tile should be the preferred choice by consumers. What role do you think Coverings should play in addressing this industry issue, if any, and what is your management team doing to support this?

Coverings is helping to facilitate a campaign to educate the industry regarding tile versus other competitive products. Our team has been supporting this effort by engaging with the campaign to help to move it forward.  

In addition, we feature the benefits of using tile throughout the promotion of the show. Our monthly newsletter, The Coverings Connection, provides stories and videos about tile projects – installation as well as trends – and promotes the use of tile. The content and programs developed for the show incorporate the benefits of tile and why it is the preferred choice. 

Jennifer Hoff (far left) celebrates with Freeman and Floor Managers after another successful Coverings. 

Michael Kephart, President American Wonder Porcelain

One-to-One with Bart Bettiga


Michael Kephart, President
American Wonder Porcelain

While attending Total Solutions Plus in Nashville recently, I had the opportunity to tour the American Wonder Porcelain plant with its president, Michael Kephart. This state-of-the art plant that opened in 2017 and employs more than 200 people in the Nashville area, continues the trend of international investment in domestic tile manufacturing plants on U.S. soil. There are many distinct advantages these manufacturers enjoy, and this is especially true recently with the impact that tariffs have had on imported ceramic tile from China. 

Kephart was hired as president to oversee the development of the plant and to strategically launch the products into the U.S. market. He is uniquely qualified to lead this operation, with many years of experience in production and product development in the tile industry. While we toured the plant on an enjoyable fall Tennessee day, Kephart and I took the opportunity to chat about producing tile, strategy, and the tile industry.


What are the advantages you see of producing high-quality porcelain tile domestically in Tennessee and how have you taken advantage of this in today’s competitive market?

The technical aspects of delivering high-quality porcelain tile to the U.S. market from Tennessee are as normalized today as ever. The domestic production materials are stable and plentiful, the vertical sources for design and application are localized, the energy source is among the lowest in world cost level, innovation is where innovators are, the latest modernized equipment is readily available and domestic ceramic unit production scale has and will continue to grow. Capital intensive projects like tile factories require market demand and acceptance, segment growth, great teams of people working hard and smart, mix management, patience and a little luck. Heavy, large units are most effective produced closest to the customer base desired.

Explain your strategy towards growing your market share. Do you sell through independent distribution, specialty retailers, etc. and how do you see this evolving over the next few years?

We started our company with a simple but unique message. We are the “brand behind the brand” in the market. We worked to promote our customers’ brand as the prevailing factor with our tile in the box. The tile distribution market is changing and evolving quickly in the U.S. We are invested in manufacturing, not end-use promotion. Our assets are centralized to leverage this concept and not compete with the distribution or retailer unlike most of our competition. We believe the need for promotion, education and presentation of the broad use of ceramic tile today and in the future requires localization and investment to reach the end user or specification driver residentially and commercially.

What investments in technology are you making to continue to manufacture products that will appeal to consumers, specifiers and designers. What trends do you see developing in popularity, including patterns and sizes, and types of finishes that can be applied to porcelain tile?

American Wonder Porcelain has invested significantly in technology and resources to develop sophisticated, high-styled, market-driven products. We are innovating with glaze, graphics and finished surfaces to develop a realism and versatility in tile that energizes our customer. The “skin” of our new tile surface can be as smooth as satin yet react with high slip resistance when wet. The gloss of our polish is glass-like transparent, yet resistant to chemicals and staining. Clean rectified edges with mono-caliber matte, polished and honed options allow for wall and floor alignment with low maintenance versus natural stone. Combining digital graphics with new surface options, all in square or plank units up to
24” x 48”, we provide great value to our customers and capture the style and trend imagination of the market.

What are the biggest threats you see to growing tile market share and what is your company doing to address this?

The biggest threat to growing ceramic industry market share is ourselves (and LVT growing faster)! With an unprecedented tariff action pending against China for our U.S. tile industry, we must act to gain the domestic customer’s confidence as cost-effective, capable and reliable suppliers of the most sustainable, durable and fashionable floor and wall product on the planet. We have long been an industry “behind the curtain” with imports driving the development of our U.S. market and other floor and wall material options more heavily promoted than ceramics. Investment has been made and more will be made to grow a U.S.-based sustainable ceramic tile industry, supplying the U.S. consumer. Our retail and distribution customers are presenting tile in more creative and visually inspiring ways. Internal industry promotions such as “Why Tile” through TCNA are gaining traction to promote the positive sustainable facts of ceramic tile. More needs to be done. More industry alignment among the major labor, distribution and technical affiliations in the U.S. working with our international affiliations is needed to unite around promotion of ceramic tile features and benefits to the consumer. The current LVT category growth is certainly impressive. The plastic products, however, are simply not comparable in technical quality, sustainability, durability and safety with high-quality porcelain tile. It is exactly what it is.

How does American Wonder Porcelain Tile support the installer to ensure your innovative products are installed correctly?

American Wonder Porcelain is proud to support all of our industry affiliations in labor, distribution and technical services. We have doubled our Platinum Level commitment for 2020 to CTEF for certification of high-quality labor. We participate in the TCNA Technical Committee with labor for higher-quality standards in tile production. And, in 2020, we will host an NTCA training seminar supporting labor. All of the wonderful tiles we produce and our valued distribution and retailer may stock are unproductive in the warehouse without high-quality labor to install and light the torch of fashionable sustainability for our customers with ceramic tile.

NTCA 2019 Review and Industry Forecast

As we look to close out 2019 and look forward to a new decade starting in 2020, I would like to use one word to express how I feel as NTCA Executive Director about our industry and our association – GRATITUDE. There is so much to be thankful for, and it starts with a dedicated board of directors and executive committee and ends with enthusiastic support from members around the country and a dedicated staff of association and industry leaders. Thanks to all of your efforts, NTCA continues to make a positive impact on the ceramic tile industry. 

NTCA’s formal acceptance into the National Apprenticeship System from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Highlighting NTCA’s 2019 year was the announcement that the U.S. Department of Labor approved our application for Federal Apprenticeship Guidelines, allowing us to assist our members in training and recruiting new workers. These same guidelines can potentially enable members to apply for workforce development funding assistance in their state. To help in recruitment efforts, NTCA introduced several new videos and promotional materials to support members to promote the ceramic tile trade in their community.  

The biggest impact NTCA makes in our industry usually centers around the training programs we provide for our members. In 2019, we embarked on our most ambitious effort in our association’s history, adding multiple regional training events and roundtable membership meetings, in addition to continuing our traditional workshop seminars. The trainers at NTCA do an incredible job in educating installers and industry professionals, and in 2019, NTCA pledged to help grow the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation Certified Tile Installer (CTI) and Advanced Certified Tile Installer (ACT) programs.  

Membership growth continues to be a focal point of our association. NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein with new member Gabriel Hanceri at a NTCA workshop in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

2019 was not without challenges. Leading the way this year is a growing concern that plastic-based materials, like LVT and others, are taking industry market share. Rising tariff costs, concerns that economic growth is slowing down, and the continued lack of trained and certified tile installers are still at the forefront of challenges our industry faces. NTCA is committed to addressing these concerns but is additionally forging ahead to promote new opportunities that will help our members continue to thrive in the years ahead. We see the ceramic tile market as one with endless potential, with products helping us to grow per capita consumption for walls and floors and in interior and exterior applications.  

Membership continues to grow thanks to strong support from an active board of directors who helps to spread the word about the value of NTCA to their peers in their region. We will continue to add value by introducing new programs and benefits, and we hope to continue on our path towards 2,000 members in the next few years. 

In an effort to increase value for membership and serve our industry, NTCA added benefits programs for health, life and supplemental insurance, dental and vision plans, 401(k) plans, and more. We urge you to check out the NTCA website for detailed information on all of these programs.  

As NTCA Executive Director since 2002, I am honored to continue to serve this vibrant and growing association. 

NTCA Board Advisor Dan Welch in Michigan taking part in recruitment and training efforts to high school students.

NTCA has committed to a stronger level of support to the CTEF. NTCA and CTEF staff with CTI test takers.

A call to arms: tile industry needs to join forces to protect and grow our market

I have been in this industry now for 35 years. I have been blessed to be part of a trade that has experienced significant growth and I’ve been honored to serve in a leadership role as the Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association for the past 18 years. 

When I first started in this industry, I worked for a tile retailer in Minneapolis, Minn. I remember talking with consumers about the benefits of ceramic tile and trying to convince them to consider our products in kitchens and dining rooms. They really were only used to seeing tile in bathrooms at the time. We have come a long way since then. Today, ceramic tile and natural stone tile comprise about 20% of all flooring sales, and despite the many challenges we continue to face from competitive products, our industry has continued to thrive. Technology has played a significant role in this growth. So has the simple fact that when installed correctly, our products are healthy for the environment and are proven to last and outperform their competitors over time. 

Despite these advantages, many industry leaders are highly concerned over recent trends by consumers to select alternative products, often in areas where ceramic tile has traditionally dominated. The rapid growth of plastic-based materials (PBM), including rigid core materials such as luxury vinyl tile (LVT), has many manufacturers, distributors and contractors worried. The tile industry is not alone in this concern, as the hardwood flooring and carpet industries are also losing sales to this category. The laminate industry has now ramped up efforts to improve its manufacturing processes, so you can expect to see a strong push from these manufacturers to grow their market at our expense. It is a competitive world and the flooring industry is not immune to this. So let’s take our gloves off and start fighting from a position of strength!

Through 2018, our industry was continuing to gain market share in flooring sales, but recent reports of tile consumption reported a 5 % decrease in the first quarter of 2019 as compared to 2018. There can be many factors contributing to this decrease, but there is no denying the fact that PBM products are growing in popularity, and that they have targeted our industry as being vulnerable for a variety of reasons. 

Stark discrepancies between product claims and reality

Many glowing performance-related claims being made by the manufacturers of these PBM products differ from what is actually covered by manufacturer warranties. At Coverings 2019, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) revealed important information related to research they have conducted on the accuracy of such claims. (Go to https://bit.ly/32c52Og for results of this research). When you actually read the information included in product and manufacturer warranties, you will find stark discrepancies between what the marketing literature posits, myths people believe about these products, and what a company will actually stand behind with money. This is very important information to have in order to sell our products. 

I want to stress the word “sell” here. In my opinion, in order for our industry to sustain growth and to thrive in this competitive landscape, we must become much better at marketing, selling and installing our products than we have ever been in the past. 

Our industry needs to work together to accomplish this. Sales professionals in distribution and manufacturing have to be better trained on industry standards and must understand the unique differences that exist between the skills required to install ceramic tile compared to its competition. Without possessing this knowledge, salespeople can’t possibly help consumers to make good decisions when it comes to choosing ceramic tile as compared to other products. In my experience when untrained people sell our products to designers, architects, project owners and consumers, without a full understanding of our product or installation standards, it results in dissatisfaction and in many instances, job failures.

Job failures are not always solely the fault of the installation contractor. In fact, there are usually many factors that contribute to this dilemma, and we need to collectively work together to minimize this trend from continuing. Failures can result because of workmanship and lack of proper training by the installer – that is for sure. Failures can also occur because the proper materials and products were not selected in the first place, which can result in the customer’s expectations not being met. 

How product and installation standards benefit the consumer

Our industry has worked hard to develop product and installation standards. Many of our competitors haven’t done this, and it leaves them vulnerable if we take advantage of this opportunity. I can assure you that manufacturers in other industries view our work in standards development as a strength and are working to try to quickly follow suit. It is so important that we use this information to realistically set expectations, and to ensure that qualified and trained installers are selected to perform the installation. The biggest problem our industry faces is not the cost of a ceramic tile installation the first time. It is the cost of the replacement of a tile installation failure when it occurs. 

The tile industry must work harder than ever to instill consumer confidence in our products and in our ability to install them properly the first time. We have developed programs that can help us to achieve this. One of the most important initiatives we currently are promoting is industry certification. I am convinced we must certify and train more people than ever before, and a lot faster than we have done for the past decade. This is why the NTCA is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new training vehicles, in hiring additional trainers, and in supporting the efforts of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Many manufacturers and distributors have recognized this need as well and have made commitments to host training and certification programs, and provide support in the field with training and technical expertise. They have also made significant financial contributions that are necessary for us to expand our efforts to meet this glaring need. 

I am calling on everyone in the tile industry to commit to making this happen. To this end, I am chairing a panel discussion at Qualicer in Spain next year that will address these issues. We have witnessed firsthand how much of an impact we can make to this trade when manufacturers, distributors and installers work together in a collective effort. If each and every one of us that has a passion for our industry is willing to commit to this effort, we can not only survive in a competitive landscape, we will thrive in it. 

NTCA Training Experience 2019: a new approach to educate, train and inform

In 2018, our training department, led by NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein and supported by NTCA Technical Trainers Robb Roderick, Scott Carothers and Luis Bautista, presented more than 20 NTCA Regional Training programs. These events were day-long training sessions, offered to NTCA members and their employees, as a response to years of requests for this type of educational content. As the year progressed, our program improved, so much so that at the end of 2018, our members were not only singing the praises of the content of the education, they were calling for more. More programs, more opportunity to network and share ideas and techniques together, more hands-on experience, etc. 

NTCA Assistant Executive Director Jim Olson is responsible for the scheduling and overall management of the process related to workshops, and regional training. Workshops – as a reminder – are what the NTCA became known for the past 40 or so years. These were evening educational events offered as an overview of installation best practices, product standards awareness, and introduction of new technology to the trade. Last year, NTCA trainers offered both the traditional workshop sessions, and we also introduced the NTCA Regional Training program. In 2019, although we will continue down this path (in fact there will still be more than 100 traditional NTCA Workshops offered in 2019), we will expand and combine these two programs into a one-week long experience in many cities across the nation. 

Titled the “NTCA Training Xperience,” our trainers will work with a local regional host to offer a threefold week-long program. This will include a traditional Workshop that will be open and free to all interested industry professionals. This will be followed by a free regional training event available to NTCA members and their employees, and will close with a free open round table discussion for NTCA members to allow sharing of ideas, challenges, business tips, problem solving tips and more. Did I mention all these offerings are free? (NTCA Regional Training programs require a nominal fee to hold the space, which is refunded upon attendance). Offering education without charge is one more way NTCA is making training and professional excellence available to the industry at large, and to its members. 

Here is a little more information on the content you can expect from The NTCA Training Experience in 2019.  

Regional Training

GPTP Training programs will be based on ANSI A108.19. Programs will be held at Crossville and Daltile locations and will focus on all aspects of standards-based installation and best practices for installing gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP) on floors and walls in interior applications. These programs will be supported by material and system experts from the GPTP, setting material and specialty tool manufacturers. The training day begins promptly at 8 am with a 90-minute classroom session followed by six hours of hands on training. This training meets the requirements of ANSI A108.19. Participating attendees will receive a certificate of course completion.

Substrate Prep/Large-Format Tile programs are based on installation standards, methods and best practices from ANSI A108, TCNA Handbook and the NTCA Reference Manual. Proper substrate installation, analysis and preparation is absolutely critical to every tile installation. This program focuses on a variety of substrate preparation techniques for floors and walls to meet the industry standard requirements for large-format tiles (LFT). After substrates have been properly prepared, attendees will focus on proper selection and mixing of mortar for LFT and correct trowel selection and usage to achieve industry-required rates of coverage to support tile installations on floors and walls in dry and wet areas. 

These may sound like common day-to-day tasks for any tile setter, and they are. This course is recommended for anyone involved in the tile industry. Seasoned experts may learn new techniques while those new to the trade will receive a solid grounding in best practices to achieve industry standards and long-lasting, beautiful installations. These programs are a benefit to NTCA Members.

NTCA Workshops

In 2019, NTCA Trainers are returning to the highways and byways and heading to the heartland and all corners of the United States. This year, we have broadened the programming in our free workshops to include:

  • Backerboard for Tile Installations
  • Shower Environment/Water Management
  • Membranes
  • Movement Joints
  • We will also be bringing our classic programs “Tile Matters – Best Practices for Pros” and “Failures – Could It Be Me?” to select locations that may not yet be familiar with these exceptional hands-on based presentations.

Many of our programs in 2019 are AIA and IDCEC accredited. Professionals from all walks of the tile industry are welcome and encouraged to attend. Our attendees always have a good time. Many tell us they learn something new every time they attend. It is also a great place to make new professional acquaintances, be exposed to new products from manufacturers, learn how NTCA membership can contribute to one’s professional growth – and maybe even take a door prize home at the end of the evening.

NTCA Round Tables

At select locations, NTCA members are invited to join a round table discussion hosted by their regional director and ambassadors and facilitated by NTCA staff. Topics will vary by location and may include: taking advantage of member benefits; networking with other members and peers; current issues affecting methods, standards, best practices, safety, training, finding and retaining employees; discussion of local and regional issues of concern. Dates and locations for NTCA roundtables will be announced soon.

We are very excited about the NTCA Training Xperience. We feel that there is no replacement to the benefits offered by presenting physical skills training in as many areas of the country as possible. It is our hope that the synergy created in these events will result in a trickle-down positive effect: installers who are present at the training will share this knowledge with their peers who were not able to be there, resulting in improved installation performance and reduction of installation error.  

For a complete schedule for 2019, visit the NTCA website. If you would like even more information about the NTCA Training Xperience, contact Jim Olson or Mark Heinlein. 

2018 annual report: looking back, looking ahead

NTCA annual report header

NTCA rolls out new strategies at Total Solutions Plus

At Total Solutions Plus, NTCA leaders presented a 2018 annual report for its members, coupled with new initiatives for 2019. Highlights included shifting strategic emphasis from new member recruitment towards a stronger effort to providing value for existing members. Examples of new value-added options for members include a Multiple Employer 401(k) Plan for NTCA members, paired up with a payroll service option to complement this important retention tool. NTCA hopes to add a healthcare option for members in 2019. 

Perhaps the most important shift in strategy for NTCA will begin to take place in the second part of 2019, as the association begins to develop plans to promote its members aggressively to designers, architects, general contractors and remodelers. 

At Total Solutions Plus, NTCA leaders presented a 2018 Annual Report for its members, coupled with new initiatives for 2019.

We are committed to investing our resources in the best way we know how; by adding additional professional staff in key areas of need in our association. In 2018, we filled two such needs with the hiring of Stephanie Samulski as Director of Technical Services, and Avia Haynes as director of Marketing and Communications. Stephanie will take a leadership role in NTCA efforts to provide contractor perspective and input in the development and revision of industry standards and methods. Avia Haynes’ main focus in 2019 will center on improving NTCA brand image in all aspects of the tile industry. 

Marketing goals for 2019

NTCA’s 2019 marketing goals are part of an aggressive plan that will lay the foundation for the next two years of initiatives. Our main objectives for 2019 are to strengthen the NTCA and TileLetter brands; to execute an integrated communications process that will enable our email, web, print and social communications to work together; and to put infrastructure in place as the groundwork for future endeavors, like promoting NTCA members in the construction industry. 

NTCA’s big focus will be to generate more engagement between the association and its current members. We are hoping to hear more from our members and learn more about them. During 2019, there will be two main initiatives to help with this. The first, which has a target launch for early 2019, will give the members an opportunity to show off the fantastic work they do. The second, which has a target launch for Q2 in 2019, will help us learn more about our members and allow us to create targeted messages and programs based on the demographics of our membership. 

There will be a concentrated focus in 2019 on overhauling the TileLetter website at Tileletter.com. Starting in the first quarter, visitors will start to notice changes in the site. We plan to reorganize and refresh the site throughout the year to create a better experience for users and our supporters. We are intent on creating a site that will attract more views by year’s end. While we know our 2019 plan is very ambitious, we are confident that with the support of our board, committees and members, we will be able to reach all of our goals. 

Working together to solve the skilled labor shortage

The serious lack of skilled tile craftspeople entering the market was a key concern for all sectors of the trade during the tile industry panel discussion at Total Solutions Plus.

At the state of the tile industry panel discussion at Total Solutions Plus, one of the most important concerns that all sectors of our trade commented on was the serious lack of skilled tile craftspeople entering the market. Despite quality efforts to recruit capable and qualified individuals into the tile industry that have taken place at the grass roots level, everyone agreed that the industry needs to collectively work together in this arena. NTCA and other organizations will look to play a leading role in helping to spark new ideas and in outlining strategies that will work. This was identified as a key NTCA strategic objective for 2019. 

In addition to needing new workers to enter the trade, NTCA leaders acknowledge an additional challenge: the need for additional training and education for the existing skilled workforce, to keep up with changing technology in manufacturing. In 2018, NTCA trainers began offering regional education for our members, and we will expand this effort in 2019. NTCA University, an online training school intended to help foster apprenticeship development and support company training efforts, will continue to expand its offerings. In 2018, over 5,000 courses were completed by people taking advantage of this important educational support tool. 

NTCA: 1,500+ members strong

NTCA now has over 1,500 members, representing thousands of tile and stone installers and industry professionals. Our staff now consists of over 15 full and part time professionals, and we are committed to being accessible, supportive and attentive to our members. We take pride in being the Voice of the Tile Contractor, and we look forward to the challenges we have identified to help our industry to continue to thrive and gain market share. 

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