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Tile conference just keeps on growing

November 10/17, 2014; Volume 28/Number 11

Breaks attendance record with 550 visitors

By Louis Iannaco

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.47.38 PMSan Antonio—Total Solutions Plus (TSP), now five years old, continues to get bigger and better. More than 550 attendees—a new record for the conference—came to take part in the many networking opportunities, educational sessions and keynote speakers the event had to offer.

And, for the second consecutive year, four industry associations—the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA)—jointly hosted the second largest ceramic tile and stone-related event (next to Coverings) in the country, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

“I believe this Total Solutions Plus was the best show we’ve ever had for many reasons,” said a beaming Bart Bettiga, executive director of NTCA, on the event’s final day. “First, the attendance gets incrementally better each year. And while those numbers are always important, what’s even more striking is we appear to have more contractors and distributors here, so the mix is better as well.”

The relationships between attendees and enlightening education helped the positive number and overall upbeat mood, according to Bettiga. “Obviously attendance is going to grow as the content gets better, and when the synergies between the distributors, contractors and manufacturers continue to be felt. This year, our task force put a lot of thought into the seminars as we focused on business management.

Not that the technical components aren’t important, but we really put a lot of effort into the business management side. Our seminars were very well attended, more so than in the past, which means the manufacturers were on hand as well.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.47.55 PMThis year’s theme at TSP was “Partners in Progress,” and the conference’s attendees represented a wide cross section of industry professionals, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, contractors and installers, with the focus on education and networking. Keynote speakers included TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan, who presented an overview of the tile industry, as well as motivational speaker Scott McKain and entertainer Frank Miles.

Scott Carothers, director of certification and training at the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), echoed Bettiga’s sentiments. “Total Solutions Plus 2014 has been the best one I have ever seen, and I’ve been coming since they began, before it even became TSP. The volume of people and the number of contractors here is higher than I’ve ever seen it. I can’t say enough about the people who put the program together so we can move this industry forward. There are people here with a hunger for knowledge. All the seminars I’ve attended have been filled, which is a true testimony that people are here to learn.”

A major highlight of the conference was its tabletop exhibit and reception, which took place on the second day. With more than 85 exhibitors on hand to show off their wares, including some of the biggest names in the tile segment such as Dal-Tile, Florida Tile, Mapei, Laticrete and Crossville, the event’s ballroom was bustling with activity.

“Everyone came out and supported the tabletop exhibit,” Bettiga said. “Our attendance stayed throughout the duration of the event. At some trade shows and conferences you start losing people. This year everyone was having such a good time and participating. We have a lot to build on as we learned a few things we can improve upon, but overall this is our best event yet.

Sean Cilona, director of marketing for Florida Tile, said bringing all the associations together is key. “From a manufacturer’s standpoint, we get just as much out of it having our main distributors here in a small, closed quarters meeting, as the contractors get in education.”

At Marazzi USA, where the booth was always busy, Hector Narvaez, executive vice president of sales and marketing, cited the tabletop showcase as an event high note. “Of the last three or fours years, I’d say this is TSP’s best attended show. It looks like an upbeat, up-tempo crowd as well.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.48.02 PMTSP’s breakout sessions featured topics including “Best Practices of Successful Tile Contractors,” “Managing a Project for Profit” and “Specification Smackdown,” a panel discussion featuring architects. All of the meetings were just about standing room only.

Jennifer Panning, TCAA past president and president/founder of Artisan Tile in Brighton, Mich., was impressed with the event’s lineup. “There have been some great networking opportunities; product knowledge from the manufacturers and the course content from the breakout sessions have been great. It’s really worthwhile. You always leave here with more than you came with.”

Progress in the show’s content was evident, according to Anthony Jung, president of Jung Tile Services in Victoria, Texas, and an NTCA board member. “In the past, some of the training wasn’t as much as I’d like it to be, but this year all the training sessions have been extremely informative. The tabletop show has been amazing.”

A trending topic throughout the course of TSP was the industry’s need for qualified labor. “That’s the leading issue that we experience as contractors,” Panning said, “as well as relating the importance of that back to architects and general contractors, and making sure they understand the value of it.”

Lucinda Noel, president of Commercial Tile & Stone in Strongsville, Ohio, and TCAA member, said she likes the idea of “more and more collaboration between everyone—the unions, labor management, union and non-union—as we all have the same goals. We’ve got a long way to go in educating everyone about things like getting architects to understand that they have to have a say so in the discussion about qualified labor.”

Noel stressed the importance of contractors becoming more educated about their craft moving forward.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 12.48.11 PMNoel’s wish for the future from TSP would be the inclusion of more architects and designers. “Now that we’ve collaborated as union (TCAA) and non-union (NTCA) contractors, if there was a way to get architects and designers more involved, and to collaborate with them as well, that would be great.”

Also offering positive response was Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, a tile contractor and NTCA member based in St. Paul, Minn. “This show gives the manufacturers an opportunity to give us contractors a little tease on what’s coming. Noble Co. brought out a new product and so did Laticrete, which they are going to be showing at Coverings. It just gives this group of people a sneak preview of what’s coming.”

Like Noel, Hohn noted the importance of gathering several industry associations at one event. “I’m with NTCA, and I’m thrilled TCAA finally came on board and that they are working with us in the industry for certifications for qualified labor. Yes, they have their own programs and so does NTCA, but there is the Advanced Certifications for Tile (ACT) installer certification program and CTEF’s certified tile installers (CTI) certification, which are for both organizations. It’s great for the industry to be starting to act as one.”