In late October, a large contingency from the tile industry met at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs, FL, to take part in Total Solutions Plus 2013. Held annually, the conference is a collaborative effort between the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), and for the first time, the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA). The event is designed to bring industry professionals together for education as well as networking opportunities.

It has been reported that a little more than 500 attendees turned out for Total Solutions Plus 2013 — a significant increase of 100 more people than last year. “There was a 25% growth in one year,” said Jim Olson, Assistant Executive Director of NTCA. “There is a lot of industry strength.”

On the opening evening, attendees were welcomed at a cocktail reception sponsored by Coverings, the annual international tile and stone exhibition that is scheduled this year at the Las Vegas Convention Center from April 29 to May 2. The reception, which was elegantly set up at the resort’s pool area with running fountains creating a serene backdrop, provided an opportunity for guests to mingle and relax.

The next morning, Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director, greeted a full room — officially marking the start of Total Solutions 2013. “Each year it gets better, and the quality of people is incredible,” he said. “We reached more than 500 people for the first time ever. Also, it’s the first time that TCAA joined us — now we are truly an industry.”

The Opening Keynote address was given by Jon Petz, author of Boring Meetings Suck. Petz, an engagement expert who was named one of the top 40 business professionals under the age of 40 by Business Journals newspaper, entertained the crowd with his presentation, “It’s Showtime . . . and Life Isn’t a Dress Rehearsal.”

On the second morning of the conference, Eric Astrachan, Executive Director of TCNA, addressed the audience with his Keynote: “Fat, Skinny, Tall, Short and Tattooed: Tiles Go Wild.” He started off by discussing the hot topic in the industry — thin tile.

“Thin is in,” said Astrachan, adding that thin tile typically refers to 3- to 6-mm thickness. “How is thin tile different? It has reduced thickness, increased edge sensitivity and flexibility is a new consideration.”

Astrachan explained that ANSI A137.3 for thin porcelain tile is currently under construction. “Even giving it a name can be a challenge,” he said. Astrachan cited the following as areas that will be included in the standard:

  • Thickness
  • Water absorption
  • Breaking strength considerations
  • Three-point bending
  • Installed performance
  • Impact resistance
  • Evaluation of edge length
  • Bond strength
  • Freeze/thaw testing

Astrachan stressed the importance of evaluation of edge length, explaining that there needs to be a new method because the current one only goes up to 5 x 5 feet.

Additionally, he spoke about “cool” new installations such as barrier-free systems, raised flooring systems, waterproof deck membranes, mortar for large-format tiles and thick tile — up to 30 mm. “The advantages of thick tile are higher breaking strength, and it can be used for raised floors.”

The topic of “Barrier Free Design/Techniques” was discussed in a breakout session by Arthur Mintie, Director of Technical Services for Laticrete International. “By 2013, Americans 65 or older will increase to 70 million — up from 42 million — 13% of the general population,” said Mintie. “Every year, 235,000 accidents in the bathroom happen with people 15 years or older.”

Those in attendance learned what barrier-free installations are, along with the benefits, design considerations that need to be taken, how to define the space and installation techniques.

Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers

Among other break-out sessions at Total Solutions Plus 2013 were ACT Certification Demo: Membranes and Large Format Tile and ACT Certification Demo: Mudwork and Showers — both given by NTCA and TCAA. Scott Carothers, Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), led the discussions. He explained that partners in the development initiative are CTEF; TCAA, representing signatory tile contractors from International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC); IUBAC; International Masonry Institute, which provides professional and technical training for union masonry contractors; and NTCA, with membership open to all tile contracting companies.

“We have been working for the last 364 days,” he said to a standing-room only crowd. “We had the idea to bring certification to the next level — to provide a pool of qualified installers that can do the job correctly the first time. The plan was to give a preview at Surfaces and have the first test at Coverings.

“We had a task in front of us,” Carothers went on to say. “Some may say we were too aggressive.”

Carothers explained that committees were set up, and leading manufacturers of setting materials lent their support. ACT addresses four technically challenging installation areas of current importance: Large Format Tile Installation and Substrate Preparation, Mudwork, Shower Pans and Membranes. A specific certification demonstrates the installer’s skill and knowledge in each of these four segments.

“We had to have a test,” said Carothers. “We needed evaluators, a study guide, a hands-on test and a written test. We also had to have a trial run.”

Manufacturers that contributed to the development of modules and tests for each of the areas of installation included:

  • Mapei — Large Format Tile Installation and Substrate Preparation
  • Custom Building Products — Mudwork
  • The Noble Co. and Tec Specialty Products — Shower Pans
  • Laticrete and The Noble Co. — Membranes

At Coverings 2013, which was held in Atlanta, GA, in April, four union and four non-union installers took the test on the show floor. “We realized that we had to split the mud floor and mud wall, so there are five certifications,” explained Carothers. “We finished the first leg of the race in six months. We made it.”

The eight installers recently completed the on-line written test that comprises 25% of the certification score, and they are now the first class of ACT graduates.

Awards presentations

During a luncheon the first day, several awards were given out to recognize some of the most dedicated members of the industry. The NTCA Ring of Honor Award and Tile Person of the Year went to Scott Carothers of CTEF.

“I’ve always had a passion for this industry and love it dearly,” he said to a full room, including his wife and daughters who flew in to surprise him. “We are moving forward because the industry is behind us.”

The CTDA presented its 2013 CTDA Hall of Fame Award to Dave Milanowycz, Director of Sales for the Independent Channel at Florida Tile. Additionally, Bill Griese, TCNA Standards Development & Green Initiative Manager, was honored by ASTM International with the International President’s Leadership Award.

During the conference, several companies held their own gatherings to make company announcements or celebrate a milestone. NAC Products surprised owner Tom Duve during an exclusive breakfast with a 30-year achievement award. “One thing we have focused on is quality,” said Duve. “I never thought that we’d be where we are today.”

In addition to the awards programs and seminars, a tabletop exhibition was held on the first day. Manufacturers of tile products and setting materials had the opportunity to show their latest product developments to a crowd of tile contractors and distributors.

Total Solutions 2013 wrapped up with a Closing Keynote by Mark Scharenbroich, who presented “Nice Bike.” Scharenbroich shared core messages on how to build strong connections in the workplace that result in improved performance across the board. That evening, attendees enjoyed a beach-themed cocktail reception — complete with hermit crab races and frozen drink bars sponsored by TILE Magazine and Louisville Tile — followed by a seated dinner.