One-on-One with Donato Pompo, Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants
One might say Donato Pompo’s career in tile was foreordained. His grandmother was a tile company employee while expecting Donato’s father, who not only would go on to a long and illustrious tile industry career, but serve as both inspiration and role model for his son’s career in tile.
In the 30 years since Pompo followed his father’s footsteps into the business, he has earned two MBA degrees, gained five industry-related certifications, written nearly 30 published articles, captured countless industry accolades and presented more than two dozen educational seminars.
Most importantly, he is the founder of San Diego-based Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, and the University of Tile and Stone, a pre-eminent provider of education to industry employees and customers. The university’s online programs are available to CTDA members.
TileDealer: Please discuss your family history in the tile business.
My grandmother worked at Gladding McBean (Franciscan Tile), hand painting dinnerware while she was pregnant with my father. My father worked for Franciscan Tile for 30 years, and then purchased their San Diego location, renaming it Southwestern Ceramic Tile and Marble Company. I was in the tile union as an installer after high school, before being drafted into the Army and serving in the 82nd Airborne Division as an MP paratrooper. I attended college after the military and got a biochemistry education with an MBA in marketing and finance.
After college, I worked in the family distribution business for 17 years, in the warehouse, customer service, driving the large diesel truck and in the showroom. Then I specialized in architectural and contractor sales, and specified and sold many larger architectural projects. Eventually, I managed the company and grew it into one of the largest tile distributors in the country.
My father was CTDA president, and I was on the CTDA board of directors during that time. I later worked as a sales manager for Laticrete International for seven years, before founding Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) on May 5, 2002. I am currently the chair of the CTDA Education Committee.
TD: What did you learn from your father’s experience?
My father was a very successful salesman and businessman. Working with him gave me a great foundation to allow me to be successful in my own business.
TD: How and why was CTaSC Established?
Drawing on my MBA knowledge and industry experience, I created a feasibility study and business plan to determine the needs and opportunities, and to establish that there was a need for a consultancy company in the ceramic tile and stone industries.
I realized there was a need for a sophisticated forensic consultant with installation, distribution, and manufacturing experience and with a science background who could provide and articulate realistic, detailed investigation conclusions. I had been a Certified Ceramic Tile Consultant (CTC) through the CTIOA since 1979 and a Certified Construction Document Technologist through CSI since 2000. With the addition of my Certified Microbial Remediation (CMR), I had substantial experience, knowledge and credentials to be an effective consultant. CTaSC performs forensic investigations to determine the cause of problems and how to remediate those problems; we also perform laboratory testing, prepare installation guidelines and provide on-site quality control services on new tile and stone installations.
CTaSC is made up of accomplished ceramic tile consultants, stone consultants, ceramic tile and stone installers, architects, engineers, general contractors, construction scientists and other industry specialists. Most CTaSC inspectors are seasoned installers with management experience, so they are great quality control inspectors who can also train installers on these jobs. Often tile installers don’t have the opportunity to get formal training in the industry.
CTaSC created the UofCTS in 2002 to develop online education courses for distributors, manufacturers, installers, architects and other professionals in the ceramic tile and stone industries. It provides a means to effectively and practically educate members of our industry.
CTaSC also is the co-publisher of the Catalina Stone Report that is updated every other year and is a contributor to the Catalina Ceramic Tile report. Both provide data and insight in past and current industry trends. CTaSC also develops business and marketing plans for foreign and domestic companies trying to develop products or businesses for the ceramic tile or stone industries.
TileDealer: How do you choose your international team of consultants?
CTaSC only hires quality-minded people with a lot of experience in their fields of expertise. Most CTaSC inspectors are master tile setters who were company owners or superintendents.
When we run into projects where we need a level of expertise that we may not have, then we team up with architects, engineers and testing laboratories that are leaders in their field. In fact, we just added a stone restoration specialist to our team who is working with one of our other terrazzo investigators on a large terrazzo project at a major airport.
TileDealer: One of your services is forensic investigations. Why are those investigations needed and how are they undertaken? What do they reveal?
There is a big need for quality forensic investigations by companies that can provide realistic and reliable conclusions.
Tile failures are very expensive when you consider the cost to tear an installation out, re-install the tile, and likely experience collateral damages that need to be remediated; along with the inconveniences and lost opportunity of use during that process. When there is a problem it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Everyone will pay one way or the other in loss of time, money, and reputation. Everyone typically points fingers at someone else. Parties hire so-called experts to defend them with hypothetical, but unrealistic, conclusions.
Then, quite often, in trying to reduce their costs and hoping the problem goes away with time, the parties responsible only want to treat the symptom of the problem rather than correct the problem itself. Too often, failed projects are not remediated correctly and fail again. That is why they need a knowledgeable and honest company like CTaSC to find the true cause of the problem and to determine what it will take to remediate it.
I have been very dedicated to our industry in volunteering my time over the years to help make our industry better, which has rewarded me with a lot of knowledge, and status as an expert with industry standards. Early on as a Ceramic Tile Consultant I attended all training programs and volunteered my time for performing inspections in San Diego.
As a distributor I was involved in CTDA committees to help develop programs for the industry. I was the chairman of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America Technical Committee for many years. I am a member of the tile ANSI A108 committee, the ISO TC189 committee, the MIA Technical Committee, and the ASTM C18 Stone committee. I participate in the TCNA Handbook committee and the NTCA Technical committee. All are involved in setting industry standards so we can avoid the negative advertising of problems and failures and ensure successful installations.
TileDealer: Discuss the architectural specifications aspect of your work.
Architects are responsible for all aspects of specifications for a project, so they can’t be an expert at any one aspect of it. Typically architectural specifications are ambiguous and incomplete and don’t provide enough details to ensure the installer installs the tile correctly.
Often the architect or designer selects products based on color and texture rather than on suitability. What’s more, they really have nowhere to turn to get an honest answer, since salespeople are always selling them something and embellishing the product. CTaSC evaluates architectural specifications and applications to determine if the application and products are suitable for the intended application. That will include quality assurance testing, detailed specifications referencing specific industry standards, and specifying a quality control process during the installation to make sure the right products are used and installed correctly.
With my science background, experience and expertise in construction documents, we can reduce the risks of project problems and delays.
TileDealer: You provide some of the CTDA’s online training. What does the training consist of?
The Ceramic Tile course includes industry standards and sales techniques. It is designed to give salespeople the tools they need to increase sales, give tile installers the knowledge of industry standards and how to assist clients with selecting ceramic tile, and give professional designers the knowledge of how to select and specify ceramic tile.
The Natural Stone course also includes industry standards and sales techniques. It is designed to give salespeople the tools they need in order to increase sales, give stone installers and fabricators the knowledge of industry standards and how to assist clients with selecting natural stone, and give professional designers knowledge on how to select and specify natural stone.
The Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification course instructs installers on industry standards and proper installation methods for tile thin-set applications that apply to ceramic tile, porcelain tile, stone tile, glass tile and other types of adhered tile materials. This course is also meaningful to architects, general contractors, consultants, inspectors, and owners who want to be aware of the industry installation standards and methods.
TileDealer: Why is the training particularly important today?
Knowledge is power. Knowledge enables the avoidance of problems and false expectations. Employees who are trained become more knowledgeable, more confident in offering their company’s products and doing their work, and more effective at their jobs. Salespeople sell more; in a more professional way, installers install better and avoid potential problems.
Trained architects and designers select products more suitable for the intended application and specify more clearly to avoid project delays and problems. The ceramic tile and stone industries are unique. And most people don’t have the in-depth understanding and experience of our industry.
TileDealer: Who is likely to benefit from the training?
Everyone benefits from training. The entire tile and stone industry benefits from training because, as I said before, when there is a problem, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Tile failures cost our industry a lot of business. When someone spends as much as they do on tile in dollars and emotions, and then has to be subjected to a failure that costs a lot of time and money, regardless of who is at fault, they are likely to avoid using tile. And they will tell their friends and neighbors all about the terrible experience. The result is negative advertising. I see lots of what should be tile jobs go another way because of previous failures.
Most failures tend to be due to installer errors and are the result of the installers not following the industry standards that were created to avoid failures.
All major committees and associations such as TCNA, NTCA, TCAA, CTEF, and UofCTS encourage tile installers to be trained, and specifiers and home owners to only used qualified installers.
Training salespeople helps prevent problems too. As a result, they don’t put out bad information and/or allow their customers to have false expectations.
Training the architect helps ensure the installers get clear instructions on how to install the tile, and that there is a quality control process in place.
TileDealer: You’re on record predicting late last year: “My feeling is tile industry growth is going to continue, but slowly.” Are you more optimistic today than several months ago?
My business has gotten a lot busier, but I still see the industry being sluggish and only slowly improving. Until home foreclosures slow down significantly and housing stops depreciating and starts appreciating in value and building resumes, we aren’t going to see a huge change. Residential remodel work and some commercial work are keeping businesses going right now, and driving the slow recovery.
As soon as more people go back to work and consumer confidence goes up, you will see some good growth in the residential remodel sector that will eventually drive home building, which will drive the growth of the ceramic tile and stone industries.
TileDealer: What’s ahead for Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants?
CTaSC will continue offering its consulting services in finding solutions to problems and providing services to help avoid potential problems and help clients plan for opportunities. UofCTS will continue to develop new courses. We are currently developing a new CTDA Certified Ceramic Tile Specialist Study Guide both for online use and as an insert in the CCTS notebook study guide. We are developing a new course named “How To Specify Tile and Stone with Architects,” that will teach architectural sales reps how to specify their products with architects, and it will teach the architects how to properly specify tile and stone.
We have another course we have started on called “How to Install Tile for DIY and New Professionals.” This will cover all the basics of tile in terms of making sure the tile is suitable for the intended use, how to properly prepare the tile substrate, how to lay out your tile, how to install the tile, how to grout and seal your tile, and how to maintain your tile floor.
I will continue to volunteer with the industry in any way I can. I owe a lot to this industry, which has provided me and my family with a good life and with many rewards. We can be proud in our industry that our products are not only building materials that provide a lot of benefits in function and sustainability, but they represent art and beauty that will be our legacy to the future. ###
TD: CTDA promotes the online training, and members get a break on the cost, but it’s available to others, as are other training programs you have developed. What prompted the development of the first class? Which class was it? What has continued to drive that aspect of the business? For example, you have recently introduced “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification.”
I founded The University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) in 2002 because as a distributor for 17 years, and then as a manufacturer sales manager for seven years, I realized how important educating employees and customers is to the success of a company, as it was for me in my roles as a distributor and manufacturer. Everyone always acknowledges that educating their employees and customers is important, but few have the time, resources or commitment to get it done. Education is important to everyone, but it isn’t urgent, as so many other things are during their day. I always had a special interest in education.
I was the creator of the well known industry TileWise cartoons in 1987 (http://www.ctasc.com/TileWise_Cartoons/) where I worked with an artist and created cartoons about industry problems and issues that exaggerated the issue and conveyed the educational message in a humorous way. When I discovered e-learning technology that universities and large corporations were using to deliver training to their students and employees via a computer and the internet, I was impressed by its effectiveness in teaching, and delighted in that it was a very convenient and practical solution to effective training.
Students get 24/7 access to the online campus and course, the courses are self-paced so the student can come and go at their convenience, and the courses are interactive, which engages the student and reinforces the key points that we want the student to learn and retain. There are no travel costs or loss of productivity, because the courses can be taken at home or at work, and the courses are professionally narrated and loaded with photos, short video clips and animations. They’re enjoyable as well as informative.
The UofCT’s first course, “Understanding the Basics of Ceramic Tile,” has been a huge success. It has been updated several times. It was customized for CTDA Online and recently “Canadianized” for the Tile Terrazzo Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC) to offer to the Canadian market.
With the success of the ceramic tile course, we started getting lots of requests for a stone course. The consumption of natural stone and manufactured stone had increased tremendously, but most lacked the knowledge to be able to intelligently sell the material.
Thus the “Understanding the Basics of Natural Stone” course was created and released about two years ago and then customized for CTDA Online. In June 2012 the stone course was adapted for TTMAC to offer to the Canadian market. In fact, TTMAC has gotten both their ceramic tile course and the new stone course accredited for Continued Education Credits by the architectural organization OAA and AIBC, and they have also been accredited by the professional interior design organization IDCEC.
Now architect and interior designer members from those respective associations earn CEU credits when they take those courses.
As soon as the stone course was released we started working on the new tile installer course, because we knew the industry desperately needed a way to easily and practically allow tile installers to learn the industry standards.
The “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification” course was released at the beginning of the year and has done extremely well. Now installers can easily learn the current industry installation standards and methods without travel expenses or missing work. The course has been customized for CTDA Online and is now available to CTDA members. The course is currently being adapted for TTMAC. ###
Donato Pompo, founder
Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, Jamul, Calif.