One on One with Tile Doctor’s Curt Rapp
 
January 1st, 2011

by Jeffrey Steele

Many folks in the tile industry might be described as interesting people; few live up to that billing as formidably as Curt Rapp. Curt was already a respected industry veteran in 1999 when he launched The Tile Doctor, a web-based company (www.thetiledoctor.com) that provides how-to information and sells advanced products aimed at both tile consumers and professionals. Under Curt’s guidance as CEO, the website has reeled in tens of millions of unique visitors, who have come to trust the company as a total tile and stone resource, and provider of cleaning and protection products for hard surfaces.

In September 2010, Tile Doctor introduced its Shield line for the tile and stone industry. According to the company, Shield is a non-toxic antimicrobial, meaning it controls the growth of microorganisms without the use of chemical toxins. It is suitable for application on most hard surfaces and can differentiate and enhance service offerings of health care and hospitality environments, corporate settings, schools and homes. Shield is expected to accelerate company growth. In this interview, Curt identifies the catalysts for launching Tile Doctor and how Tile Doctor can help tile dealers. He takes us inside the development and launch of the Shield line of antimicrobials, and details how it is different from competitive products. He explains the founding and mission of Tile Partners for Humanity (TPFH), where he is chairman of the board. And finally, he looks ahead at the future for both TPFH and Tile Doctor.

Q&A

TileDealer: What motivated the launch of Tile Doctor?
Early on in my career it became clear to me that U.S. consumers had a great thirst for information regarding tile and stone installations for their homes. During the Internet bubble in 2000 I launched www.thetiledoctor. com, with the thought that if we provided good and timely information direct to the consumer via the web, we could build something unique to our industry. Our website was acknowledged by PC World magazine as one of the “Top 101 Websites in the World” in 2003. We also trademarked the name to allow us to eventually launch a Tile Doctor product line.

TD: What industry need does Tile Doctor fulfill?
We strive to bring innovative and environmentally-friendly products and solutions to the tile and stone industry. We strongly feel our products are the most innovative and timely products to hit the market today.

TD: What can Tile Doctor do for tile dealers?
First and foremost we offer a selection of products that allow for additional sales and higher profits for dealers. Most of our products, such as Shield, don’t take the place of existing items; they simply add margin dollars for the dealer. Second, we offer high performance yet environmentally-friendly products, allowing dealers to expand their green products portfolio.

TD: How is your antimicrobial product different and better than others?
What sets us apart is how we are applied and how we work. The Tile Doctor Shield product is an invisible liquid glass barrier of “sword like” molecules that attaches permanently to anything it’s introduced to. It uses no biocides, poisons or heavy metals, and is broad spectrum. In other words, since many antimicrobials are very narrow in range of effectiveness, they can allow survivors to become what’s commonly known as “superbugs.” Shield will not promote adaptive organisms; it denatures the microbe via a stab with a sword rather than a poison, and doesn’t require the presence of light to be effective. Shield can be applied to many hard surfaces, especially existing tile and stone installations. It can also be factory applied, and we are working closely with contractor companies to provide a special application method and formula that can be used on new or existing large commercial applications such as schools, hospitals and other public areas of high concern.

TD: Why did you develop the antimicrobial product?
The product was originally developed by Dow Corning after a 10-year research project focused on how to make an effective solution against mold, mildew, algae, bacteria and fungi without the use of toxic chemicals. We licensed Shield under an exclusive arrangement that allows us to operate within our classes of products, including tile, stone, backerboard and sanitary ware. The call to remove outdated and potentially toxic chemicals from our homes and offices is very high right now. In fact, the Toronto Indoor Air Commission has published a study that reports, in the study’s words, “a woman who works from home has a 54 percent higher likelihood of getting cancer than one who works away from home.” It has also been found that traditional household cleaning products, those used for mold, mildew and bacteria removal, play a huge role in generating poor indoor air quality.

TD: What can you tell us about the history of your product vis à- vis the history of others? How do we know it won’t become a problem like the others?
The chemistry used in Shield is so significant that it won the R&D 100 award upon introduction. This award is commonly referred to as the Oscars of Invention. The flash cube won the award in1963, the ATM machine won in 1974, and Polarcolor film, HDTV and LED technology have also won. To win, the innovation must be a verifiable and scientifically-validated technology that will positively impact lives. But the biggest reason we are so confident is that Shield’s technology isn’t new. We’ve adapted it for hard surfaces. The solution is made up of sand, carbon and nitrogen and has more than 30 years of scientific evidence validating the safety profile. Chances are you’re wearing this very technology right now next to your skin. Many of the world’s leading brands use this for microbial, odor and bacteria control on textiles.

TD: What obstacles did you have to surmount bringing it to market?
Since we operate in the area of destroying “bad guys” like mold, mildew and bacteria, we are considered a pesticide by the EPA (other anti-bacterials/microbials fall into the same category). We are not a disinfectant you apply, and then it dries and is gone. We are a biostatic surface inhibitor first and foremost that works 24/7 after it is applied. Since so few of those exist, the EPA doesn’t yet have a regulatory group specifically for the category. The process of registration — and the regulations about what can and cannot be said — is many and it has taken us three years to get to this launch point. We are now hitting the market!

TD: Why did you establish Tile Partners for Humanity?
I wanted to find a way to unite the industry around a common cause. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity Intl. (HFHI), was committed to providing sustainable housing for deserving families who are in substandard housing. And what flooring surface better fits the sustainable house than tile? When discussing ways to get involved with HFHI, a representative said, “When we are fortunate enough to get tile, we sometimes don’t have volunteers or the correct tools and installation materials to install, or vice versa, so we default to vinyl flooring simply because it’s easier.” After hearing this, I determined we needed to organize the system — the entire tile industry — around a common cause. And Tile Partners for Humanity was born.

TD: Can you discuss the organization’s success?
Tile Partners for Humanity has grown beyond my wildest imagination, providing in excess of $20 million in support since its inception. It’s also become a leader for our industry in keeping less desirable products out of landfills. Outdated inventory is recycled or reused in many other applications, rather than destroying it in dumpsters. We have been able to place hundreds of truckloads amounting to $10 million-plus worth of products that before would have gone straight to landfills. It is a rare and unique notfor- profit organization. It is the first time an entire industry has rallied to support such a cause. Emory University’s first year Non-Profit MBA class studied TPFH to better understand the model. It works so efficiently that less than 5 percent goes to running the operation, meaning 95 percent of donations go directly to the intended use. By any measure, that is a worthy and well-run non-profit organization.

TD: Where does Tile Partners for Humanity go in the future?
As with many non-for-profit organizations, it’s a struggle to maintain our existence. The donations of materials never are a major issue. The issue is continuing to find the small amount of funds required to operate. As of this writing we simply don’t know if we can make it through the next few weeks and months. This is not a call for donations, it’s simply a fact that many of our past donors have not given this year. I really believe we can do great things, like building Habitat houses dedicated to the industry and do greater things than we have already accomplished, if we can make it through these rough times ahead. But we simply don’t know what will be.

TD: What does or will the economic recovery mean to Tile Doctor?
A recovery probably means more to the established and mature brands. In our case we are building market share with each sale. We are looking towards some large advances in product sales for 2011 with exciting new things on the horizon. We are confident that these will make us one of the most valued brands in our industry. Let’s face it, big brands such as BASF, DuPont and others are entering this space. They see our industry as a ripe opportunity for consumer recognized brands, and we agree completely. Consumers know our brand, The Tile Doctor. The name is “sticky,” and we have more visits to our website each month than any other industry website in the world. With or without the recovery we are bringing products to the market that are exciting for our partner customers. They are providing additional opportunities for sales, and that makes for excitement!

SOURCE: Curt Rapp, CEO The Tile Doctor, Atlanta
770-447-0061
678-480-3023

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