In 2014, Total Solutions Plus (TSP), an industry-wide educational and networking event targeted towards distributors, contractors and manufacturers, attracted its largest crowd to date, with almost 600 attendees. This past fall, for its sixth edition, the conference was held at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa in Savannah, GA, from October 24 to 27, 2015 where it showed a steady turnout, attracting approximately the same amount of visitors.

The conference was organized collaboratively by the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA). All four organizations have worked hard over the last five years to bring together professionals with the ceramic tile industry together to network and learn from each other each year, which is the overall objective of TSP.

The first day of TSP is always dedicated to the organizers and their board and committee meetings. The second day, which is technically the official first day for other attendees, is when the interactive events begin. This year, there were several events to participate in, including Daltile’s 6th Annual Total Solutions Plus Golf Tournament, which was held at the Club at Savannah Harbor and attended by more than 115 people, as well as various city tours of Savannah to discover the history and beauty the renowned historic location has to offer, which were sponsored by Mapei.

On the opening night, guests were officially welcomed with a cocktail reception and hors d’oeuvres sponsored by Coverings, the annual international tile and stone exhibition, which is scheduled to take place from April 18 to 21, 2016, at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL.

The following morning, Ron Schwartz, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the TCAA, gave some opening remarks to kick-off the event. “This has been an excellent recovery year from a business standpoint,” he said. “The economy, over the last several years, has caused a lot of us to adjust the way we do things in order to succeed. This year, the economy has rebounded and most of our businesses have benefitted from that. We are confident that your business will continue to thrive in these good times because you are here and making the commitment to learn and improve the way to do things.”

The Opening Keynote, also sponsored by Coverings, was given by Eric Chester, an award-winning author and professional speaker on employee engagement, workplace culture and the emerging generation. Chester, an International Speakers Hall of Fame member who founded The Center for Work Ethic Development, discussed his newest book, “On Fire at Work,” which details how to attract and develop a workforce that’s going to make your business more successful. During his stimulating presentation, Chester detailed the main differences between Generation X and Generation Y, explaining how different the generations’ mindsets are, how it affects overall work ethic and what you can do to ensure you obtain and retain the most motivated workers. The first day of the conference also featured a table top exhibition and reception, sponsored by Bostik, where close to 90 companies showcased a range of new products and information.

On the second day of the conference, six-time Emmy award-winning comedian and writer, Ross Shafer, who has become a renowned motivational and leadership speaker/consultant, began the morning with his opening Keynote, “Accountability Builds Absolutely Necessary Teams,” in which he studied 18 different reputable companies and how they came to be so successful. Shafer discussed various aspects that contribute to creating a successful business, including who the main consumers and influencers are and how to target those people to further the success of your business. He also touched on how to personally adapt to the business world to better serve your customers.

Shortly after Shafer’s presentation, the final lunch and Keynote was held, which was hosted by Ceramics of Italy. Donato Grosser, Executive Board Member of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), gave opening remarks along with a brief presentation about ceramics in the Italian marketplace; he also briefly explained this year’s edition of Cersaie, the International Exhibition of Ceramic Tile and Bathroom Furnishings, which is held annually in Bologna, Italy. The following Keynote was given by Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist, who described the demographical side of things and how it affects the tile industry. “The U.S. is the least involved economy in the trade system,” he noted.


What’s really happening in the industry?

Along with its various networking events, TSP is also known for its educational seminars. One of the most well-attended sessions was “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” which was presented by James Woelfel, President of the NTCA and Chairman of the NTCA Technical Committee. In his presentation, Woelfel detailed a handful of projects in which tile was installed incorrectly and the subsequent consequences once the job was completed and revealed to the clients.

His overall message was that, although it may be costly and take some extra time, it’s crucial to be certified and know what you’re doing to avoid any potential problems when completing an installation. “Know your books,” explained Woelfel. “You have the TCNA Handbook, the NTCA Reference Manual and so much more.”

“For us, we know what’s in the standards, and there’s so much information there [in the Handbook and Manual], that it makes it more simplistic,” added Martin Brookes, Regional Director for the NTCA. “It’s easier to read for the everyday person than what the standards are.”

During his presentation, Woelfel also mentioned how he was working with Bill Griese, Director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives at TCNA, to try and organize a presentation for the upcoming edition of Coverings or the next edition of TSP on “Understanding how to Measure Lippage” because he’s observed that’s the biggest complaint contractors and installers get from their customers.

Another break-out session that drew in a large crowd and sparked a slew of questions was “Innovations in Grout,” which was presented by the Materials and Methods Standard Association (MMSA). Dale Kempster, President of MMSA and Technical Director at Schluter Systems; Art Mintie, Director of Technical Services at Laticrete International, Inc.; Jim Whitfield, Vice President of MMSA and Manager of Technical Services at Mapei Americas; and Steve Taylor, Vice President of MMSA and Director of Architecture and Technical Marketing at Custom Building Products, all participated in the presentation.

“The mandate of MMSA is to create standards,” said Kempster. “We make most of the ANSI standards that you see on mortars, grouts, backerboards, waterproof membranes, crack isolation and waterproofing. We are still working on other standards. We currently have one that we’ve been working on for quite a while involving mortars; we’re also working on a coupling mortar standard and a pre-mixed grout standard.”

During the presentation, the panelists collaboratively explained a brief history of grouts, the timeline of how grouts were established and how they’ve evolved over the years, the history of cement grout, epoxy grouts, industry standards that govern the various grout families and how they’ve evolved, how tile technology and advancements in technology necessitated advancements in grouting technology, limitations of certain grouts, and troubleshooting problems involving grout issues.

“We know that we can’t use a certain type of grout in every situation,” explained Mintie. “Your grout manufacturers should be able to tell you what type of grout you should use for a specific application. You want to keep in mind that not all grouts are suitable for everywhere. So even with cement grouts, the best ones, there are limitations.”


Awards and events

Alike each year, the first day of the conference featured the Annual Industry Awards Luncheon, which was sponsored by Turkishceramics. During the luncheon, the NTCA, CTEF, TCAA and CTDA each presented awards to certain individuals that have made considerable contributions in the industry.

The NTCA presented its 2016 Ring of Honor Award, which is given to individuals who have impacted the industry through active participation, devotion and support of the NTCA programs and initiatives, to John Cox, founder and president of Cox Tile, Inc. in San Antonio, TX. Since 2000, Cox has been an integral part of the NTCA, serving as membership chairman, NTCA president and one of the first NTCA Five Star Contractors. “John takes his role in the NTCA quite seriously,” explained Woelfel, who presented the award to Cox. “Whether writing informative and educational columns for the Association’s publication, TileLetter, or personally promoting the Association and its mission at industry events, John Cox is always there to lend a helping hand.”

Cox, who has also received other reputable industry awards such as NTCA’s 2009 Tile Person of the Year, has over 35 years of experience and is well known for bringing his knowledge to the marketplace through educational sessions at his shop. “The NTCA is the premier association for ceramic tile and natural stone installation contractors,” he said. “Joining this organization was one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. I believe wholeheartedly in the Association’s mission to develop and maintain installation standards, and to promote qualified labor. I am proud to be a member and am truly grateful to be this year’s Ring of Honor recipient joining such a distinguished group of individuals.”

Among the many other awards presented was CTEF’s “CTI Host of the Year” award, which was given to Phil Woodruff, Territory Manager at Schluter Systems. The award was presented for Woodruff’s efforts in developing a partnership in which CTI (Certified Tile Installer) tests are conducted at select Innovation Workshops hosted by Schluter Systems. The CTI program is a comprehensive testing of the skills and knowledge of experienced tile installers; certification enables professional installers to provide industry-recognized proof of their abilities.

“This program is all about elevating the tile industry by formally validating the skills of qualified installers,” said Woodruff. “Anything we can do to support education and better quality workmanship for tile installations is worthwhile.”

“Industry partnerships are extremely important to us at CTEF, so having an education partner like Schluter makes our program stronger and ultimately brings more benefit to the installers,” added Scott Carothers, Director of Certification and Training at CTEF.

Later that night, TSP 2015 concluded with a themed dinner, as it always does during the final night. This year’s theme was “Casino Night,” where attendees were encouraged to show up in their best cocktail attire for a night of gambling, dancing and fun. While some people truly embraced the concept, arriving in tuxedos and dapper two-piece suits, others also had fun with the idea and dressed up in fancy ball gowns, ornate dresses and extravagant outfits.

TSP 2016 will be held at the Hyatt Indian Wells Resort and Spa in Indian Wells, CA, from October 22 to 25, 2016.