One – on – One…with Tim Bolby
March 1st, 2007

“The room always looks different when you’re on your knees.”

By Jeffrey Steele

March-April 2007

Tim Bolby has just about done it all in the tile business. After spending his formative years as an installer, learning what it means to set tile without complaints, he logged almost two decades more toiling in the setting materials segment of the industry.

For the last several years, he has served as director of technical services with Crossville, Tennessee-based Crossville, Inc., helping resolve claims and handling in-house and distributor training. He has also been integrally involved in development of Crossville’s EcoCycle Tile, a recycled product that earns LEED credits for users.

Bolby recently consented to a comprehensive question-and-answer session with TileDealer. In this text of that interview, he discussed what he’s learned in his four-decade career in the tile industry, the reception EcoCycle Tile has earned in the marketplace, and Crossville’s long-standing commitment to environmental protection.

TileDealer: How did you go from installer to working in the setting part of the industry to your role with Crossville Tile?

Bolby: I started life in Kansas City, where I was born and raised, and spent all my adult life, until I went to Crossville five years ago. I’m 58. I got into what I call the floor covering-installation part of the business in my latter years of college, while I was attending the University of Missouri–Kansas City. During that time, I started out as a helper in non-union shops, and worked floor covering. At the time, tile didn’t have the prominence it does now. I stretched a lot of carpet and installed a lot of sheet goods. The bulk of my time was spent in carpet installation and floor covering materials other than tile. I started seeing things change within about two years after starting.

The majority of the work was shifting to ceramic, and less and less carpet and vinyl. This would be about 1978. I was working with installers who had been doing the various trades for decades, and they had many years experience with all kinds of flooring, including ceramic tile. What they knew about tile, they taught me. It was hard work; I was always a helper, a really good helper, but never ran crews. I did that kind of work for about five years. When I finished college, I figured that gave me the right to quit working hard for a living. Boy, was I wrong.

During that time I tried various lines of work. I sold long distance subscriptions, worked in the roofing industry for a couple years, and also worked in consumer products and industrial adhesives, mostly in sales capacities.

At long last, I came full circle and went to work for what is known today as Tech Specialty Products, then known as the H.B. Fuller Company. There I began my work in the setting materials industry, selling mortars and grouts, sometimes working two territories rather than just one. My geography was everything south of Nebraska to the Gulf, east to Chicago and west to the Rocky Mountains.

I worked first in selling setting materials through wholesale distributors throughout the greater Midwest. I did that for 17 years. As time went by, the products in the industry became much more technical, but in that line of work you can never lose touch with the contractors who actually use those products.

You have to understand if they have a problem, either with a product or an installation, that’s your problem. Coming from the trade, even though it wasn’t officially union trade, it gives you an empathy with people in the trade. And it helps you a lot in not necessarily siding with them, but in understanding their position and the problems they encounter. The room always looks different when you’re on your knees.

After 17 years in the setting materials industry, and all the traveling, I was ready for a change. I had become well acquainted with several of the Crossville representatives, and had also become acquainted with the company itself and its products. It was the kind of organization and the kind of people I wanted to work for. The director of technical services position became available, and my relocation was happily taken on.

At Crossville, we manage and maintain the company’s data base on product claims, which is another way of saying complaints. And to the extent of resolving all those claims, one way or another we will write technical letters, advise people from an installation standpoint, visit job sites and, basically, protect the brand. That’s what we do, dealing with these claims the best way possible in order to protect the brand. We also do in-house employee training and training for our distributors. My training specifically is what I would call technical and installation training.

TileDealer: The EcoCycle Tile has been in the marketplace for about five or six months. How has it been received?

Bolby: I will tell you it has been well received. In an area of sustainable product rather void of many choices, the Ecocycle has been enthusiastically embraced. It is the kind of a product that requires time for sales to generate because so much of the business ultimately will be driven by architectural and design specification. And with that type of sale, there’s usually a lag time from the time it is specified to the time the project is actually built and the tile is ordered. It’s not unusual for it to be six months or longer.

The EcoCycle product has also been unique in the marketplace in the sense that Scientific Certification Systems has audited and verified the consistent level of recycled content to be at least 40 percent. The kind of recycled content is at least 40 percent pre-consumer recycled content.

That’s significant in the sense that if you are a consumer, we are using waste you never got, as opposed to waste like a soft drink bottle that you used and then recycled. We have been preemptive in recapturing our waste. Pre-consumer recycled material is defined as material diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process. And that is what we do.

TileDealer: In what major installations has it been used?

Bolby: Of the two primary areas where it’s been well embraced so far, the first is a national banking corporation that has devoted itself to sustainable design in all of its new locations. The second is a large automotive company also involved very heavily in sustainable design and operation of their facilities, and they are using the EcoCycle. Both have dedicated themselves to operating and designing sustainable facilities.

TileDealer: Why did Crossville think it so important to go in this direction?

Bolby: Crossville just finished celebrating its 20th birthday. And since its inception, the management has always had an environmental mindset, and has imparted that mindset to everyone at Crossville. Through the years, we have always maintained water discharge and air emission standards well below federal and tile industry standards.

However, with Crossville’s success came large, waste-related problems. Starting back in 1996, management and the engineering group here embarked on the goal of zero production facility waste. And that costs a lot of money and a lot of time.

But I would say Crossville’s management was prepared to pay the price, rather than contribute massively to the waste mountain.

Tile starts out as fine-grained powders composed of clays and feldspar. During the normal production process and cleaning of equipment, a great deal of this sediment gets into the water. Where Crossville has been enormously successful has been in coming up with an economical way of separating that sediment from the wastewater.

To give you the scale of this operation, before we created the system, Crossville was contributing millions of pounds per year of wet waste to the landfills. Now, with the unique separation system we’ve come up with, none of that material goes to the dump any longer. It’s all being reused. That’s a home run. That’s out of the park. And to our knowledge, few in the industry if any are able to create that kind of segregation.

TileDealer: From a broader perspective, what are some other areas you and Crossville are working on? What do you expect the next technological direction to be?

Bolby: I’d like to answer in two ways. Yes, there are technological issues we will be working on; [but] I’m limited in what I can comment on. One of the issues from a waste standpoint we have yet to overcome, and the rest of the industry is working on this too, is how to efficiently use fired tile. In the past. we have evaluated different approaches to this challenge, and that inquiry continues.

The other part of my answer would be this industry still is very much a part of the fashion industry. And whether it’s an EcoCycle product or a state-of-the-art new product, fashion still pays the bills and still sells the tile. That said, if there’s a mindset still alive and well here it’s that Crossville will continue to create products that climb the fashion ladder. And we’re going to continue to focus on design and some of the more exotic areas of the tile industry, such as metal, metallized porcelain, and glass products. We are a fashion and style-driven company and industry. The challenge we’ve met, and will continue to work at, is making the environmental needs a part of that—not only in the products we produce, but in the methods by which we operate.

I want to leave you with one final point. Part of the environmental mindset is that you have to take it out of your head and put it into action. It has to have an official recognition within the organization, in order for it to have credibility and authority. Crossville has done that. We have created an environmental task force comprised of all of our operational units. That includes everything from production to purchasing to sales to engineering and other departments. The mission of the people on that committee is to recommend operational innovations that will lessen Crossville’s environmental impact, and keep us the environmental leader in the industry.


Tim Bolby

Director of Technical Services

Crossville Tile

Crossville, TN


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