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Green issue focuses on sustainability, eco-friendly and pro-health issues in our industry

Welcome to the August GREEN issue, where we focus on the sustainability, eco-friendly and – especially now – pro-health issues in our industry. 

To that end, NTCA Technical Director Mark Heinlein explores the current state of OSHA’s Respirable Airborne Silica regulation, and how to adhere to the regulation and safeguard your lungs from irreversible silicosis.

Bill Griese, TCNA Director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives, has contributed a story that examines the role ceramic tile floors, walls, and countertops play in green building and health initiatives. He discusses how disinfectants play into the picture, as well as the addition of antiviral testing to the suite of services offered by TCNA’s Product Performance Testing Laboratory.

In our A&D Corner, we talk about demands from the marketplace for products like ceramic tile and quartz surfacing materials that support easy sanitization and contribute to cleaner settings, especially in the pandemic era.

This issue offers a second technical article for your consideration – Joseph Mattice of On The Level Flooring in Greenville, S.C. has penned an article about the travails of using hybrid shower systems. You may be tempted to concoct a Franken-shower, but it could turn out to be more of a monster than you bargained for. 

In our Training & Education section, we explore a learning opportunity you may not know about on Facebook: one-to-one mentoring. NTCA member Brad Denny of Nichols Tile & Terrazzo in Joelton, Tenn., who is a mentor in both NTCA Members Only and Tile Geeks Facebook groups, discusses how the programs work and how to take advantage of industry mentors to support your business. 

Did you notice something different on the cover of TileLetter? Last month we added a new selling/tag line: “The industry’s leading tile installation magazine.” This official statement proclaims TileLetter’s prominence and strength among installation-related publications in our industry. When it comes to all things installation, TileLetter is YOUR magazine!

How have you been faring through the pandemic? Do you know contractors and suppliers are sharing their thoughts in our Contractor Perspective and Supplier Perspective stories, posted regularly on tileletter.com? This is a collection of first-person musings about business conditions, work challenges, and the emotional roller coaster the pandemic has been for many of us. Chances are, whatever you are feeling and experiencing, you’re not alone. Visit the site for some online camaraderie – and share your own stories with us by emailing [email protected].

As summer is winding down, take some time to enjoy the long, warm days and catch your breath before the challenges of autumn arrive. 

God bless, Lesley

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.

Sanitary surfaces – why ceramic tile and quartz countertops are a good choice for the COVID era

Tile and engineered quartz countertops have long held appeal with new applications arising as the technology of these products – and the skills to install them – have evolved.

Photo of Shea Pumarejo, Younique Designs
Shea Pumarejo, Younique Designs, said that after being sequestered due to COVID-19, clients want to spruce up their spaces.

Enter COVID-19, and these options are gaining ground, not simply because of their beauty, but also due to more-important-than-ever considerations like durability, easy maintenance, disinfecting – and in some cases – inherent antimicrobial qualities. Designers working with these products discuss how their businesses – and the demand for products – have evolved since spring 2020. 

Like many companies in the last few months, designers have seen interruptions in their operations, but things are starting to ease. For Shea Pumarejo, of Younique Designs in San Antonio, Texas, after coming to an initial screeching halt, she’s finding business picking up again. Many of her remodeling clients – including those in mid-project – put the brakes on when COVID-19 hit. But lately, half a dozen clients have signed on for projects. “People have been quarantining and they are looking around, wanting to spruce things up,” she said. 

Photo of Robin Wilson, Robin Wilson Home
Robin Wilson, Robin Wilson Home, says the concept of virtual design is growing.

Robin Wilson, the interior designer, wellness expert, and CEO of Robin Wilson Home, based in New York City, sees an evolution of consciousness due to the COVID crisis. “There is a realization that the big commute – and running all those errands on Saturdays – just is not necessary.” The other evolution she is seeing is a demand for virtual design. “You get the floor plans, and walk through the space virtually, then design the home,” she said. “You are creating from afar, and working with contractors remotely.” Wilson noted that the new HGTV series Design at the Door capitalizes on this trend – catch it Thursday nights at 9/8c.

Some aspects of the design process are foundational and unchanged: “Good designers will ask people how they live – do they have children, do they entertain a lot, do they have underlying health conditions? – and will suggest materials that are easier to clean and maintain and more durable, based upon client response,” Wilson said. 

Tile and quartz safeguard health

Photo of bathroom with Modtique HDP porcelain tile from Florida Tile
The Modtique HDP line of porcelain tile from Florida Tile incorporates Microban® to inhibit bacterial growth, improve visible cleanliness, and reduce odors.

That’s where tile and quartz shine. “It’s a known fact that porcelain tile is impervious and easy to clean, said Mark Shannon, executive vice president of sales for Crossville, Inc., Tennessee-based porcelain tile manufacturer. “Its inherent properties in a properly-installed system make for an ideal surface, thanks to the ability to withstand any necessary cleaning and sanitization materials or methods.” 

Photo of kitchen countertop
Solid surfaces that don’t have places for microbes to hide are becoming de rigueur, and glass tile backsplashes with undermount lighting are bringing beautiful reflectance to spaces, said Wilson.

Ceramic tile products, in fact, are a huge foundation for Wilson’s business. “Clients love wood-look tile, the texture, the light shades that look like weathered wood,” she said. Clients are choosing these products especially for mudrooms, laundry rooms, playrooms, and basements. A particular favorite is the 48” planks now available; Wilson favors the Crossville planks since they don’t exhibit a bowing in their length like some other long planks do. 

“People are doing an entire basement in tile – wall cladding with thin tile on the wall and on the floor now,” Wilson said. As a result of COVID, she said, people are “recognizing their home should be a sanctuary,” especially outdoor spaces. 

Photo of Agate mosaic from Allison Eden
Agate mosaic from Allison Eden in the niche, stone tile on shower walls, and floors of porcelain provide easily cleaned and beautiful surfaces.

All kinds of tile are being incorporated, Wilson said: flat tile, textured tile, rugged surfaces and live edges, a spike in the use of glass tile on backsplashes with undermount lights that create a bright, beautiful reflectance on the glass, Wilson said. 

Quartz countertops are a favorite due to the antimicrobial features that some brands offer. “The goal is to have a solid surface that doesn’t have a place for bacteria to hide,” Wilson said. 

“Silestone has a quartz product with an antimicrobial treatment added to it, and some tile options that have Microban® added,” Pumarejo said, such as specific collections from Panaria/Florida Tile. Pumarejo noted that a new client – a doctor husband and wife – recently rejected a butcher block countertop due to the possibility of microbe growth in favor of a quartz option. 

Wilson said that quartz countertops combined with a gauged porcelain tile “waterfall” down the side of the islands are becoming more popular. 

Photo of vanity with mosaic Pumarejo chose from Allison Eden Studios.
Glass tile enlivens projects like this mosaic Pumarejo chose from Allison Eden Studios.

Pumarejo also sees large-format tile in general gaining ground since it limits grout joints, facilitating maintenance and cleaning. She also has observed that “grout has come a long way in recent years, too, as far as maintenance and cleanability.” 

General awareness of pro-health products are the purview of the designer and sometimes the client themselves. “Rugs are better than carpet because they can be cleaned and shaken out or laundered, keeping tile as the surface,” Wilson said. Even highly-trafficked areas can still be as beautiful with ceramic tile and yet easier to clean, she explained. 

Ceramic vanquishes vinyl

Photo of white subway tile in a bathroom
Today’s grouts have come a long way in regards to cleaning and maintenance, Pumarejo said.

Though Pumarejo noted that her clients sometimes choose luxury vinyl plank (LVP) or luxury vinyl tile (LVT) for price, softer and warmer feel underfoot, and a realistic wood texture, Wilson said her clients, “choose tile over LVT for durability and also because if vinyl is installed improperly, moisture can grow beneath the surface, which can be unnoticed until you have a sick home. In any wet area, tile or concrete should be used to prevent major health issues from unseen mold growth. A contractor once told me, ‘It’s like putting a shower curtain on the floor and putting caulk on the shower curtain edge. If one piece of a shower curtain does not adhere, watch the mold grow!’ 

“I am noticing that there are people who believe LVT should be placed in a baby nursery,” she added. “I would like to go on record to say make sure it NEVER gets wet. Do not use a mop and bucket. But people are not told about what can happen with these products.”

No mistakes – only happy accidents

“We don’t make mistakes. We make happy accidents.”  – Bob Ross

Here we are in midsummer – time for a check in. How is everyone doing?

I’m writing the last week of May, and I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me how conditions will be when you receive this magazine in July. Like many of you, I’ve experienced a lot of my social interactions online, including an inspirational church service I enjoyed just last week via Facebook Live. Minister Debbie O’Connor of the Unity Church of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho delivered a sermon that touched on the rules of improvisational comedy as a guide to getting through these times, which are unprecedented in our lifetime. And I just so happened to have a copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants in my library, which includes a dog-eared section that addresses these self-same rules of improvisation. These “rules” spoke to me, since more than anything these days, I feel like we are making up life as we go along.

So, in a nutshell, the rules are:

  1. Agree, say yes – never say no. If the improvisational actor says, “I’m on fire,” it grinds the skit to a halt to say, “No you’re not.” Fey says this rule invites you to start from an open-minded place. Basically, we are talking about acceptance. “Yes, we are in a pandemic, with a business to run.” It gives us more room to move than rigidly shutting down. O’Connor says to think of it as “Given this, now what?”
  2. Say “Yes, AND” – “You’re on fire, AND I have these marshmallows to roast! Awesome!” ADD to the situation. “Yes, we are in a pandemic, with a business to run AND I can use this time to hone that marketing plan I’ve been putting off.” Fey says, “YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute…always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.”
  3. Make STATEMENTS. “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.” She also says just asking questions just puts pressure on OTHERS to come up with the answers. Be definitive and claim your power with what you declare.
  4. There are no mistakes – Maybe this is the most important rule, and one we probably never learned in school. You may start out in one direction (honing your marketing plan due to the looming pandemic), which may lead you to another path (attending a virtual training that helps you tackle a stubborn problem you’ve always had with installation). Leave room for “happy accidents,” Fey says. Those who may be familiar with PBS artist Bob Ross knows he is famous for turning smudges or unplanned marks on his canvas into part of the scenery. “Ever make mistakes in life?” he asked. “Let’s turn them into birds. Yeah, they’re birds now.” 

At the heart of it, this is encouragement to accept what’s before you and be creative, strong and gentle with yourself as you move through the current situation. We can strain and stress, but that’s not going to be good for us physically or mentally and it stops the flow of creativity. Try these rules of improv and see if they don’t improve your outlook or your approach to this phase of your business, and help you keep up – with more grace – in this fast-changing world.

In the meantime, check out our TileLetter content this month, from Scott Carothers’ easy-as-pie recipe for creating expansion joints to Pavlo Starykov’s findings on staining in marble showers, to Robb Roderick’s chronicle of a day in the life of an NTCA trainer, to a profile of the husband-and-wife team of Eric and Jennifer Blumer of NTCA Member EJ Flooring. Also take a look at a recap of the historic, first-ever, virtual Coverings Connected. 

Whatever you do, keep the faith. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Coverings makes history with Coverings Connected virtual trade show

This is the story that would traditionally bring you highlights from the Coverings trade show, which would have been held this year in New Orleans, La., in April. 

But as everyone is well aware, that physical show did not happen, and instead the event moved to a virtual format, known as Coverings Connected, which took place April 20-23, the same time frame as the planned physical show. The online digital experience was the first of its kind and provided nearly 4,000 industry professionals with four days of valuable educational webinars and online networking opportunities. 

TCNA announced during its Coverings Connected press conference that it is adding viral testing to the antifungal and antibacterial testing it’s offered for many years.

What’s a challenge – and a benefit – about reporting on a virtual event, is that the information that we reporters would glean at the event was – and still is – available for you to visit online at coverings.com. This includes the Coverings Connected content and handouts, recorded sessions and webinars, a trend review by Alena Capra, and the CID Award winners and 2020 Coverings Rock Stars. In addition, there are Exhibitor Galleries and the New Product Showcase to browse through. 

The show itself makes news

That said, maybe the biggest news about the show was the show itself, and this new virtual format that we find ourselves immersed in these days. With the uncertainty posed by COVID-19, this may have been the first industry virtual trade show, but it likely won’t be the last, even though, as one contractor pointed out, “Coverings is really about meeting the people face to face.”

So what worked and what didn’t? Here’s some feedback from those who “attended” the event – and links to announcements made in April. 

First off, from the perspective of an editor at the show, I thought it was an amazing effort pulled together in a short period of time with a huge amount of products and some good educational sessions. 

Ryan Fasan explored influences on tile trends and emerging looks in his presentation during the Tile of Spain press conference.

I couldn’t get to all the ones I wanted to view due to three hours of press conferences from Ceramics of Italy, Tiles of Spain, Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, Tile Council of North America and National Tile Contractors Association on the opening day, but I can go back and view the ones I missed. I LOVED the efficiency of 30-minute press conferences and would like to see that continued when we are live and in person again. (Visit tileletter.com and search “Coverings Connected” for announcements released and posted during the show.)

I noticed that amidst the Product Galleries and Exhibitor Profiles, some companies went the extra mile. Lamosa comes to mind. The Mexican company developed a virtual booth tour, where you could actually navigate through four rooms of product and get detailed info on the tile “installed” on the walls, floors, and surfaces. This was a stellar effort to use technology to create an in-person-like environment.

Mexican tile maker Lamosa created a virtual booth for Coverings Connected. 

Martin Brookes, NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., both presented a seminar on Application and Specification of Tile for Outdoor Use, with DW Sander’s Woody Sanders, and attended the event. He remarked, “What a fantastic job the Coverings event team did in creating content with little time on hand.”

Joseph Mattice of On The Level, Simpsonville, S.C., viewed some of the sessions and “was super impressed with what the show was able to accomplish in such a short time. The sessions were well thought out and presented as always, and the networking was great as well.”

Jane Callewaert, who runs Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works in Grafton, Wis., with her artisan tilesetter husband Lee, said, “I thought it was very well executed and an excellent opportunity to be virtually connected and learn given the ‘loss’ of the actual Coverings event.” 

The Callewaerts found the virtual sessions provided more than instruction – it opened up the opportunity for group viewing and subsequent discussion. “Lee and our staff attended Mark Heinlein’s session on water control, and I attended the Digital Marketing/Branding session, as well as the Acting on NTCA Culture,” Jane said. Lee wanted the staff “to see it and remind them that he is learning something new all the time. He really enjoyed that he could ‘attend’ with our staff, as it prompts discussion among the group. I think this is an important use of these sessions.”

Jane would like to see future iterations of a virtual show offer a chance for discussion after the presentation for those who viewed it. Though Dragonfly staff got to explore the material themselves after viewing sessions as a group, she mused, “Wouldn’t it be cool if after the sessions there was an option to join live group discussion with others who attended? Obviously attendees would need to be broken into small groups for this.” (Edit—Zoom does offer the option of small breakout groups.

Steve Sprung of RTC Products concurred. “In a world full of instant gratification, I think some sort of live chat feature would have been much better than the typical email contact form,” he said. “This way you could have had more of the ‘personal interaction’ like you would with the live show, and would be able to chat with someone instantly about the product you are looking at.”

Sara Hurtado of iQ Power Tools viewed a number of sessions, and especially enjoyed the speaker for the Young Professionals Program: Leadership – The Right and Wrong of It. “That class also offered a bonus happy hour networking event which created a much more personal aspect than your typical webinar,” she said. “With the real show being cancelled, we all lost the networking opportunities many of us look forward to. Virtual education, new products and demo videos were expected, but to be able to bring in the networking aspect was a great surprise.” 

Pros and cons

Not everyone had a great experience at the virtual show. “I tried twice to access anything that seemed to be like a company booth or new product info or live event and got frustrated with the website both times and ultimately gave up,” said Dan Marvin of Ironrock. “I did attend Eric Astrachan’s press conference (since an email with a direct link made it pretty easy), which went well.”

“I would definitely like to see a more robust exhibitor profile,” Sprung suggested. 

iQ’s Sarah Hurtado said the Product Gallery had pros and cons, with an overwhelming format. “As a vendor, I felt like only the products on the first page were viewed, and those of us whose products were further down the alphabetic order, were missed. 

“I think the biggest challenge Coverings had was its advertising,” she added. “The event as a whole was advertised, but each piece was not. For example – the Live Demo stage. I did not see any direct advertisements for that piece of the show. As a vendor, we paid extra to be featured on that stage. In person, we can see the attendance and rate the demo. However, being digital, we did not have the same visibility. It would be nice to have the demo stage, specific webinars and even the new products get more specific attention and promotion. In addition, it would be great to see the analytics and data from the promotions and digital assets.”

Going forward

Even with some challenges with this first-try virtual conference, attendees and participants would like to see it continue in some form. 

“While I don’t think it will replace physical shows, the format of the booths and having remote sessions would be a great supplement to the traditional show in the future,” On The Level’s Mattice said.

RTC’s Sprung said, “With the expense of Coverings, I feel that this virtual booth should be included in the cost. I would also like to see a re-evaluation of the amount of products an exhibitor gets per level.”

Dragonfly’s Jane Callewaert said, “I think there is value for multiple obvious reasons: some people can’t attend, some ‘virus’ stops us all in our tracks, ability to reach more people.” But she still favors an in-person event. “There are many offerings that can’t be experienced with a remote platform. Even products are best experienced when you can touch and feel and when a ‘monitor’ isn’t interpreting color and texture. And that sharing that organically happens when people experience things together can’t be replicated.”

Hurtado said, “The webinars and videos of the contractor stage were great. I think these could be turned into great advertising pieces used to encourage people to come to the real show. A digital event could encourage a virtual community who maybe cannot afford to attend the show in person. Mini webinars and virtual networking events would be a great way for people to connect pre-show and really get engaged within the tile community.”

Hurtado had some suggestions for future shows, virtual or physical. “The overall promotion of Coverings could improve,” she said. “There is a big space for Coverings/NTCA to fill on social media and other channels. There could have been more stories, live feeds, and posts prior to the event as well as during. It would have been super interesting to see more of the behind-the-scenes of some of the webinars or training seminars. More promotional posts of the tools, products and people behind the tile – versus just all the pretty kinds of tile – would have been great to see.” 

In addition to the resources you can find at coverings.com, we want to focus on a few special highlights. Navigate to tileletter.com and enter “CID Awards 2020” or “2020 Rock Stars” to get full details. 

CID Awards

The Coverings Installation & Design Awards recognized 18 amazing projects this year. The Design Category included Commercial Tile Design, Commercial Stone Design, Residential Tile Design, Residential Stone Design (with subcategories), and Residential Tile & Stone Design. 

The Installation Category included: 

Commercial Stone Installation: Christ Cathedral Carnevale & Lohr, Inc. Garden Grove, Calif.
Commercial Tile Installation: Hotel Bennett David Allen Company Charleston, S.C.
Residential Stone Installation: Portland White House Columbia River Tile & Stone Inc. Portland, Ore.
Residential Tile Installation: Corte Madera Pool Grotto Heritage Marble & Tile Inc. Corte Madera, Calif.

Rock Stars

Fourteen of the best and brightest young talent were named as Coverings Rock Stars.

Among the Rock Stars who were honored for 2020, all five installers were from NTCA member companies. These included: 

In addition, Ryan Marino, Standards Development and Research Manager, TCNA, Anderson, S.C., took the trade association honor, and Kristin Coleman, Vice President of Novita Communication, NYC – the public relations firm for Ceramics of Italy – won as best and brightest talent in the Other (PR Firm) category. 

Husband-wife team packs a retail/installation punch in Columbia, Mo.

Eric and Jennifer Blumer run EJ Flooring and Legacy Bath and Tile

EJ Flooring of Columbia, Mo., got its start as a hard surface floor installation company in 2005. Prior to establishing this company, owner Eric Blumer worked for his soon-to-be father-in-law, a general contractor. Eric preferred indoor work to putting up decks in the cold Missouri winter, so he took his Bruce Certified Hardwood Flooring Installer credentials, partnered with his soon-to-be-wife Jennifer, and started EJ Flooring, specializing in the installation of hard surface goods. 

During a slow time in 2012, Eric and Jennifer registered for their first Schluter Systems training. Not only did they learn a lot about Schluter products, they also gained a wealth of information about tile installation in general. This was a springboard to focusing more on tile installation, especially showers. 

Encaustic-patterned porcelain tile entryway recently installed by EJ Flooring.

“Jennifer and I have always worked well together,” Eric said. “I was mostly on my own at the beginning, but if I needed help she would come help me.” When they decided to open the Legacy Bath and Tile retail showroom – also in Columbia – Jennifer took it on as her own, while continuing to maintain Eric’s installation schedule. In a stroke of serendipity, Eric and Jennifer celebrate their wedding anniversary on the 17th of this month!

“Jennifer and I pride ourselves in being a mom-and-pop showroom and installer,” Eric said. “We only have two other employees – Brent, who installs with me on the job, and Jennifer’s mom who works part time at the store.

“When you work with us, we know who you are, what we have talked about – and we get to know our clients,” Eric said. “We work hard to listen to customers and help them find their perfect tile. I think that is what sets us apart.”

The Blumers mostly do residential work with homeowners on projects they are supervising themselves. They specialize in custom-tiled showers and are moving into gauged porcelain thin panel tile for countertops/vanity tops. “We strive to bring out the customer’s personality in the project, and give them something beautiful and useful,” Eric said. 

Handmade mosaic of the local university mascot Truman the Tiger. 12”x12” glass sheets were cut down to 1/2”x1/2”, then shaped to fit from there. 

Running the store offers benefits as well as challenges. One benefit is helping homeowners choose their material early in the process, the Blumers said. “We can help them see the end product before anything starts and give them confidence in their selections,” Jennifer explained. “Dealing with suppliers can be very challenging. It’s unfortunate to say, but many suppliers just don’t care about smaller shops. This can make shipping timelines and deliveries unpredictable.” 

Through their work, Eric and Jennifer aim to do good for those in the community. A local contractor that the Blumers are working with has been using government grants to remodel and improve homes for veterans. “We take care of installing a curbless shower for them as well as the tile installation,” Eric said. “The contractor isn’t very knowledgeable in the construction trade, but he surrounds himself with professionals that are. We all work together for the same goal, to improve the life of someone that volunteered to protect the rest of us.”

Educating themselves; educating others

EJ Flooring has been an NTCA member for seven years, joining for the education and networking opportunities. 

“The business connections, education opportunities and resources are some of the best parts of being an NTCA member, along with the friendships,” Eric said. “Helping spread the knowledge and grow everyone’s business is great. I am a CTI (#1329) and hoping to get to some ACT classes, too.”

EJ Flooring/Legacy Bath and Tile also set out to help support and educate other area installers. 

“Within the retail store we like to work with other installers to educate and provide the best products for their project,” Jennifer added. “At our store we have done training with Schluter and ARDEX companies. “We have hosted round tables with other installers and fed them a meal. Any time someone comes in or calls with a question about the use of a product or how to do the job, we are happy to assist them. 

A very challenging Arabesque tile backsplash. EJ Flooring made a template to install this project, which worked very well. 

“We had a contractor call me out on a job once to see what materials he needed,” Eric said. “I told him what I thought was necessary, then said let’s call the rep and make sure. We called the rep for the manufacturer that we use and he helped us over the phone. The other contractor was blown away that help was that easy to come by and thanked me for making his job much easier. We were able to come up with a solution to waterproof directly over a brick chimney on the interior of the home without having to do a lot of extra framing.”  

The Blumers’ businesses have not been immune to the ravages of COVID-19. Walk-in traffic nearly stopped as did phone calls, and a few jobs had to be rescheduled. 

“We are starting to open back up now, although our shop never actually closed,” Eric said. “I believe we are going to start getting busier again; it’s just a matter of time. We are using this opportunity to ramp up our thin tile installations. A few contractors seem to be interested in them, and the cost is very comparable to quartz.”

Stabila introduces LAR 160 G: a robust and reliable rotation laser

Stabila Green Beam Laser in operation

Horizontal and vertical leveling / Powerful and quick to set up / GreenBeam for even better visibility

Stabila rotation lasers are an indispensable tool for every trade in construction thanks to their high level of accuracy and extensive working areas. The new LAR 160 G rotation laser is a robust and reliable companion in any kind of work, from wood, steel and metal construction to carpentry, landscape gardening and bricklaying. Fully automatic and motor-driven, the laser produces a leveling accuracy of +/- 1/8” @ 100 ft. and is ready to use within 20 seconds, thanks to its rapid self-leveling function. 

The green laser beams the LAR 160 G emits are up to four times more visible to the human eye indoors than red beams. . Photograph: STABILA

Convenient operation

The laser boasts four functions: horizontal rotation, vertical rotation, plumb-line function and right angle in vertical operation, making it extremely versatile to use. In combination with the REC 160 RG set receiver, it offers a working area of up to 1800 feet in diameter. The receiver has a receiving area from a height of 3 inches, making it possible to work over long distances. Visual and acoustic guidance, front and rear displays, and one-touch illumination are additional design features which facilitate the interaction between laser and receiver. 

Convenience has also been given top priority when it comes to operation. The laser is controlled with three buttons – on/off, tilt mode and manual mode. The assistance system, which makes it possible to monitor the laser visually, also ensures convenient and safe operation: while the laser is being positioned, integrated LEDs emit a warning if it is outside of the leveling range. Two 5/8″ threads integrated in the housing allow horizontal and vertical use on a tripod. 

The LAR 160 G rotation laser is protected against knocks and impacts thanks to the shock absorbent Stabila soft grip casing, while a sturdy housing cover protects the laser optics against everyday rough handling on the construction site.  It goes without saying that the laser also features protection class IP 65 – dust and water impervious.

The Stabila LAR 160 G rotation laser is equipped with GreenBeam technology.

GreenBeam Technology

The LAR 160 G rotation laser is equipped with Stabila GreenBeam technology. This ensures improved indoor visibility, with crisp green beams that are four times more visible to the human eye than red beams. As a result, the LAR 160 G is an outstanding partner for the whole spectrum of interior construction jobs, from drywall construction to installation work. 

The Stabila LAR 160 G is powered with long-life batteries. An integrated battery drawer makes changing them more convenient as it allows this to be done directly on the tripod. A powerful Li-ion rechargeable battery is also available as an option. The laser is available in two versions: 

  • #04500 – LAR 160 G Rotation Full Set – Comes with rotation laser, REC 160 RG receiver with clamp, BST-S construction tripod, Hi/Lo elevation rod, target plate, manual, batteries and hard case. 
  • #04510 – LAR 160 G Rotation Laser Kit – Comes with rotation laser, REC 160 RG receiver with clamp, manual, batteries and hard case. 

Technical data for the LAR 160 G rotation laser

Laser class2
Output510 – 530 nm
Laser wavelength635 nm
Self-levelling range+/- 5°
Levelling accuracy+/- 1/8” @ 100 ft
Working area for receiver1800 ft
Operating temperature range14°F – 122° F (-10 °C – +50 °C) 
Storage temperature range-13°F – 158° F (-25 °C – +70 °C)
Thread for tripod mount2 x 5/8″
Batteries in scope of delivery2 x D 1.5 V, 2 x AA 1.5 V
LAR 160 G operating timeApprox. 20 hours
Protection classIP 65

FocalPoint business coach Luca Setti offers webinar series to help leaders succeed

Luca Setti, former Chief Sales and Marketing officer of Florida Tile, helped turn the tile manufacturer return to a profitable multi-million-dollar company. He did this by redefining a vision and mission and then honing product, distribution, people, process and procedures for the company.

Setti fell in love with this process, and after leaving Florida Tile, went through training to become a Certified Executive Business Coach and Trainer with FocalPoint. His aim is now to help many companies excel and succeed. The challenges posed by COVID-19, led him to develop a series of webinars for leaders, executives and business owners.

His April webinar, entitled “Top 7 Actions Leaders Can Take in Challenging Moments” offered the results of a few studies that FocalPoint conducted on leaders. Setti said the focus was on actions leaders took in good and bad times to be great, including “examples of how we can take those same actions into our own life and business.”

In the webinar, Setti explored the mindset and principles of successful leaders, including the Law of Attraction (what you think about, you bring about). His presentation also unpacked the concept of Victor or Victims, which encourages a positive, proactive, visionary mindset focused on excellence and a clear and specific goal that leads to being a victor, versus blaming, excuse-making, negative, denial and scarcity-based mindsets that lead to victim mentalities. “Nothing GREAT in life or in business comes out if we don’t have a proper mindset,” he said.

flyer of man advertising next webinar

The webinar also offered seven actions that all leaders employ consistently in good and bad times. These 7 C’s of Leadership are: 
 • Clarity: Leaders develop a clear vision of where they want to go, or what they want to become. They invest time in learning about themselves, starting from what they love to do and what they are good at, and then learning about others, and what they need or want.
• Competence: Leaders know that in order to be great, they have to become very good in something or in a few things: really, really good!  That’s why they constantly work on mastering their skills.
• Continuous Learners: Leaders never quit learning, never quit adapting to changes and continually get better.
• Constraints Analysis: Leaders aren’t scared to assess themselves, or recruit the help of others, to discover what their constraints, limitations, and weaknesses are or what’s holding them back. They do this because they know that no matter how good they are, they can only go as far or as fast as their limitations.  Understanding their constraints is key because they can then create plans to improve them and so reach their goals faster.
• Creativity: Leaders develop an ability to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, or just new ways to communicate. This is something that can be achieved by engaging employees, clients, peers or can be cultivated with the help of a trusted advisor, a coach.
• Concentration: Leaders focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking is not effective or efficient. It’s been proven over and over again that it is impossible to really succeed while doing many things in life. Leaders instead do one thing well.
• Courage: Leaders believe so much in their ideas that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, starting first from the things they most fear.

The webinar was well-received, and has laid the groundwork for another webinar, scheduled this week on Thursday, June 4. “Back in Business with Less Stress? Let’s Build a Strategic Plan” is directed at business owners and executives, encouraging a back-to-the-drawing board approach to strategically position businesses for post-COVID success. Click here for more information and to sign up. For more information about Setti, visit https://lucasetti.focalpointcoaching.com/.

Change can be beautiful

“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”  – George Carlin

It’s obvious that when a caterpillar goes into its chrysalis on its way to being a butterfly, lots of changes take place. Squirmy little caterpillars don’t become lithe, beautiful, winged beings overnight – and not without struggle. What actually happens inside the chrysalis is that the caterpillar body dissolves into mush. “Imaginal cells” – cells that had been dormant in the caterpillar form –activate and start to create the process of reforming all the organic material into the stunning butterfly that will emerge. 

Imaginal cells don’t initially cooperate – they exist and operate independently, and are even attacked by the immune system when it doesn’t recognize them as being an integral part of the being. Over time, they multiply, and start to entrain with each other, cooperating and communicating to work in tandem and emerge as a brand new being. 

This analogy is often used in spiritual and psychological circles to explain the changes that take place in individuals during periods of growth and struggle. But how much more does it apply right now to our country and our industry? Coronavirus has dissolved our usual structures and behaviors into an amorphous soup of sorts. We are in a holding pattern in the “chrysalis” of our own homes – some of us working, some of us unemployed with time on our hands, some of us receiving government relief; some of us struggling mightily to pay our bills and care for our families with lack of income; some of us taking on different jobs to make ends meet in the interim; some of us managing this emotional and economic limbo with patience and grace (with the help of chocolate or alcohol), and some of us acting with impatience and aggression, insisting we get back to being caterpillars!

Now in June, where do we stand? How far along to becoming butterflies do we find ourselves? Has your state “opened up?” Partially? Completely? What is the caseload of infections like in your area? How have you changed your work process to operate safely during the crisis, and how will you engage in public gatherings as the summer wears on? Have you received government relief to assist your business or has red tape or inadequate funding grounded you? 

It seems to me that we are still in chrysalis mode (as of this writing on April 27), and the new “being” that will emerge is still forming. We are adopting new features. Our major trade show was cancelled, but 4,000 people attended or participated in the virtual trade show Coverings Connected at coverings.com. People are connecting professionally and personally via Facebook, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts and other virtual conferencing services for meetings, classes, worship services and even dinners and cocktail parties. I recently got to virtually meet people I had only emailed with during a Tile Chix zoom cocktail party. You’ll read about some of these creative technologies in this month’s Business story, written by Contributing Editor Louis Iannoco. 

NTCA has partnered with workshop hosts to convert in-person events into virtual training events, to continue bringing important information to tile contractors. And because NTCA trainers are not traveling to NTCA Workshops, they have some time to author excellent technical articles for TileLetter, like the piece on layout this month, written by Robb Roderick.

No one knows the exact trajectory for this metamorphosis. The hope is that we begin to entrain and work together – as an industry and a country – to emerge with new skills, technologies and economic structures that characterize a new incarnation of what has existed before. It could be a beautiful thing. Let’s do what we can to make it so. 

Blessings,
Lesley
[email protected]

#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!

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