Leadership Letter: You’re invited! The 2005 Management Conference is November 10-13!
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

Traditionally, the CTDA Management Conference has always been a great time and place to get inspired, motivated, and informed at educational seminars planned to update us on our industry and the ever-changing world of business. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to network with industry peers and see how they do things at their own businesses.

The 2005 Management Conference is scheduled for November 10-13 at Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, California. I hope you’re planning to attend.

Personally, I have always found the Management Conference to be one of the best benefits of CTDA membership. I always learn something to take back to my business. This will be especially true in 2005.

The conference kicks off on November 10th with futurist Jim Carroll on “Coping with Ketchup: How to Adapt to a World of Constant Change.”

The 2005 schedule also includes a two-part session on mold. Could this be the new asbestos? Part I will consider what mold is and is not, the latest technology available to prevent growth, and what you can do during installation to stop it before it becomes an expensive problem. Part II will discuss the ramifications of mold for homeowners, contractors, distributors, and the courts. Get an update on the most recent insurance issues and what you can do to avoid potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more, in mold claims.

I especially enjoy the Distributor Forum, networking, sharing ideas and experiences with fellow distributors is always a good time and beneficial for all of us attending. Distributors gather to discuss subjects primarily of exclusive nature to distributors. It is a time to share your successes and your failures and take home a few new ideas to implement. This year’s session will take place immediately before the Friday morning business session with two topics selected for discussion in roundtable groups and results presented to the whole. (Attendees won’t miss any of the other planned business or recreation events!) Topics will be chosen by participants prior to the conference.

Elsewhere, the schedule is just as rewarding:

• Expect a big motivational bounce from marketing expert Jim Feldman on “Shift Happens! Survival Skills,” Mac Fulfer on “Every Face Tells a Story.”

• Eric Chester will help you understand, manage and motivate “Generation Why.”

• Al Bates will present his Company Performance Report.

In addition to these programs, CTDA will be welcoming two more inductees into the CTDA Hall of Fame. There will be more time for informal networking on the golf course and at informal special events.

The CTDA Management Conference is your opportunity to invest in the growth and profitability of your business and one of the most rewarding benefits of CTDA membership.

Many of you are already registered for this important event, but if you aren’t yet, please clear your calendar and plan to join us.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Cindy Bell
CTDA President


From the Editor’s Desk: What the experts are saying about “what we like”
 
September 1st, 2005

by Janet Arden, Editor
September-October 2005

A good friend of mine and her husband are building a new home in another state. They ran into an interesting glitch when the tile they had chosen was delayed in Customs. My friend was surprised, largely because she was not aware she had chosen anything imported. “I just pointed at the one I liked,” she said.

In fact, pointing at what we like is how most of us do a lot of major shopping. We rely on the seller/dealer to lead us to the best products based on some parameters we’ve given regarding budget and design. Granted, some shoppers may be focused on domestic rather than imported goods or environmentally-conscious, energy-saving products. But I think for the most part, we are all hooked on the “one we like.”

Of course an awful lot of what we like is determined by what the marketplace offers.

A big part of what we do here at TileDealer is to try to educate our readers on what’s available in the marketplace that your customers may or may not like. So in recent issues we’ve talked about glass tile, underfloor warming systems, and porcelain tile.

This issue takes a look at yet some other trends that are driving the marketplace, reflecting not only “what we like,” but what the industry experts are saying about these trends.

Forget the old saying about good things in small packages when it comes to tile. Large format—from 12 by 24 and up, in squares and in rectangles, is showing up everywhere. It can be mixed with smaller format pieces or not, installed on walls as well as floors, inside and outside. Designer Cathy Stadelmaier offers her insights on where and how large format works and those times when it doesn’t. She offers some surprises, so don’t miss her feature.

Second, whether you are selling stone tile or not, and whatever the size, it’s one of the hottest product categories right now. In fact the use of residential stone has jumped 30-35 percent in the last several years. It’s durable. It mixes well with other materials. Granite tile is a more affordable option for the customer who wants a granite countertop. And so it goes. For an introduction to stone, we went to the top—Gary Distelhorst is the Executive Vice President of the Marble Institute of America and the subject of this issue’s One-on-One.

Next, what colors will be driving the marketplace? For starters, you might want to check your coffee cup—latte, espresso, mocha. According to Barbara Schirmeister, ASID, the newest neutrals are from the brown family. And they play beautifully with a palette of saturated hues from turquoise to raspberry. Mix in water and air colors, as well as reds and oranges, and you have quite a palette to choose from!

Finally, many thanks to Walter Iberti of the Iberti Group who graciously caught this correction in our last issue: In “What is Porcelain?” on page 46 a sentence mistakenly says “porcelain’s high absorption rate impacts installation.” Of course, it is the opposite—porcelain’s very low absorption rate of less than 0.5% impacts its installation and defines it as porcelain.


Innovations
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

World Sales Group

Marquis Series

NEW from World Sales Group!—Marquis Series glazed porcelain—This honed travertine product is available in four warm natural colors in a 17″ x 17″ format. To request a sample please contact Jerry Stone at 972-407-6973 or by email at worldsalesgroup@aol.com.

TEC® introduces 3N1TM Performance Mortar

TEC brands introduced 3N1 Performance Mortar, an entirely new category of mortar that allows tile installation professionals to use the same mortar—and follow the same installation process—for virtually every ceramic tile and natural stone application encountered. At the same time, 3N1 delivers the performance capabilities found in the highest-quality premium mortars. 3N1’s unique formulation combines the advantages of latex modified, medium bed and non-sag mortars into a single, easy-to-use solution. 3N1 is also extremely lightweight—a 30 lb. bag delivers the same amount of coverage as a 50 lb. bag of traditional latex modified mortar. According to TEC Brand Manager Sandra Eich, 3N1 incorporates breakthrough technology that makes it ideal for any application and installation technique. “3N1 is unlike anything on the market in that it can be used for common tile sizes, wall or floor applications and heavy and large-format applications while exceeding performance expectations,” she said. Advanced nanotechnology and microsphere technology is at the heart of 3N1’s versatility and top performance. Nanotechnology—the use of fine particles, or nanostructures—deliver powerful adhesion, full contact and cohesive strength. The interlocking nanostructures enable 3N1’s non-slump and non-sag characteristics. Microspheres—tiny, hollow globes within the mortar—create a ball-bearing effect that produces easy trowelability. The microspheres also help contribute to 3N1’s non-slump and its ability to support wall tile weighing up to 6 lbs. per square foot without sagging. 3N1 also features the TEC patented adhesion promoter, ZS-100, for excellent bonds to porcelain and enhanced bonding to difficult substrates, such as plywood. 3N1 exceeds ANSI A118.4 and A118.11 shear bond requirements and carries a Residential to Extra Heavy Commercial floor wear rating. A proprietary blend of fungistatic agents inhibits mold and mildew growth. 3N1 Performance Mortar is available in white and gray. (www.tecspecialty.com)

Four new collections

American Olean, a leader in ceramic tile has introduced four new product collections. “American Olean’s goal with these four new collections is to provide homeowners and designers with the latest, most popular stone looks in a wide variety of colors and sizes, from very large to very small. These new collections also offer unique accent packages that really allow homeowners to upgrade the look of their design project,” said Matthew Kahny, vice president of marketing at American Olean. Carriage House floor and wall tile emulates rustic natural stone and is available in Canvas, Straw, Saddle and Buckskin and four field tile sizes (18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″, 8″ x 10″ and 6″ x 6″). The Highland Ridge collection features a rustic, textured surface complemented by four random shade/color variations. In addition to its three modular field tile sizes (18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″ and 6″ x 6″), the collection is enhanced by its 2″ x 12″ two-color blend accents and 4″ x 12″ riverstone pebble borders. A 1″ x 3″ mosaic, sheet-mounted in a brick pattern, completes the collection. With its rough-hewn edges, Cortesia boasts the rustic look and texture of chiseled travertine. Four soft, rich colors (Bianco, Dorato and Noce) feature dramatic shading and random color variation. Cortesia’s multiple-size field tile package includes a 20″ x 20″, a 10″ x 20″ rectangle, a 13″ x 13″ and a 10″ x 10″, all of which allow for numerous pattern options. Accents include a 40″ x 40″ medallion, as well as 1″ x 13″ and 3″ x 13″ borders—all of which feature delicate fossil motifs and random-sized mosaic pieces. Lyndhurst Mosaics feature earthen colors and a slightly worn appearance. The color palette includes Woodland (shades of brown), Millstone (shades of light beige) and Meadow (shades of blue, green, cream and brown). The 2″ x 2″ dot-mounted mosaics were designed to coordinate with a multitude of other American Olean product lines. (www.aotile.com)

Fritto Misto

With a variety of exquisite colors, Gruppo Ceramiche Saicis S.P.A, one of Italy ’s top producers of high-end porcelain tile, introduces its new series, Fritto Misto, which is a blend of various shades and colors. This series is the latest line in Saicis’ Saitech Gres, glazed porcelain tile collection. Available in three colors: Chiaro, a grayish white blend, Scuro, a darker brown with splashes of lighter brown, and Medio, a color that blends dark and light into a tan hue, Fritto Misto is a tile line that provides patterns to complement any room style and interior applications. Saicis offers the Fritto Misto series in convenient sizes. All three colors are offered in sizes of 18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″, and 4″ x 4″. Included in this series are decorative mosaics mesh-mounted on a 12″ x 12″ size sheet. “Fritto Misto is a series that allows the customer to choose a style that suits his or her needs,” said Vittorio Galerio, Saicis North American Manager. “These colors are designed to accent any interior environment.” (877-675-3772)

Roble from Ceracasa

Ceracasa proposes Series Roble in Porcelain Tile: ceramic wood that shows shade and texture variation among the pieces to give a more natural appearance. The model Roble from Ceracasa, available in sizes 15×63.2, 7.4×63.2 and 3.6×63.2 cm, is produced in two colours, Dorado and Miel. They can be used both as wall and floor tiles in halls, bathrooms, kitchens or other high-traffic areas, especially where water or humidity would limit the use of other materials. Because these ceramic “wooden’ pieces are rectified, ceramic wood from Ceracasa can be placed with a minimum laying and grout gap. The latest in decoration is available to your customers in “Roble miel or Roble dorado.” (www.ceracasa.com)


Industry Insights
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

Palmer new V-P at Mid-America Tile

Thomas J. Kotel, President of Mid-America Tile announced the appointment of Jim Palmer to the newly created position of Vice President, Sales & Marketing. Palmer, an industry veteran of over 20 years comes to Mid-America Tile from Florida Tile where he served as Midwest Regional Manager. Prior to that Palmer was the Vice President, Colorado Operations for Hughes Western Sales. According to Kotel, “Jim’s extensive management background with ceramic tile and commercial resilient products was exactly what we were looking for to help take Mid-America Tile to the next level.” Mid-America Tile, a wholesale flooring importer/distributor founded in 1961 serves the greater Chicagoland area from its headquarters in Elk Grove Village and its branches in Romeoville and Mundelein, Illinois.

Ammons joins Bostik

Randy Ammons has joined Bostik Inc.’s Flooring Group as Territory Manager, overseeing Hydroment® ceramic and DURABOND® ceramic, carpet, vinyl, and patch product accounts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Ammons is adept at managing strategic accounts and servicing distributors and retail centers, and their contractor customers. “Through the years, I’ve had to sell against several Bostik Flooring solutions in the field,” Ammons said. “While I had my share of successes, there’s no doubt that Bostik Flooring is unmatched in this industry in terms of breadth of product, and the superior performance that its people and proven products consistently deliver. I grew to respect Bostik Flooring so much that I simply couldn’t pass up this tremendous opportunity to join them.” Robert McNamara, National Sales & Marketing Manager for Bostik Flooring, said, “Randy is a determined, successful contributor who takes the time necessary to truly listen to clients and follow through on their needs.”

Interceramic opens new plant in Chihuahua, Mexico

Interceramic announced the opening of its newest manufacturing facility, Plant 8, in Chihuahua, Mexico. After more than 26 years as a manufacturer in the ceramic tile industry, the company now has eight manufacturing facilities in four different complexes; three located in Chihuahua, Mexico and one in Garland, TX U.S.A. This new facility increases capacity by 25%, bringing current total manufacturing capacity to 400 million square feet.

This new project started last year and represents an investment of $30 million. This plant, which was designed by Interceramic’s engineers in collaboration with Sacmi, the world leader in the manufacturing of machinery for the manufacturing of ceramic tile, is the most sophisticated in the world to date. The company’s mission has been to stay at the forefront of technology to better compete in North America and world wide.

In keeping with this philosophy, the new plant includes the most advanced glazing equipment to accomplish the newest looks in demand in the market, and the finished product is handled entirely by automation and utilizes robots operated by lasers. Interceramic’s products are distributed in Mexico through a unique system of more than 200 franchised galleries. In the US and Canada, Interceramic is available through a network of over 100 independent distributors as well as 23 distribution centers/store galleries, which are all owned and operated by Interceramic USA.

Raish Joins Ceramic Tile And Stone Consultants

Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, LLC (CTaSC) announced that Steve A. Raish has joined the company as a forensic consultant investigator and a ceramic tile and stone installation trainer. Raish will be in charge of the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (U of CTS) hands-on installation programs where he will develop and teach installation training programs. Raish will also manage forensic installation failure investigations and will perform some inspections himself. Raish is a California licensed installer of ceramic tile and stone and is considered an expert craftsman. He started Steve Raish Tile Company in 1985 and spent 15 years specializing in custom installations of ceramic tile and stone to include slab stone installations. In 2000 Raish went to work for Laticrete International, a manufacturer of installation products for ceramic tile and stone, and he worked there until joining CTaSC. At Laticrete, Raish assisted architects in writing ceramic tile and stone installation specifications and performed “live” hands-on demonstrations for training programs. He also provided on-site assistance to installers and investigated job problems. Raish was honored with the special H.T. Swanson Award in his first year of employment at Laticrete.

Louisville Tile celebrates 50 years

Louisville Tile Distributors celebrated its 50th year in business with simultaneous “birthday” parties at each of the company’s eight locations. “We have enjoyed 50 years of success thanks to the dedication of our people,” explains Jud Wilcox, Founder and CEO of Louisville Tile Distributors, Inc. “The Louisville Tile family has reached this half-century mark together.” Louisville Tile currently has eight locations, employing 140 people, throughout the mid-east region. The multi-million dollar company has diverse product offerings, longstanding customer relationships and the buying power of eight branches. Today, Louisville Tile is poised for additional expansion, having proven to be an evolutionary distributor able to change and grow with the times for long-term success.

Laticrete: Supplier of the Year

LATICRETE International, Inc., a global leader in the manufacture of tile and stone installation systems, received the prestigious title of TileAmerica! “Supplier of the Year.” The award, presented annually at the Coverings exhibition, recognizes the TileAmerica! supplier who has provided “outstanding support and superior service throughout the year.” TileAmerica!, a multi-location tile and stone retailer/wholesaler headquartered in New Haven, CT, chose LATICRETE as “Supplier of the Year” out of TileAmerica!’s multitude of suppliers world-wide, and in the first full year after taking on the LATICRETE product line. “We have suppliers all over the globe, but this year’s best in products and services happened to be right here in our own backyard,” said Brian Knies, TileAmerica! President. “This award is presented on behalf of TileAmerica!’s associates and recognizes the LATICRETE team for its outstanding supplier efforts. LATICRETE has proved to be very customer focused and has definitely contributed to TileAmerica!’s success.”

Mer-Krete Maxxon Alliance

Mer-Krete Systems announced a strategic partnership with Maxxon Corporation, in which Maxxon will recommend the exclusive use of an anti-fracture membrane from Mer-Krete, to meet new TCA guidelines F-180-05 and F-200-05. The guidelines recommend crack isolation membranes to be placed over poured gypsum underlayments prior to adhering to tile or stone. The alliance also enables Maxxon to offer improved customer service with Mer-Krete’s 15-year warranty. Products endorsed include Mer-Krete’s anti-fracture membrane Fracture-Guard 5000 and the waterproofing membrane Hydro-Guard 2000. Mer-Krete will recommend Maxxon’s industry renowned gypsum underlayments as products of choice, making the 15-year warranty proprietary with all Maxxon underlayments. “Maxxon is clearly the best at what they do, so we’re very pleased that a company of this caliber recognizes what we have to offer,” said Tim McDonald, CEO of Mer-Krete Systems. “Just as sand and cement complement one another to create an enhanced all-purpose substance, we believe our two companies shared strengths will provide many additional customer benefits.”


Installer Update: Tiling for Fun and Profit
 
September 1st, 2005

 

September-October 2005

By Dave Gobis

While many may moan and groan when asked to do a custom tile pattern, for a true trade person there is nothing more satisfying. When the opportunity presents itself we know we are about to receive a break from our typical get-it-done-fast-cheap-and-now.

Whether art work, residential construction or commercial monuments these projects are long admired and remembered. Speaking from personal experience, they also typically lead to many referrals and the potential to develop a niche market, something that sets you apart from the crowd. Custom work takes patience, lots of patience and isn’t for everyone.

For those fortunate enough to be creative and skilled in specialized, installation techniques, the rewards are way beyond monetary; the job satisfaction is enormous. Just ask Colleen Stanton of Geometric Tile. She started her business after becoming disillusioned with the choices available when restoring a Victorian home in 1999. Since that time she has created over 100 patterns on a modified software program and has been traveling the country installing her patterns and fabricating patterns for other installers with detailed instructions.

Eric Rattan not only designs and installs tile but also makes it in his studio. Mr. Rattan was the recipient of the 2003 Prism International Natural Stone Design Competition Residential Award of Merit for his stone mosaic Crane Dreams and for a follow-up to that accomplishment, went on to win the Spectrum International Award in 2004 for his residential commission Fallen Leaves. He got his start in the industry as a stone apprentice and went on to study ceramic engineering and became a producer of custom ceramic tile.

Greg Andrews is no stranger to tile professionals, especially in the glass tile community. Andrews won First Prize, Residential category in the 2005 Spectrum Award for a 2000 square-foot swimming pool and spa tiled in paper face mounted three-quarter inch glass mosaic tiles. The pool floor features a circular pattern that follows the radius of a pre-mounted medallion reaching out to the brown inlay.

These are just ordinary people like you and me with distinctly different tastes who went on to develop their love for their trade into an art form.

So how does one get started in such fun work? You need to have a few creative bones in your body. If you are a tile person and love tile, that should not be a problem. Good tile people, whether they are in sales or installations, are adept at being visionaries. You are used to seeing the big picture before it takes shape. The general public is not good with abstract thoughts such as this pattern would look great in here. Affluent homebuyers, the prime market for custom work often have a hard time envisioning an end product. If you can properly present a vision, upselling is not at all difficult.

Most who do custom pattern work installation use pattern templates in the field while they are installing to keep things on track. Therefore, after you sell your vision it is important to make the installer fully aware of not only the pattern, but also all circumstances surrounding the installation. It is all in the planning when it comes to executing any project, doubly so with handmade artistic efforts.

So are you ready to take the plunge into custom patterns? Do you want to sell premium products?

First and foremost, any custom work requires top shelf materials across the board and good installation practices. I used the word monuments earlier in this article, and there is a reason for it. When doing this type of work, those paying the bill rightly expect their job to last a lifetime. This is the time to spend money on only the best tile, labor, setting materials, membranes, and substrates. This sounds simple enough, but unfortunately many dreams are ruined by shortsightedness in this area. I have seen more than a few award winning jobs go into the dumpster due to inappropriate materials and/or faulty workmanship. Quality in both should be part of the price in the project; you do not want a callback or complaint on these types of installations.

If you cannot build quality in, it is not meant to be. If there is any question about the proposed method being appropriate for the application, consult with a qualified party. You will find many setting material manufacturers offer various warranties based on method and product used. This is a good place for their inclusion and may well make the difference in being awarded the project.

Pricing these projects can be a challenge. From a sales perspective, a clear picture of costs is possible. For installation, costs can be a little cloudy. It only takes a few jobs for people to notice and set yourself apart from the competition, but you have to get them out there first. Once that is accomplished you will have more opportunities for additional jobs with higher profits.

But be aware, this art stuff can be addictive. I still drive my wife crazy with little projects. My current art project under construction is a glass tile pyramid base made of solid concrete for my mailbox post so the snowplow quits knocking it over during our Wisconsin winters. Just trying to be different.

I’ll let you know at a future date how many requests that generates—I am sure it will.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, a third-generation tile setter, is the Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. He has been in the trade for over 30 years and owned a successful contracting business for many years prior to his current position. Mr. Gobis is an author of many trade related articles and a frequent speaker at industry events. He is a member of the Construction Specification Institute, National Tile Contractors Technical Committee, and voting member of The American National Standards for Ceramic Tile Installation and Setting Materials (ANSI A108/118) and Tile Council of America Installation Handbook committees. He can be reached at 864-22-2131 or dave@tileschool.org.


Best Estimates
 
September 1st, 2005

 

By Jeffrey Steele
September-October 2005 In the ceramic tile industry, few functions are more important than estimating. Order too much tile, and you’re left with unused material and needless expense. Order too little, and you’re faced with the chore of reordering and— more important—matching color lots.

Thankfully, technological advancements over the past few years have made estimating far easier and more precise. Today’s ceramic tile dealers and distributors have at their command a range of estimating software products that can not only help them correctly estimate the labor and material costs they’ll require to complete a job, but can integrate with other business functions as well. In this issue of TileDealer, we examine the capabilities and costs of a handful of the leading software systems available to tile dealers and distributors.

The following chart displays a half dozen different estimating software packages, their operating systems, add-ons, cost and contact information:

Name
Platform
Add-Ons
Cost Range
Contact

BVH Gregg Estimating Software for Ceramic Tile

XL based Windows operating system

“We’re fully interfaced with Plus & Minus Accounting Software, and our software displays graphics showing what you’re estimating.”

$4,000 for the first user; $2,000 for each subsequent user.

www.bvhgregginc.com

or 888-665-4300

CommerceCenter

Windows-based platform

“It can link to warehouse automation and it can link to a Web storefront. It’s fully integrated with warehouse automation and Web storefront.”

Call for information

www.p21.com

or 800-PROPHET

Counter Intelligence

Windows-based system written in Microsoft Visual Basic Version 6

“It will interface with accounting programs such as Peachtree and QuickBooks. It minimizes the reentry, so you don’t have to double enter, possibly make mistakes and lose time. It’s a data transfer interface.”

$3,500 is the basic price for a single user. Network starts at a four-user group at $7,500.

www.pinnsoftware.com

or 888-854-5272

Dancik Image Builder and Dancik Image Builder Design Center

Run on any Microsoft based server

None

$10,000+ for Image Builder and $15,000+ for Image Builder Design Center. “And that’s for an unlimited usage license for the software. One price and you can have as many users as you want on it.”

www.dancik.com

and 919-379-3800

PlanPoint Software

Windows

Works in conjunction with other applications as well

Cost for a single user $2,500. For multiple users, cost is based on the number of users. That cost is $2,500 for the first user and $1,250 for each additional user.

www.planpointsoftware.com

or 866-321-BLUE

Virtual Decor, in Online Design Platform and 3-D Estimator versions

Microsoft platform, Windows 95 and up

“We interface with Comp-U-Floor, and are working on an interface with two other products, to be announced this year.”

The Virtual Decor Design Platform price is on a showroom basis, starting at a recommended price of $300 a month. For the 3-D Estimator, a one-user license is priced at a suggested retail price of $800.

www.virtualdecor.com

or 866-86-DÉCOR

BVH GREGG

ESTIMATING SOFTWARE FOR CERAMIC TILE

BVH Gregg Estimating Software for Ceramic Tile is produced by Houston-based BVH Gregg, Inc., an eight-year old company focusing on marketing estimating software and teaching cash flow. The software is marketed to ceramic tile and stone fabricating contractors, as well as both residential and commercial installation contractors, says company president Frank Gregg.

Prior to entering the software field, the company handled installation for 25 years. “My dad was a tile contractor before me, and I was a nine-year union setter,” Gregg says.

“Our software involves estimating off plans. And it does the entire estimate, all the way through proposals for any type of project in the tile world. We specialize in ceramic tile, so our estimating package doesn’t require any other data base building or functionality created by the end user. Our software is pre-set for any kind of ceramic tile application.”

The result is more accurate bids, he adds. Following bids, the software can be utilized to determine what part of the job is most and least profitable for the company.

COMMERCE CENTER

Produced by Yardley, Pa.-based Prophet 21, a 38-year-old company focused on providing technology for distribution and functions like tile and floor covering, CommerceCenter’s capabilities encompass all areas of a dealer or distributor’s business, from customer interaction through general ledger, says company executive vice-president Doug Levin. “We have more tile dealers and distributors using our technology than anyone else,” he adds.

“We also have a Tile Advisory Council, which allows us to meet regularly with our customers, so we can make sure we keep our product up to date with any developments in the tile industry. We’ve always been in distribution, and we’ve always had good success with our tile dealers and distributors.”

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

The company behind Counter Intelligence, Strongsville, Oh.-based Pinnacle Manufacturing, Inc., was originally a countertop manufacturer. Along the way, the company developed an estimating program for its own internal use. Sales personnel from distributors of countertop material saw the program in use and suggested it be marketed.

“We took a booth in 1999 at the National Kitchen and Bath Show, and showed the product for the first time,” recalls president Hardy Forkapa. “And the reaction we got prompted us to come back to Cleveland, close the shop down and start writing the program for external use. In June 2000, we started marketing it as a software product.”

Calling Counter Intelligence “a complete office shop management tool for the countertop fabricator,” Forkapa reports that sums up its primary point of differentiation from other software programs. Others, he says, handle estimating, scheduling, or inventory, but Counter Intelligence does all those functions, as well as producing shop drawings.

“Other programs do a rudimentary drawing, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to ours,” he says. “Ours is much more detailed.”

Evolution of the program will soon allow the shop drawing to attach to the estimate module, Forkapa adds. When the drawing is completed, it will automatically produce a quote, allowing dealers to produce a quotation while the customer is in the showroom, then submit a purchase order to the fabricator producing the work. This is one example of how the software has evolved over the years in response to customer suggestions, Forkapa notes.

He urges those interested in the software to try a free online demonstration, accessible through the Web site of Pinnacle Manufacturing, www.pinnsoftware.com.

DANCIK IMAGE BUILDER AND DANCIK IMAGE BUILDER DESIGN CENTER

Dancik International, the Cary, NC-based maker of Dancik Image Builder, also has an interesting history. The company was founded by Mitch Dancik, who once worked with IBM as an independent consultant. Dancik was hired by U.S. Ceramic, then a large ceramic tile distribution company, to study the best practices and business requirements of the tile industry over the course of a year, and create a software package specifically geared to the field. When his year with U.S. Ceramic was complete, he owned the intellectual property that led to Dancik Image Builder and Dancik Image Builder Design Center, says director of sales Tony Thomas.

Today, Dancik International’s software manages 62 percent of the wholesale level spending for hard surfaces, such as ceramic tile, slate, stone and flooring in North America.

“We sell a completely integrated suite of software, from the sales counter all the way to inventory, warehouse, importing, exporting, purchasing and financials,” Thomas says.

The software is optimized for use in the flooring industry, in contrast to other estimating software programs adapted from fields ranging from fashion to automotive. “Ours will allow you to put in complex product patterns, which is very important in the ceramic tile business,” Thomas reports. “That’s because most people will put in borders, inlays and medallions using complementary products. [The software] will give you a very granular estimate of whole tiles, cut tiles and scrap” to precisely show how much tile is used—and how much is wasted.

PLANPOINT SOFTWARE

Another software program that began life as an internal tool before being reinvented as a commercially marketed product is PlanPoint Software, developed by Raleigh, NC-based Blue Cove Technologies. According to chief operating officer Michael Tucker, the software maintains a sophisticated data base of materials, labor resources and customers, and lets users integrate them in their jobs. “Think of it as a repository for all your information,” Tucker says. “All the inputs and outputs are kept in a data base, allowing users to work off the same information. I can build a job, and you can come in tomorrow and look at that job from your own computer.”

Imagine a potential transaction that involves a tile sale and installation. Materials will be sold to the customer, and the cost of labor will be compensated by the customer. These costs are pulled together to create an estimate.

If the estimate is accepted, the materials have to be acquired. The software will generate purchase orders for all vendors, work orders for all labor resources, invoices to be sent to the customer and an item’s pick list for the warehouse, Tucker explains.

Blue Cove Technologies makes several options available to customers. They can acquire the software, or they arrange a licensing agreement in which Blue Cove maintains the data and data base infrastructure, and they access it via the Internet. This application service provider model costs customers $250 in upfront charges, plus $100 a month, Tucker reports. “It’s an inexpensive way to gain access to the functionality of the application, without incurring a large upfront licensing fee,” he adds. “We sign you to a service agreement.”

VIRTUAL DECOR

Both versions of Virtual Decor are produced by a seven-year-old Washington, D.C. company of the same name, whose speciality is serving the tile and interior design industries with estimating and design software, says company president Marc Gervais.

“Tile is a very sophisticated and very visual product, as well as a very high-end and value-added product,” he observes. “That means it’s paramount to do as much as possible to help customers visualize their tile projects. So what we’ve tried to do is help our clients assist their customers in doing just that. It helps them sell more high-end products by giving them a better image of what their dream project will look like.”

The company first introduced its Design Platform, which is its high-end product. This platform will provide both a visual rendering of a project as well as a material offtake estimate.

More recently, Virtual Decor launched the 3-D Estimator, which focuses primarily on the estimating function. The program offers the complete set of metric and U.S. tile sizes in a dozen standard colors, allowing users to create complex designs.

“If you’re doing a six-piece pattern, you would want different colors, so you can see the pattern as well as the pieces,” Gervais reports. “The key to what we offer is the ability to design complete projects as quickly and accurately as possible.”

COMP-U-FLOOR BY AYA ASSOCIATES

While not itself an estimating software system, Comp-U-Floor by Aya Associates merits inclusion here because of its ability to incorporate other programs that do perform estimating.

Comp-U-Floor can be configured to accommodate the unique requirements of various segments of the floor covering industry, says the Orlando-based company’s president Edgar Aya. It’s a totally integrated system that addresses each of the computer processing needs of the ceramic tile retailer, importer, distributor or installer. “We do not have estimating capabilities within our system, so what we have done is develop the ability to integrate with some of the popular estimating software systems, such as Floor Coverings Soft,” Aya says.

“These packages have the ability to allow you to estimate and then upload their raw data into Comp-U-Floor, which is a complete system allowing you to issue a quote, convert the quote into an order, then process the order through shipping and receiving.”

For more information, visit www.comp-u-floor.com or call 800-766-0330.


One – on – One… With Gary Distelhorst
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

By Jeffrey Steele

“We’re Seeing a Pretty Healthy Environment, and Steady Growth”

As executive vice-president of the Cleveland-based Marble Institute of America, Gary Distelhorst has watched the use of residential stone skyrocket 30 to 35 percent annually over the last several years. In a recent wide-ranging interview with TileDealer, Distelhorst talked about that torrid growth pace, the technologies that have made natural stone more affordable for typical homeowners, and the prospects that lay ahead for marble, granite and other natural stone.

TileDealer: What is the Marble Institue of America? Distelhorst: The Marble Institute is the international trade association for all segments of the natural stone industry. Our members include quarriers, distributors, fabricators, installers, importers and exporters, and those who provide maintenance and restoration services. The great majority of our members are based in the United States.

TileDealer: What kinds of stone, marble and stone or marble tile are popular?

Distelhorst: The three most popular types of natural stone tile would be marble, travertine and granite. The most popular and fastest growing use of natural stone is for residential kitchen countertops. Stone tile, particularly marble, has been used as a flooring material for centuries, and more recently travertine and granite have become more popular as flooring materials.

TileDealer: In terms of the marketplace, what’s the difference between stone slab and stone tile?

Distelhorst: The material itself is identical. You can take a block of natural stone, which might weigh 30 to 50 tons, and cut that into slabs anywhere from ¾ to 1-¼ inch thick that could be used as kitchen countertops. Or the same material could be cut thinner, say 3/8 to 5/8 inch, then be recut into tile. But the original quarry where the stone was harvested would be identical.

There are some types of natural stone that don’t lend themselves to being cut in large slabs, by virtue of the way they come out of the earth. Because of cracks and other natural features, you can’t get a full slab out of it, and it’s best used as tile. It is perfectly usable for tile.

TileDealer: How fast is stone growing?

Distelhorst: Some of your own sources could give you better numbers on tile. But in terms of total use of natural stone, in the recent years, growth has been in the area of 30 to 35 percent a year. That growth has really been driven by the pace of new home construction and remodeling, and the use of natural stone in residential kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, and the more traditional use as flooring material. But the real growth is in the kitchen.

TileDealer: Did your organization see the growth of stone coming?

Distelhorst: The popularity of stone in the kitchen I’m not sure many people predicted 20 years ago. Stone had been used as a surface material in bank lobbies, desks, tables, and in bars and restaurants. It’s not like it has never been used except for floors. It’s been used for food surfaces and desktop work surfaces for a long time. But while people admired the beauty of natural stone and its uniqueness and hardness, it was unaffordable for everyone except for the very rich. Only the very wealthy were capable of bringing it into their own homes.

That really began changing about 15 years ago. Technology allowed for stone to be extracted from the earth and processed into slabs or tile more affordably. Diamond saws and diamond polishing technology developed in the last 15 years brought the price down for the end user, because it was simply less expensive to process the stone and make it into products usable as kitchen countertops or floor tile. In the old days, it might take three days to cut a block of granite into slabs. And today that’s done in hours rather than days.

So what’s happened in the last 10 years is the popularity began growing and the use of stone— particularly in the kitchen—began moving down the price scale from the most elite mansions into expensive homes. And that’s continued. Now you see granite as an option in homes that cost between $150,000 and $200,000. Granite is an option [home buyers and homeowners] are taking because they want the beauty, the durability and the aura of having granite in their home. So it’s moved down from the $2 million houses to pretty typical homes.

The other issue is many people have chosen to remodel. And the most cost effective remodeling project is to upgrade your kitchen, with new appliances and of course stone countertops. That has been going on in the last five to seven years across the country.

The kitchen and bathroom are perfect for marble, granite and travertine. Marble is not the ideal material for a kitchen countertop, because it requires a little more care. Granite is so hard and durable it resists a lot of staining and scratching that marble might not be able to withstand. But in the bathroom, marble is perfect—and easy to maintain.

TileDealer: How has the growth impacted the association?

Distelhorst: It’s certainly one of the factors in the growth of the organization. Our membership has doubled in the last three years. There are more companies in the business today than there were five or eight years ago. Firms that used to deal only in tile are seeking to learn other aspects of dealing with stone.

That’s true not only in flooring, but also true of kitchen and bath dealers. They didn’t offer stone before, and now have to because it’s so popular. The kitchen and bath dealers are very important customers of our members. The other factor is the corresponding increase in the services offered by the Marble Institute to the industry.

TileDealer: How has stone impacted the show coming up in October?

Distelhorst: The StonExpo, to be held in Las Vegas from October 19 to 22, has been impacted over the years and continues to be by the growing popularity of natural stone. StonExpo was organized originally to be a machinery show, where fabricators of stone came to view and purchase equipment, such as machinery, tools and supplies. So originally it was not a show that displayed stone from various suppliers around the world. It really wasn’t a product show.

Over the years, the stone distributors gradually recognized the opportunity to see their own customers at the show. So the show was expanded to include stone material from around the world. And this year it’s a major emphasis. Attracting stone suppliers from around the world is a major initiative for 2005. They will join the machinery and equipment manufacturers on the show floor. It’s become the major industry show.

The number of people who come to the show has also increased. They come to see the equipment, tools and machinery, as well as new sources of granite and other material. New types of granite are being discovered weekly.

The other reason to come to the Expo is to take advantage of the finest education program in the world at a stone industry show. All other shows, both domestically and internationally, are almost exclusively exhibit oriented. At StonExpo, a very strong emphasis is also placed on educational seminars and workshops for the industry. This year there are a total of 30 to 35 seminars and workshops. We’re always adding new topics.

Another growing category of attendees is comprised of users of stone, including architects and other design professionals, who visit the show not only for education but to see the stone.

TileDealer: What’s new in the area of training?

Distelhorst: One of the major training initiatives of the Marble Institute was unveiled two years ago, when we introduced training videos on kitchen countertops, fabrication and installation. It’s a series of CD-ROM training videos that allows our members to train their employees in their own locations. They don’t have to send them to a seminar or workshop; they can use the tools provided by MIA. We’ve done a training video on safety. And we’re currently in production on two more in the area of safety, and another in the area of thin-set stone flooring.

The other educational initiative started late last year, when we introduced regional seminars and workshops around the country. This year, 2005, we’ll be offering one- and two-day seminars in 25 different locations around the United States and Canada .

The topics of these seminars include increasing your business in the residential market, stone shop operations, safety, OSHA compliance and restoration. Because StonExpo is in Las Vegas , we confined our one- and two-day seminars to the Upper Midwest , East Coast and Southeast.

TileDealer: What’s new in the area of standards?

Distelhorst: MIA has been the source of standards in natural stone for many years. Our bible of standards for the stone industry is the Dimension Stone Design Manual. The most recent version, Version 6, was introduced in 2003. It’s scheduled for another revision in 2006 or 2007. It covers all aspects of the application, installation and use of all types of natural stone.

What we’re working on this year is updating the residential countertops module in the Dimension Stone Design Manual, based on current improvements in stone processing technology and installation techniques.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for stone and marble?|

Distelhorst: The market is growing more competitive every year, with continued introductions of engineered stone and imitation stone. Everybody’s trying to get in on the bandwagon, and that provides competition in the marketplace. We see a pretty healthy environment, and steady growth for the next 8 to 10 years. Longer term than that, anyone would be going out on the limb.

But within that time frame, we’re hopeful that technological improvements can help reestablish natural stone as a leading material for commercial construction.

Marble and stone had really nice growth spurts in the 1960s and 1970s in hotels and offices. Some of that has waned, and fortunately the residential market has compensated for that decline. We’re hoping technology can bring the cost down to make natural stone a very competitively-priced material of choice.

The Marble Institute is very excited about future growth prospects for our industry, and certainly for the association. Just last week we introduced a new Web site that’s indicative of where we want to take the organization. That’s www.marble-institute.com.


Sales & Marketing: Will Enron’s Fall Now Cause Your Business’ Bank Loan to Trip? Could new accounting standards impact your business’ finances?
 
September 1st, 2005

 

by Mark A. Prusinski
September-October 2005

For the most part, the collapse of Enron and other similar accounting scandals have had minimal direct impact on the day-to-day management and operations of most small and midsize non-public businesses in the United States—until perhaps now.

The highly-publicized fraudulent financial reporting by Enron has put pressure on those who set accounting standards to reconsider the question of when the financial statements of related entities need to be fully-included in a business’ financial statements. Although Enron initially focused attention on a technique in which a company designs a separate entity so that consolidation is not required, and then transfers unprofitable activities or debt to it, the breadth of the new standard has now snared many smaller businesses, too.

Over the years, many entrepreneurial business enterprises have looked at a variety of ways to structure certain financing activities so as to not impact the company’s financial results. While that may initially conjure up images of exotic financial transactions and sinister “off balance sheet” dealings, common, less-complex, plain vanilla instruments are often used, such as equipment leases, real estate leases and guarantees. Although a number of valid business reasons exist for a privately-owned business to house operating assets in a separate entity (for example, to protect real estate from lawsuits against the operating entity, to avoid unfavorable tax consequences and for family estate planning), many of these innocent and well-intentioned techniques are now within the scope of the new “consolidation” standards.

Beginning in 2005, these new accounting standards will require many related, formerly “off balance sheet” entity’s assets, debt, liabilities, income and expenses to now be consolidated in the operating business’ financial statements. Unfortunately, reporting these activities in the business’ financial statements will cause many business’ bank loan covenants (and for some, bonding company requirements) to be tripped. As a result a company can be in default of its loan agreement. These covenant violations could include bank requirements for the business to maintain or limit certain levels of debt, debt-to-equity, cash flow, interest expense and distributions to owners, and will require adjustments to or waivers of the tripped covenants by the bank to cure.

The impact of these standards will vary from company to company depending on the specific facts and structure of the relationship with the related entity. The end results will also vary from requiring consolidation of the related entity to just adding some additional disclosures to the financial statements. In any event, the key to a smooth transition is to take the time now to understand and work through the required complex evaluations with your accounting firm and, if necessary, address the impact and the options with your banker and/or bonding company on a proactive basis, well in advance of any year-end surprises.

Mark A. Prusinski, CPA, is a partner in Pease & Associates, where he leads the firm’s Accounting and Auditing practice, overseeing all financial statement audits and reviews and other special financial accounting projects. His background includes working with companies ranging in size from small privately owned businesses to large multi-national SEC companies in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, and real estate. He can be reached at mprusinski@peasecpa.com.


Case History: How Software Helped One Distributor
 
September 1st, 2005

by Doug Levin
September-October 2005

Life would be much easier for tile distributors if everything came in pieces that measured 12-inches x 12-inches. “Then figuring the amount of material we need to sell someone who has a 500-square-foot space to cover would be simple,” says Mike Nichols, operations manager at Southeastern Tile Connection.

But tile is just as different as the people selling it. Pieces range in size from millimeters to feet and beyond, and calculating exactly how much tile a customer needs to complete a project can often require an algebraic genius.

Luckily, software developed specifically for tile distributors can help. The right technology solution can help any employee—even a novice in training at your front counter—estimate the proper quantity of tile your customers need at the beginning of their projects, boosting satisfaction, cutting returns, and improving profitability.

How It Works

Whether your customers install backsplashes in refinished bathrooms, lay tile in foyers in new construction, or cover the floors of commercial kitchens, they all share one thing in common: they want to buy the right amount of material the first time they call or walk into your showroom. No one wants pallets of surplus tile after something is finished—and customers certainly don’t want to risk buying from different lots that may vary in shade and texture. Before he started working with a distribution-centric solution, Nichols admits that he—and others at his company—misjudged how much tile a customer needed for a project about 5 to 10 percent of the time because they did the math manually—often with a pencil and paper. “There were a lot of steps involved in figuring it out, and sometimes we forgot one of them,” he says. He also admits that many of Southeastern Tile’s customer service and sales representatives weren’t exactly math geniuses. “We made mistakes,” he says.

Now, his solution helps him avoid the possibility of miscalculations by performing the math for him and converting one unit to another, no matter the size or quantity of the product. For example, technology designed specifically for tile distributors calculates how many 3-inch x 6-inch pieces are in a box, how many boxes are in a pallet, and so on. This way, he and his sales and service representatives can easily determine how much tile a customer needs to finish his bathroom in a few keystrokes.

The Big Benefits

According to Nichols, automating the estimation process benefits customers and Southeastern Tile’s bottom line. It helps employees ensure each end-user gets the right amount of material, consistent in color and texture, the first time they call or walk into the showroom. This helps cut returns—which the company must often swallow because manufacturers rarely buy back stock. “This definitely improves our profitability,” Nichols says.

Nichols adds that the improved reliability has enhanced Southeastern Tile’s reputation, which helps ensure repeat customers. “And the customers who come back tell their friends about us,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.” Estimating the amount of tile a customer needs to complete a job can often be a job in and of itself. But, the right technology, developed to target the specific needs of tile distributors, can simplify and foolproof the process—improving your profitability and your reputation.

Doug Levin, executive vice president of Prophet 21, is a respected expert in technology for tile distributors. Prophet 21, the leading technology provider for the tile distribution industry, develops technology solutions and services to help distributors increase sales, improve customer service, and reduce operating costs. Founded in 1967, Prophet 21 continues to expand and enhance both its products and customer base. Prophet 21 has a long-range vision for distribution technology and the tile industry experts to make it happen.


LARGE Format Tile
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

By Christy Stadelmaier

Prepare for the revolution

As we entered CERSAIE in the fall of 2004 from the back entrance, we were immediately struck by the number of metal plates used as flooring in various booths. “Why would tile manufacturers show metal on their floors?” was the first thought that came to mind. Had we entered the front door we would have been struck instead by the incredible 2′ x 4′ slabs of porcelain finished to look like weathered metal—Corten by TAU. It was such an attention-grabbing look that it was difficult to walk away.

Large format tile is definitely a part of the future of ceramic tile and Corten with its natural metallic look is the perfect example of a compelling product that will capture the consumers’ imagination if used in the appropriate setting.

It is truly a paradox; as the popularity of hard surface finishes grows, consumers have fallen in love with metals and a range of natural materials with soft “visual” aesthetics—limestone, sandstone, quartzite and others considered “natural” like glass and concrete. By simply enhancing the raw materials a little more than for the standard commodity product, glass and concrete have moved beyond function and become “aesthetic materials.”

Porcelain tile falls into a special category—made of natural raw materials, it is often hard to tell the difference between it and many of nature’s much-loved materials. However, porcelain’s functional properties improve on Mother Nature, while offering an endless array of visual aesthetics in natural neutral palettes. Large or small, in unique or natural aesthetics, porcelain tiles fit today’s consumers’ wants and needs for a beautiful, easy to maintain, eco-friendly surface finish that offers great value.

Fast-forward several months after your own trip to CERSAIE, where the new technologies captivated your attention and you have container-loads of “love at first sight” materials arriving. Your sales strategy for all the new large format porcelain tiles should consist of more than selling your customers on the idea that “large tiles make your small spaces look bigger.” This is ultimately a self-defeating concept; you want to sell large format tiles in expansive spaces rather than selling several pieces for a powder room. (Monolithic surfaces expand a space—that is the appeal of the large format material. In a powder room a mosaic tile with matching grout creates a more monolithic and sophisticated look than do large format tiles in any small space.)

Selling Large Format

With today’s knowledgeable consumer, you don’t really “sell” them anything at all—you inspire them and guide them towards the right choice for their home and lifestyle. You would be doing a disservice to those consumers who want to recreate a Tuscan or Provence look in their home by trying to sell them larger formats. Whether it is limestone or one of the porcelain look-alikes, the charm is in the grid for these traditional aesthetics. They want a farmhouse look. If they wanted their home to look like an Armani store, they would tell you that.

So where will these large format tiles sell? Betty Sullivan president of Architectural Ceramic, Inc. in the Baltimore market says her “customers find plenty of compelling reasons to like large formats tiles; they like them for their sleek lines, less grout joints, and their classier, more expensive look.”

If the housing stock in your marketplace consists of large homes of single level slab construction where homeowners enjoy indoor-outdoor living, your sales strategy is obvious. Your customers will not take much convincing to move from 16″ x 16″ to 24′ x 24′ and larger, especially after seeing them in an upscale shop or restaurant. If you offer the appropriate inserts and decorative elements that allow them to define and customize their spaces, larger formats will easily translate to these homes.

From the fashionable urban Milan look, popular in lofts on the East Coast to the continuing popularity of Asian minimalism on the West coast, the design trends are also lining up in favor of larger formats. Both aesthetics focus on floors that are monolithic and inspired by smooth stones or concrete. Now visually, the grout joints appear to be expansion joints in concrete, rather than mere grout joints. The larger format porcelain tiles are particularly suited for this look, and functionally more so than concrete itself.

Demographics will also give a boost to the potential of large formats. According to Census reports and newly analyzed buyer preferences data from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), households headed by Generation X-ers and members of the so-called “echo-boom” purchased 55 percent of all newly built homes sold in 2003 and are fast becoming the trendsetters in U.S. housing markets. They want homes that are 50% larger when they trade up. This compares to seniors and baby boomers, who want only 17 percent and 22 percent more space, respectively. “In all, we find that the preferences of younger buyers tend toward greater space and more sophisticated amenities than those of their forebears,” says NAHB Executive Vice President and CEO Jerry Howard.

However, if the housing stock in your marketplace is not so obviously suited to large format tiles, put your resources into cultivating your commercial customers for these products. Unless someone is furnishing a loft space, a tile like Corten is much more suited to the latest fusion restaurant or Harley Davidson boutique than the average remodeling job in a traditional foursquare house that has probably settled over time.

Betty Sullivan finds that architects are her best sales people, “they love rectangles and rectified tiles.” No one would have ever thought of using the wildly patterned Chinese slates in their homes if they had not seen them first on the facades of the original “Nature Company” stores—slate up until then had been a solid, subtle color material. Tile until recently was a stretch at 16″ x 16″. Once consumers grow comfortable with larger formats by seeing them in intimate commercial spaces, it will not take long to translate to their homes.

Evolution and Revolution

Evolution sneaks up on us—suddenly a new generation is taller than their parents. It is no wonder that “eco-boomers” want larger houses than their parents did. Moving up in size from 12″ x 12″ to 24″ x 24″ is an ongoing evolutionary process and if home sizes continue to grow, so will the size of tile. In markets where this is not the case, consumers will look for the “new” in other ways.

Revolutions change everything. At CERSAIE 2004, Cotto d’Este and Provenza quietly introduced a truly groundbreaking technological revolution to the industry. They introduced porcelain tiles of extraordinary proportions: 1M by 3M by 3mm (39 by 118 by .12 inches)—slabs so thin they will bend to fit the curving walls that architects now love to design on their CAD systems. The possibilities are as Endless as the name that Provenza gave to their new material. Provenza is also partnering with Fantini, a faucet manufacturer and Davide Groppe, a lighting partner to create fully integrated interior finishing systems for walls, floors and countertops. (One future scenario holds monolithic finishes interrupted only by large colorful screens for decoration.) Cotto d’Este enriches their material called Kerlite with Zirconium particles to reflect a subtle shimmer of light. (As applied patterns disappear from the interior finish vocabulary, the way that materials interact with light has become as important as the materials themselves.) Endless is available in four neutral colors and Kerlite in five neutral colors plus a water inspired aqua called Lake .

ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) annually introduces the latest concepts in home furnishings and finishes to the American design community. This Spring COVERINGS ETC, recognized throughout the design industry as a unique and sophisticated slab and tile source, introduced Eco-Gres Ultra™, an eco-friendly porcelain slab in the 1M x 3M dimension in a palette of 24 solid colors. Jennifer Ryan, in charge of business development for the company, says: “the large slabs are already selling in the hospitality industry, where the functional properties of the material are the most desirable.” COVERINGS ETC also offers various collections of cement based engineered slabs for interior finishes.

All these thin-slab materials were originally engineered for exterior cladding systems where weight (approx. 44 lbs./sheet) is a factor. The requirements for exterior use have created a material that makes it suitable for many interior uses as well. The products have similar technical properties; they are all exceptionally resistant to water, chemicals, fire, scratching, are frost proof and do not release toxic substances or smoke. This makes them versatile design solutions for high traffic flooring, walls, ceiling, countertops as well as the original intent—exterior cladding. These materials are ideally suited for the expanding hospitality industry especially in large wet areas such as health clubs, spas and the elegant home spas.

Even though Europe has such a strong historic architectural heritage, (or maybe because they enjoy so much history) they choose modern monolithic interiors for their shops and boutiques. In today’s hyper-competitive retail environment, store designers introduce consumers to a wide range of new interior finish materials in the effort to distinguish a brand. Last summer, London ’s brand new Bond Street Max Mara store was the talk of the town. The store’s monolithic sand color is the perfect backdrop to each new season’s fashions, but the monolithic finishes were a mystery even to those of us “in the business.” At CERSAIE, we figured it out—it was the beginning of the revolution.

So join the revolution today! Prepare your marketing plan, devise a sales strategy and like Betty Sullivan, be sure to include the design community in your plans for larger format tiles. Architects and designers love the new, the innovative and will find ways to use exciting new products in ways that will quickly make them irresistible to your consumers.

Christy Stadelmaier, principal of Motif Marketing, is a designer who specializes in product development, marketing and merchandising of interior finish materials. In today’s over saturated marketplace, she finds that less is often more and from her years as the tile expert on “This Old House,” that a good story trumps everything. She can be reached in Boston at 617-436-5933 or c.stadelmaier@verizon.net

Foster and Clark Real Estate
CTDA - Online Education
CTDA - Membership