Maryland tile setter pursues a path of excellence; starts social media group for women

“I’m so passionate about the industry as a whole, and always want to be a part of it,” Michelle Blomquist Hamilton of Tile Maryland/Creative Tile & Stone said.

Michelle Blomquist Hamilton is a relative newcomer to the tile business. She runs Tile Maryland, LLC (soon to be Creative Tile & Stone, LLC) in Conowingo, Md.,with her husband John, and her youngest son Josh, who is learning the trade as a helper. 

Though her time in the industry may be short, her passion for the industry, and tile installation excellence is strong.

“I actually got into the business five years ago when I started dating my husband,” Hamilton said. “He asked me to take over the business and wanted me to run the office. I could not effectively run the business without having full knowledge of it.”

So, Hamilton quit her job in finance and set out to learn everything she could. “I am still learning new things and have become really passionate about it,” she said. “I took my Certified Tile Installer (CTI) test twice and did not pass, and am taking it the end of June. I took it right after my mother passed away and I should have waited but I’ll do it until I pass… I may have convinced my husband to take it as well! 

“The CTI is important to me and to the industry,” she added. “There needs to be guidelines set and standards for tile installation, and the CTI is a good start.”

Hamilton gets tremendous satisfaction seeing the job finished and having a satisfied customer. “I try to do something different on each job to further my skills and make each job better,” she added. 

Hamilton makes it a point to sign up for every training available through the manufacturers and through NTCA. “I stay active in the groups and actually go visit other installers in and around my area to network with them as well. I’ve learned a lot from other installers and always want to try new things and be challenged.”

Tile Maryland/Creative Tile & Stone predominantly serves the residential customer, specifically bathrooms and showers as well as swimming pool tile coping and replacement. Hamilton enjoys assisting in the design process, taking the challenges of being a small business owner in stride – staying up to date with products, proper methods and design trends. 

“I’m so passionate about the industry as a whole, and always want to be a part of it,” she said. “Being challenged and being able to inspire and encourage others are what motivates me.” 

She gets tremendous satisfaction seeing the job finished and having a satisfied customer. “I try to do something different on each job to further my skills and make each job better,” she added. “The organizations and groups I belong to have been a great resource in this regard. Lots of tips and ideas are gained from these associations.” 

NTCA benefits

One of those associations is the NTCA, which HamiIton joined last year. “I wish I had joined sooner,” she said. “The workshops they offer are a great way to learn new things and stay up to date on new techniques. Being a member of an organization like this heightens your professionalism. I think it shows that you are serious about your business and growing in the industry. 

“As a member you have access to not just training, but the opportunity to get credentialing, like the CTI,” she added. “Being a member of NTCA is well worth the money. It is not only a tax deduction, but the vouchers more than pay for the membership expense. “

Tile Chix

Hamilton mused about the advantages of being a woman in the tile industry. “We are often intuitive and good listeners, and this goes a long way to understanding your customers,” she said, noting that she finds most women open and eager to participate in available training opportunities. 

“Because we don’t often come with many years of ‘always did it this way’ experience, I think we do not have as many pre-conceived or rigid notions,” she said. “We are open to new information and practices, which is so important.”

The job above was the most challenging for Hamilton. The customer had removed a wall between the kitchen and formal living room and a small wall at the end of their island, leaving space for seven tiles in the middle of the floor. They had no extra tiles and the only ones Hamilton had access to were the remaining seven between the living room and kitchen. 
“I had to remove those seven tiles – and not break any – and move them to the middle of the kitchen around the island,” she said. “I managed to carefully get them up and didn’t even chip any. It looked amazing, was time consuming and I challenged myself as well. Coming up with a way to transition the two rooms was also a challenge and I used the slate and installed diagonally.”

A few months ago, Hamilton decided to reach out to fellow females in tile via the social media group Tile Chix on Facebook. “I noticed that some women in the groups didn’t post too much or would only comment occasionally,” she explained. “We can support each other and create a welcoming place to learn and grow.” 

Hamilton also hopes Tile Chix becomes a catalyst for young women to enter the trades. “Not all students want to go to college,” she said. “Participating in community events, schools, and Girl Scout camps, career days or other demonstrations at the schools – all these can bring exposure to the trades and welcome more young people in. There are opportunities for a career as a contractor, installer, tile artisan, mosaic artist, designer, or company rep. There are many options in the trades to enjoy what you do and make a great income.”

A third reason for the group is for women to discuss challenges in the industry specific to women. “Having a place to discuss things and encourage each other is important,” she said. 

The rapid growth of Tile Chix made Hamilton realize how many women are in the industry. 

“I’ve seen many talented and creative women and the interaction among the ladies is great,” she said. “Having a great group of admins has helped tremendously. It will be nice to meet many of the group members in person at events.” 

A new hope: Louisville contractor transforms shop bathroom with Star Wars shower mosaic

Stanton’s Chinese manufacturing partners took great care in creating the Star Wars mosaics. Luke Skywalker’s lips used about 12 colors alone. 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…..Jonathan Stanton was born, the same year that the blockbuster phenomenon Star Wars soared across the silver screen, and changed film history forever.

The year was 1977, and the galaxy was actually our very own Milky Way. Over the intervening years, the force awakened as Jonathan grew up learning the tile trade from his father. In 2002, he established Jonathan Stanton, Inc., in Louisville, Ky., specializing in stellar residential installations. 

Flash forward, and Jon and his wife have two sons, 14 and 10 years old, and a 4-year old daughter – and they all LOVE Star Wars. 

So, inspired by his children, he set out to transform the crumbling outdated bathroom in the shop he bought several months ago into a homage to the Star Wars legend, and an example of creative themed bathrooms that designers could attempt for their clients. “I wanted to take a fun approach and be the cool dad,” Stanton said. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t like anything else out there.”

It took Chinese artisans two weeks to create the mosaic of Yoda’s face. 

Stanton amassed his crew of three men to work on the 1,200-square-foot Jedi Unisex bathroom, on weekends, amounting to about two months of framing, electrical, plumbing, and all the tile work – which alone took two to three weeks.

Meantime, he was in touch with companies he’s developed partnerships with in China to create five mosaics of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Yoda for the shower, derived from online images of the characters. “It took almost three months to have the murals made on mesh sheets, and Yoda’s face alone took two weeks,” he said. “Hundreds of colors of glass were used. The lips of Luke Skywalker alone use about 12 different colors.” The company shipped the mosaics in pieces, designed to lock together, along with extra glass tiles for repairs or to fine tune the installation.

Stanton was careful to check into the licensing ramifications of his bathroom. Since it was for his own use, there was no infringement of using the likenesses of movie characters in his project. 

Installing the mosaics in the Star Wars shower.

His job also utilized Repel Systems XPS closed cell extruded polystyrene foam building panels – 1/2” board on the wall, 5’ x 3’ linear presloped shower pan with tileable drain cover, and solid foam curbs and shower header. Stanton wrapped exposed iron pipes and built shelves with 1.5” thick Repel panels. Stanton owns Repel Systems, with product manufactured to meticulous standards in China. Repel Systems recently joined NTCA as an affiliate member.

Positive partners

Stanton’s work with Chinese companies has been a positive, and the partnership he has cultivated with his Chinese partners has opened the door to not only new business opportunities but to outstanding work done to his exacting standards. “A lot of people think Chinese goods and craftsmanship are a negative connotation,” Stanton said. “I’ve had to peel back the layers and work through some of that…what you buy needs to be done with such care. Initially, mosaic orders were filled quickly but they weren’t what I wanted.” After some discussion and direction, his manufacturing partner met and exceeded his expectations. 

Similarly, Stanton and Repel Systems (repelsystems.com) Chinese manufacturing partner Xuancheng JIT New Materials Tech. Co., Ltd., spent 1-1/2 years before even launching the system. “I’ve asked for emissions reports so we are dealing with only the best of standards for the environment,” he said. “We tested it to make sure we have a top quality product.” The products have UPC certificates through IAPMO Research and Testing, and shear strength that surpasses the U.S. ANSI A 118.10 standard.

Foam building panels from Repel Systems formed the shower, shelves, curbs and other elements. 

Stanton has built strong connections and relationships with his partners and their families, and is in touch with them seven days a week. “I was sad to have to recently cancel a trip to China for a wedding due to the Coronavirus,” he said. And he is still dealing with an additional 25% tariffs on products imported from China. But despite that, the connection, quality, and cost of products he’s developed in partnership with Chinese companies is worth it. 

Walls and floors

In addition to the stunning mosaics, Stanton used Emil America Italian Tele Di Marmo Statuario Michelangelo Lappato Lucido porcelain 24” x 48” tiles for the bathroom walls, and 12” x 24” Emil America Tele Di Marmo Calacatta Renoir Lappato Lucido porcelain installed in a modern herringbone on the floor. The black and white palette reflected the Rebellion versus Dark Side theme throughout the films. 

Stanton’s crew poured almost a 1-1/2” of self leveler before snapping electric floor warming wires into the 3/8” Repel Heat Board. 

About 300 square feet of large-format, rust-look Emil Ergon Metal Style 12” x 24” Revival tile clads the outside of the bathroom envelope, transforming it into something you might find on Tatooine. Emil product was sourced from Patria Coverings Co., in Indianapolis. 

LATICRETE setting materials were used throughout, from TRI-LITE mortar for floors and walls, and MULTIMAX LITE mortar – rated for glass – for the murals. SPECTRALOCK epoxy translucent grout was a must for the murals, Stanton said, since the translucent material “takes up the inner tones of red and blues in the glass tiles, and helps blend in the color.” PERMACOLOR SELECT was Stanton’s choice for grouting porcelain floors and walls. 

To level the “out of whack” subfloor prior to installation, Stanton’s crew poured almost a 1-1/2” of self leveler before snapping electric floor warming wires into the 3/8” Repel Heat Board. 

Stanton created a custom light fixture in the shower with Repel board, with rounded corners and tiled with mosaic. It provides light and the shower head runs through the middle of it. 

Another challenge that presented itself was the toilet, sunk into the wall beneath piping. Stanton chose to strike back by working around the old cast iron pipes, designing shelving around the toilet that is integral to the design of the space. 

As of this writing, the project is nearly complete, waiting for door hardware on order from China that’s been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

As a finishing touch, the bathroom is accented with actual Disney Star Wars light sabers and Resistance and Empire helmets. 

This contractor’s vision, professional connections and dedication turned an outdated, tumbledown shop bathroom into a new hope, full of fun and delight for years to come. 

As a finishing touch, the bathroom is accented with actual Disney Star Wars light sabers and Resistance and Empire helmets. 

Tile of Spain companies present the latest in products and innovations at the 38th edition of CEVISAMA

Tile of Spain manufacturers returned to Spain in February to bring their latest productions and innovations to CEVISAMA, the International Fair for Ceramic Tiles and Bathroom Furnishings. This year’s annual show took place from February 3rd to February 7th, 2020 and was held the Feria Valencia center in Valencia Spain. 

State of the industry

During the Tile of Spain Press Conference held at CEVISAMA (pictured), Vicente Nomdedeu, the president of The Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association (ASCER), highlighted the 2019 production, sales and exports figures that reflect the strength of Spain’s industrial sector.

The Spanish tile industry surpassed the levels of success of those obtained in 2018 with overall sales increasing by 4%. With approximately 75% of all sales made abroad, Spain currently exports to 185 countries worldwide with a total export growth of 3% since 2018. 

Featured trends for 2020

The 38th edition of CEVISAMA saw 800 exhibitors showcase their new collections to over 90,000 industry professionals from all over the world. With no shortage of new styles to inspire interior and exterior design, following are the most prominent trends and innovations on display by Tile of Spain USA’s featured companies at CEVISAMA 2020:

Modern metallics 

Neutral tones enhanced by metallic motifs will shine strong this year. The iridescent reflections seen in the Akila collection from Azteca (pictured), Stardust collection from Fanal, Iron 4D collection from Museum and Grespania’s Patina collection bring an edge of luxury and reflect natural light to visually expand a space.

Artful inspirations 

Geometric patterns and eccentric graphics make their way back to the forefront of tile design after years of toned-down styles. Whimsical looks including Vives’ art deco-inspired Pop collection (pictured), Aparici’s Altea collection, and Arcana’s uniquely-designed wood-look collection Komi, make bold statements and turn spaces into true works of art.

Calming colors 

Soft pastels and soothing hues were in abundance at CEVISAMA this year. Travel from Emotion Ceramics, Clash by Rocersa, and the Bow collection from Harmony (pictured) gradually shift away from the neutral color palette that has been in high demand over the past few years and subtly bring color to interiors. Muted pinks, blues and greens visually enrich environments and lend a relaxing atmosphere.

Three dimensional details 

Not just colors and patterns are making waves in 2020. Curved ridges and beveled surfaces to concaved details, manufacturers are experimenting with texture and dimension that quite literally raise the bar in interior design. Wall tiles like the Donna collection by Peronda, the Underground collection from Keraben Grupo (pictured), and Natucer’s custom D’Autore series expertly portray this unique trend to create a one-of-a-kind look.

Resurgence of shapes and decorative tiles

Iconic and bespoke-shaped tile stood out among its conventional counterparts at CEVISAMA. The shapes featured in Cevica’s Chintz collection (pictured), Roca Tile’s Rockart collection, Apavisa’s Intuition collection and Onix’s Hex XL collection allow for more interesting layouts and bring a sense of sophistication to designs that have not been seen in recent years.

A return to traditional formats

In contrast to unique shapes, traditional formats were in abundance with a return of subway tile in small and square formats. New collections including Pierre by Small Size, Delice by Gayafores, and Antiqva by Equipe (pictured) offer both interior and exterior solutions for all types of surfaces.

To view a brief video highlighting these trends and more from CEVISAMA 2020, visit https://bit.ly/320TI8W

Trans-Hitos exhibit

The Trans-Hitos Exhibition of Ceramics for Architecture celebrated its 15th anniversary at CEVISAMA in a series of three impressive projects entitled “IDENTITY”. The annual Trans-Hitos exhibit was sponsored by the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Association (ASCER) and coordinated by the Habitat Area of the Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC).

“IDENTITY” (pictured) reflects on the use of ceramic tile as a material for global use in architecture since the 18th century. Ceramic tile serves as a link both culturally and technologically, accomplishing a relevant role as a functional and aesthetic material that has left a legacy in the history of art and architecture grandiose works that still, to this day, are reference points for the whole world. 

More information on the Trans-Hitos exhibit is available at http://bit.ly/TransHitos2020. For more information on CEVISAMA and Tile of Spain manufacturers, visit http://www.tileofspainusa.com.

Anything you can do – I can do better: tile installers poised to expand Dekton market by storm

Dekton University offers intensive training opportunities to qualified installers

It’s no news that gauged porcelain tile is going gangbusters in the tile industry. This incredibly versatile product can be used for not only walls and floors, but sinks, countertops, or any kind of cladding you can imagine.

In 2013, around the time the term “gauged porcelain” was being coined, the manufacturer of Silestone quartz surfacing launched ultra-compact surface Dekton® by Cosentino, an extremely large-format, extremely and consistently flat material that combines raw materials in a high-heat, high-compaction sintering process that makes it super strong, resistant to staining, scratching, abrasion, high heat/fire resistant, freezing and UV rays. It also is GREENGUARD certified low in chemical emissions, to benefit the environment. 

This highly-technical product originally was the purview of fabricators. But with the introduction of thinner panels – 4mm and 8 mm – Consentino is partnering with qualified labor to equip installers with the knowledge and experience to install these products with confidence and success.

Tomas Echeverria, Technical Coordinator for Cosentino, said the company is willing to invest to train installers to properly work with and install this unique product. “The company has invested a lot in manufacturing and R&D. It wouldn’t mean anything if it’s not installed properly to perform as it should,” he said. 

The benefit of this partnership was revealed at Cosentino’s national sales summit in early February in Houston. Presenters from NTCA Five-Star Contractors J&R Tile in San Antonio, Texas, and Casavant Tile in Saugerties, N.Y., provided the closing two-hour session to explain the opportunities for Cosentino to partner with qualified tile installers to expand the market for Dekton product – specifically 8mm and 4mm panels. 

Eric Tetrault of Casavant Tile (in Dekton jacket) talks with interested sales people after the presentation. 

Cosentino has partnered with NTCA Five-Star Contractors for about five years, offering preferred pricing for these top-tier installers. But the sales summit presentation pointed out the benefits of working with a much larger universe of 1,600 Certified Tile Installers (CTIs) who are dedicated to not only upholding standards in their work, but seeking the training and experience that’s needed to work bring a highly technical product like Dekton into their repertoire.

J&R Tile’s Erin Albrecht (r.) walked the attendees through the program, while J& R Tile’s Triniti Vigil (c.) and Casavant Tile’s Eric Treteault demonstrated the ease of crafting sinks and countertops with Dekton and hand tools.

J&R Tile’s Erin Albrecht walked the attendees through the program, while J& R Tile’s Triniti Vigil and Casavant Tile’s Eric Treteault demonstrated the ease of crafting sinks and countertops with Dekton and hand tools. The speed and quick turnaround of completing Dekton projects by tile installers using hand tools like grinders was eye-opening for the sales force.

Introducing Dekton University

The presentation introduced a brand new concept to the sales team: the development of Dekton University. Cosentino has committed to partnering with and supporting qualified labor locally to develop a network of highly-trained installers to install Dekton panels. Trained CTIs – many who are NTCA members – will be regional trainers in locations where Cosentino has facilities. 

Dekton University is scheduled to kick off this spring, with dates for the year in development at this writing. The plan is for each trainer, who will be funded by Cosentino, to hold two trainings regionally a month, explained Tetrault. In addition LATICRETE and Bostik have signed on to provide complete antimicrobial systems of grouts, mortars and setting materials, punching up the pro-environment qualities Dekton offers.

Dekton Madera Trilium countertop.

Training is an intense two-day, hands-on program, with resources like TCNA Handbooks, tools, equipment and resources supplied by Cosentino. Three attendees at each training will win a complete set of tools specially designed to work with Dekton, valued at between $8,000-$15,000. In addition, contractors who complete the program will have access to this tool set for 12 months on a break-even basis – if a designated amount of Dekton is sold, the contractor can keep the set for free, Tetrault explained. Equipment includes a table, cutter, and cart. They will also each take home two modules created during the trainings for marketing purposes.

That’s not all. As mentioned, NTCA Five-Star Contractors have had preferential pricing from Cosentino and will continue to do so. But pricing advantages will be tiered for CTIs, ACT-credentialed contractors and those who take the training. There will be tangible rewards, benefits and advantages for those contractors who invest in training, education and excellence. 

“Qualified labor and trade associations are at the forefront of everything: the center of the whole program,” Tetrault said “Everything revolves around that. The entire program is geared to open up a new market for Dekton, and provide unprecedented support to the installers and contractors who make the commitment to be educated and trained.” 


Dekton University will employ a team of knowledgeable trainers to administer the program at Dekton facilities. Jamen and Chanel Carizzosa, of Icon Tile, a husband-wife installation team out of Washington, are jazzed about this program. “When Erin and Eric approached and told us about this program, we were really excited,” Jamen said. “In our area, most guys are not doing the large panels. If they get a job they try to talk the designer out of it. They are scared to touch it. Chanel and myself have wanted to push ourselves forward in getting to be better with these products.”

Zack Bonfilio, owner of San Antonio’s American Tile & Remodeling, said, “possibilities are endless” using Dekton. He said he created an integrated sink with linear drain on a foam base – including miters and cuts – in just four hours using Dekton and his grinder. There was no need for costly, time-consuming waterjet work. 

Carl “The Flash” Leonard, CTI #1393, from New Jersey asked, “Why would you trust your install to anyone who isn’t certified? Certification is key to our industry – keeping standards high.” 

These passionate and dedicated tile professionals are among those who will run the Dekton University intensives. CTIs will have first dibs on a slot in the classes, and then other promising installers will be contacted about taking the trainings.

“The big message is you don’t need a fabricator,” Albrecht said. “If you partner with skilled labor, you aren’t waiting weeks. As the song goes, ‘Anything you can do – I can do better.’ With trained tile installers, you have a one-stop shop. You can have six or less employees working with thin material, and with the right tools, set up and system, you can do a lot of square footage.” 

As much as a learning curve as it is for installers, it’s also a learning curve for Cosentino, who is open to learn what this new-to-them labor force needs to succeed, and provide strong support. 

“It took a group of tile contractors to sit down and say ‘Let’s do something about this,‘” Albrecht said. “And it took a large tile company to invest. Cosentino is a family-owned business. They care about the installers but have humility to know they are not installation experts. With Dekton University, they are looking to connect with tile contractors.

“They are listening and they care,” Albrecht added. ”They are willing to learn and become leaders – only partner with the best, on high-end installations and protect their brand. Their intentions are for everyone to support each other. They don’t want to sell to everybody. They are trying to do it right.” 

Interested in Dekton University? Contact Tomas Echeverria at (786) 527-1501 or email [email protected].

Installer-focused training planned for Thursday at Coverings Connected

Coverings Connected, the digital manifestation of the annual Coverings trade show this year, has designated Thursday, April 23 as Contractor Day. Special learning opportunities featuring are planned this day, covering a range of topics that interest and benefit tile and stone contractors.

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile
Woody Sanders, DW Sanders Tile & Stone

First up, at 11 a.m. – 12: 00 p.m. EDT, Martin Brookes, president of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile and Woody Sanders, president of NTCA Five-Star Contractor DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting will present a live session on the Application and Specification of Tile for Outdoor Use. Exterior living spaces and outdoor living is a growing trend that offers outstanding opportunity for ceramic tile and natural stone. However, there are inherent complications requiring you to implement strategies for installation that will succeed. New technology and systems have recently been introduced that can improve the likelihood of success and control the cost of installation as well. This session will examine the technology and the installer planning and training that must take place to be successful. Continuing Education Credits AIA: 1.0 LUs HSW IDCEC: 1.0 CEU Hours.  Click here to register.

Wally Adamchik, Firestarter Speaking and Consulting

Then from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT, Wally Adamchik, president of Firestarter Speaking and Consulting will explore Acting on the NTCA Culture Survey – Leadership in the Face of COVID-19.  Join this session to learn the results of NTCA-commissioned research on company culture in tile contractors across the country. Gallup reports that only 30% of workers are engaged at work. Is the construction industry even worse? Learn how people (our most important asset) in the tile industry are feeling, and how it compares to the construction industry as a whole. What is the state of the industry from a leadership and culture perspective? And what are the current and future impacts of COVID-19 on labor. Get the good, the bad and the opportunities. Attend this data-rich session to gain ideas on how to assess and improve your company to recruit, retain and engage your employees. Continuing Education Credits AIA: 1.0 LUs IDCEC: 1.0 CEU Hours Click here to register.

NTCA Technical Director Mark Heinlein

Finally, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT Mark Heinlein, NTCA Technical Director will offer an informative and practical session  with Don’t Let Water Be the Boss: Wet Area Tile Installation. Water goes where it wants to go and does what it wants to do. You don’t want water to be the boss in your wet area installations. Learn the  information you need to be the boss and properly control water in your wet area tile installations. Continuing Education Credits AIA: 1.0 LUs HSW Click here to register.

Click the links to register or visit coverings.com and click on Learning Opportunities for the day desired.

TCNA’s Ryan Marino is a Coverings 2020 Rock Star

TCNA’s Ryan Marino, a 2002 Coverings Rock Star

(Anderson, SC)— The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) announces Ryan Marino, TCNA’s Standards Development and Research Manager, has been named a Coverings 2020 Rock Star recipient. Coverings Rock Stars — an Emerging Leaders Program — honors the best and brightest young talent in the tile and stone industry.

Mr. Marino has been engaged in ceramic tile industry research and standards development for nine years. He served three consecutive terms as Chairman of the ASTM C21 Committee on Ceramic Whitewares and Related Products, manages the TCNA Tile Technical Committee, and is actively involved in the ISO TC189 and ANSI A108 Committees. Additionally, Mr. Marino speaks regularly at industry events, contributes to industry publications, and is a key stakeholder and participant in countless other industry standardization initiatives.
“Ryan has spearheaded several standards development initiatives that have had a direct, positive, and major impact on the ceramic tile industry, in addition to benefiting consumers,” stated Bill Griese, TCNA’s Director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives. “Developing new standards and achieving major revisions requires vision, innovation, ethics, and a focus on the needs of the consensus body. Ryan brings all these skills together, as well as technical excellence and a profound consensus-building ability.”

“We are extremely proud of Ryan and all that he has accomplished for the tile industry and TCNA,” added Eric Astrachan, TCNA’s Executive Director. “Throughout his career, Ryan’s leadership and strengths in project management, research, and innovation have made him an invaluable asset to tile industry standardization initiatives.”

TCNA congratulates Ryan on this important and well-deserved industry award.

Welcome to Coverings Connected!

Coverings Connected logo

If 2020 had gone according to plan, we would all be meeting today in New Orleans today at Coverings 2020. Alas, COVID-19 changed all that, but that doesn’t mean the innovation and information offered at the in-person show is lost. A lot of features are being presented via “Coverings Connected” — a virtual trade show developed by the Taffy Event Strategies, Coverings’ management company.

Visit coverings.com, where you can explore exhibitors, take advantage of learning opportunities – some with AIA and IDCEC CEUs — view Engage Interviews with industry leaders moderated by Irene Williams, see exhibitor  videos  and trend information.

Coverings Rock Stars 2019

The CID Award winners and Coverings Rock Stars will be celebrated all week long at coverings.com. On Tuesday, there is a special session for Coverings Rock Stars and young professionals, plus a Zoom networking happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.  

The ever-popular Demo Stage is now a Digital Demonstration Stage with how-to –videos and product demonstrations to keep you up to date on materials and techniques. And there’s a connect feature that will put you in touch with others who are “attending” Coverings Connect and help you do business virtually.

And stay in touch with your peeps by sharing your experiences on social media with the hashtag #CoveringsConnected.

This morning — as you’re reading this story and exploring coverings.com — media is attending three hours of press conferences from Tile of Spain, Ceramics of Italy, Tile Council of North America, Ceramic Tile Distributors Association and National Tile Association. You’ll discover findings of those events on these digital pages as the week unfolds.

Wally Adamchik, President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting.

Thursday is Contractor Day, with special features for contractors and installers. One of those is the webinar listed under Learning Opportunities from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. by Wally Adamchik, President of FireStarer Speaking and Consulting. He’ll explore the findings of the NTCA Culture Survey, and discuss leadership in the face of COVID-19.

If you are looking for new products, head to coverings.com and search the Online Product Gallery/New Product Showcase. And I want to bring your attention to Lamosa (which you can also find here), which has taken virtual trade shows to a high level by providing a virtual booth. Load the page and you’ll be gently guided throughout the booth where new products are displayed with information icons that bring you to panels with detailed photos and specs about each product. There’s a diagram of the booth with red dots – click on the dots and you’ll be taken immediately to that “room” where you can view products at your own pace. Kudos to Lamosa for using technology to best effect to communicate its products to a worldwide audience.

Tour through Lamosa’s virtual booth at Coverings Connected.

This is a brave new world, and we at TileLetter are exploring it right along with you. Keep checking back here and on TileLetter on Facebook for ongoing news of the show as it unfolds this week.

Federal Guidelines released for “Opening Up America Again”

On Thursday, April 15, President Donald Trump released federal guidelines for “Opening up America Again,” his three-phase plan for getting the country back to work and more regular social interaction.

Contrary to a unilateral nationwide effort that he had previously touted, “Opening Up America Again” will rely heavily on governor discretion to implement county and state and wide.

Calling it a “gradual process” Trump did not specify any dates, but instead set safety requirements to be met at each phase.  Core state preparedness responsibilities hinge on testing and contact tracing, healthcare system capacity and plans to protect the health and safety of workers in critical industries, those living and working in high-risk facilities like senior care facilities, and employees and users of mass transit. They also address social distancing and face covering protocols and steps to limit and mitigate rebounds and outbreaks by returning to previous phases. There is an emphasis on protecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with health conditions that would put them at greater risk.

Standard COVID-19 hygiene practices are advised and those who feel sick should stay at home and follow advice of their medical provider.  Guidelines are also recommended for all phases for employers, such as social distancing, temperature checks, restrictions on business travel and more.

“Gating criteria” is established before states or regions can continue to the phased opening. These include “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period” or a “downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).” For hospitals, it involves treating “all patients without crisis care” as well as putting “robust testing programs in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.”

Each phase specifies guidelines for individuals, employers and specific types of employers.

Phase One

In Phase One, vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place and those in households with vulnerable individuals should recognize the risk of bringing the virus home from work or other public environments and distancing is encouraged. Distancing in public is encouraged, and gatherings of more than 10 discouraged. Non-essential travel should be minimized and CDC post-travel isolation guidelines should be followed.

Employers are advised to continue telework and return to work in phases, if possible, while closing common areas that would breed congregating. Non-essential travel should be curtailed  and special accommodations made for vulnerable populations.

Schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed should remain closed and visitors to senior living facilities and hospitals prohibited. Large venues like restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship can operate under strict social distancing protocols. Elective surgeries can resume; gyms can reopen if adhering to strict distancing and sanitizing protocols. Bars remain closed.

Phase Two

The second phase would kick in for states and counties with no evidence of rebound, satisfying the gating criteria a second time. Groups should still practice distancing in gatherings of no more than 50 people. Non-essential travel can resume. Schools and organized youth activities can reopen, and bars may reopen with limited standing room occupancy.

Phase Three

Areas with no evidence of rebound that satisfy the gating criteria a third time can move to Phase Three. This allows for vulnerable individuals to resume public interaction with appropriate distancing, and low-risk populations should limit time in crowded situation. Employers may resume unrestricted staffing of worksites. Only at this stage may visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume, with visitors practicing recommended hygiene protocols. Large venues (sit-down dining, movie theaters, sports venues and places or worship) can operate with restricted physical distancing. Bars may increase their standing room occupancy where applicable.

Governors will determine the appropriate timeline to begin this process, on a statewide or county-by-county basis as appropriate.

Read the guidelines at https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/

SBA disaster relief for small businesses: at a glance

By now, you’ve surely heard about the CARES Act and the multitude of programs designed to help small businesses head off economic crisis as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Though new legislation and relief packages have been signed into law, the aid they provide is not instantaneous. Like anything else in life, there is a process. And because this is new ground for many businesses – and lenders (not to mention the government armature that has to be put in place to support all these changes), there can be delays and confusion.

This story is derived mainly from the Small Business Administration resource at www.sba.gov, with some insight from tile contractors and law firms. It’s a simplification of the more detailed information you can find at the website to give you an idea of what these loans are, who they are meant for, how they help, and how to access them.

The URL that will take you to the SBA comprehensive site for all option is https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options. From there, we give you an overview of what is offered.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance

Where can I find it? https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/economic-injury-disaster-loan-emergency-advance

What does it do? Provides up to $10,000 of economic relief for businesses experiencing temporary difficulties

Who’s eligible? Small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories. This includes:

  • small business with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons),
  • private non-profit organization or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by COVID-19.
  • Businesses in certain industries may have more than 500 employees if they meet the SBA’s size standards for those industries. Visit https://www.sba.gov/document/support–table-size-standards for tables and tools to determine business size.
  • A cooperative with not more than 500 employees.
  • An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), as defined in 15 U.S.C. 632, with not more than 500 employees.
  • A tribal small business concern, as described in 15 U.S.C. 657a(b)(2)(C), with not more than 500 employees.
  • A business, including an agricultural cooperative, aquaculture enterprise, nursery, or producer cooperative, that is small under SBA Size Standards found at https://www.sba.gov/size-standards
  • A business with more than 500 employees that is small under SBA Size Standards found at https://www.sba.gov/size-standards
  • A private non-profit organization that is a non-governmental agency or entity that currently has an effective ruling letter from the IRS granting tax exemption under sections 501(c),(d), or (e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, or satisfactory evidence from the State that the non-revenue producing organization or entity is a non-profit one organized or doing business under State law, or a faith-based organization.
  • Be aware that this loan is capped at $1,000 per employee.

Where do I apply? https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/

How long will it take me to fill out an application? 2 hours 10 minutes

How soon can I obtain funds? Claims are 3 days, but it is so new, very little information is available as to how long it actually takes to obtain funds.

How long do I have to apply? September 30, 2020

Is this loan forgivable? This loan advance will not need to be repaid.

Paycheck Protection Program

Where can I find it? https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program-ppp

What does it do? This SBA loan helps businesses keep their workforce employed for eight weeks during the Coronavirus crisis.

Who’s eligible:

  • Any small business with fewer  than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, 501(c)(19) veterans organizations, or Tribal businesses (see sec. 31(b)(2)(C) of the Small Business Act) affected by Coronavirus/COVID-19.
  • Businesses in certain industries may have more than 500 employees if they meet the SBA’s size standards for those industries.
  • Small businesses in the hospitality and food industry with more than one location could also be eligible if their individual locations employ fewer than 500 workers.

Where do I apply?

  • For best results, check with your local lender first. Any SBA 7(a) lender, or any federally-insured depository institution, federally-insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating can service this loan. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program.
  • You can start preparing the application you will submit to your lender by using the application form at https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form–paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form.

How long do I have to apply? Lenders may begin processing loan applications as soon as April 3, 2020. The Paycheck Protection Program will be available through June 30, 2020, but due to finite funds, it’s best to apply as soon as possible. Independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply starting April 10.

How soon can I obtain funds? Anywhere from 10 – 30 days.

Is this loan forgivable? SBA will fully forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. At least 75% of the loan must be used for payroll. Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees.

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.

What is the maturity and interest rate of the loan? This loan has a maturity of 2 years and an interest rate of 1%.

Additional loans you may want to consider include:

 SBA Express Bridge Loan

What does it do? It enables small businesses that currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.

Why might I need it? It can help overcome temporary loss of revenue small businesses are experiencing or it can satisfy the need for urgent cash while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Is it forgivable? It will be repaid in full or in part by proceeds from the EIDL.

SBA Debt Relief

What is it? A financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis

What does it do?

  • The SBA will automatically pay the principal, interest, and fees of current 7(a), 504, and microloans for a period of six months.
  • The SBA will also automatically pay the principal, interest, and fees of new 7(a), 504, and microloans issued prior to September 27, 2020.

Automatic payment deferment

What is it? SBA is providing automatic payment deferments through December 31, 2020 for current SBA Serviced Disaster (Home and Business) Loans if they were in regular servicing status on March 1, 2020.

How do automatic deferments benefit me? Though interest will continue to accrue on the loan, monthly payment notices will reflect the loan is deferred and no payment is due.

What about automatic debit payments on the loan? The deferment will not cancel any established Preauthorized Debit (PAD) or recurring payments on the loan.  Borrowers that have established a PAD through Pay.Gov or an OnLine Bill Pay Service must cancel these recurring payments.  Borrowers that had SBA establish a PAD through Pay.gov must contact their SBA servicing office to cancel the PAD.

What if I want to keep paying on the loan? If you wish to continue making payments during the deferment period, you may and they will be applied normally. Once the automatic deferment period ends, borrowers will need to resume their regular payment schedule, and those who cancelled recurring payments will need to reestablish them.

Where do I go for questions? Please contact your Loan Servicing Office directly using the following information:

Stay tuned for ongoing information about programs that can benefit small businesses and workers as we move through this pandemic together. And visit www.tile-assn.com for regularly updated resources to help businesses and workers affected by COVID-19.

Happy Spring TileLetter readers!

Greetings readers! By now, hopefully spring will have sprung in your town and you are enjoying warm weather, balmy breezes and blooming flowers. No matter how mild your winter, the colors and warmth of spring are always welcome.

Did you attend TISE back in January? If you didn’t (and even if you did), check out our product section that brings you news of some fresh finds on the show floor in Vegas. And NTCA – along with CTEF – was out in force at the show. See what was percolating in booths, in the conference programs and demo sessions. I don’t think there’s a tile contractor in our industry that isn’t grateful for the amazing advances in setting materials that have developed over the years. But sometimes, doing it the “old fashioned way” – namely with mud or mortar beds – is the only way to achieve your desired result. Peruse the mud story in our Technical section, authored by Martin Brookes, with help from some mud experts. And if you want to learn more about mud – or mentor others new to the medium – put Mario Garcia’s Mud4 event on your calendar for February 27, 2021; new California location to be announced. The Mud3 event that just took place at the end of February drew 300 people from 17 states and Canada to demos, classes and the opportunity for installers to meet and network. And 13 people took the Certified Tile Installer program the day before, too! Stay informed at themudevent.com  

The Mud3 Event that took place at the end of February in Fresno, Calif. 

Healthcare is on everyone’s minds these days. Writer Phillip M. Perry gives us a tour through currently available options, with some insights that might help you navigate the labyrinth of healthcare options more easily and find affordable, broad coverage that can help you sleep easier at night.

Are you an NTCA Five-Star Contractor or thinking about becoming one? In this issue, NTCA Five-Star Program Director Amber Fox provides an overview of the program, what’s on the horizon and information about upcoming re-certification. 

Bart Bettiga interviews MAPEI President and CEO Luigi Di Geso in this issue’s One-to-One section. Di Geso talks about the huge influence of Dr. Giorgio Squinzi and the direction the new leadership is taking, an overview of MAPEI markets, what’s coming up in the tile and stone installation products category, and how MAPEI supports qualified labor. 

We lost a few industry greats in recent months. TileLetter pays tribute to Jerry Zakim and Albert Thompson, sharing some remembrances of these two legendary forces in our industry. Let’s take this chance, as we remember these two industry greats, to appreciate each other and what we all bring to this industry and each other’s lives. And maybe tell each other what you appreciate about them, while you can. 

God bless,

[email protected] 

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