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Total Solutions Plus: Tile Contractors Association joins NTCA, CTDA, TCNA

Attendance tops 500 for first time

Nov. 4/11 2013; Volume 27/number 14

By Louis Iannaco

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 2.27.24 PMBonita Springs, Fla.—Four years into its existence, Total Solutions Plus (TSP) keeps getting bigger and better. The joint convention of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) and Tile Council of North America (TCNA), held here Oct. 26–29, saw the addition of the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) as a convention host as the event hit the 500 mark in attendance for the first time.

The attendees represented a wide cross section of industry professionals, from manufacturers and distributors to retailers, contractors and installers as they all witnessed a heavy emphasis on education and networking. A large part of this included promotion of the recently enacted Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers program, otherwise known as ACT.

Created through the combined efforts of the aforementioned associations, as well as the International Masonry Institute (IMI), ACT addresses and offers certifications in four technically challenging installation areas: large-format tile installation and substrate preparation, mudwork, shower pans and membranes. While not a training program per se, ACT evaluates the skills of tile installers. Two ACT Certification demonstrations included “Membranes and Large Format Tile” and “Mudwork and Showers.”

“Our presentation this morning had 140 seats and it was standing room only,” said Scott Carothers, director of certification and training for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). “It’s widely accepted because people realize we have to create a better installer. We have to boost them to the next level so [contractors] will use certified installers, thus eliminating the black eyes the industry gets from those who are not qualified.”

Keith Tavshanjian of KT Marble & Tile in Oceanside, Calif., who took part in ACT’s Tile Certification demonstrations, believes TSP promotes uniformity among tile installers.Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 2.29.54 PM “Everyone following the same criteria makes for a better industry.”

The event’s other breakout sessions featured timely topics, including “Planning for Healthcare Reform and the Affordable Care Act,” the “Distributor’s Forum,” “Barrier Free Design/Techniques,” “Search Engine Optimization,” “Social Media” and the “Specification Smack Down Panel” in which six industry professionals took part.

NTCA president Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., said the convention was “fantastic,” citing the strong lineup of keynote speakers and the tabletop exhibit. “If there’s anything I’d like the attendees to take home with them from TSP 2013 it’s that the tile industry is unified.”

One of the ways that unity was on display was the addition of the TCAA, which caters to union tile contractors, as a host for the event. TCAA president Jennifer Panning, who is also president and founder of Artisan Tile in Brighton, Mich., said when she attended last year and saw the quality of the programming, associations and companies that attended, she felt it would be good for her association to come on board. “It’s a very well-run and organized event, and there’s a lot of information packed into a short amount of time. And you can connect with the people. Everyone is here. It serves our industry in trying to promote good practices and tile installation.”

Welch agreed, noting that the addition of TCAA at this time was “critical in the plan to provide value to the entire industry.” And Bart Bettiga, executive director of the NTCA, added, “We feel we are now a true industry coming together in this conference.”

Rick Church, CTDA’s executive director, agreed with Bettiga, saying that having one major U.S. tile industry conference benefits everyone in the industry. “We’re hopeful [the organization] saw great value and will continue to participate in future years.”

Convention highlights included a pair of awards luncheons, a tabletop exhibit featuring 75 vendors and a trio of keynotes. One of them, “The Fat, Skinny, Tall, Short & Tattooed: Tiles Go Wild,” presented by TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan, educated the crowd on the latest in thin tile, including the development of ANSI standards. “For two days before the conference, our committees continued to work toward developing standards for thin tile,” Bettiga said. “Eric then modified his presentation to bring the entire conference up to speed.”

In addition, a joint auction was held by Laticrete, CTDA, NTCA, TCAA and TCNA for 12 mosaic works of art, the proceeds of which will be donated to the CTEF and TCAA scholarship funds.

Attendees weigh in

Bettiga believed TSP 2013 was “the most dynamic” since TSP was created. “The venue was perfect for the size of our group, and the synergy between manufacturers, distributors and contractors was evident throughout the conference.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 2.29.40 PMChris Abbate of Ceramics of Italy, one of the event’s sponsors, said the people attending the convention “enjoyed connecting with members of the other associations. There was a lot of cross-pollination going on. It’s a chance for us all to come together and talk about important issues to our industry, such as distribution and new thin tile technology.”

Joshua Levinson, president, wholesale of Artistic Tile, Secaucus, N.J., said TSP offered “a casual environment for networking, to meet old and new faces. It’s different than the usual trade show environment where you’re trying to see a thousand booths, rushing through the show without time to stop and do the networking you can accomplish here.”

Greg Michael of Michael’s Custom Tile in Jacksonville, Fla., who was attending his third TSP event, told FCNews TSP is the best conference because of the networking. “I’m in non-union labor. To see [networking] and union labor together, that’s amazing. I never thought that would’ve happened.”

Lucinda Noel, president of Commercial Tile & Stone in Strongsville, Ohio, and a TCAA member, agreed. “With the union and non-union associations coming together for this event, we are working together for the common good of the industry.”

Aside from the networking opportunities, attendees came away with increased knowledge. Industry consultant Donato Grosser said all the new innovations in ceramic tile, such as the “advancement of porcelain, which is very compact, has led to the development of new installation materials. The normal cement doesn’t hold as well anymore. So for a good contractor who wants to keep ahead of the market and learn about the new types of installation and products, this is a great place to be.”

Anthony Jung, president of Jung Tile Services in Victoria, Texas, and an NTCA board member, came to learn about new technology and the ACT program. “This is about the industry, not individuals. It’s about doing it right and training installers correctly. We’re going up against the same problems—not having enough qualified installers out there or not having enough people coming into the industry. It’s important we come together as a group and address that.”

Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, a tile contractor and NTCA member based in St. Paul, Minn., said among the networking opportunities and seminars, she comes to learn about new products. “As a member of the NTCA technical committee, I want to stay involved with the technical aspect of the business because it is so critical to our industry. And we now have TCAA on board, which is fantastic. It’s all about qualified labor.”

The manufacturers also seemed to come away pleased. For example, Jeff Aichele, director of national sales for Marazzi USA, highlighted the reception of the company’s rectangular wood-look planks during the tabletop exhibit. “TSP has been very well attended by our distributor and contractor base, as well as by manufacturers. Our goal of launching cutting-edge products with appealing designs to the market has been achieved.”

Ultimately, Bettiga would like TSP attendees to come away with the idea that “our industry is poised for great success over the next several years, and TSP is a great fall event where you can focus on your business for the ensuing year. This momentum will continue to build and we’re already coming up with ideas to make TSP even bigger when we go to San Antonio next year.”