Achieving and maintaining a successful tile-related business, be it manufacturers, distributors, retailers or installers, was the underlying message during the recently held Total Solutions Plus event in Chandler, AZ. With the combined force, know-how and generations of experience, the event proved to be a provider of knowledge to the more than 450 attendees.

Sylvie Atanasio of Alyse Edwards speaks to Total Solution Plus attendees about her products and designs.


Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Co.’s James Woelfel accepts the award as the National Tile Contractors Association’s (NTCA) 2011 Tile Person of the Year.

Achieving and maintaining a successful tile-related business, be it manufacturers, distributors, retailers or installers, was the underlying message during the recently held Total Solutions Plus event in Chandler, AZ, which took place from November 7 to 11, 2011. With the combined force, know-how and generations of experience, the event proved to be a provider of knowledge to the more than 450 attendees.

Prior to introducing the keynote speaker, Tile Council of North America’s (TCNA) Executive Director, Eric Astrachan, took a moment to introduce the Green Squared Certified Program, the “world’s first consensus-based program” that includes the material that goes into a tile installation, recycled content, LEED and more.” What this means, continued Astrachan, is “we can supply products to the General Services Administration (GSA) and International Green Construction Code (IGCC).” The announcement of the first group of certified products will be made during Coverings 2012 -- slated for April 17 to 20 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL.

“I see two major problems facing the tile industry,” said keynoter Dr. Jay Lehr. “First, there’s the homeowner with a short-term attitude and low-cost view point.” The second problem is “you need a slogan. The egg industry came up with ‘The Incredible Edible Egg.’ People still remember it!”

In terms of the consumer, Lehr, who is an economist, scientist and entrepreneur, urged the audience to help educate their customers, whether they’re homeowners or commercial property owners, to tile’s low-maintenance and scratch-resistant properties, as well as the lifecycle costs associated with tile -- “it beats out all other options a number of years after installation,” he said.

He further went on to say that the tile industry needs to get down to business by:
  • Battling for square footage of America’s floors. Spain and Brazil cover 36% of their floors with tile, China covers 24% and 11% of Canadian floors are covered with tile.
  • Radiant heat is the wave of the future, but not under carpet. Get with heating contractors and promote its use.
  • Take advantage of America’s “chemophobia” by educating everyone you speak with about the hygienic and sanitary values of tile, as well as its extended life cycle. Give examples of mosaic tiled floors that are still being uncovered today from the Ottoman or Roman Empires.
  • Reflective glass and metal tile should be widely promoted in a less robust economy where small improvements can bring great joy.
  • Don’t commoditize tile, that’s what the Big Box retailers try to do. Instead, explain why quality, beauty, art and longevity can only come from certified professional installers -- not a cheap one.
  • Distributors need to be more active in their showrooms. Give people a reason to stay in your showroom by hiring only experts to communicate with customers. Do not leave customer interaction to an underpaid hourly sales person.
  • Get on social media networks with videos and images of beautifully installed tile and tile products. “You’re selling yourself short if you’re not already doing this,” said Lehr.


"Although ceramic tile shipments by U.S. manufacturers, as well as imports, have remained flat, the good news is that U.S. manufacturers have benefitted enormously from the weak dollar," noted Grosser.

Following Lehr was the much anticipated presentation “The Effects of the Economy on Ceramic Tile Distribution” by Donato Grosser of D. Grosser & Associates, Ltd. “The recession has been deeper than what the government originally suggested,” said Grosser. “Easy money has always led to problems. After the ‘dot com’ bubble, people continued to spend and borrow money” at the same rate as before, only now, “the civilian unemployment rate is 9.1%, and housing starts have remained flat for three years.”

In terms of ceramic tile consumption, Grosser said amounts have remained flat since 2010. Although ceramic tile shipments by U.S. manufacturers, as well as imports, have remained flat, the good news is that U.S. manufacturers have benefitted enormously from the weak dollar. As a result, the market share of U.S. tile manufacturers in 2010 increased to 30%, from 17.6% in 2006.

Also noteworthy is that “housing starts jumped 17.1% in September from the prior month to a 658,000 annual rate, the most since April 2010, and multifamily housing starts jumped to 51.3% in September to an annual rate of 233,000 -- the highest rate since October 2008,” Grosser added.

Despite cyclical downturn in the economy, the key to success is survival. “Survival is the most important word to all businesses. Lower your expenses, talk to people in your area and see what you can do to help other business,” Grosser stressed. He concluded with several noteworthy observations:
  • If you can keep flat and survive for the next couple of years, you’ll be ok.
  • The crisis in Italy doesn’t affect tile pricing on tile coming from Italy.
  • Italian tile manufacturers in the U.S. (there are six of them) are making a healthy profit.
  • Consumers should be advised to purchase an additional 10% of the product they choose because years later, the pattern/design may not be available.
  • Online sales are a fraction of all ceramic tile sales (2 or maybe 3%).


LATICRETE’s Ed Metcalf, with awardees from previous years behind him, accepts the 2011 Ceramic Tile Distributors Association’s (CTDA) Hall of Fame Award.

Preceding the announcement of two significant industry awards, Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Executive Director Scott Carothers took the stage to update attendees on the progress of the Ceramic Tile Installer (CTI) program. In addition to certifying a projected 705 installers located in 27 states, including Hawaii, Carothers announced the association now had an additional seven evaluators, including one who is bilingual; and all test materials are now available in Spanish. Although that is good news, Carothers stressed that not everyone who applies for certification passes. “Low registration numbers have caused the cancellation of 22 classes, and when they do register, many do not show up. These are the two largest problems I see,” he said. To increase the certification rates, and thereby stressing the message of “do it right the first time or Caveat Emptor,” Carothers suggests manufacturers, distributors and dealers work hard on encouraging certification, help educate clients and consumers, and to move away from price wars by raising the bar on quality, to name a few.

The much-anticipated awards luncheon saw two industry leaders being recognized for their achievements. LATICRETE’s Ed Metcalf accepted the 2011 Ceramic Tile Distributors Association’s (CTDA) Hall of Fame Award, while Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Co.’s James Woelfel accepted the National Tile Contractors Association’s (NTCA) 2011 Tile Person of the Year award. Both received standing ovations for their newly received honors.

With the sustainable building industry gaining momentum and recognition, Total Solutions Plus attendees were kept abreast of new developments with “Understanding Tile’s Role in the North American Green Building Industry,” led by Bill Griese, LEED AP BD+C, who announced that earlier in the week, ANSI A138.1/Green Squared (the American National Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles and Tile Installation Materials) had been approved by the ANSI A108 committee. What this means is the tile industry now has a multi-leveled sustainable tile product standard, which includes products such as ceramic and glass tiles, powder goods, liquid/paste goods, panel goods and sheet goods. For a comprehensive look at the newly approved standard, see page 36 in this issue.

Further addressing standards were Gerald Sloan and Michael Whistler with their presentation on “Large-Format Installations and Demonstrations.” The A137.1 Standard clarifies what “rectified” tile means and establishes the minimum standards. “It puts us on a level playing field with the designer and architect,” said Sloan. “Forty to 60% of distributor sales is in large-format tile,” added Whistler, “so it’s important to know that anything larger than 15 inches on one side is considered a large-format tile. Why? Because of substrate requirements.”

“Do not compromise yourself in cases where there is flatness or a lippage problem, and the installation is not within specification,” stressed Sloan. “The TCNA handbook and ANSI standards are your guide and documentation for architects and designers.”

Sloan and Whistler concluded their session with these points:
  • Under no circumstances should you have a joint less than 1/16 inch. This applies to stone or tile.
  • Thin-sets shrink. You will lose bond if it is spread too thickly.
  • Medium-bed mortars are designed to accommodate large-format/heavy tile.
  • Anticipate and accommodate for movement, especially with perimeter movement joints.
  • All stone installations require back-buttering. No exceptions.


Patti Fasan, sponsored by Tile of Spain, spoke on the “Strategies to Improve Market Share Over Competitive Alternates” in flooring options.

Another important lesson attendees took away from Total Solutions Plus was given by Patti Fasan of P.A.T.T.I, who presented “Strategies to Improve Market Share Over Competitive Alternates.”

“Now is the opportunity, collectively, for the relevance and importance in our industry. We’re here to convince ourselves why we’re here doing what we’re doing,” Fasan said. “Convince yourself we’re working with the right product -- a product that doesn’t need to be green washed unlike carpet or wood. Know the trends, do the research and read the trade publications.”

With that, Fasan pointed out several growth opportunities for ceramic tile use, including:
  • Hospitality: “The market is growing here. It doesn’t have to be deodorized, it’s hygienic, and most importantly, because of tile’s lifecycle, it’s cost-effective.”
  • Aging in place: “There is a huge focus on wellness centers and assisted living facilities. Ceramic tile is the best product to be specified for these areas. Competitive projects have nothing on ceramic tile.”
  • Soundproofing: Educate architects and designers on the sound-proofing capabilities of ceramic tile in areas such as music or theater rooms.
  • Think beyond the floor and wall: There are new uses for thin, laminate porcelain tile every day, including furniture, countertops, doors (which would be both hygienic and fireproof), bookcases, and more.
As for competing with carpet, Fasan concluded with, “Carpet was never engineered with a future use in mind. Wrestling them into new forms requires a lot of energy and generates as much waste as producing new carpet. The sustainability claims are a little bit green, but mostly nuts, like pistachios.”

Total Solutions Plus is a collaborative effort put forth by the CTDA, NTCA and TCNA. The information presented during the various conferences has only been summarized within this article. Look for additional information and details from the conference in future issues of TILE Magazine.