Benchmarking Our Success
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

CTDA is committed to growing and developing the professionalism of the industry. In the last issue I shared with you the results of the association’s strategic planning session in March. Our overall goal for CTDA and the industry: Triple the US consumption of tile, measured in square feet by 2020, with 80% of the market going through CTDA distributor members.

We set a number of intermediate and short term benchmarks to get there. They represent the targets CTDA needs to achieve to meet that larger, long-term strategic goal. They also demonstrate the association’s commitment to the industry, its members, and its mission: “to provide educational and networking opportunities for distributors of ceramic tile and their suppliers to further the consumption of ceramic tile.”

It’s a pleasure to report to you that CTDA is on track to meeting its 2007 benchmarks. As we go to press with this issue, we are already more than 20% of the way to meeting our new member goal and have certified 40% of the Certified Ceramic Tile Sales professionals we have targeted. And, as I reported in the last issue, the launch of the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency by CTDA and TCNA will make porcelain tile certification a reality in the months ahead.

Education and training are everything

Industry education is elusive. Just when you think you have mastered a topic, there’s a technological breakthrough, a new product or process that changes all of that.

Consider the rush of new products— glass, stone and large format tile. Because our customers come in search of these (and other) new products, we need to be well-versed on their virtues and applications. New products demand new and better setting materials and techniques. What worked ten years ago, even five years ago, may not work today. Yet our customers come daily, expecting us to be the experts. So, there’s always more to learn.

Attending industry shows like Coverings is a start. The show floor and the educational sessions are packed with information. TileDealer is a great tool for disseminating information and sharing resources.

However, if you are looking for in-depth industry education and training, you can’t do any better than the many training opportunities offered by CTDA. We use all of them at Miles Distributors, and I know, based on our continuing experience, that these educational and training tools are valuable and cost effective.

For starters, everyone at Miles Distributors—showroom staff to warehouse drivers—is required to successfully complete CTDA Online Education provided by the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone. This is a readily accessible, self-paced online-program. Our employees must pass it to successfully complete their 90-day probationary period.

We have discovered some unexpected benefits from this requirement. First, of course, the employees all develop a better understanding of and appreciation for the industry. This is especially important if they came from another business. But we have also come to realize that this requirement makes our employees feel valued. They appreciate that Miles Distributors is a company that invests in its employees.

We have also embraced the Certified Ceramic Tile Salesperson (CCTS) test and designation. I’m very proud to say that we have several CCTS on our staff. Those of you who have taken the exam know that it is not an easy test. You also know, then, that successfully completing it means you have excellent industry knowledge with which to meet the needs of your customers. And this is something we can all be proud of.

Later this year CTDA will sponsor a series of green building seminars designed to bring the professionals in the industry some long-awaited, useable information on this important industry trend. It’s yet another way of meeting your industry needs. Finally, the CTDA 2007 Management Conference November 7-11 at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort, Dana Point, California, will offer a full schedule of educational seminars and opportunities. I encourage you to put those dates on your calendar now!

Each of these opportunities is yet another way CTDA reaches out to grow and enhance both the marketplace and your business. I encourage you take advantage of them.

Adding Muscle
July 1st, 2007

by Janet Arden, Editor

July-August 2007

I just made a list of all the One-on-One interviews that have appeared in these pages since TileDealer launched with the November/December issue in 2003. Twenty-two interviews and counting! We have included business, design, and industry leaders, manufacturers and artisans, an architect, a color consultant and a remodeling professional. Our subjects have answered questions from as far away as Turkey, Spain & Italy and as close as a Chicago workroom.

Of course they all have tile (and sometimes stone) in common as well as a willingness to share their expertise and industry insights with TileDealer readers. We especially appreciate that. They are also universally open-minded and willing to try a new approach. This is especially valuable in a tough marketplace.

This issue features a conversation with Ron Williamson, Marketing Services Director at Ironrock. Like so many of the One-on-One subjects, Ron did not start out planning to make a career in the tile industry. In the almost 20 years he has been at Ironrock, the company and the marketplace have evolved considerably.

Some of his most intriguing comments had to do with his thoughts on the marketplace now and in the future. Like many professionals in this business, Ron sees the current slump in the housing market as an opportunity for renovators and commercial sales.

At TileDealer, we couldn’t agree more. There are many options—some short term and others that may become part of your business culture—to get through these frustrating times. One antidote is to beef up the sales you have—not with inflated prices, but with more value. This issue offers two great specifics:

  • Make your sales floor more profitable by adding some quality tools (See the Showroom Seminar on page 33).
  • Get knowledgeable about soundproofing and sell it as an affordable amenity, one that is a valuable investment in a tile installation (Learn more starting on page 16).

But tools and soundproofing are just a beginning. You can also consider the following:

  • Undertile heating is an easy, affordable upgrade. Identify the right pros to make the electrical connections and sell the package.
  • Introduce cleaning and resealing services, perhaps even tied to a warranty.
  • Offer a bounty for customer referrals—anything from a savings certificate for future use to a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
  • Invite your best customers to an open house, complete with refreshments, to preview your latest product introductions or for a private sale.
  • Get your suppliers in on the fun by inviting them to offer free seminars on their products to your customers.

Most of you know the drill here—get potential customers in the door, build loyalty, offer great service. Sure all of these suggestions will cost some time and money, but isn’t that better than just waiting for customers to show up?

Read more about Ron, Ironrock and his thoughts on the industry on page 29.

July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007


Ardex Engineered Cements is proud to introduce 26 designer colors for ARDEX Flex Sanded™ Grout, giving professional tile installers broader and better solutions in premium, polymer modified grouts. Installers in the industry continue to face challenges with other current polymer modified cement grouts due to staining, water spotting, cracking and color inconsistencies. Additionally, facility managers need to provide for vigilant maintenance and care in commercial applications. ARDEX Flex Sanded™ Grout was developed to provide solutions to these problems. “ARDEX Flex Sanded™ Grout offers installers significant advantages over current polymer modified grout technology,” said Hendrick Goller, Ardex Product Platform Manager, Tile & Stone Installation Products. “With its stain resistant and water repellent features, ARDEX Flex Sanded™ Grout provides a reliable, low-maintenance option for both commercial and residential installations. Additionally, with a 26 color palette, customers now have a much broader selection.”

Floor Warming System

QuickNet™ is an electric floor warming system that is installed directly under ceramic tile or natural stone. The QuickNet system includes a mat that has a heating cable woven into an adhesive-backed fiberglass mesh. Its low 3⁄16 inch (3 mm) profile makes it ideal for renovation or new construction. This unique mat rolls out easily, adheres to the floor, and can be cut to accommodate any shape room with ease—all without the need for anchoring devices, glue, staples, or clips. QuickNet offers a complete and affordable package that includes the QuickNet floor warming mat, and the QuickStat™ thermostat. The mats are preterminated for use at 120 and 240 volts and are available in various lengths. The thermostat helps ensure user safety because it includes built-in GFCI protection.


Distributors with IT staffs can now benefit from the same technology Activant® uses when one of its customers has a question. IT Help Desk Functionality, available to Activant customers, enables distributors’ employees to submit cases to their IT department online. Once submitted, the case enters a queue where it triggers automatic e-mail alerts to the IT staff, allowing them to respond appropriately. “This is another example of how Activant delivers as a full-service technology provider,” said Steve McLaughlin, senior vice president and general manager of Activant. “In the past, if a printer needs service or someone has a question, a distributor’s IT person would get inundated with calls, notes left on their desk, and visits to their desks. IT Help Desk functionality allows distributors to streamline the request process and let the IT staff manage cases efficiently.” In addition to managing cases, a system administrator can use the IT Help Desk’s home page to post emergency alerts (i.e., “Main printer is down—should be back up soon”), which can help prevent the submission of duplicate cases. The home page also includes space for other important IT information, such as staff names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc. The IT Help Desk also archives all resolved cases, allowing individuals to seek out their own answers to repeat problems, as opposed to requesting help from the IT department and tying up valuable resources.


The Zendo series from Tesoro, is a porcelain bodied-tile line that emulates the rustic-warm hues of natural stone. Ideal for floors, countertops and backsplashes, the series is manufactured by Cerdomus, and comes in Brown, Dust, Grey and Rust colors and in 20 by 20, 13 by 13 and 6-1⁄2 by 6-1⁄2 sizes, accompanied by a mix mosaic sheet. Trims include bullnose and v-cap; available in all colors.

New grinders and polisher

TEQ-Grind hand grinders are designed to run cool and hold up under extended use in high-productivity environments. Variable speed control enables operators to use a variety of accessories and cut or grind a wide range of materials from hard to soft. The long-life brushes are designed with the professional in mind – easy to change. Each features a spindle lock, heavy-duty construction and is engineered for optimum ergonomics with vibration dampening handles that provide the ultimate in operation comfort and convenience. The TEQ-Grind TG5V features a powerful 750 W, variable-speed motor, making it ideal for a wide array of applications and accessories. It has a 5 inch capacity and comes with a 4.5″ DXT turbo diamond blade. The TEQ-Grind TG6V features a professional-grade 1,200 W, 12 amp, variable-speed motor and a pistol grip for added comfort and convenience. It has a 6 inch capacity and comes with a 5″ DXT turbo diamond blade. Each can also be fit with the patented Dustmuzzle dust containment system to meet pending OSHA guidelines mandating point-of-origin dust collection. The Dustmuzzle provides protection against harmful air-borne particles (silicosis) and saves time and money by capturing the dust created by grinding. The TEQ-Shine Wet Stone Polisher is designed to run cool and perform reliably in high production fabrication shops. It features a powerful 650 W motor and has a 5 inch capacity. The carbon brushes are quick and easy to replace, and spindle lock enables convenient disc changes. A vibration dampening side handle also provides comfort and convenience for better control and less operator fatigue.

Zinnia & Pinecone from Meredith

Meredith Art Tile® introduced the Zinnia and Pinecone series, both inspired by traditional Arts & Crafts designs. Finalized designs were recreated by the company’s in-house sculptor. Then molds were created, pressed and fired. Bisque of the molded pieces is then hand-painted with a variety of glaze combinations, then fired again to create the final tiles that echo a simpler time of craftsmanship and quality.

Industry Insights
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

Vitra Acquires Villeroy & Boch

VitrA has acquired a 51 percent share of the tile division of Villeroy & Boch, the world’s oldest and best known ceramic brand. The Share Purchase Agreement signed in Istanbul in March gives VitrA full management control of the production and marketing activities of Villeroy & Boch’s tile division. As a result, VitrA’s tile production capacity will increase to 350 million square feet. Including Villeroy & Boch’s two tile plants in Germany and its plant in France, VitrA now operates eight tile plants. With this agreement, VitrA’s net ceramic tile sales will rise to €300 million and the number of its employees in the tile business to 2500.

Lee & Vogl Join Florim

Bryan Lee has joined Florim as Regional Sales Mana-ger servicing distributors throughout the East coast region. He is based in Florida. Lee has experience in many facets of the floor covering business, having built his 19+-year career focusing on hard surface flooring. He comes to Florim directly from distributor RA Siegel, where he was responsible for commercial sales in the state of Florida. As a Regional Sales Manager for Florim, Lee will work closely with distributors for both the Esquire and AFI brands, using his varied background to bring product knowledge and sales expertise to his customers. Marissa Vogl is Florim’s new Marketing Specialist for the West region. Vogl brings several years’ experience in interior design and sales to her new role, having served as representative to builders needing custom specifications for a furniture/flooring retailer in her home state of Montana. As Marketing Specialist, Vogl will offer market-specific expertise and support to distributors in Arizona, California, Texas, parts of New Mexico, as well as Las Vegas. She will be based in Arizona.

MAPEI & NTCA Promote “Safety First”

MAPEI has agreed to sponsor the NTCA’s Contractor Safety Program for tile and stone installation contractors. Safety and environmental sustainability are of paramount importance to MAPEI and a personal conviction of MAPEI Americas President and CEO, Rainer Blair. “MAPEI’s commitment to safety starts within our own company and extends to those contractors and installers who use our products,” Blair said. “We feel the sponsorship of this program is a concrete way to show how much we value a safe workplace.” According to the latest available report from the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights, tile setters annually experience 3-4 injuries resulting in missed days from work per every 100 full-time employees. (This rate is slightly lower than the average for the entire construction industry.) The leading causes of injuries on the job site are contact with objects, falls, overexertion, exposure, and other injuries. Worker compensation spending by employers in the construction industry (5.17% of payroll) is 2.5 times the average amount spent by all industries. These figures prompted the NTCA to develop a Contractor Safety Program in coordination with Jim Isaminger of D.M.I. Tile and Marble in Birmingham, Alabama. Isaminger successfully introduced the Contractor Safety Program at his company and worked diligently with the NTCA to provide the components of the program to other tile and stone installation contractors. “Implementing the Contractor Safety Program 10 years ago led to an annual reduction in our worker’s compensation EMR rate; for 2007 our EMR is .67,” Isaminger said. “The resulting savings in worker’s compensation insurance premiums has directly increased our net profit. In addition, productivity has remained at peak levels as we have not incurred lost work days due to careless accidents, and our employees have benefited from having a safe work environment.” The NTCA Contractor Safety Program includes plans for developing a safety committee within the company; a program for reviewing accidents/injuries with employees and discussing outcomes; and programs for a monthly “Safety Practices” meeting, including safety topics and discussion guidelines.


TJ Ceramic Tile Sales, Inc., a leading retailer of ceramic, porcelain, slate, granite and marble tiles from around the world, announces the appointment of Karen MacLachlin as showroom manager. The appointment was announced by Phil Mularoni, president. MacLachlin previously worked at TJ Ceramic Tiles for several years and is able to transfer that extensive design and consulting experience to her new position. Her new responsibilities include managing the showroom and assisting clients in the selection of natural stone and tile. MacLachlin is currently pursuing certification from the Associated Society of Interior Design. “We’re very excited that Karen has rejoined our team,” commented Mularoni. “She has always been a great asset to our organization and she carries a solid knowledge of interior design and natural stone.”

Martindale Manager of Contractor specific showroom

Best Tile Distributors of New England, part of the East Coast Tile family, has appointed John Martindale to location manager for its brand new contractor specific showroom in Woburn, Massachusetts. Best Tile recently acquired five Boston Tile showrooms in the Greater Boston area, then added the new, 7,550 square foot facility in Woburn to further its concentrated effort to re-enter the commercial and wholesale sectors. In his new position, Martindale will have numerous inside sales, inventory and operational responsibilities for the location. Martindale joined Best Tile at its Dedham location in 2003 as an inventory control specialist. His promotion in 2007 is part of Best Tile’s efforts to stockpile top-industry professionals at each of its six new locations in and around Greater Boston.

Virginia Tile honored with Pro Patria Award

Virginia Tile Company based in Livonia Michigan, received the Pro Patria Award which is the highest award given at the state level and recognizes the one employer within the state that has most excelled in supporting their Guard/Reserve employees. The award is presented annually by the Michigan Committee for Employer Support of the Guard (ESGR) to the selected employer. Nominations for this award are evaluated by the Committee, and at the annual Awards Dinner, held April 13, 2007, the presentations were made. The Company was nominated by their employee, SGT James Dean, who did so in appreciation for their support to him and his family while deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the period of deployment, Virginia Tile continued his pay and benefits, provided moral support for the family, and provided several hundred “care” packages that were distributed to Jim and members of his unit at the holidays.

The photo at the awards ceremony pictures guest speaker, State Representative Rick Jones (71st District), Major General Thomas Cutler, The Adjutant General of Michigan, Mark A. Ott, Senior Vice President, Virginia Tile Company, SGT James Dean, Richard Snider, Committee Chairman, ESGR.

Noble Sales Performance

At a sales meeting conducted during Coverings, Noble Company recognized two of its sales agencies. Steve Young and Bryan Keenon of Steve Young & Associates received the Eastern Region Sales Performance Award. The award is based on professionalism, sales growth and implementation of sales and marketing plans. Bobby Caron of Southeastern Flooring received the Eastern Region Outstanding Sales Award. This award is based on sales volume and growth.

Questech Receives 2007 ADEX Awards!

Questech is proud to announce they have received three 2007 ADEX Awards, in the Kitchen and Bath category. The Awards for Design Excellence (ADEX Awards) are bestowed annually and constitute the largest and most prestigious awards program for product design of furniture, fixtures and finishes marketed to the design trade. Questech’s Tumbled Marble with Q-Seal™ received a PLATINUM ADEX Award. Q-Seal™ is a permanent factory-applied sealer that is baked right in to the tiles and never needs resealing. Q-Seal is guaranteed for life to prevent the effects of water and stains, so homeowners can now enjoy the beauty of their natural stone tiles without worrying about special cleaners or resealing as they would with ordinary sealers. The 12 x 16 Dorset Fruit Bowl Mural, featuring stunning detail on premium cast metal, was also awarded a PLATINUM ADEX Award. Questech’s exquisite cast metal accents possess a unique beauty that results from both the artwork and the rich detail the material renders. Capturing the beauty of metal, an icon of permanence and durability, and transforming it into a more lyrical form has been the foundation of the award-winning company’s success. Questech’s Cast Stone Switch Plate received a GOLD ADEX Award.

Bonsal American® Hires Wright

Bonsal American® recently expanded its management team by hiring Amy Wright as its marketing manager for Bonsal American. Wright will manage Bonsal American’s new ProSpec brand of professionally-specified building products. Wright has experience in public relations, brand management and marketing. In other news the company announced it has expanded its sales efforts in the western United States by naming Scott Springs, Regional Sales Manager of its ProSpec brand. Springs is responsible for all tile/stone setting and concrete repair and restoration products in Arizona, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

Innovations Extra! What’s new from coverings 2007
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

Year after year, tile manufacturers create new looks and tap new technology to stay current and keep ahead of the competition. 2007 is no exception. More realistic stone, retro patterns, and the urban look—monochromatic, large format porcelain to brushed metal—are just a few of the latest looks. Overlapping styles, as in stone looks used with metal trim pieces, for example, or tiny glass mosaics used with stone and ceramics were equally popular.

Stone looks

The newest manufacturing technology makes it possible to create porcelain tile with little or no repeat in the pattern. This makes for a more realistic version of the stone look.

Crossville’s new Tuscan Clay has V-4 variation and rough edges. The company’s Buenos Aires line has absolutely no repetition in the pattern. Crossville claims that even stone professionals would have difficulty distinguishing the porcelain from natural stone.

Lamosa showed several new porcelain tile lines, three featuring a stone-look. The new Savage line has dimension and tremendous variation. Pietra del Casale is meant to resemble the rustic warmth of Tuscan floors, and Yura Stone is smooth with fossil-like materials.

Animal prints

The animal skin style that debuted a few years ago, was huge in 2006, and included even more exotic tiles this year. One chic example is by Can Yalman Design for Canakkale Seramik. The omnipresent ads for the RepTile line were very eye catching. Rather than having each tile imitate a square section of animal skin, each of these tiles represents one snake’s scale or one irregularly shaped rectangle of the hide of an alligator. This distinctive look comes in bold colors to evoke the wild side.

Metal looks

More manufacturers have gotten on the metal tile bandwagon. As decos, these tiles work for a whole range of applications. In large format pieces, shiny has really taken off. This ultra modern finish keeps morphing into ever-newer looks. The hot colors seemed to be gold, platinum, and sparkly metallics.

Ceramiche Refin introduced the Platinum Collection, which included a large format panel with swirling shiny florals on a matte metallic background.

Graniti Fiandre brought in two new looks: the Platinum Collection and the New Collection, both of which exude sophisticated urban style.

Tau’s new Metallica line encompasses two trends: metal combined with stone, and metal mixed with bright colors.

Villeroy and Boch showed a dark grey tile called Fire and Ice. It had lights within the tiles, which was shown on stair risers. Viva introduced Pietra Luna a sparkly tile. It comes in several colors, but in navy it looks like the night sky.


Glass has grown exponentially for years. Once only for pools and bathrooms, glass tile has moved into the rest of the house. Shelter magazines show glass fireplace surrounds, kitchen backsplashes, trim for floors, and glass mosaics as focus walls in living, dining rooms and even front porches.

In what was probably the glitziest booth at Coverings this year, Bisazza showed enormous glass murals, which twinkled and shimmered from across the hall. There were big patterns that looked like upholstery, natural designs, 24 carat gold mosaics, damask patterns, hounds-tooth designs, and dozens of other large scale patterns reminiscent of wallpaper, only much more glamorous.

Standard one-inch squares are no longer the only way to think of glass mosaics. Tiny unevenly shaped glass pieces were seen in many booths, as were much larger ones. Hakatai showed jazzy wall-sized murals in soft neutrals done with tiny pieces. Oceanside Glasstile announced the release of Geologie, a glass and slate mosaic blend that is full of color and still earthy.

Marca Corona introduced Mon Amore floral patterns. This pattern was especially pretty in the blue and green with various patterns that can be mixed to create a quilt design.

Fabric looks

Viva presented Haute Couture at Cersaie 2006. Aptly named, the line has elegant leather texture, and neutral colors such as noir, café, amande and blanc.

Other new textile inspired introductions this year include Ethe’s Masterplan collection of large format, textured surfaces and resistant materials in sophisticated black, dark brown, grey, hazel, light grey and ivory.

Canakkale Seramik and Kalebodur showed “Textile Series” with a linen texture. Another of their introductions exemplifies a trend two-for-one that incorporates large overall patterns and fabric looks. It is called “Design 1960” and it features brown and orange abstract florals.

Texture and Lines

Another trend that seems to have grown in the past year is the multi-colored striped tile. From a distance, these colors visually merge into a neutral. Upon closer inspection, they prove to be a range of colors from browns and oranges to white and blue combinations. Because they are colorful, the tiles exude warmth, but the straight lines and the neutrality of the overall look makes these tiles perfect for the urban style, too.

Companies introducing tiles with lines this year are: Sant’Agnostino with N.O.W.; Land Porcelanico with the new Reflexion series of rectified porcelain pieces for commercial use; and Vitra with the Dahlia series, full of striking colors.

In the wavy line department, there were also many new introductions. Saime showed its new Pop Art line. Ragno has its new Arkitessuto with wavy lines and Bijou from Viva’s Nouvelle Vague Collection with curved lines.

The range of textures has grown to include tiles that have large sculptural dimension. There are also many tiles with lines either carved into the surface, or protruding. There are many straight lines but also curving and turning lines. Many companies showed wavy lines both on two-dimensional tiles and on three-dimensional pieces.

Progetto Ceramic showed Particular Mostarda, which has ripples, and Particolare Origano in olive green with rings and ridges. Their new Matrix design has interesting bumps in a square pattern.


Leatrice Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute, discussed color combinations that will speak to consumers’ emotions. Highlights were a rich burgundy, metal looks and luxury. Among other colors, Eiseman predicts that deep rich pinks, burgundies, and other rosy purples are going to be popular in 2008.

Art tile

As one might expect, the handmade tile artists always have lots of creative new looks in tile. Motawi showed several new floral designs; Calla Lilies, Amaryllis, and Tea Roses from the Dard Hunter collection. They also presented the New Louis Sullivan line. According to Karim Motawi, “We make what we like ourselves. Sullivanesque architecture was keeping me up at night. So, I knew we just had to create this line.” They introduced Chicago-style relief tiles: Halsted, Sheridan and Burnham.

The future

Essentially the trend this year is to one-up last year’s new designs. Modern looks get hipper, stones and woods get more realistic and exotic. Metals get more glamorous with gold and platinum. Glass mixes with every other material to create new looks. If there’s a look you or your customers want, it’s out there!


StonePeak brought their Italian-designed Ville Collection and the new Vulcani series, both through body porcelains in a variety of colors, sizes and trims.

Leuca has a Mediterranean stone appearance.

Viva showed Etno Chic, a large scale pattern of coral on white field.

Elaine introduced “Labrador,” a natural, stone-look porcelain for both residential and commercial applications available in 12×12 and 18×18.

Crossville’s Color Blox Too introduces a new striped version that can be used alone or with the solid Color Blox series.

StonePeak has a new “Fashion Collection” that celebrates the texture of linen, wool and cotton in a through body porcelain.

Canakkale Seramik and Kalebodur showed “Textile Series” with a linen texture. Another of their introductions exemplifies a trend two-for-one that incorporates large overall patterns and fabric looks.

Villeroy Boch showed a steely gray tile with a pink tapestry focal point.

One – on – One…with Ron Williamson
July 1st, 2007

“The need for more environmentally sound  building practices has brought the construction industry to a point where they value the features and benefits of our products more than ever.”

By Kathleen Furore

July-August 2007

How does a journalism graduate and advertising sales representative become a sought-after marketing expert in the tile industry? Just ask Ron Williamson, Marketing Services Director at Ironrock, a quarry tile and decorative tile manufacturer in Canton, Ohio.

Nearly two decades ago, the one-time newspaper employee answered an ad for a samples and marketing coordinator at Ironrock and parlayed the position into his current spot as Marketing Services Director, where he combines his love of architecture and design with his knack for writing about and promoting tile products.

Williamson spoke with TileDealer about his background, and about how Ironrock grew from a small brick paving company born in the late 1800s to the preeminent manufacturer of unglazed ceramic quarry tile and decorative tile products it is today.

TileDealer: What is your background? How did you get involved in the tile industry?

Williamson: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Ohio University in 1982. I majored in advertising and minored in psychology. I always had an interest in architecture and design, and leaned toward the marketing end of the business.

After graduation, I worked at a newspaper selling ad space. I was looking for an opportunity to get out of that business, and in 1989 I came to Ironrock. I answered the company’s newspaper ad for a samples and marketing coordinator. It was a nice marriage of something I had always been interested in and my media background.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve grown the position. With the advent of desktop publishing, I’ve been able to do advertising, write press releases—anything that has to do with communicating information about Ironrock products—all in-house. We now have a great marketing staff including a graphic designer and a design assistant to help with marketing tasks. There is also a sample room manager who gets samples out to the field.

A huge part of my job is making sure that the sales managers in the field have the tools they need to represent our products.

TileDealer: Can you give a brief company history, starting with the company’s inception as The Royal Brick Company in 1890?

Williamson: The founder, Jacob J. Renkert, started working in the brick business in 1866. The company began as The Royal Brick Company in Canton in 1890. In 1902, it became the Metropolitan Paving Brick Company because of a merger with other brick manufacturers. The basic reason the company is here is because this area of the country—near the Appalachian Mountains—has excellent raw materials. At one time, the company was the largest manufacturer of road paving brick in the world.

Over the years the company has supplied a diversity of ceramic products to the building industry such as paving brick for Canton’s streets; New York City’s tunnels; the Indianapolis Speedway; some of the largest tile installations in the country, including quarry tile for mass transit areas in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and tile for the Pittsburgh International Airport. We’ve also done a large number of high-end, custom home applications using products from our Meredith line.

The company’s name has changed over the years to reflect changing product lines. Metropolitan Paving Brick became Metropolitan Brick, then Metropolitan Industries when it diversified in the 1960’s. The name was changed to Ironrock Capital-Ironrock in 1999. The company is currently known as Ironrock and has the Metropolitan Ceramics and Meredith Collection product brands.

In the early 1970’s then-President and CEO Steven Renkert decided to bring the company back to its ceramic manufacturing roots and began developing a quarry tile plant at the current Canton location. He had the foresight to see a real need to fill this market niche—commercial extruded quarry tile—with a quality product. Quarry tile is used where durability and slip-resistance are main concerns—restaurant kitchens and other heavy traffic areas are good examples.

By 1978, a new plant to manufacture vitrified, low-absorption, unglazed ceramic split tile for indoor and outdoor use was opened on Millerton Road in Canton. In developing this plant, Metropolitan chose to use the split tile process which utilizes the vertical extrusion of two pieces of tile joined by connecting webs or “sticks”. Metropolitan quarry tile can be installed easily, has a slip-resisting surface and is available in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and textures.

In 1986, Rachel Renkert started Meredith Collection, which operated separately in the Metropolitan plant. Meredith became a brand of Ironrock in the early 1990’s. Amelia Renkert, Steve’s daughter, became President of Ironrock in 1992. Today Guy Renkert, Steve’s son, is president and CEO. He succeeded Amelia in 2002 after Amelia’s return to the practice of law and is the fifth generation of the Renkerts to manage this family-owned company.

The Renkerts are very interested in investing not only back into the manufacturing facility, but also into the community. They are very civic minded and involved in the Canton community through scholarship programs, support of the local arts and other charitable activities.

Also, Ironrock has many employees that have been with the company for years and even decades. That says a lot about the work environment that the Renkerts have established.

TileDealer: Your company manufactures Meredith Art Tile and Iron Gate Tile under the Meredith Collection banner. You also offer the Metropolitan Ceramics brand. What are the characteristics of the products in each line?

Williamson: Meredith Art Tile is inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement and is sold in tile boutiques throughout the U.S. It features detailed hand-painted relief carved decorative tiles. Meredith Art Tile’s market is focused toward high-end applications for mostly residential new construction and renovation. Certain designs are also very popular in bungalows and Craftsman-style homes.

Iron Gate Tile features Victorian-inspired designs. This line’s price point is slightly lower than that of the Meredith Art Tile and offers some inventoried designs and field tile. Iron Gate Tile appeals to the market interested in a “subway tile” look. It is sold through dealers throughout the U.S. This last year has seen a complete updating of the Iron Gate Tile line.

Metropolitan Ceramics is our line of unglazed, extruded quarry tile. The standard product is one-half-inch thick for added durability and comes in a variety of colors and sizes. We also make other thicknesses for various applications. The product is a low-absorption product, which makes it suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It runs through our kilns vertically as two pieces attached by pencils or sticks. This allows for better firing. Once fired, the two tiles are split—thus the name “split tile”. We also make products with added slip-resistance.

We also introduced a new product line called Down To Earth (DTE) that is part of the Metropolitan Ceramics brand within the past year. It has all the features and benefits of quarry tile with added texture and unique sizes that appeal to the growing trend in the residential market for enhanced outdoor living spaces. Down To Earth also features random shade variation to add to the classic look of the product.

TileDealer: What are some of your most popular products and what are the most common applications in which they’re installed?

Williamson: In our Meredith line, Ginkgo and Square Rose tiles—traditional Arts and Crafts looks—are very popular. We also have unique mural series that are extremely popular. That includes The Coastal Series with a lighthouse and seashore motif; Treescape; and a Mountain series.

Iron Gate offers a subway tile look with neo-classic designs. Because it is such a traditional, Victorian tile line I can’t really say one design sells better than another. The Palm Border and Bead and Diamond Border are popular, and we just introduced a Fleur de Lis motif. As for installations, kitchen backsplashes and counters, bathroom applications and fireplace surrounds are some of the most common areas for Meredith and Iron Gate.

On the Metropolitan side, our Down To Earth products are popular for outdoor spaces—patios, walkways, pool surrounds and even driveways. These tiles are good in any climate from Minnesota to Miami!

TileDealer: Has the downturn in the housing market impacted sales of the kind of high-quality ceramic tiles you manufacture?

Williamson: There is always going to be a demand for quality products. People are renovating and remodeling if they’re not buying new homes, so it really isn’t negatively impacting the higher-end part of the market. In fact, the downturn has actually helped the Metropolitan side of our business. With the downtick in the residential side of the business, a lot of distributors for Metro product are looking for other places to generate revenue, which is helping on our commercial side.

TileDealer: Fuel costs are soaring, which obviously affects tile production and shipping costs. How is Ironrock handling the challenge high gas prices are presenting?

Williamson: We definitely have felt the effects of rising natural gas prices and are always looking at ways to be more energy efficient. As for gasoline prices, like all industries, if it continues we eventually will feel the effects because the consumer will at some point have to make choices. Because we ship freight on board from our plant, it hasn’t had that big an impact yet. It also helps that we’re centrally located.

TileDealer: What trends are impacting the tile industry today? And how are those trends impacting Ironrock’s business?

Williamson: Our products are very traditional, very niche, so we don’t track trends a lot. However, there is a lot of renovating and remodeling going on. And, as I mentioned before, there is a big demand for outdoor living spaces, which has created a good interest in our Down To Earth product line.

Another giant movement is the LEED and green building trend that is beginning to impact every company. The architectural community is looking at a product’s lifecycle and it’s green attributes closer than ever. Our tiles are very sustainable with an extremely long life cycle, so this is playing to our advantage. Also, our quarry products are very natural, scrap can be reused in production and used to make road beds, and the finished product can be recycled. Our products are also made in the United States, so it costs less to transport them.

Going green, having sustainable products is all about being a good steward. And it is good business, too.

TileDealer: Are there any big plans in store for Ironrock? What does the future hold?

Williamson: We will continue to add capabilities within the framework of the types of products our plant is designed to manufacture efficiently. We have built a reputation for manufacturing quality products and we wouldn’t want to sacrifice that to chase the latest trend. Fortunately, the types of products we manufacture don’t go out of style. In some cases, as with our quarry products, design trends come back to us. One example is the need for more environmentally sound building practices, which has brought the construction industry to a point where they value the features and benefits of our products more than ever.


Ron Williamson

Marketing Services Director


Canton, OH


Coverings 2007 continues tradition contributing to Tile Partners for Humanity
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

For the fourth consecutive year, Coverings exhibitors have teamed with Tile Partners for Humanity (TPFH), donating tons of excess tile, stone, adhesives and other valuable materials that will benefit Habitat for Humanity projects. In fact, three trailer trucks were loaded with approximately 50 pallets of goods by volunteers from Freeman, the service contractor for Coverings, and headed out from McCormick Place Convention Center destined both for actual installation in Chicago projects as well as for sale in the Northern Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity ReStore where it will generate revenue directly funding Habitat. This represents the first time the Chicago-area affiliate is the beneficiary because Coverings has been held in Orlando for the past three years since the initiative was undertaken.

“The response and involvement of so many of the 1200 Coverings exhibitors to Tile Partners for Humanity is exceedingly generous,” said Tamara Christian, CEO of National Trade Productions, which manages and produces the annual expo and conference. “We’ve heard from our exhibitors that this is a program they heartily endorse because they feel they can say thank you to the Coverings host community in a most unique and meaningful way. Typically, exhibitors bring much more merchandise to the show as a precaution in case of damage during shipping, lost deliveries, display revisions or just to be sure they have plenty of options on hand. While it may start out as ‘excess,’ it doesn’t go to waste, thanks to the true partnership forged by TPFH and the companies who exhibit.”

According to Ally Fertitta, executive director of TPFH, “Coverings exhibitors are amazing partners to us and we are extremely grateful for all they contribute. This year we received whole floors, plus significant amounts of granite and marble. The community of Chicago is the richer for having Coverings return for many reasons, and this generous contribution to Habitat for Humanity definitely is one of them.”

Fertitta estimates that in the four years Coverings has teamed with TPFH, materials valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars have been contributed and scores of families now have a permanent well-constructed home and roof over their heads.

Learn more about TPFH at

South of the Border Tile
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

By Jeffrey Steele

Americans are well acquainted with Mexican sun-and-surf tourist meccas like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Los Cabos and Ixtapa. But not as many know Puebla, a city steeped in history and cultural treasures and home to a distinctive tile tradition.

Beneath the towering laurel and jacaranda trees of the Zocalo in Puebla’s historic district, tourists and natives stroll past a burbling fountain and antique iron benches on their way to the charming cafes, restaurants and shops lining this central square.

Many will also visit the sprawling Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1649, or one of myriad other ancient churches near the city center. If they pause a moment to view the facades of these and other historic buildings, they will discover they are partly or entirely covered with exquisite Talavera tile for which Puebla is renowned.

The art form known as Talavera, in tile, pottery, sculpture and other hand-made ceramics, has existed for centuries. But today, as Spanish-influenced design and architecture is increasingly embraced in North America, the beauty of Talavera and other Mexican tile is being rediscovered by American designers and dealers. Talavera has even been the subject of exhibits at North American galleries, such as the “Talavera Poblana: Four Centuries of a Mexican Ceramic Tradition” exhibit, which was staged several years ago at New York City’s Americas Society Art Gallery.

Talavera tiles, which originated in the Spanish city of Talavera de la Reina, came to Puebla with Spanish immigrants who followed the 16th Century Spanish conquerors to the New World. Spanish ceramists taught indigenous peoples the dual-firing process that imparts the unique colors and luster to Talavera ceramics.

Puebla became the Mexican capital of Talavera artistry based on both the quality and availability of the clay in and around the city, said John Etchberger, president of Mexico City-based Mexican Connection, which sells tile made exclusively in Mexico.

“Talavera is made by mixing light and dark clay,” he says. “And to this day, the Talavera certified by Consejo Nacionale De Talavera must have clay from the Puebla area. That assures the Talavera is made to the same standards taught by Spaniards.”

The lessons and artistry originally imparted by Spanish ceramists were carried down through families of master craftsmen in Puebla. In the 18th century, workshops producing Talavera evolved into factories, or fabricas, turning out the hand-made tile.

“Today, there are only 12 fabricas that produce Talavera in accordance with those [original] standards, out of the thousands that produce Talavera-style ceramics in Mexico,” Etchberger says. “That’s the top level, and they are very fine. Everything has to be done by hand. The only machinery in a certified Talavera fabrica is an electric motor that turns a huge grinder used to grind mineral rocks to make paints.”

One of the best, if not the best, known fabrica in Puebla is Uriarte, established in 1824. Currently operated by the fifth generation of the Uriarte family to oversee the fabrica, the Uriarte fabrica in Puebla provides tours on a daily basis, Etchberger says. “And sometimes, Senor Uriarte gives the tours himself,” he adds. “He’s 88 years old, and still works every day at the fabrica.”

Specializing in Mexican Tile

Today, there are a number of companies that provide Mexican Talavera to dealers in the United States. One of those is Mexican Connexion, a five-year-old Mexico City-based company. Etchberger reports that at his two Puebla-based fabricas, the process of creating very high-end Talavera tile begins with two different kinds of clay, which are screened and combined to make a clay mixture.

The mix is molded into shapes in large blocks, cut by wire into slices a quarter inch thick, and then spread out in the sun to dry, Etchberger says.

The next step is a first firing, followed by hand painting.

“One interesting aspect of the paint in genuine Talavera is that it features a limited amount of colors, because they have to make their own paint, and it comes from minerals. You have a dark blue, another that’s yellow, one that’s green, another orange, an off-white and a red.”

After the tiles are painted, they are fired again, and this second firing brings out the color and produces the sheen characteristic of Talavera tile. “If you see it before the second firing, you wouldn’t be able to tell what colors will come out,” Etchberger says.

The majority of Talavera in the U.S. derives from areas other than Puebla, he adds. These examples of Talavera have much brighter colors and more vivid designs.

Non-certified Talavera is popular with many in the U.S. because it is priced more affordably than the rare certified counterparts. Etchberger reports he can sell this tile for $45 to $65 a square foot, while Uriarte would command ten times that amount.

Etchberger believes Mexican tile is gaining fans in the U.S. because of the return to popularity of Spanish influences in decoration and design.

“I’ve sold Talavera to virtually every state in the United States, from Maine to Minnesota, Washington and Oregon,” he says. “The heaviest sales go to markets like California, Texas, New Mexico and Florida. I had a builder this morning from Southern California asking for samples, and recently had a builder from Florida asking me for tile to be used over a three-foot arch in a home he’s building.”

Much of the Talavera Etchberger sells is used in kitchens and bathrooms, he says. In kitchens, it is frequently seen as wall tile, in backsplashes and on countertops.

Talavera is also popular on sides of preparation-serving islands away from drawers. In bathrooms, Talavera is favored in shower and tub enclosures, and some designers surround Talavera sinks with Talavera tiles. “People use it in entryways, and use the six-inch tiles in the facers of stair risers,” Etchberger reports. “They are also using Talavera in recreation and family rooms anywhere ceramic tile is used.”

Finally, Talavera can be combined with octagonal Saltillo tiles as accent pieces on the corners of the Saltillo in virtually any room of the house, he says.

San Diego-based Tierra y Fuego is an eight-year-old company that distributes tile from Mexico and Spain, says marketing manager Javier Ibarra. The imperfection of the hand-crafted Talavera tile’s color and texture gives it its unique characteristics. “It’s not perfectly flat, and that makes it appealing as well, compared with most factory-made tile,” he says.

“Most of the background color is an off-white. It’s not matte or gloss, but a semi-gloss finish with natural minerals. Gold, yellow, cobalt blue, green and orange are some of the more prominent colors in the tile.”

This Talavera is hand-crafted in Guanajuato state, using clay acquired from deposits in different parts of Mexico. The tile is hand-pressed and dried for two weeks in the sun, Ibarra says. Once dried, it is fired at low temperatures to give it its strength.

The tile then goes to a finishing process, involving glazing in off-white and decorating with natural pigments on the top. It subsequently goes to another kiln where it’s fired at higher temperatures for about eight hours. When the kiln cools, the tile is removed and hand selected for quality before being packed and shipped.

Most of the sales of Tierra y Fuego tile are in California, where Spanish colonial homes predominate, Ibarra adds. “But it’s also growing popular in Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. And we make a lot of sales on the East Coast.”

San Antonio, Tex.-based Tiles of Luxury is a company that imports a number of hand-made tile lines created in Saltillo, a city in Coahuila state. Prominent are its Antique Terra Cotta and Antique Speckled Terra Cotta lines, as well as another called the Mediterranean. The first two lines are lighter, while the Mediterranean is a darker, chocolate-colored terra cotta, says Tile of Luxury president and founder Ashley Neal.

“The biggest thing about the people in Mexico who make tile is that they are true artists, and there are few of those left,” he says. “This takes people who are patient and very good with their hands. You find that in Italy, in Spain, in France and in Mexico. That’s where you’re going to find the real artists in the flooring industry.”

Tile of Luxury’s product is a true terra cotta created from clay and dried by the sun. “The big difference is we do the texturing process by hand,” Neal says.

“And then we fire it just as was done three or four hundred years ago in a brick kiln that resembles a big brick teepee. We put the tiles in there on the sides of the kiln on different levels, and use wood to burn the tile from the bottom. It’s fired at about 2,100 degrees, and the tiles are kept in there for a week. That’s because it takes two days to get it heated up, and a couple days to cool down. Wood is used to give us the different layers of colors, which include red, yellow, salmon and pink. When you lay the colors out in a room, it’s the combination of all these tile colors together that makes it so distinctive. The tiles look like they’re 200 years old from day one.”

The appearance of antiquity is particularly striking in the speckled terra cotta, because a black dirt mixture is spread into the pores of the tile before it is fired, Neal adds. The effect is of tile that’s been reclaimed from an ancient setting.

Tile of Luxury’s terra cotta tile is used throughout homes in the Southwest U.S., primarily on floors, walls and in backsplashes. The company also produces a coping tile for staircases in all of the textures of its antique lines. The coping tile is expressly designed to wrap around from the front of a stair riser to the left or right, Neal says.

“You can also do courtyards with it,” he adds. “But you don’t want to put any terra cotta tile out in the cold in a climate that goes down well below freezing. The ice would eventually crack the tile if enough weight was sitting on it.”

Unfortunately, Saltillo’s tile-making operations have been hurt in recent years by Mexican tile made in Monterrey but identified as Saltillo tile by big box retailers selling building materials, Neal says.

“It’s not a true terra cotta, not made in Saltillo, and not hand-made,” he observes, noting the misidentified tile is drawing sales away from Saltillo’s artisans, while simultaneously jeopardizing their reputations for craftsmanship.

While Tile of Luxury doesn’t make Talavera, the company does sell a textured Talavera tile line called Alhambra, which Neal reports is used in fountains and some pool areas, as well as within the home. The company’s most popular Talavera is called Tequila Sunrise. “It’s been a huge seller for us,” Neal says. “It’s got cobalt blue, bright yellow, green and terra cotta red, and is a decorative field tile.”


John Etchberger, president

Mexican Connexion, Mexico City


Javier Ibarra, marketing manager

Tierra Y Fuego, San Diego


Ashley Neal, president and founder

Tiles of Luxury, San Antonio, TX


Honorato Ramirez, public relations manager

Alonso Luis Designs, Puebla

Mosaic Murals: The History May Just Be The Beginning
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

By Eric Carson

The history of mosaic murals, which dates back 4,000 years, like many lasting art forms can be traced directly to the Romans, or more accurately, the expansive Roman Empire. During its reign, the mosaic mural art form of the Romans spread to every region under its power, with many believing it was the Greek artists under Roman rule and later the Byzantines who truly mastered the craft. The world famous mosaic work uncovered from the ashes of Vesuvius at Pompeii had a decidedly Greek influence.

The word mosaic itself earns its root from the Greek word mouseion, meaning “appertaining to the muses,” which sounds just about right. Intricate mosaic murals, or any collection of pieces of marble, glass, ceramics or stone embedded in some form of cement, can be downright awe-inspiring. Whether in the form of large scale public art or smaller more detailed portraits, a mosaic mural has a way of forcing a passerby to stop, gaze and wonder, “How did they do that?” Or perhaps at the very least, “How long did that take?”

This sublime medium of the past has begun to make a splash here in America, as architects, designers and even homeowners increasingly look to the ancient art form for the creative freedom and unlimited design and color options it provides. The recent trend in the United States, driven largely by increased exposure to the medium gained through the Internet and the relative ease of world travel, combined with the widespread rise in the popularity of ceramic and glass tile materials, has sparked a renewed interest. Now, everywhere from casino, hotel or restaurant walls and floors, to residential bathrooms are considered prime canvases for the modern mosaicists.

“The world is shrinking,” said Sonia King, a mosaic artist and author of Mosaic Techniques and Traditions (Sterling Publishing). “Mosaic murals have always been more prevalent in Europe because of the rich tradition and history, but through exposure, more and more architects have come to realize the importance of the medium. The growth in the US has been driven from the outside in, and with the availability of more traditional mosaic materials it has moved more from a craft to becoming increasingly art-centric.”

The art form itself is no easier to accomplish today for the artist than it has been at any point in history, still requiring incredible levels of skill and uncommon attention to detail. What has changed is the ability for any end-user with an idea or the simple desire to have a mosaic mural installed, to easily realize this ambition.

How easy? Well, as easy as sending in a fax or an email or even just a picture taken from a digital camera to a firm offering a mosaic mural program. Companies like the Oregon-based Hakatai Enterprises, through its innovative mosaic mural and design program, will design and fabricate hand-cut, ready-to-install mosaic glass murals on mesh-backed sheets with paper facing out of a photo, painting, CAD or detailed drawing, with an almost limitless range of mosaic glass tile color options and textures available, ensuring an exact replica of your vision in any size.

Of course, a skilled installer is still a necessary component, but murals in any size are simply labeled appropriately by section, rolled up like a carpet, and shipped in circular tubes ready to be installed. Glass murals, or murals made from combinations of ceramic tile and natural stone, can be installed on any interior or exterior wall or floor where traditional ceramic, porcelain or stone tile applications would be suitable.

The installation of the mural, though much more complex, still requires the basic necessities of any tile install: a clean, firm and properly graded substrate, a waterproofing membrane in wet areas like a bathroom or for exterior applications, a modified Portland cement thin-set, and the proper grout selection based on the tile materials. Smaller more detailed murals can be delivered and installed in one piece, but it’s the larger murals, delivered in sections, that require more skill and precision to successfully install.

With Coverings 2007 still fresh in everyone’s mind, a perfect example of a modern mosaic mural made from a wide combination of ceramic, stone, porcelain, glass and metal products, is the 15’ x 13’ masterpiece created by Harri Aalto of Creative Edge Mastershop. Aalto, one of the world’s foremost waterjet fabricators, long inspired by the impressive Chicago skyline, created a mural depicting the “stone” city, installed it with state-of-the-art setting materials from LATICRETE, and left it hanging in McCormick Place as a treasured gift to the people of Chicago.

Though perhaps not quite as intricate as the 4th Century Christian art murals created by the Romans, Aalto’s mural does speak to the technological advancements that make this art form increasingly more appealing and achievable in modern times. The stone, ceramic, and porcelain tile were precision cut with water-jet technology, which of course didn’t exist in ancient times. The 1,500-pound mural was set permanently in place with a thin, load-bearing thinset, and the design was completed and uninterrupted by utilizing LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK™ PRO Grout’s 40 different color options. Again, not exactly an option for the Romans at Pompeii.

Still, the sheer power and intricate detail of mosaic murals, and even the techniques passed on by the ancient Roman masters, continue to inspire the modern architect, designer and mosaicists. And with the full knowledge that what once was can never truly be again, perhaps the future holds another chapter, or even a new level of mosaic artistry for future generations to behold.

The possibilities, like that of a mural not yet created, are simply limitless.

Eric Carson is the senior writer at Communicators International, Inc., a full-service marketing and communications firm based in Portland, Maine. Contact him at:, or visit


Floral from Hakatai’s custom program.

Chicago Skyline by Harry Aalto of Creative Edge Mastershop features ceramic, stone, porcelain, glass and metal and 15’x13’ artwork.

Showroom Seminar – Tool Talk Stocking hand tools can boost your bottom line
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

By Kathleen Furore

When customers walk in your dealership’s door, they’re likely there for one reason: to buy tile. But if you’re focusing on tile and forgetting about the hand tools and accessories used to install it, you’re missing out on an important profit source, experts say.

“Most dealers treat tools like a step-child. They have them as convenience items, but aren’t willing to put energy into finding out what the tile setters in their area are doing,” Clark Pade, general manager at Raimondi Tools USA, says. But with residential construction waning and competition on the rise, tile dealers must discover new ways to generate profits, Pade stresses. “The gross margins on thinsets and additives are 20 to 28 percent tops. But with tools, dealers can be making upwards of 35 percent,” he explains.

That fact alone makes trowels, spacers, sponges, grouting tools, nippers and other tile-setting tools ideal items to learn about and to inventory for a more robust bottom line.


While there are no hard and fast rules to follow, manufacturers say guidelines exist to help dealers decide not only the kind of tools to carry, but how to display and promote them, too.

“Dealers should not display what can be found for little cost in the home improvement or Do-It-Yourself markets. They can’t compete with their prices,” Ky Mierendorff, president of Tile Eze—Keil Anchor, Southwest Equipment Management, Inc., says. “Display and sell only top-notch tools, which are too costly for the DIY markets.”

Brian Turner, president and CEO of North American Tile Tool Company, agrees price drives the market, with do-it-yourselfers often opting for lower-priced items than their professional counterparts. But there are reasons do-it-yourselfers shouldn’t skimp when buying tile tools—reasons dealers who serve professional and DIYers alike should remember.

“In certain categories of tools this is a mistake consumers make. For example, tile isn’t cheap and they’ve spent a lot of money only to get the cheapest cutter. A tile cutter has to be strong enough to overcome the strength of the tile,” Turner explains. “And if you are going to do a lot of tiling it is worth investing in a cutter with good quality bearings for the ease of cutting factor, a tile cutting guide for repetitive cuts, and a tile extender arm to support larger format tiles. Also, inexpensive trowels are a good buy for the non pro, cheap sponges are not.”

Knowledge about the industry and the specific tools available to tile setters can mean the difference between success and failure in the small tool market, experts say. “Typical residential tile installers will go where they get the best service—and that means information!” Pade stresses.

“Durable tools from well-known manufacturers are easier to sell when one sales clerk at the dealer location has tool knowledge and can show and demonstrate the tools,” Mierendorff adds. “For example, a designated person [who is knowledgeable about tools] will select the right tile cutters for his customers. He will take on several brands and then follow up with his customer about the performance and reliability [of each product.”

A dealer’s tile-setting tool stock likely will vary—at least slightly—from market to market. Industry pros say it should. “Tile installers differ from location to location and so do their needs. This can be because of extreme temperatures, rain, or even snow,” Jessee Cogswell, president of Gemini Saw Company, explains.

“Think about all the places with different temperature, different building concepts. The products, tools and methodologies change from market to market,” Pade adds.

There are, however, items considered crucial for dealers to carry, manufacturers say.

“The short list of core items would include notch trowels, margin trowels, grout floats, sponges, tile cutters, buckets and knee pads,” Jon Miller, senior project manager of SuperiorBilt Tools, manufactured by Custom Building Products, says.

An all-around saw for basic cutting needs, plus saws designed for curves and portability, are also necessities, Cogswell notes. “With the popularity of glass tile growing daily it is essential to be able to address the differences between regular tile and glass tile,” he explains. “This means being able to supply a small portable saw for the purpose of cutting glass. Special grouts and fixative are also essential for this purpose.”

Miller offers this tool selection advice: “With tile cutters, size matters and cutting capacity is key. Sponges need to be hydrophilic. A good hydrophilic sponge won’t load up with sand and stays absorbent. Notch trowels should have a flexible enough blade. Stainless steel prevents rust, and SoftGrip™ handles reduce fatigue,” he says.

Other tool selection tips: Offer different kinds of floats; softer ones for textured tiles and stone (because they leave less grout residue behind) and harder floats for epoxy grout, Mierendorff says.

Whatever you decide to stock, Mierendorff says the way inventory is displayed can help drive sales.

“The tile dealer servicing the tile contractor/installer should have the basic tools readily available in eye sight—behind or next to the contractor counter. There also should be an area in which to display the industry’s latest tools and equipment,” Mierendorff concludes.

Tool List

A dealer’s stock of tile-setting tools will vary by dealer size and location. The following list, culled from manufacturers’ recommendations, includes some of the small tool products dealers should consider carrying:

• Backerboard knives

• Buckets

• Chalk

• Chalk lines

• Chisels

• Counter dusters

• Grout floats

• Hole saws

• Knee pads

• Levels

• Margin trowels

• Measuring tapes

• Mixing paddles

• Notched trowels

• Paddle mixers

• Rubber mallets

• Rubbing stones

• Scrapers

• Snap lines

• Sponges

• Straight edges

• Tile cutters

• Tile-grouting tools

• Tile nippers

• Tile spacers

• Trowels

• Washset

• Waterlevel

• Wet saws

Foster and Clark Real Estate
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