Recap of Total Solutions Plus 2012

State of U.S. tile industry
Educational programs
Honor and Recognition
Other events

More than 400 attendees participated in Total Solutions Plus, a collaborative effort between the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). The annual conference is designed to create a forum where the ceramic tile industry can meet to network and learn from each other. The 2012 event was held from October 27 to 30 at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, CA.

The four-day conference program included a day of meetings for various committees within the CTDA and NTCA as well as board meetings for each of the three associations. Additionally, the conference kicked off with a golf tournament and opening reception — allowing attendees some time for fun and to socialize.

The official opening day of the seminar program began with opening keynote speaker Connie Podesta, Expert in Psychology of Human Behavior and Leadership Development, whose talk was entitled: “StandOut Leadership — How to Achieve Success by Influencing Others to be Successful.”

“The number one key to success is your ability to get people on board with your ideas,” explained Podesta. “Sales is not about trying to sell a product, it is the act of influencing. Sales isn’t about you being comfortable; it is about the customer being comfortable.”

Podesta had the crowd chuckling with her explanations and demonstrations of how the four personality types that people fall under can be defined by four shapes: circle, square, triangle and squiggle. She stressed the importance of how different approaches need to be taken when selling to each of these personalities.

Moreover, Podesta talked about the importance of social media in today’s business practices. “Social media is not a hobby anymore,” she said. “It is a credential. If you are going to do business with 38-year-olds and younger, you have to be in social media.

“People who are negative about social media are not that way because they don’t like it, but because they are overwhelmed by it,” Podesta went on to say. “We can’t afford to be old. We have to be current. Stay young by being open and relevant.”

State of the U.S. tile industry

On the second full day of the seminar program, Eric Astrachan, Executive Director of TCNA, addressed the audience about updates within the U.S. tile industry. U.S. tile consumption through the second quarter of 2012 was at 1.09 billion square feet — up 4.8% from the same period in 2011. In terms of value, 2012 consumption through the second quarter hit $1.20 billion — up 5.8% from the same period in 2011. While U.S. tile consumption reached its peak in 2006 at 3.25 billion square feet — during the period of 2000 to 2011 — it has steadily climbed since hitting a low point of a little more than 1.75 billion square feet in 2009. In 2011, U.S. tile consumption was just over 2 billion square feet.  

Astrachan also announced the top three exporting countries of tile to the U.S. through the second quarter in 2012. In terms of square footage, Mexico ranks first at 32.5%, followed by China at 26.8% and then Italy at 17.4%. In terms of sales, Italy ranks first at 35.3%, followed by China at 21.8% and then Mexico at 19.3%.

Additionally, domestic shipments through the second quarter of 2012 reached 364.7 million square feet — up 8.6% versus the same period in 2011 and an increase of 6.8% in terms of value. According to Astrachan, the estimated 2012 U.S. ceramic tile consumption is expected to be 2.20 billion square feet — up 5.8% from 2011, which was reported at 2.08 billion square feet.

On a more technical note, Astrachan outlined the new standard for measuring coefficient of friction and a new mortar standard, which is a revision to A118.4 modified mortar spec. “There is a brand new high-performance mortar standard,” he explained. “The bottom line is that in all aspects, it is a higher bonding mortar.”

Thin tile was another hot topic at Total Solutions Plus 2012. According to Astrachan, tile with a thickness of ¼ inch or less is considered “thin” tile. “We still need to figure out a lot,” he said, adding that among considerations are types, quality specifications and water absorption.

In conclusion, Astrachan reiterated the significance of the Green Squared Certified program that was launched by TCNA in April 2012. “It’s not just for tile,” he said. “It includes setting materials and backer boards. It means that the A&D community can feel more confident about tile products and it makes for easier consumer recommendations.”

Astrachan went on to say that a new Web site,, was launched, and the entire green section of the TCNA Handbook was recently redone.

Educational program

Total Solutions Plus 2012 included an extensive educational program for those looking to increase their knowledge on tile installation techniques as well as other tile-related issues.

Glass tile pool installations

On the first day of the program, “The Art of Glass Tile Pool Installations” was presented by Greg Andrews, a tile contractor in Los Angeles, CA, with almost 40 years in the tile setting business, and David Fatula, currently the Technical Services Manager for both Oceanside Glasstile and Mandala Tile.

The underlying message of the seminar was that not all glass tile is suitable for pool applications, and the installation must be performed properly. “You can have a beautiful installation, but if it isn’t done correctly, it can fail,” explained Fatula. “Do your homework as an installer; you are responsible for it.”

The two presenters went on to discuss what to consider when selecting appropriate glass tile for pool installations, industry references that can provide valuable information and movement joints, among other key components for a successful installation. Additionally, it was emphasized that it is important for installers to educate their clients on maintenance.

Grout residues

Another seminar on day one of the program was a panel discussion, “Grout Residues — Know the Causes, Prevention and Solutions,” which was moderated by Mike Micalizzi, Director, Technical Services, for Custom Building Products. The panel lineup included:

•           Nyle Wadford, President, Neuse Tile Service, Inc., and President of NTCA

•           Jim Neel, Daltile

•           Noah Chitty, Director of Technical Services and Quality Assurance, StonePeak Ceramics

•           Tim Bolby, Director of Technical Services, Crossville, Inc.

•           David DeBear, Custom Building Products

•           Rod Sigman, Business Development Manager, Technical Installation and Care Systems, Custom Building Products.

“Why are we still having grout haze?” Micalizzi asked the audience. “It’s not a new issue. It’s been around forever. Some is due to installation error, and some is because of the tile. All types — matte or polished — can get grout haze. You can do a beautiful tile installation and then get grout haze.”

Wadord explained that grout haze can be defined as the residue left behind after the grouting and what is left behind on the face of the tile. “What we experience are many different types of hazes because there are all different types of grout,” he said.

The panel went on to discuss tile porosity and absorption, and how they affect grout haze, how soon to wash the tile after grouting — depending on the material, variables to consider such as tile types, surfaces textures, temperature and sunlight, and steps to take for prevention.

Large-format thin tile

On the second day of the educational program, one of the breakout sessions was “Large-format Thin Tile Installations,” presented to a large audience by Neil McMurdie, who oversees the development of innovative new technologies and products for Mapei Americas, Noah Chitty, Director of Technical Services and Quality Assurance, StonePeak Ceramics, and Tim Bolby, Director of Technical Services, Crossville, Inc. “We think that the possibilities of large-format thin tile are enormous, but it has to be installed correctly and in the right areas,” said Bart Bettiga, Executive Director of NTCA, who introduced the session.

Chitty explained that there are four main technologies for large-format thin tile and some reasons why they are being made, which included innovation and expansion of the market and that in the manufacturing process one large tile can be produced and cut into smaller pieces rather than changing dies.

“This is absolutely the place to grow our industry, but we have to do it right,” explained McMurdie. “We recommend you go to high-quality mortars and make sure that the substrate is flat.”

At the end of the presentation, Bolby gave a demonstration of working with large-format thin tile.

NTCA Five Star Contractor

One of the last seminars of the program was “Why the Industry Needs NTCA Five Star Contractors,” which was moderated by Jim Olson, Assistant Executive Director of NTCA. Participants included Bettiga as well as Rod Owen of CC Owen Tile Co. in Jonesboro, GA, Kevin Fox of Fox Ceramic Tile, Inc. in St. Marys, KS, and Chris Walker of the David Allen Co. — all NTCA Five Star Contractors.

“When we developed the program, we hoped to develop a pool of contractors that we can count on for projects,” explained Bettiga. “Then we learned there are more benefits than we thought of like networking and sharing ideas.”

Olsen explained that NTCA members have to actually apply to become a Five Star Contractor, and they must document their commitment to quality tile installations with:

•           Recommendations from customers, suppliers and peers

•           Participating in continuing education and training programs

•           Taking part in educational seminars and events

•           An active safety program

•           Active membership with NTCA

•           Certified Tile Installers (CTEF).

“You meet other contractors who have a passion for what they do, and they are willing to share,” said Fox. “It has been a great opportunity for us.”

According to the NTCA, benefits of the Five Star Contractor program include:

•           Certification as “Qualified Labor”

•           Distributor & Manufacturer Referrals

•           Recognition as “An Industry Expert”

•           Manufacturer Rebates

•           Select Product Vouchers.

“Five Star gives you an opportunity to legitimately set yourself apart from others who aren’t as qualified,” said Walker. “The industry is changing tremendously. There are new technologies to the industry, and they represent serious risks if they aren’t installed properly.”

Additionally, Owen cited other benefits. “Through the years, we have been receiving calls from manufacturers who want to form a partnership with a qualified installer,” he said.

Olson also brought up Advanced Certification evaluation and testing that is being established by NTCA, CTEF, TCAA, IUBAC and IMI in an effort to further promote qualified labor initiatives. The program will be unveiled at Surfaces 2013 and launched at Coverings 2013. “We need to grow,” said Olson, in closing. “Architects are specializing in qualified labor, and they need qualified installers.” More information about the NTCA Five Star Contractor program can be found at:

Honor and recognition

Total Solutions Plus 2012 also set the stage for the CTDA and NTCA annual awards program. The 2012 CTDA Hall of Fame Award was given to Thomas J. Kotel — president and owner of Mid-America Tile, a family-owned distributor based in Elk Grove Village, IL. Kotel joined the company in 1976 and became president in 1980.

“Without employees, there is no company,” said Kotel. “We have a great team at Mid-America Tile. My grandfather always said, make your job a hobby and you will never have to work.”

The NTCA Ring of Honor Award was presented to Harold Turk, former president of Daltile, by John Turner, Jr., current president of Daltile. “There is something about this industry,” said Turk. “I just love it.

Other events

The Table Tops exhibition was also a highlight of the conference. It provided attendees with an opportunity to view products and to talk directly with 69 manufacturers, distributors and industry allies. Among the exhibitors at this year’s event were:

A. Bottini Enterprises Inc., Alpha Professional Tools, America Olean, Bostik, Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, Ceramic Tool, Coverings, Custom Building Products, Daltile, Fin Pan, H.B. Fuller, Laticrete, Mapei, Materials & Methods Standards Association, Metropolitan Ceramics, National Gypsum, Noble Co., OMG National, Pan American Ceramics, Pearl Abrasive, Primo Tools, Rubi, Schluter Systems, Sponga USA, Stone Impressions, StonePeak Ceramics, TexRite Texas Ceramic Products, Inc., Tileware Products, Tuscan Leveling System, University of Ceramic Tile & Stone and Wedi.

In closing, Pat Williams, Senior V.P. of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, addressed the crowd in a closing keynote speech.

Additionally, Total Solutions Plus 2012 hosted a “Wine and Dine with the Stars Dinner” for attendees during the final evening. At the cocktail reception, stations were set up for wine tasting — sponsored by TILE Magazine and Louisville Tile. During the dinner, guests could pose with Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonators and have their pictures taken, courtesy of Custom Building Products, Daltile and Fusion Pro.