January 1st, 2006


January-February 2006


Accents Con Agua, a division of Waterjet Works!, introduces Leaves 365, its new line of natural leaf-shaped tiles. The porcelain and slate leaves come in 6″ x 12″ matted sections. Each section is unique, with a variety of colors, allowing for creativity in its use with decorative borders, backsplash of kitchen counters and walkway and fireplace accents. Leaves 365 come in outlines of oak, elm and birch leaves, as well as three types of maple leaves, allowing for a custom look. (


With its versatility, the Ashland series has a palette of 17 solid colors, 7 iridescent colors and several standards. “Hakatai’s standard blends work well for many different interior applications,” said Andy Marcus, designer and president of A.L.M. Interior Design. Marcus, who recently used the tiles to renovate his Palm Springs home, found the glass tiles brought stylish accents to his home. The series is available in 1″ x 1″ glass tiles. Custom blends are also available. (


Mediterranea recently introduced its new collection of glazed porcelain tile, reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian temples and pyramids, entitled “ Temple Stone .” Created with a weathered, rustic appearance that blends dramatic Earth tones, “ Temple Stone ” has a natural feel. The tiles are offered in hues of Karnac (noce), Giza (gold), Luxor (bronze) and Isis (beige). Field tiles are available in sizes of 18″ x 18″ and 13″ x 13″, and bull noses in 3″ x 18″ and 3″ x 13″ sizes. (305-444-3676)


Stueler Fliesen recently released six new mosaics that combine mosaic and combination tiles that allow for dimension flexibility. Mosaic Baroque, Mosaic Classic, Mosaic Ethno, Mosaic Lines, Mosaic Metal and Mosaic Retro are all offered in a 12″ x 12″ format in a special glaze finish. Mosaic Baroque, derived from artistic impressions prevalent in 17th century Europe , is available in sophisticated color patterns of anthracite-red-brown and eggshell-gray. The Mosaic Classic series offers decorative border pieces to distinguish coordinated floor tiles, available in black-white, blue and matt terracotta. Mosaic Ethno contains the rich subtleties of exotic African culture in black-white ornaments of the large format mosaics. The Mosaic Lines series captures the eye and the imagination with the black-red or discreet reed patterns that cling to the gray-white striped combination tiles. The tiles and borders of the Mosaic Metal series sparkle in shades of copper espresso and gray-metallic, the stainless steel borders elegantly meeting the dark gray or espresso floor tiles. The Mosaic Retro series, inspired by the 1970s, offers border tiles in bold orange or subtle light gray. (207-828-8050)


The new glazed porcelain Vail and Aspen series from Laufen come in floor, wall and counter top tiles. Both are ideal for medium to heavy traffic areas and are easy to clean and maintain. In residential and commercial settings, the glazed porcelain provides a non-porous surface that is extremely stain resistant and durable. The Vail series comes in Ivory, Sahara , Pine and Rouge. The floor tile comes in 17½” x 17½” and 13″ x 13″ sizes. Mosaics are available in each color, as is a multicolor mosaic that features all four Vail colors. A 3¾” x 13″ bullnose rounds out the floor tile offering. Vail wall tiles come in a 10″ x 13″ size in Ivory and Sahara . A 3″ x 10″ listel is offered in these two colors, as well as in Silver. Bull nose and bullnose corner complete the wall tile offering. The Aspen series is available in Olive, Inferno, Camel and Ash. The product comes in a larger 18″ x 18″, as well as 12″ x 12″ and 6″ x 6″ sizes. A wide range of trim, including border, quarter round, listel and v-cap, completes the line. (


Made of porcelain tiles, the Chelsea from Ceracasa, offers versatility and unique features. Chelsea is available in four colors: Terra, Tabaco, Beige and Marfil. The model is a stone textured porcelain tile with a design variation among the pieces. Chelsea comes in three sizes, 31.6″ x 31.6″, 49.1″ x 49.1″ and 31.6″ x 63.7″, that are easily combined together creating modern surfaces. This model also offers an irregular mosaic available in the four colors of this series. Chelsea is offered in a wide range of special pieces, such as steptreads, skirtings, drainage tiles or step skirtings. (


The new Marmos tumbled glass collection from Bella Ceramic combines the patina of tumbled tile with the translucence of glass. The line includes 2″ x 2″ mosaics, 1″ x 1″ blends, and a stone/glass combination border. (

The Color Collection

United States Ceramic Tile Company’s new Color Collection is a complete system that includes wall tile in three finishes (Bright, Matte and Speckle) and coordinating porcelain floor tile in two finishes (Solid and Speckle). The Color Collection is the result of extensive market research which concluded that a wall tile product with a wide variety of color, finish and size options would be ideal for the commercial market. The wall tile palette comes in 67 various primary, contemporary and speckled colors that range from light to deeper shades. The selection process is simplified by separating the offering into three groups. Each group has its own trim offering and pricing structure. The Color Collection also features five distinct color families. Each color family includes a coordinating speckled wall tile. Coordinating porcelain floor tiles complete each color family and are available in both solid and speckled versions. Color Collection is the only complete system in the market that includes wall tile in three finishes (Bright, Matte and Speckle), three sizes (4¼ x 4¼, 6 x 6 and 3 x 6) and coordinating porcelain floor tile in two finishes (Solid and Speckle). The wall tile palette comes in 67 various primary, contemporary and speckled colors that range from light to deeper shades. A wide range of trim options completes the wall tile package. The porcelain floor tile is offered in 12 solid and speckled colors and comes in 12¼ x 12¼ size. Bullnose is available in both floor tile finishes. (

Penny Round from VitrA

VitrA Tiles USA is introducing the new Penny Round series. Available in 21 solid colors, this unglazed porcelain tile series is perfect for both interior and exterior settings. Penny Round is a mosaic series that resembles a collection of pennies neatly arranged in tile form. Attractive in any application, this series can be installed for the floor, wall, countertops, pools, backsplashes, and any place tile is used. “What makes this series superior is that it is both durable and versatile,” said Sema Cetiner, of VitrA Tiles USA. “Penny Round’s aesthetic features give it a striking appearance that will complement any room.” Penny Round is available in a 1″ X 1″ size and is offered dot mounted. Because it has high endurance, the series is appropriate for both residential and commercial settings. With a water absorption of .03%, resistance to abrasion and chemicals, and frost resistance, Penny Round stands as a resilient series with an eye-catching design. Penny Round is offered in both a glossy and mat texture and may soon be available in different custom patterns. (770-904-6173)

Hydroment™ DITRA-SET™ Thin-Set Mortar

The Bostik Flooring Group announces its latest flooring innovation, Hydroment™ DITRA-SET™ Thin-Set Mortar—the first Portland cement, thin-set mortar endorsed and warranted for installation of porcelain over Schulter® DITRA uncoupling membranes. “Schulter has tested DITRA-SET with its property underlayments, particularly in porcelain tile installations, and has granted us the license to use the Schulter and DITRA trade names on our product packaging and marketing collateral,” Phil Pitts, Bostik Flooring Group’s Hardwood Products Manager said. DITRA-SET Thin-Set Mortar is composed of: select, proprietary chemicals; carefully graded aggregates; inorganic adhesion promoters; and purified cements. It provides outstanding workability, excellent durability and superior bonding strengths in interior and exterior applications when used in conjunction with the Schulter DITRA uncoupling membrane or Schulter KERDI waterproofing membrane. The product eliminates the potential for finger pointing between manufacturers and contractors over the use of incompatible systems. (

New Decorative Natural Stone Pool Copings

LM Natural Stone Products Inc, a designer and manufacturer of unique natural stone moldings has just added a new line of decorative natural stone pool coping products to their extensive line of interior and exterior natural stone custom moldings. “We created our new decorative natural stone pool coping line to fill a void in the pool and spa industry,” asserts Jeff Snyder, owner and chief designer of LM Natural Stone Products Inc. “Remodel pool and spa builders can be given credit for the new line. They encouraged us to design a 3-½ inch drop or more in our pool copings that can be used to cover the old concrete pool coping for decorative, luxury re-models. Designers and builders can now design an exterior hardscape that blends together natural beauty with an upscale look,” concludes Snyder. The decorative pool coping moldings are offered in a selection of twelve contemporary designs, which means that designers have more creative leeway to innovate custom aesthetics that work well with a variety of architectures. Equally important to offering upscale design to remodel builders is the ability to revamp upgrades by covering the unsightly old coping with a minimum of work. The industry standard for decorator coping is 1½ inches and comes in three basic shapes; mainly round, square and bullnose. (

Brushing Up On Forklift Safety
January 1st, 2006

January-February 2006 According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 injured in forklift-related incidents every year.

The forklifts you use daily to load, unload and move materials in the warehouse are potentially dangerous tools when used without the right safeguards or training.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nearly 100 workers are killed and another 20,000 injured in forklift-related incidents every year. NIOSH investigations into these incidents indicate that many people are unaware of the risks of working with and around forklifts and/or are not following OSHA standards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for the use and maintenance of powered industrial trucks and forklifts have been in effect since 1999. Requirements include operator training and licensing and periodic evaluations of operator performance. The standard also addresses specific training requirements for truck operation, loading, seat belts, overhead protective structures, alarms and maintenance of industrial trucks. Refresher training is required if the operator is observed operating the truck in an unsafe manner, is involved in an accident or near miss, or is assigned a different type of truck.

OSHA requirements for forklift operation

• On all grades, the load and load engaging means shall be tilted back, if applicable, and raised only as far as needed to clear the road surface. The forks shall not be raised or lowered while the forklift is moving.

• Under all travel conditions, the truck shall be operated at a speed that will permit it to be brought safely to a stop.

• The operator shall slow down and sound the horn at cross aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed.

• The operator is required to look toward and keep a clear view of the travel path.

• Unauthorized personnel shall not be permitted to ride on powered industrial trucks. A safe place to ride shall be provided where the riding of trucks is authorized.

• Forklift trucks shall not be driven up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object.

Maintenance is key

In addition to operator training, OSHA requires that all industrial trucks be examined before being placed into service. They shall not be placed into service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Such examination shall be made at least daily. When industrial trucks are used around the clock, they shall be examined after each shift. When defects are found, they shall be immediately reported and corrected. Detailed checklists are available from the OSHA website,

Industry Insights
January 1st, 2006


January-February 2006

CTDA inducts two into Hall of Fame

The Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) inducted two more members into the CTDA Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the association’s 2005 Management Conference. Gail Schovan, president of Turner Distributing and immediate past president, and William Ives, who has served as legal counsel to CTDA since it was founded in 1978, were both honored not only for their years of service to CTDA but to the industry as well.

In 1963, Gail Schovan found her way to Dal Tile as their “Girl Friday.” In 1988, she purchased Turner Distributing. Along the way she has spent countless hours promoting and directing the CTDA organization, including serving two terms as CTDA president. CTDA members describe her as a tireless recruiter for members, for committees, and for people to attend events. She is someone who embodies the Mission Statement in every way possible.

Bill Ives went from Knox College, a small liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, to the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, Germany, and graduated from Harvard Law School. During his 37 year career with Keck, Mahin and Cate, he specialized in antitrust, international law, regulatory agencies, and of course, trade and professional associations. In 1978, Ives found time to become legal counsel to a small startup association: CTDA. He is the only legal counsel CTDA has ever had. In 2004, Ives retired from the firm life to private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


The Tile Council of North America, Inc. (TCNA) reports hiring Philip J. (Jeff) Micalizzi to be the new director of its wholly owned subsidiary, TCA Team, LLC. Mr. Micalizzi’s responsibilities include managing operations and recruiting additional consultants. “Since the launch of TCA Team, we have experienced a growing demand for pre-construction consulting and on-site inspection across the United States. Jeff brings more than 27 years of experience to TCA Team,” remarked Eric Astrachan, TCNA’s Executive Director. Mr. Micalizzi gained insight into the causes of installation failures while at Laticrete International and previously as a foreman for Local #1 in New Haven, Connecticut. Prior to working for Local #1, Mr. Micalizzi set ceramic tile in California and Connecticut for 16 years.“The purpose of the TCA Team is to solve problems—before, during and, if necessary, after a tile and stone installation,” said Micalizzi. “Bringing a ceramic tile and stone specialist into a project during the design phase will often save money.” There are now so many choices available in the ceramic tile industry, architects and other specifiers are often not familiar with the new technology and choices available. Because tile is both utilitarian and decorative, it is important that a full range of choices are considered. Because it is expected to last the life of the building, it must be installed correctly, which requires knowledge of the ever-broadening choices of installation materials. In the building industry, whenever materials can be decorative, functional, expensive, and long-lasting, specialists are needed to help make the right choices. A ceramic tile design specialist can help select tiles that are functional and decorative and an installation specialist can help make sure the installation system is properly specified and executed. “Our objective is to become a resource for the entire construction chain from the specification writer to the installer,” said Micalizzi. “As consultants become more readily available, we believe customers will receive better installations. Not just because of better workmanship but also because of better design choices, better installation systems, and better competition in the marketplace. In the long term, we expect this will result in more training and education for the industry—which makes everyone a winner,” said Astrachan.

Ceramic Tiles of Italy Design Competition

The Italian ceramic tile industry announced the 13th edition of the Ceramic Tiles of Italy Design Competition. Sponsored by Assopiastrelle, the Association of Italian Ceramic Tile Manufacturers, and the Italian Trade Commission, this annual awards program recognizes design excellence in projects that feature Italian ceramic tile. North American architects and interior designers are invited to submit residential, commercial and institutional projects completed between January 2001 and January 2006. Entries may be submitted for domestic and international new construction and renovation projects. A panel of design professionals will judge the projects based on their creativity, aesthetic value, and how the tiles meet their functional and technical requirements. The criteria for the jury includes: overall design of the project, innovative use of tile, tile design, quality of installation and degree that tile enhanced the setting. Winners in each category will receive a cash prize of $5,000 and a trip to Coverings in Orlando, Florida, April 4-7, 2006. Winners will also be treated to a free 5-day trip to CERSAIE 2006, in Bologna, Italy from September 26-30, 2006. For the first time, an additional $1,000 will be shared by the winning contractor/distributor team. There is no fee or entry limit. Completed submissions must be received by January 30, 2006. For more information or to download an entry form visit

Laurie Lyza Joins Crossville as Marketing Manager

Crossville, Inc. has named Laurie Grogan Lyza as its new Marketing Manager. Lyza will work with Crossville’s marketing team to develop and coordinate new product launches and special events, as well as to oversee marketing communications nationwide.

“Laurie’s wealth of marketing and public relations experience in the corporate, non-profit and academic sectors, combined with innovative management skills, are a welcome addition,” says Jim Dougherty, vice president of marketing and business development for Crossville. “We’re thrilled that she’s joined us.” A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Journalism/Public Relations, Lyza has served as a communications executive in a wide range of organizations, most recently at the headquarters for U.S. Cellular. Previously, she was Marketing Manager for InsLogic Corporation in Oak Ridge, TN. Among Lyza’s many professional activities, she serves on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Anderson County, providing public relations and crisis communications counsel, as well as chairing the Development Committee. “Growing up nearby in Roane County, I have always been aware of Crossville’s reputation, not only for its excellent products, but as a strong, stable company and great place to work,” says Lyza. “When the marketing opportunity arose, it was an easy decision to pursue it. I look forward to being part of the Crossville family for many years to come.”


The Call for Entries has been issued for the 2006 Spectrum Awards presented by Coverings. The competition, which draws installations representing excellence in the use of ceramic tile, seeks residential and commercial projects. To be considered, projects must have been completed within the timeframe of January 2003-December 2005. “It was an honor to have my tilework recognized by leaders in the industry, and winning only added to the excitement of attending Coverings,” remarked 2005 Grand Prize winner John Mandel, president of Red Canyon Tile & Stone in Lander, WY. Eric N. Rattan, owner of Santa Fe Design Studios, Madison, WI, and 2005 recipient of the Residential Award of Merit, echoed similar sentiments. “It was a dream come true to win this past year—I encourage people to enter because not only was my client base expanded, but I was able to network with the ‘real’ players in the industry.” Architects, designers, builders, contractors, distributors, retailers, installers and other professionals from around the world will be vying for the chance to win a $10,000 Grand Prize. Prizes totaling $8,000 will also be awarded to the First Prize and Award of Merit winners in the Residential and Commercial categories. A downloadable version of the entry brochure along with details on how to enter can be found on The deadline for entering is Friday, February 3, 2006. The 2006 Spectrum Awards is sponsored by Coverings and coordinated by its five sponsoring organizations including ASCER ( Spain’s Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association), Assopiastrelle (Association of Italian Ceramic Tile and Refractories Manufacturers), CTDA (Ceramic Tile Distributors Association), NTCA (National Tile Contractors Association) and TCNA (Tile Council of North America).


A new safety video, produced by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) with a grant from Dallas-based Daltile, focuses on the handling of stone slabs, one of the more dangerous activities in the natural stone business. Taped on location at Daltile facilities in Anaheim and Dallas, the “Basics of Safe Slab Handling” covers a wide range of slab handling scenarios ranging from removing slabs from containers to delivering them to customers. The video is hard-hitting and underscores the vital importance of following safe procedures when handling stone slabs, which can weigh up to half a ton. “We are pleased to be working with the Marble Institute of America on its expanding program to promote safety training for the natural stone industry,” said Harold Turk, Daltile executive vice president. He added, “We believe that when there is consistency of safety training throughout the marketplace, it eventually benefits the entire industry. The only way to achieve it is through continuing education.” For information on ordering, contact MIA at 440-250-9222 or visit

MIA Lifetime Achievement

Malcolm Cohen, a 65-year veteran of the natural stone industry, has been awarded the Migliore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Marble Institute of America (MIA). The 92-year-old Cohen accepted the award at MIA’s annual awards luncheon at StonExpo 2005 in Las Vegas, NV on October 21, 2005. After graduating from Yale University, Cohen followed in his father’s footsteps and expanded his father’s business, which is now operating in its second century. His companies, Domestic Marble and Miller Druck Specialty Contracting have been involved in such projects as The White House in Washington, DC; Grand Central Station and the Statue of Liberty in New York City; and Canary Wharf in England. During his more than six decades in the stone business, Cohen’s experience in the industry is unparalleled. He has acquired a body of knowledge that cannot be duplicated. In nominating Malcolm Cohen for this award, his family said, “On a smaller scale, he headed up an office with employees that he treated like family. He shared his knowledge and expertise with everyone. How does one summarize a lifetime of work? Malcolm loves the stone business.” The Migliore Award was conceived by MIA in 2003 in honor of Vincent Migliore, MIA’s long-time technical director. The first award was presented to Migliore posthumously. In 2004, the award was presented to Joe Kapcheck of J. Kapcheck & Co. of Des Plaines, Illinois.

Coverings – The Ultimate Tile & Stone Experience
January 1st, 2006

April 4-7, 2006
Orlando, Florida USA

From April 4-7, 2006, more than 32,000 attendees will gather at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL and view a wide array of tile and stone products representing 1,200 exhibitors from around the globe.

Winners of the SPECTRUM and PRISM Stone in Architecture Awards, celebrating the most creative and amazing uses in tile and stone design, will be presented with prize money totaling $37,000.

Retail anthropologist and noted author Paco Underhill’s keynote is “Why We Shop,” examining consumer behavior in today’s marketplace.

Over 70 accredited educational sessions will be available on a myriad of topics including consumer buying trends, innovative installation techniques, the latest tile and stone materials, adding to existing product lines, inspiration for upcoming projects, managing your showroom, strategies for running a successful business and much more.

Retail Anthropologist Paco Underhill

How does consumer purchasing behavior influence the tile and stone industry? How has online retailing affected your business? These are just a few questions which Coverings 2006 attendees will have answered by keynote speaker Paco Underhill, retail anthropologist and author of the best-selling book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” His presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4, 8:30 a.m., at the Opening Session of Coverings 2006, the premier international trade show dedicated to tile and natural stone which will take place at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida, USA.

“Paco’s insight into the psyche of consumers and their buying habits promises to provide a compelling and provocative start to Coverings 2006,” said Tamara Christian, president, National Trade Productions and Coverings show director. “He will empower attendees with new tools and wisdom on how to improve business, no matter if they’re fabricators, distributors, retailers, showroom dealers, installers or designers.”

For the past 20 years, Underhill has obsessively studied the science of shopping. A renowned speaker, he is the founding and managing director of Envirosell, a New York-based market research and consulting company, working with such clients as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Hewlett-Packard, Toro and Armstrong.

His keynote is part of Coverings’ commitment to offer a comprehensive educational program for the 32,000 tile and stone professionals who attend annually. In fact, over the course of the four-day show, more than 70 free accredited continuing education and live demonstration sessions are conducted for all of the various tile and stone industry constituencies.

Organizations sponsoring Coverings 2006 include ASCER ( Spain’s Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association), Assopiastrelle (Association of Italian Ceramic Tile and Refractories Manufacturers), CTDA (Ceramic Tile Distributors Association), NTCA (National Tile Contractors Association) and TCNA (Tile Council of North America).

Coverings is also co-sponsored by the Marble Institute of America, American Institute of Architects (Orlando Chapter), The American Society of Interior Designers (Florida North, Florida South and Florida West Coast), International Interior Design Association (Florida Chapter), the Terrazzo Tile and Marble Association of Canada, the Tile Contractors’ Association of America and the Tile Heritage Foundation.

Coverings, the premier international trade fair and expo dedicated exclusively to showcasing the newest in tile and natural stone, has grown to be the largest and most important show of its kind. Coverings features 1,200 exhibitors from more than 50 countries and attracts more than 32,000 distributors, retailers, fabricators, contractors and specifiers, architectural and design professionals, builders and real estate developers, plus the press and journalists who cover this vital and growing industry. Coverings is the stage for introducing some of the most innovative products in the world related to tile and stone. The exposition also serves as a valuable resource for continuing education for all categories of attendees, with informative, accredited seminars and live demonstration sessions conducted throughout the four days.


Two dozen seminar programs tailored exclusively to tile and stone contractors and installers will be presented at Coverings 2006. Sessions are designed to help these professionals gain the insight and leadership necessary to grow their businesses and will include topics such as techniques for installing a mud floor; how to prevent mold, cracking, buckling and other controversial construction issues; and, how to conquer common challenges with everyday installation materials.

“Coverings’ educational sessions are valued by installers for the quality of content and caliber of expert presenters,” said Tamara Christian, president, National Trade Productions and show director for Coverings, the premier international trade show dedicated to tile and natural stone.

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) is a sponsor of Coverings and was instrumental in the development of the seminar program. “We have tried to expose the attendees to a wide variety of topics, incorporating updated standards and methods and new technology,” stated Bart Bettiga, executive director, NTCA.

In addition to the free educational sessions, many of which offer ASID, AIA, or State of Florida Continuing Education Credits, other value-added instructional programming will be conducted directly on the show floor. On the schedule are a live contractors’ workshop, plus demonstrations such as the layout and installation of a ceramic tile floor, installation of a heated floor, and waterproofing steam room walls.

Installer Update: The Ins and Outs of Grout
January 1st, 2006


By Dave Gobis
Our favorite installation guru comes clean about grout. This what you need to know.

January-February 2006

Next to ceramic tile shade variation—which is inherent to all fired clay products—the largest, single customer complaint related to ceramic tile installation issues is grout.

Is it inherent also? To a degree, yes. Is it a valid problem relative to complaints received? NO!

Grout complaints in one form or the other are and have been the number one complaint from consumers and end users relative to installation as long as I have been in the business. This does not have to be an issue any more than the shade variation of ceramic tile when properly addressed. During the course of my years as a retailer and contractor I can say that in the sale of 10’s of millions of dollars in installed products, our complaints relative to grout shading can be counted on two hands. In dollar value, the loss was quite minimal. In 28 years we only once had to actually take corrective action. Bragging? Not at all. Our secret was that both our sales and installation staffs were properly trained and could read instructions.

The first step to happy customers and end users is the proper presentation of the product. This should include the same warranty as every ceramic tile sale: the color will vary; it is a promise and the only guarantee possible. Grout, with rare exception, will not perfectly match the sample. There are numerous reasons for grout color variation in both the installation and environmental areas. Those from a manufacturing side are few and far between.

From a sales perspective as a tile dealer, you are presenting a product for user approval under a specific set of conditions. If you are selling off of chip sets, you are showing a product that will in all likelihood be darker than the installed product. The short explanation is these samples are made in aluminum or plastic channels. These channels prevent the moisture from rapidly drying out. This slow drying time results in more intense color.

Several manufacturers also offer liquid latex additives in lieu of or addition to dry polymer formulations, another variation. The chip sets typically use latex additive if available. Most manufacturers realizing the futility of the perfect chip set for grout have gone to printed color samples. When it comes to printing, the limitations of ink and paper relative to variations in pigment, sand, and cement should be apparent to the professional. Installation environment as a whole is a big variable. To the consumer this is not the case; they expect it to look exactly like the sample. If you do not educate the consumer about these limitations during the sales process, you can be assured of receiving numerous complaints.

After the selection and sale there are numerous other items which can affect shading before the installer ever opens the bag. This list includes:

• Overglazed edges on the tile. This is a common practice done intentionally by some European manufacturers where the exposed edge is used as trim.

• Glaze on self-spacing lugs in wall tile.

• Porosity of the tile body. Impervious tile (porcelain) prevents the rapid absorption of water versus a wall tile which will readily absorb moisture.

• Dye lots. Grout manufacturers use multiple locations and blend numerous different colors during the normal course of production. Always check the dye lot. On larger jobs you should blend bags dry to achieve the greatest color consistency.

• Clean buckets and good potable water. The need for clean buckets should be self explanatory. Clean water can be hard to come by on construction sites with new wells. High amounts of chemicals, good or bad, can cause problems.

• Low speed mixing drill. Too much air results in weak grout. If you’re using a 3/8 drill, you are mixing too fast. Depending on the manufacturer, the range can be 100 to 300 RPM. (Yes, manufacturer recommendations vary.)

• Proper mixing and slake time are a much bigger issue than most can imagine.

Those are some considerations before we even mix the grout. Now that we are seemingly ready, but before we pour water or latex in the pail and add grout powder, a whole new set of installer controlled variables evolves.

• If a light-colored grout is to be used, hopefully the tile was installed with white thinset.

• The joints should be clean and free of debris including the construction dust typical of most job sites.

• The thinset in the joints should be of uniform thickness. Troweling parallel to the tile and positioning the next piece directly next to the previously installed tile makes this much simpler to achieve.

• The tile should be wiped down with a damp mop or sponge. Moistening the surface prior to installation goes a long way towards easier cleanup. Otherwise the tile surface’s first exposure to moisture will be the moisture in the pigmented grout. This is not a good idea.

• Tile setters do not own fans. Cement must cure at its own pace. Fans cause rapid loss of water resulting in light and weak grout.

• Caulk all movement joints and inside corners prior to grouting. In wet and exterior applications a sealant should be used.

Then there are those environmental concerns.

• Temperature should be consistent through the initial curing cycle to avoid mottling.

• There should be no exposure to direct sunlight. Heat accelerates the curing cycle and causes lighter color and weak grout.

• The installation area should be clean and free of dust and traffic. Gypsum dust is particularly miserable to remove.

• If the floor is going to be covered to protect it from traffic, it is all or nothing. Paper in the traffic areas or a box placed on the floor and left overnight somehow always results in the right color by damp curing the floor.

Now we are ready to mix!

Mixing offers a new set of variables. For some reason the low man on the totem pole seems to get the job of grouting. In Union Trades this job is called finishing. The pay scale is typically pennies below that of a setter, and the setter has a much larger tool investment. Proper grouting takes a fair amount of skill and understanding of the products. Assuming the tile has been properly installed, the person doing this job will give the consumer great pleasure in achieving their vision and providing a lifetime of easy maintenance. If the installer lacks the skills required, the customer will be presented with mottled, low, soft grout joints causing a lifetime of grief.

There is no substitute for the skill required to achieve proper joint filling, depth, and color. The lack of required skills is apparent to those of us on the technical end by the calls and emails we receive every day—and I mean every day. This is where things usually go sour.

By far the most common cause of grout complaints is excessive water. This can be either in the mixing process or clean-up. Proper drill speed and water ratio are very important to the thoroughly mixed product. Excessive speed results in too much air, causing pinholes, color loss, low compressive strength (powdery joints), and very little working time. The slower the better. Most of the water used in cement products is called “water of convenience”—that is, what is required to get it out of the bucket, on the floor, and in the joints in a reasonable manner. For the untrained installer, more water is more convenience. Why push that grout float and get a sore arm when we can almost pour it in the joints? Excessive shrinkage, poor strength (powdery), and mottled colors are the reasons why.

There is no corrective measure for poorly installed grout short of removal, though some may choose to argue. Repair will only mask the effects of a poor grout job. Grout floats are a very important tool, not only to compact the material into the joint but to clean the excess as well. There should be very little material remaining on the surface of the tile; this especially includes materials with surface variation. A good quality grout float is a little more expensive, but well worth the investment in time savings and job well performed. We prove this almost every week in our training courses. A good grout float will clean nearly all the residue off the face of the tile when used as a squeegee. Less grout on the tile, means less scrubbing and less water.

Water cleanup is the top reason for complaints on grout, period. I think we started using sponges in the early stages of the various latex and polymer formulations used in grout. I avoid using a sponge to clean a floor whenever possible. Yes, that is what I said—no sponge—and I still grout every week. There are times when a sponge in the cleaning process is necessary, such as a cold floor, a very sticky grout, unglazed tile or epoxy grout. The driest grouting clean-up method possible will result in the best performance and highest customer satisfaction for color and joint uniformity.

One method I use is called dry grouting. In this method once the grout has had a time to reach an initial set, meaning your finger can no longer compress the joint, it is time to begin cleanup. The first step is to “strike” the joint with an appropriate radius piece of wood. I have used everything from a closet pole to a Popsicle stick. This compacts the grout into a denser joint and leaves a perfectly uniform joint depth. Next, use a broom to lightly remove the excess material. Now you are ready to remove the remaining haze using either cheesecloth or my favorite, burlap. Using this method when possible results in uniform color and joint depth. It is also faster, easier, and better than sponge methods. There is no “final cleanup”.

If a sponge is used in cleanup the grout should also be firm in the joint. This may take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour, or longer. Getting back on the floor prematurely in the cleaning process will cause the joints to become low because the material is readily removed in this very soft state. The pigment used in many grouts is a powder with a consistency of talc and can easily be removed by excessive water or premature clean-up. When using a wet method, wring the sponge out as dry as possible, taking one pass to “shape” the joints, followed by rinsing and wringing out the sponge for the cleaning pass. Any remaining haze can be easily removed with a dry towel or cheese cloth.

There are many variations on wet cleaning of floors using towels, blankets, grout pails, even power sponges. In my opinion this part of the grouting process results in the greatest amount of complaints. These problems are easily avoided by not getting back on the floor too early in the initial drying process.

Since early on in my current position at CTEF, we have been involved in an ongoing research project with one major setting material manufacturer. Our initial research consisted of going through the numerous controlled variables mentioned in this article such as water use, mixing speed, drill paddles, and air entrainment among others. All were well borne out as factual concerns. On our second round, the chief chemist said he had made some improvements but the mixing time was critical, so we agreed to mix and slake the prescribed amount of time. The results were amazing to us. The stiff grout we had been accustomed to was gone, replaced by a consistency that I can only describe as troweling ball bearings. When we inquired what changes were made, the chemist told us that this was simply the first time we had actually mixed the product for the required amount of time. It seems the manufacturer had timed us at 2 to 3 minutes of mixing time after the lump free consistency had been reached instead of the recommended 5 to 10 minutes. I learned that lesson in spite of my 30-plus years of experience!

There are many new products currently out on the market claiming to be new and improved. There have, in fact, been some proprietary advances in epoxies, polymers, pigment, and aggregates. They do result in more uniform color in the many we have tried. But we have also found that with these new products come new installation techniques and waiting times. Mixing time and clean-up methods have become even more critical than with just good old sand and cement.

Grout is a subject that could no doubt fill a small book given all the products and cleaning variations in use today. This article is not meant to be a definitive look at the rights, wrongs, and how to’s of a complicated subject. However, it does cover the largest areas of concern based on the calls received at the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and the Tile Council of America. Sales people need to better prepare their customers for the inevitable variation from the samples they use. Installers need follow instructions set by the manufacturers to minimize grout complaints. It is much easier and faster on the job over all to install grout correctly than incorrectly.

David M. Gobis, a third-generation tile setter, is the Executive Director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. He has been in the trade for over 30 years and owned a successful contracting business for 18 years prior to his current position. Mr. Gobis is a member of the NTCA Technical Committee and ANSI A108, ASTM and TCA Handbook committees. He can be reached at 864-222-2131 or

Grout and Finishing Products Adapt
January 1st, 2006

By Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

In today’s tile industry, change comes rapidly. Makers of tile, setting materials and protectant products must adapt swiftly if they are to keep up with evolving consumer preferences.

No group is more aware of this challenge than the makers of grout and finishing products, who are continually striving to introduce new formulations expressly designed for today’s most popular surfaces—including glass, natural stone and large-format tile.

In this product review of grout and finishing materials, TileDealer examines both the tried-and-true, best selling products and the newest entries in the marketplace, spotlighting grouts and finishing materials from a half dozen of the leading companies in the industry.

Same-day Sealing

One of the better known companies in the field of sealers is Corona, Cal.-based Aqua Mix. The company’s founder, Manuel Magallanes, was the first to develop water-based sealers for tile, stone and grout, says Aqua Mix president and CEO Rick Baldini.

Aqua Mix makes scores of products, but is best known for three. The first is Sealer’s Choice Gold, a premium water-based sealer that is natural looking, doesn’t change the look of the stone, tile or grout and is a penetrating impregnator providing maximum stain protection.

The second is Enrich ’n Seal, a 100 percent polymer sealer and enhancer that uses PolyCure technology, and darkens and enhances the stone or tile to which it’s applied. And the third is Grout Colorant, a water-borne epoxy that not only restores or changes the color of sanded, cementitious or epoxy grout, but seals the grout joint, Baldini says.

Among the company’s newer products is Eff-Ex, a non-acidic efflorescence remover that not only removes efflorescence but prevents the reoccurrence of it. Another new product is called Same Day Grout Sealer, and is an aerosol grout sealer that can be used two hours after grouting.

“That’s a big deal,” Baldini says. “Most contractors don’t want to come back the next day. This is the first product that allows them to seal the same day they grout. And it’s convenient because they can stand up and seal their grout joints” using the aerosol spray.

One other new addition to the Aqua Mix line is Cleaning Wipes with Sealer’s Choice, which in addition to cleaning counters leave a little Sealer’s Choice behind. “Not only are you cleaning your counter, but rejuvenating and extending the life of the sealer,” Baldini reports.

When new really is better

Another well-known name in the industry is Custom Building Products, a Seal Beach, Cal., company that offers products of all kinds for tile installation, including surface preparation, setting materials, tile adhesives, grout, thin sets, sealers, cleaners and tools.

Custom has launched more new products in the last 12 months than in any previous year in its history, reports vice-president of marketing Norm Tracy. Newcomers include a lightweight thin set called MegaLite, a self-leveling product called LevelLite, and a tool line called Platinum Tools. One of the company’s most popular and effective products is Prism SureColor, a grout whose consistent color is ideal for today’s increasingly sophisticated and complex tile settings.

Imagine the installation of a countertop featuring a rustic stone like slate, with a wide grout joint, Tracy says. Once the countertop segues into a backsplash, it becomes marble, and features a quarter-inch grout joint. Along that marble is a stripe of mosaic glass tile used as an accent, and featuring a tighter grout joint. The tile setter grouting such an installation would have to use one grout for the tight joints, and another for the marble and slate sections. And the grouts used would cure at different rates, resulting in the problem of “shading.”

With Prism SureColor, there’s no shading. “It’s not reliant on what’s underneath,” Tracy explains. “It’s not reliant on whether the stone or tile is porous or non-porous, and it’s not reliant on whether it’s a narrow or wide grout joint. If you can just mix up one type of grout and go with that, it saves time and effort, and you don’t get callbacks due to shading. It’s good for the tile distributor, because if they carry this grout, they don’t have to carry sanded and non-sanded. They can carry one grout, and it’s good for both applications.”

Custom Building Products offers an exceptionally broad array of grout colors: 30 in Prism SureColor, and 48 in PolyBlend.

A leading manufacturer of specialty sealers, cleaners and polishers for tile, concrete and masonry surfaces is 43-year-old Irvine, Cal.-based Glaze ’N Seal. The company distributes its approximately 40 products through independent tile dealers, masonry yards and building material dealers or retailers. They in turn sell the products primarily to independent tile or masonry contractors and serious do-it-yourselfers, says Glaze ’N Seal president Bert Adams.

“We have a complete line of premium quality sealers, ranging from economical water repellent to very popular wet look film-forming sealers and state-of-the-art impregnators,” Adams says, adding his products are easy to use and resist oil and grease “better than most.”

On the issue of size, he doesn’t see much difference between large or small-format tile.

“In stone, the impregnator type sealers, both water based and solvent, are very versatile in that they can be used on almost any type of stone product surface,” he says.

Meeting the needs of Large format Installation

Another household name in grouts and finishers is Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based MAPEI Americas. According to Mike Micalizzi, manager of the MAPEI Technical Services Department, the biggest installation challenge these days is placement of large-format tiles.

One of the hurdles installers face is installing such tiles over new or green concrete slabs, which have higher moisture content and expected shrinkage. Another challenge is installing the tiles over slabs that are cracked. Exacerbating the issue is the substantial surge in fast-track building over the past five years, which increases moisture and shrinkage concerns, Micalizzi says.

“MAPEI has worked to meet these challenges on two fronts,” he adds. “First, we have developed medium-bed mortars that allow better contact with the tiles, and offer more leveling capabilities that prevent lippage and provide support. On the moisture issue, MAPEI has developed Planiseal MRB, a moisture reduction barrier that can be rolled on to allow for proper moisture content prior to installing vinyl or wood products.”

To help alleviate problems of moisture and shrinkage, Micalizzi urges tile setters to avoid taking shortcuts in pre-installation substrate preparation. He points out installers frequently find themselves pressured by contractors, because theirs is one of the final jobs on the site before completion. “If they don’t give in to these pressures, and provide proper substrate preparation, they will minimize their tile setting time, and reduce risk of callbacks,” he notes.

Clean, Protect and Maintain

Founded in 1939, Lawrence, Kan.-based PROSOCO focuses all its energies on manufacturing products that clean, protect or maintain concrete, brick and stone. A number of its more than one hundred standard products are designed to address today’s key industry trends.

“The growth in the industry has been in the stone end of the business, and use of stone has become very prolific in areas like kitchen countertops and paving installations,” says director of marketing Scott Buscher. “That makes them far more subject to difficult staining elements, such as highly acidic wine and juice stains, as well as oil and greases. Because the growth has been so great in natural stone products, the protection and maintenance needs are much more in focus.”

PROSOCO’S Stand Off SLX 100 is an ideal way to protect an investment in today’s most popular natural stone surface, granite. A fluorinated product with characteristics similar to those of Teflon, Stand Off SLX 100 is capable of penetrating surfaces as dense as polished granite, will not change the appearance of the surface after treatment, and protects the surface not only from water-based staining materials but oil and food-based staining materials.

Right behind granite in popularity are marble and limestone, in a variety of finishes from polished to honed. The PROSOCO product most appropriate and effective on those surfaces is Stand Off Limestone & Marble Protector, Buscher says. “Chemically and geologically, marble and limestone are different from granite and require a different approach from a chemical formulation standpoint to offer the same degree of water, oil and food stain resistance,” he says. “Limestone & Marble Protector is formulated to provide that kind of protection.”

Successful Color Matches

The TEC brand of AccuColor grouts is known in the industry for providing highly color-accurate results, reports brand manager Rachel Gibbons of Arlington, Heights, Ill.’s TEC Brands.

That means the color of the installed grout matches the sample used to select the color. The amount of water used during mixing and clean-up of Portland cement grout, as well as variations in tile type, joint size and curing conditions, typically have an impact on the installed color. All AccuColor grouts chemically control the curing process, helping to neutralize the factors that create inconsistent grout color. AccuColor grouts are available in 32 colors.

AccuColor premium sanded grout is a polymer-enhanced grout that provides highly wear-resistant, color-consistent tile joints from 1/8-inch to ½-inch wide. It is used primarily in floor tile applications, or for walls and countertops with wider joints.

AccuColor premium unsanded grout is polymer-enhanced and designed for grouting small joints up to 1/8-inch wide. It is recommended for grouting marble and other materials where sanded grouts could scratch delicate tile surfaces.

100 Percent Solids Epoxy Mortar and Grout is a dual-purpose, three-part epoxy system for interior floors and countertops. Used as a grout, this system is recommended wherever complete stain or chemical resistance is required. Used as a mortar, it is designed for installing green marble and other moisture sensitive stone over a wide variety of surfaces.

“As premium products, grouts from TEC brands are engineered to deliver consistent color and overall strength,” Gibbons notes. “Our flagship grout brand, AccuColor, is designed for use across a variety of applications, delivering strong, smooth joints with minimal shrinkage and ease of installation.”



Bert Adams – President
Glaze ’N Seal
Irvine , CA

Rick Baldini – President and CEO
Aqua Mix
Corona , CA

Scott Buscher – Director of Marketing
Lawrence , KS

Diane Choate – Communications Supervisor
Deerfield Beach , FL 33442

Rachel Gibbons – Brand Manager
TEC Brands
Arlington Hts., IL

Norm Tracy – Vice-President of Marketing
Custom Building Products
Seal Beach , CA

One – on – One… With Robert Briggs
January 1st, 2006


By Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

“ China will replace almost everyone else in both tile and stone.”

How hot is the market for Chinese tile? The only conceivable answer is “sizzling.” According to the latest import figures, dollars spent on Chinese tile imports skyrocketed 114.6 percent in the 12 months ending in September 2005. In actual units shipped, the percentage increase stood at a staggering 122.6 percent. The next nearest competitor? Mexico , with 27.4 percent.

For insight into this white-hot commodity, TileDealer invited an experienced importer in that marketplace, Robert Briggs, to sit down for a candid One-on-One. Briggs, the vice-president and general manager of Granite & Marble Resources in Chicago , has imported Chinese tile for more than a dozen years. In this illuminating interview, he explains the reasons for the rise of the Chinese market and describes how he goes about locating high-quality, reliable suppliers.

TileDealer: How long have you been selling Chinese tile? Briggs: We have been importers for about 28 or 29 years. And China started coming into the equation around 1992 to 1994. That was precipitated by the Chinese inviting the Italians to swap product for equipment. As the Italians were invited to sell stone machinery to the Chinese because they had lots of stone quarries, and the Italian machine makers knew that the Chinese had stone to quarry, it took a millisecond for the equipment makers to realize this was a good deal for them. The ceramic evolved out of it, because many of the ceramic companies also make stone equipment. What really put the Chinese in the marketplace was the Italian equipment, and with that they were making a bona fide product immediately.

When the Italians sell you equipment they also make Italian engineers available to you over a period of years, and that basically guarantees product worthiness. Of course, there was already a world demand for ceramic and natural stone. Over the years that has increased. The Chinese now can make huge, 2-by-4 and 3-by-3-foot ceramic tiles that they now clad buildings with. What’s happened is the Chinese are using their own higher-end product, originally made for the Italian and European markets, and are using it in their own applications in their own country.

Our specialty within the Chinese market is mosaics. We have the largest collection of high-end stone and glass mosaic products imported from China in America . In our case, we have taken the traditional process and reversed it, in that we send products from Italy , Spain , Indonesia , Egypt , Turkey and Israel to China to fabricate. We kind of do what the Italians used to do.

But instead of using Italy as a fulcrum for products from around the world, we use China to fabricate those products. We are currently doing the Ritz-Carlton condominium-hotel project here in Chicago , cladding bathrooms with marble originated in Italy , but cut to size in China . TileDealer: Is quality consistent? Does it measure up to the U.S.?

Briggs: The answer is that with China , you can go on a scale from one to ten. There are some ones and some tens. It depends on where their marketplace is. If their market is an emerging country in the Third World , most of the time China is selling lesser-quality goods than they would to NATO countries. Every once in a while, a buyer may feel they have a deal from China that’s too good to be true, and most of the time it is. China has some of the highest quality, and some that at best is mediocre quality. And it’s buyer beware.

A low price most of the time does not mean good quality. In my dealings with China , I go to the most expensive people. You not only must have a quality product, but you have to have continuity of product—product that you can get again and again.

That’s why it’s difficult to just decide to go to China and suddenly do business. It’s not easy. There are so many stories of people going there and getting hoodwinked. You really need to know who you’re dealing with, how long they’ve been in business, whether they have Italian, Chinese or Japanese machinery. There are probably 20 questions you need to answer.

TileDealer: How do you differentiate between Chinese tile in style, quality and price?

Briggs: You’ve got to start it by realizing installation and labor in the United States is very expensive. So whatever technical aspects of the tile, i.e. in square (if one side is 11-7/8 inches, all three other sides must be exactly the same), or in calibration of thickness (you can’t have 8 millimeters on one end of the tile and 10 millimeters on the other end, because it won’t be flat), make it easy to install are the aspects you want to pay attention to.

Beauty, color and texture are in the eyes of the beholder. These other aspects are black and white. And the more aesthetically astute buyers in the United States are more conscious or more aware of the aesthetic desires of their particular marketplace. So that buyer is buying black-and-white issues first, and secondly his awareness of the aesthetic expectations of his consumer, either a builder, a designer or the ultimate consumer. The black-and-white is inviolable; if you don’t have that, it’s garbage. You could spend all that time and money getting something—with the consumer waiting—then have to throw it out when you open it up because it’s garbage.

TileDealer: Is Chinese tile subject to any kind of absorption standard testing consistent with porcelain tile from the U.S. and Italy?

Briggs: Yes, for the higher quality companies. That’s because if you don’t meet these standards, the product should not be sold in America . I’m sure they’re selling products in Paraguay or Colombia that haven’t been tested. We in America have very strict standards regarding absorption. I don’t know of any respected importer who would not be aware of that, because there’d be a failure and they’d be asking for a lawsuit at some point.

TileDealer: How much do various regions of the U.S. import?

Briggs: Chinese tile is more popular on the West Coast, simply because it’s closer to China . And you have Chinese-Americans and Chinese expatriates who have opened up businesses from Seattle to San Diego , and are marketing Chinese products because they have easier access to it than I would. They speak Mandarin and Cantonese, and they have relatives in China who can inspect for them.

In the ceramic business years ago, many of the importers in the U.S. were Italians, because they spoke Italian and they had relatives or friends back home who could inspect for them. The Chinese are simply following that example.

That’s a product of the melting pot that is America . First they bring themselves and their money here, and secondly, they realize there’s a market in America for the indigenous products of their homeland. And that’s been played out for centuries in this country.

TileDealer: How will rising fuel costs impact delivery costs?

Briggs: The U.S. is the number one consumer of energy, but I think China is now number two or three, and someday will be the largest. They’re still in what I call the Gold Rush capitalist stage. The cost of fuel has increased in China over the last year, and that has precipitated a very small increase in the cost of Chinese products. But the cost of energy is a world barometer. And as the cost of fuel increases in China , it won’t affect their products any more than it will other countries’. The real story regarding cost of tile is not energy, but labor. China is coming out of an agrarian society in the 21st Century, whereas others did it in the 19th or 20th Centuries.

I know from talking to my friends in China that labor is asking for higher wages. Workers are asking for more. So the real impact in China is what will happen to their labor market. Currently they’re paying labor like Indonesia or Vietnam is paying, when in fact their economy is 20 times the size. How long can you pay the wages of nations that are pipsqueaks in comparison? I don’t think they can do it very long. The cost of ceramic, though, is heavily machine driven, so it will probably rise less than those products that are heavily labor driven.

TileDealer: Do you ever get tile from China that is broken or damaged in shipping? Do the shippers make good on it?

Briggs: In my case, almost never. That’s because I have been there as an importer of Chinese tile for a long time. In the case of a tile importer who’s more of a newcomer to China , it’s going to happen more frequently. Then it’s a test of that relationship, like the first blowup you have with your wife. The importer must know he’s receiving a saleable product, and if he doesn’t receive a saleable product, he’s heading for a very quick divorce. No importer can sustain his business without being able to deliver reasonable customer expectations. As for making good on broken tile, I’ve heard it both ways. That’s why it’s always buyer beware. Check out the supplier, find out who he has sold to and go visit his factory. That’s what I do.

TileDealer: How about the timing of Chinese tile getting through customs?

Briggs: There are problems getting almost anything we purchase through customs. I have problems with Turkey, Israel , Indonesia , Pakistan and China . We live in a time now where unfortunately the professional importer in America has to deal with the political reality in our country. It impacts my business and my customers, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

TileDealer: What’s the future of Chinese tile in this country?

Briggs: If you’re in the tile business, you have to realize that eventually, just as the car replaced the horse, China will replace almost everyone else in both tile and stone. If you’re going to be competitive in the year of 2006 and beyond, it’s imperative that you develop relationships with people like myself who are already there, or make a very intensive investment in time and money over years to develop that relationship yourself.

Sales & Management: Leverage Your Participation In A Show House
January 1st, 2006


by Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

Show your stuff! By participating in a show house, you get your name and your products in front of the public.

Every tile dealer, whether in a big city or smaller market, profits from increased publicity. Among the best ways to gain additional publicity is by participating in show houses.

Two types of show homes offer dealers opportunity for favorable public exposure, says Ola Lessard, spokeswoman for Keene, NH-based Trikeenan Tileworks. Trikeenan, a 15-year-old artisan tile maker that aggressively pursues opportunities for regional and national publicity, has benefitted from having its tile displayed in a variety of show home settings.

The first option is to team with a builder or developer of high-end single-family or condominium residences to have your tile incorporated into a model home. The other is to take part in a show house created as a means of raising funds for charitable organizations in your area.

To pursue the model home approach, contact builders in your area directly. Inquire whether they build this type of show home to promote their developments, and ask to meet with them to show them tile that might fit their home decor design palette, Lessard says.

“Builders also often contract out the design services to an interior designer,” she adds. “That’s another great entree. What’s great about interior designers is that many of them may already be coming into your showroom. So one thing we recommend is that you, as a tile dealer, talk to designers—particularly repeat customers—about the things they’re doing in the community. And just ask them: What are you up to? Are you involved in show houses?”

Trikeenan has discovered some interior designers aren’t fully aware of all the applications for tile. So if you meet designers working on show houses, encourage them to think beyond the obvious applications, like a backsplash or shower surround, Lessard urges. In short, suggest they consider tile as a possible component across their design palettes. Open a conversation about upcoming projects, and plant a seed for uses of tile of which they may not be aware.

How about a tile fireplace? Tile for an entryway floor? Tile in outside landscaping? “Excite them about all the possibilities and directions in which tile can go,” Lessard says.

Sweeten the Deal

As a dealer, you may be able to further encourage an interior designer’s use of your tile by offering an incentive. Designers working on show houses often approach Trikeenan directly or through one of the company’s dealers about the possibility of using its tile in the house.

It greatly benefits Trikeenan to have its tile chosen for that show house. And because it does, the company often donates product or offers a significant discount off its regular prices.

“The dealer can say, ‘Let me talk with my manufacturer and see if I can offer you a discount or even a donation of product, to assure it’s displayed in this very public forum,’” Lessard says. “It behooves us as a manufacturer to be the one supplying the tile for the backsplash, the foyer, the fireplace or bathroom. We want show house visitors to see our tile.”

This is where tile dealers can gain a tremendous advantage, she adds. Not only are they helping facilitate the show home’s creation, but they are also working to cement a relationship with the designer. The next time the designer has a similar project, he or she is likely to come back to the same dealer and ask, ‘Can you help us with this one too?’”

Trikeenan likes several things to happen when it donates tile to a show house, Lessard says. First, if there are ads generated by the show house, Trikeenan wants to be in them. Second, if the dealer is running in-store promotions about the show house, Trikeenan appreciates its name in those promos. Third, if the room featuring the tile is professionally photographed, Trikeenan seeks rights to use the photos for its own advertising or editorial outreach efforts.

These photos are prized, Lessard says. “It’s really hard to get into people’s homes and get great photos of the tile on display in their living room or kitchen,” she observes. “But when there is a show home, we know the tile is being used in a very beautiful manner. And if someone is going to come in and shoot that tile, that for a manufacturer is like gold. You know it will be done in an exquisite manner. I can’t think of any manufacturer who wouldn’t want that.”

The dealer can also gain from those photos. Lessard urges dealers participating in show houses that have been professionally photographed to also seek rights to the photos. Those photos can be used for their own in-store display efforts during the period the show house is open, and after it closes.

Show Homes That Raise Funds

As mentioned at the outset, show homes created as fundraisers serve up another rich opportunity for tile dealers. In these instances, the homes are generally privately or publicly-owned historic or vintage houses, or simply homes people of the community want to tour. In many cases, interior designers are enlisted to participate by designing the rooms. A small admission price is charged, and funds raised benefit a charitable cause.

One such show house from which Trikeenan gained enormous publicity was a fundraiser in an historic property in the Boston Naval Yard, to benefit the Boston Junior League. Among the designers to work on the house was Kathy Marshall, a Boston-area interior designer, and owner of her own design firm,

She and another designer were invited to design the kitchen. They gutted the existing kitchen, installed new appliances, and chose Trikeenan tile for the backsplash. “The project came out beautifully, and it got a lot of press on its own,” Lessard recalls.

“And when Kathy Marshall entered the kitchen in the Luxury Living Award competition, it was selected as a finalist. She has also submitted it to several magazines.

“So whenever this kitchen appears, people are seeing Trikeenan tile.”

Dealers should actively seek such fundraising show house opportunities, Lessard believes. They might approach a fundraising organization in their community and suggest a show house, or link up with a charitable group that already stages an annual show house fundraiser. Offer not only discounted or donated tile, but expertise in using the tile in new and interesting ways.

“It goes back to talking with your designers, asking them about projects they have coming up, and planting the seed you would like to be involved,” Lessard reports. “And sometimes one project will lead to lots of opportunities for exposure.”

Leverage Your Investment

Once you are participating in show houses, make sure you capitalize on the exposure to the maximum extent possible. First, make sure you gain rights to any professional photography shot within the house. Next, send out press releases announcing your association with the project. The releases should go to the local media, especially the design section of your local newspaper, and any state design publication that may exist. Follow up your news releases with phone calls to editors to suggest angles on stories about how the tile is being used in the home.

And don’t neglect promotional opportunities within your own showroom, Lessard urges. Let every customer who enters your store know you’re part of this beautiful show house. If the show house is for a fundraising organization, promote that organization’s cause. If it’s a builder show house, install an in-showroom display demonstrating how the tile is used in the house.

Not only give designers and other customers ideas, but make clear that you are a source of tile expertise, both willing and able to work with them to show how to create the same look.

“The message is, get involved in these projects, but don’t stop there,” Lessard says. “Leverage that exposure into profits for your dealership.”

The Ceramic Marketplace Now
January 1st, 2006


January-February 2006

In case there was ever any doubt, ceramic tile has established its place in the American marketplace. No matter what statistics you look at, tile usage continues to grow.

Average growth in tile consumption over the last four quarters has been 12.85-percent greater than the preceding four quarters. Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America, points out that “assuming this trend continues, total consumption [domestic and imported] for 2005 would be 3,553,347,000 square feet.”

The most recent figures (from September 2005) from the U.S. International Trade Commission indicate that ceramic tile imports climbed 10.9 percent to 1,802.73 million square feet compared to the same period in 2004. In dollars, this represents a 14.6-percent increase to $1,263 million. During the first half of 2005, sales of domestic production were 2.6-percent lower than 2004. Assuming that this trend continues, Astrachan estimates that total sales of domestically produced tile in 2005 would be 677,500 square feet, a slight drop from 2004. However, looking at domestic shipments only, the first two quarters of 2005 totaled 347,553 square feet. Annualizing that number would bring the total domestic shipments to 695,106 square feet. This is comparable to 2004.

What’s driving the imports? The decrease in the Euro compared to last year and the increase in low cost foreign imports both contribute to these numbers. Astrachan is quick to point out that the tile market remains strong.

Jim Dougherty, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Crossville, Inc., also believes that the marketplace is assuming more diverse representation geographically. He points out that the influence of imports is shifting away from Italy and Spain and to Brazil , Mexico and Turkey . Recent trade figures illustrate this trend. Although Italian imports are up 6.1-percent in terms of actual dollars, the number of units in the same time period is down slightly, -4.6-percent. The handsome increases posted by Brazil , up 33.3-percent in dollars, Mexico , up 30.2-percent, and Turkey , up 20.0-percent point to their growing influence in the marketplace.

Perhaps one of the most startling statistics, however, is that the value of Chinese imports has bounced up a whopping 114.6-percent and the number of square feet has climbed comparably, up 122.6-percent. Although many distributors will point out that those huge increases represent a comparison to far fewer units than other imports, the increases reflect a trend that’s impossible to ignore.

Where the installations are

Residential installation—including both new construction at 42-percent and remodeling at 28-percent—represent the largest segment of ceramic tile use. The National Association of Homebuilders estimated that new home construction in 2005 was valued at $250 billion and remodeling added another $235 billion. At this rate, remodeling growth is expected to outpace construction in the next ten years.

Although many experts expect residential real estate—which has been very hot virtually everywhere in the country—to cool in 2006, even a cooling market could be robust. Crossville’s Dougherty points out that although some analysts now look at housing as flat, it is flat “at an historically high rate.”

Right now new commercial construction and commercial remodeling only account for 17-percent and 12-percent, respectively, of the 2005 ceramic tile installations. Many industry leaders believe this represents a remarkable growth opportunity for the ceramic marketplace to penetrate commercial construction. The Associated General Contractors of America ’s (AGC) chief economist Ken Simonson has noted that he expects private, nonresidential, health care and lodging construction to improve in 2006. Crossville’s Dougherty says he sees signs of an improvement in the commercial marketplace.

The trend goes beyond the growth in housing numbers to a less tangible but equally strong design trend. Ceramic tile has established itself not only as a staple of the new home industry, but of the remodeling industry as well. Builders and remodelers know that tile is increasingly affordable. What was once deemed appropriate for high end construction is now also very popular in mid-range housing. Some of the previous objections to tile—for example, that it is cold underfoot—have been overcome by recent developments like affordable, dependable undertile heating systems. The increasing popularity and availability of porcelain, which is harder than other types of ceramic tile and therefore offers a more durable product for certain installations, also plays into this.

So, the marketplace is there. What’s it going to cost you to stock and sell ceramic tile? What’s driving prices?

It’s no secret that the cost of doing business—of being in business—is climbing dramatically with the rise in oil and natural gas prices. It begins with the manufacturing processes and works throughout the supply chain.

Energy costs play a significant role in tile manufacturing, and, according to Crossville’s Dougherty, “they are impacting us immediately and significantly.” As Tom Graham of Florida Tile Industries, Inc., points out, a Decatherm—a measure of natural gas equal to 1,000 cubic feet—rose from $7 in June to $15 in October. And that’s just one example. They have done everything, says Graham, to lower energy consumption. The bottom line for both companies and many others has been an across-the-board price increase.

These resource costs impact manufacturing beyond tile. Many of the mastics and related products are manufactured using petrochemical components. Those costs are climbing just as much as gas.

Ralph Marra of Classic Ceramic Tiles, Inc. says increasing costs eventually find their way into his costs. “We establish a list price with each product,” he says. When costs fluctuate the company can apply an appropriate factor and its software will automatically adjust prices.

Gail Schovan of Turner Distributing says she has been advised of flat increases of as much as 10% on various building materials she stocks and sells. Turner is implementing a 3-percent increase across the board. It is, Schovan says, “a happy medium that should cover for awhile but may have to go up again later.” Turner’s dilemma is how to differentiate between materials that came in before the prices went up and those that came later. Gas prices have already dropped somewhat, but she points out, the price increases she’s getting from her suppliers are applied to materials that may or may not coincide with the fuel costs. “There is no consistency.”

If you are a dealer or distributor making deliveries, it’s costing you more to do that. If you are accepting deliveries—locally, domestically, or internationally—that leg of the distribution chain is also getting increasingly expensive.

Marra says he typically has four trucks on the street every day making deliveries. “Years ago, everyone offered free delivery,” he said. What eventually started as a flat $5 delivery charge is now up to $25 and he expects it will go to $30 or $35 per delivery on or about January first. Everyone handles the rising energy costs differently. Some of his competitors are up to a $45 delivery charge for any size order, others are imposing a fuel surcharge based on weight.

But will prices dent the marketplace? Not if you follow the sales trends noted earlier.

In fact, the manufacturers TileDealer talked to expect consumption to grow 6-10-percent in 2006. Dougherty is looking for 8-10-percent growth. He points out that the country is still building and selling record numbers of homes each month, the commercial marketplace seems poised for growth, and energy price increases are not unique to ceramic tile—they are impacting all industries.

Graham is equally enthusiastic, predicting a 6-8-percent increase in demand. “The market is pretty strong,” he said. “I’m pretty bullish on the future…I’m not too worried about that.”

Leadership Letter
November 1st, 2005

Important Links to the Rest of the Industry

November-December 2005

Although I have some time left “in office,” this is my last Leadership Letter. I have enjoyed this opportunity to “talk” with you in each issue of TileDealer, and I hope you have benefited in some way from the information I have been able to share.

CTDA offers all of us a number of important links to the rest of the industry.

First and foremost is the Management Conference this month.

There is simply no other industry event so perfectly tailored to meet our unique needs. The educational opportunities are designed to meet the needs of CTDA members and reflect the topics that are most important to us right now. The Distributor’s Forum is our own version of do-it-yourself problem solving. I always come away from it with great ideas for meeting new challenges. Guest speakers are there to educate and motivate.

The Management Conference is also an opportunity to tend to the business of CTDA. All CTDA committees and the Board of Directors will meet face to face. The Board will review the 2006 budget in detail and set the programs for the coming year. Their leadership—which is essentially your leadership—helps keep the association on track.

The Management Conference is also the best time for all of us to do our own industry networking. Most of us look forward to it as a time to see old friends, make new ones, welcome new members and to say a personal thank you to all of our sponsors. I think the Management Conference is also the time to re-energize ourselves for 2006.

Beyond our immediate membership, of course, CTDA links us to the rest of the industry in important leadership roles—and gives us a step up on the competition—with our support of Coverings and the publication of TileDealer.

Access to industry education is becoming an increasingly valuable benefit of your CTDA membership. Many of you regularly leverage the knowledge of Tile Training in a Box and the Color Shade Variation Program to help provide in-house training for your employees. This year CTDA introduced a self-guided, online component that teaches the Basics of Ceramic Tile and Sales Techniques.

I would like to think that this has been a fruitful year for CTDA—the publication of the Tile Blue Book, the additions on stone due soon to Tile Training in a Box, the educational seminar presented in August, and regular communications to members.

None of this would have been possible without the help of so many dedicated members and volunteers, professionals who have taken time from their demanding business lives to attend committee meetings, participate in conference calls and share their energy and expertise in so many ways. You truly are the heart and soul of CTDA. Together you make CTDA a remarkable team effort.

Finally, my sincere thanks to all of you—and especially to a dedicated Board of Directors and a hard working professional staff in the CTDA offices—for your support and trust in me.

CTDA - Membership
CTDA - Online Education