One – on – One… With Barrie Dekker
 
November 1st, 2005

 

By Jeffrey Steele

November-December 2005

“Our goals are simple—To win in the marketplace”

As vice-president of strategic sales for newly launched, Chicago-based StonePeak Ceramics, Barrie Dekker brings to her position a wealth of experience. Representing the fourth generation of her family to work in the ceramic business, she has personally been involved in the ceramic industry for 25 years. Dekker spent her initial years in the industry on the wholesale distribution side, and later joined Graniti Fiandre and eventually Crossville Ceramics.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with TileDealer, Dekker discussed a myriad of topics, including the product focus of StonePeak Ceramics, the reasons the company was launched when and where it was, and the ceramic tile market trends that are likely to impact the company and its competitors in the years ahead.

TileDealer: What inspired StonePeak’s founders to launch the company?

Dekker: There are many factors that helped convince us to launch our business in the U.S. The current market factors are excellent, and demand for ceramic tile has increased and is expected to continue growing. Manufacturing in the U.S. provides us an advantage in getting product to the market quickly. We can ship one box, one truck or even ten trucks the day of the order. If the shipments were coming from Italy, the delivery time would be at least six to eight weeks, in addition to transportation costs.

Because Stonepeak Ceramics is an American company, we design tiles with American tastes in mind. Our whole approach to business is in keeping with the American way.

TileDealer: Can you describe the product line?

Dekker: Our initial product introduction is comprised of seven collections, all of which are porcelain. Four series are unglazed, or through-body tiles, and three series are glazed. We will continue to add a number of collections on an ongoing basis. The unglazed product lines include a general porcelain series called New Basics, as well as a Terrazzo series, a Limestone series and a Marble series. Sizes range from 6-by-6 inches to 24-by-24 inches. The glazed series is our newest introduction. We have one collection called Café, which has an urban look. We’re offering a slate series that resembles a warm, natural slate and is available in five colors. The third collection is CastleRock, which has a natural old travertine look.

TileDealer: What are the best sellers? The most innovative products?

Dekker: Because we are new, having launched our company at Coverings in May, it’s difficult to predict which lines will be the best sellers. We anticipate interest in all of our product lines, particularly our through-body Limestone and Marble. We also expect significant interest in our glazed collections, given the fact that the glazed market is much larger than the unglazed market today.

As for innovation, we have a production process for our unglazed products that we refer to internally as our “ Technology Tower.” The equipment allows us to randomly control powder placement, resulting in unique tiles that do not repeat in pattern. We are constantly tweaking and updating our manufacturing processes to ensure our products are one of a kind. We are the only manufacturer in the United States offering this advanced technology today.

TileDealer: How well has StonePeak been received in the marketplace?

Dekker: It’s been terrific, even better than we anticipated. The market is very ripe for both the products we have to offer and the services we provide. We are approaching the market in a truly American way: friendly and easy to do business with.

We’re hearing approval from many different segments, especially from our independent network of distributors. Their response has been outstanding. They’re eager to partner with domestic manufacturers; they love what they see from our product offering; and they’re excited about the programs we’re putting in place.

TileDealer: What’s been the response from potential competitors?

Dekker: We do not have a strong hold on our competitors’ response, as we have been focused mainly on the response of our distributors, which has been overwhelming. Our distributor partners are enthusiastic about our product lines and have shared positive feedback on our marketing programs and materials, logistics programs, ongoing product research and development and customer service enhancements.

TileDealer: How many distributors have you acquired?

Dekker: We’re currently working with approximately 30 distributors. We’re close to having a comprehensive network of distributors that covers every territory in the U.S. Our distribution network is focused on serving North America. That’s our priority.

TileDealer: Are you aiming at the same high end of the market as Crossville?

Dekker: We are targeting both the residential and commercial markets with middle to high-end tiles. This portion of the market is growing and fits with our expertise in designing and producing higher-end porcelain ceramic tiles.

TileDealer: How big is that market?

Dekker: Right now, domestic shipments within the U.S. are in the neighborhood of 700 million square feet per year. The total market includes more than 3 billion square feet per year, with imports accounting for about 80 percent.

TileDealer: What appealed to StonePeak about the sites of its manufacturing facility and executive headquarters?

Dekker: There are a number of reasons it made sense to locate our manufacturing in Tennessee. The main reason is the close proximity to many of the raw materials we use in our tiles. We use all kinds of clays and raw materials from a variety of states around the Southeast. Also, there’s a great work ethic in the area, providing us with a strong and dedicated workforce. Because tile is so heavy to transport, being located near the majority of the U.S. population and the geographic center of the continental U.S. is key.

With our corporate headquarters in Chicago, we are in the heart of a well-known architectural and design community in the country. And when we think of bringing clients in to meet with us, Chicago is a very easy place to get to.

TileDealer: Can you undercut imports in price?

Dekker: The market conditions are in favor of manufacturing here in the States. The exchange rate between the Euro and dollar has made it very expensive to purchase in Europe. We are cost-efficient and competitive for those reasons, coupled with the fact that our state-of-the-art factory includes an extremely efficient production process. We are not focused on competing with suppliers coming in from Brazil, China, Turkey and Thailand.

TileDealer: What trends are impacting the market?

Dekker: In terms of product, natural looks are “in” right now. Stone in particular is a hot commodity. Large units are gaining in popularity and usage, and we have the ability to make tiles as large as 24-by-24 inches. We’re getting away from the more rugged and rustic looks. Although those tiles are still popular, we’re seeing a trend more toward straight edges.

Glass and metals, which we will be adding as accents to complement our lines, are still a strong influence. Natural wood is the newest trend. While we don’t currently offer any wood-looking porcelain tile, we may in the future. We will continue to respond to the market and offer new introductions on a regular basis.

Market trends are also influencing our business. Due to the rise in income and low mortgage rates, we’re seeing people buying homes, as well as refinancing and remodeling existing homes. There is more attention paid to permanent surfaces like ceramic tile these days, and the consumer is much more educated about the advantages of porcelain tile in particular. They’re willing to make upgrades more readily today than we’ve seen in the past. There are also a lot of second home buyers purchasing ceramic tile that we haven’t seen in previous years.

In general, the interest in tile is growing, and with that we’re seeing new applications. People are taking tile out of the bathroom and into more living spaces within their homes. Even in cold climates, people are starting to use more tile on floors, where historically they’ve used carpet or vinyl. There are many more exterior applications available today as well. People are paving their patios, they’re building outside fireplaces, paving outside sidewalks, gardens or stoops, and swimming pool surrounds.

Several factors are influencing people’s decisions to bring tile outside. For one, setting materials, or the allied products, have become a lot more sophisticated, allowing for better installations. This gives people comfort in using tile in places they otherwise would not have. And customers have been more receptive to using hard surfaces and recognizing the value of that. Ceramic tiles increase the value of homes, are extremely durable and easy to care for, and are beautiful.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for StonePeak and ceramic tile in general?

Dekker: Interest in porcelain is growing significantly. Our goals are simple—to win in the marketplace by providing superior products, rapid customer service and responsiveness, easily accessible inventory, timely shipment of orders, and competitive pricing.


Sales & Marketing: Online Marketing Options for Contractors
 
November 1st, 2005

Selecting a Method for Your Business

by Michael Beaudoin

November-December 2005

While traditionally consumers have turned to the Yellow Pages to find residential contractors, the use of print directories is projected to decrease by approximately 20% over the next four years according to The Kelsey Group, a consulting and research firm. Instead, consumers are turning to the Internet. The Kelsey Group reports 70% of adults in the United States used the Internet in 2004 when researching products and services, including residential products and contractors. Your customers are changing the way they find you, so you need to make sure you’re found.

If you thought implementing a direct mail campaign was challenging, that’s child’s play compared to building and managing an online presence. Like any good marketing initiative, you must find one that is cost-effective, targeted in reach and easy to manage. The question is—do you want to do it yourself or have it done for you?

Build Your Own Website

It’s not difficult to build a website, but it can be challenging to get the right customers to visit it, and even more difficult to turn them into leads. Studies show that people give up looking for what they want if they can’t find it in a few clicks. With that in mind, if your website is not in the top search results a consumer gets, chances are they’re not going to find you. So how do you get your visitors to your site and more importantly, how do you turn them into leads?

Search Engine Optimization Marketing (SEO): After you build your website and submit the URL to major search engines, your website is listed within each search engine’s database and tagged for keywords that are included in the copy on your site. When a consumer searches on Google for “ceramic tile Denver” and this word combination is on your site, then it will be included in the results. Search engines study your website to determine which keywords are applicable.

You can choose to outsource this task and the service will manage your keywords, website content, and placement within search engine results. However, this can quickly become very expensive and while you may see an increase in visitors to your site, you need to track how many become actual leads to determine the return on your investment (ROI).

Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC): PPC advertising is the process of bidding on keywords so your online advertisement appears in search results (these advertisements direct customers to your website). For example, if someone searches on Yahoo! for “ceramic tile in Denver” advertisements related to this topic will appear on the right-hand side. However, the ranking order depends on how much a company has bid or rather paid for that word combination.

Let’s say you own a tile business in Denver but also sell product in the surrounding areas. Since consumers are now refining their searches, you would need to purchase several word variations with each city name as well as tile, tile installation, replace tiles, tile replacement, and many other variations resulting in thousands of potential key phrases.

Most search engines are based on a cost-per-click (CPC) model, in which advertisers pay a predetermined rate, which varies per keyword based on demand and desired rank for each time someone clicks on their listing. (Remember you are paying for clicks to your site not leads.) Price per click can change at any time if another advertiser increases or decreases their current bid.

Both SEO and PPC can be done internally if you have the time and knowledge about Internet and search engine marketing. Again, you can choose to outsource these activities, but be careful about the costs and make sure to measure the actual leads resulting from your efforts and not simply the number of visitors to your site. While it is great to have a website and even better to get visitors, it’s only meaningful if you’re able to convert the visitor into a sales lead.

Internet Yellow Pages (IYP)

When consumers conduct an online search they tend to only review the results listed on the first page (usually between 10-20 listings). To have your IYP ad in the top 10 you need to purchase a sponsored listing. The higher number of categories and coverage areas you choose to be included in will determine your cost.

Payment methods for IYP ads vary per directory; some require an upfront payment, but others offer the CPC method. The CPC method allows you to measure how many customers are clicking on your listing, but it’s only meaningful if the clicks result in leads.

Like the traditional print Yellow Page advertisements, seniority and financial investment determine placement of your sponsored listing; the more you pay, the higher you are listed on the results page. Before committing to a sponsored listing, ask your IYP directory if your sponsored listing can be outbid, which may lower your ranking and ultimately limit your results.

Online Lead Generating Services

Many businesses have turned to online lead generation services and found them to be a cost-effective and low-risk alternative to reach today’s Internet-savvy consumer. These services specialize in bringing targeted leads to residential contractors in their geographic area and specific to their type of work. Online lead generation services act as an “Internet funnel” by connecting businesses with prospective clients who have “raised their hand” saying they need someone and their need is NOW. They do the legwork of creating a webpage, keyword research, and search engine optimization. These services typically go further to interview website visitors, turning them from cold prospects into warm leads.

Consumers typically turn to online lead generation services in an effort to limit the time and stress associated with finding professionals. Many online lead services prescreen member businesses for state licensing and insurance, providing consumers with the reassurance they are working with a legitimate professional. Some services even help facilitate a warm introduction between the consumer and contractor, easing the sales process.

When selecting an online service to use to market your business, you should look into how they generate their leads to ensure the customers contact information and service request are valid. Additionally, several services require annual membership fees as well as a fee for each lead you are sent. Others may only charge members a lead fee or a per visitor click fee.

Michael Beaudoin is the Co-CEO and Co-Founder of ServiceMagic®, Inc., a leading online marketing solution for residential contractors and home service professionals. For more information visit www.servicemagic.com.


Trend-Spotting at Cersaie 2005
 
November 1st, 2005

Color, texture, graphics and natural looks took center stage during Cersaie 2005

By Mary Ann Piccirillo

November-December 2005

Cersaie is Italy ’s International Exhibition of Ceramics for the Building Industry and Bathroom Furnishings. It also “sets the industry stage” for the coming year. Not everyone shops Cersaie or sells the products shown there, but the trends from Cersaie eventually find their way into every showroom.

Color

Neutrals such as white, tan and beige remain constant favorites, especially in the US , but these new neutrals are enhanced with rich mocha and red undertones. Many manufacturers are expanding their colors to include energetic and vivid hues as well as subtle calming tones. Inalco introduced the Oppalo series available in Naranja, Verde, Frambuesa and Azul. Each color has a light and shadow tone for a total of 8 vibrant color choices. This tile comes in 13″ x 24″ and 13″ x 13″. In contrast to these bright colors, the SOL series from Saloni offers a calming look in pastel tones of Blanco, Amarillo , Naranja, Verde and Azul. This series is available in 8×16” and 12″ x 12″ with complementary listello and accents.

The stark contrast of Black and White tiles stood out on the show floor making a modern statement. Ceramica Fioranese showed the Chiaro Scuro collection—a study in positive and negative—a design shown in one order of black and white and then reversed. The collection is enhanced with tone on tone, matte on shiny, embossed and metallic accent pieces.

Texture

Texture was one of the hottest trends at the show. Textures of all types are adding new life and excitement to field tiles with wavy reliefs, undulations, radiating circles, points and even simple linear graphics. These textured tiles can be used as a solid field, border or accent. Ceracasa Ceramica’s Fresh series features a radiating circle in the center of a 12″ by 18″ red body tile which comes in Blue, Naranja, Burdeos, Blanco and Marfil. The Sensitive collection from Ceramich LUX features the BUMP series whose indented surface reminds one of tufting. The 10″ x 12″ tile is available in Ocra, Amaranto, Blanco and Avorio. The texture of Saime’s Swing collection is rooted in the l’70s retro craze. The layered abstract shapes are reminiscent of a lava lamp. Even the colors are from that era: Emerald, Brown, Orange , Yellow, Cream and Crystal . This 13″ x 20″ tile has a mod collection of accents that combine the base colors in an interesting abstract design. Pamesa offers the Serie Tendence with a grooved surface to add interest to a solid field. The tiles can be set to run horizontally or vertically. They are 12″ x 24″ in your choice of Perla, Beige, Gris or Negro.

Graphics

Animals, fabric, and flowers were the most popular graphic schemes during Cersaie 2005. The Iris collection from Hispano Azul Ceramica took its inspiration from the current hot western trend. The cowhide pattern is available in Marron or Negro 10″ x 16″ tiles with 2 sizes of listellos. Settecento Ceramica d’Arte introduced the Crocotile, tile with the relief of crocodile skin, in 10 colors including Orange , Green, Lilla, Blue, Grey, Dark, Amaranth, Tortora and Brown. The tiles are 9-½” by 28″. Each color has 2 sizes of listellos available as well as complementary smooth tiles.

Inspired by men’s hound’s-tooth suiting fabric, the Invaders series from MIPA offers the classic design in 3 pattern sizes on 8″ by 8″ tile in 4 colors, Bianco, Grisaglia, Lava and Cielo. Hispano Azul also launched a damask inspired line called Textile. The 13″ by 18″ tile is available in Marino, Negor, Gris, Verde, Celeste, Buredos and Marron with a complete set of complementary accents—some simple and some highly decorative.

Flowers were blooming on tiles all around. Omega offered the Fantasy collection in 8″ x 20″ tiles that feature actual images of roses or lilies. There is a total of 6 color choices and each design has a solid and graphic accent to enhance the image. For just a touch of floral, Ceramica Tres Estilos offers the Kimi listello in 2″ by 8″. The floral pattern is a stylized retro inspired mosaic look.

Accents and Special Pieces

Saloni enhances its Efir collection with elements made of Corian that can be used to integrate lighting or accessories such as towel racks and shelves as well as a sink that is based on the same format as the ceramic tiles. The Racktile system from Gaya features a grooved piece which is set as a course of tile. The thin strip allows the user to change the fittings or layout within a space with the maximum of ease. Shelves, mirrors, utensil hooks and towel rails are just an example of the accessories available.

Sparking across the show floor was Alfa Ceramiche’s Star System. The Planet and Karat series feature STRASS® and Swarovski® Crystal inserts that catch the light with tremendous fire. While in the Trend booth, the Orsoni hand-cut gold leaf glass mosaics glistened.

The design choices in pattern, color, format and utility were seemingly endless at Cersaie 2005. The manufacturers’ designers have pushed the design envelope to develop a choice for everyone.

Mary Ann Piccirillo is Public Relations Director at White Good & Company.

Learn more online about the companies mentioned:

www.saloni.com
www.fioraneseonline.com
www.ceracasa.com
www.luxceramiche.com
www.saime.riwal.it
www.pamesa.com
www.inalco.es
www.hispanoazul.com
www.settecento.com
www.omegaceramica.it
www.tresestilosdesign.com
www.alfaceramiche.com
www.orsoni.com
www.trend-vi.com


Anti-Slip & Accessibility
 
November 1st, 2005

 

By Beth Rogers

November-December 2005

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in July of 1990, provides civil rights protections to people with disabilities. Not only does it protect those individuals from being discriminated against in terms of employment but it also addresses design to ensure that they are not physically impeded from access to areas that able-bodied people routinely enjoy. Structures that need to be ADA compliant are places of public accommodation and commercial facilities in the private sector, as well as all federal, state, and local government facilities. The Act applies to structures that are built new or altered.

The Act has greatly impacted design and choice of materials in the past 15 years. In drafting the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG), accessibility at places as varied as fishing piers and amusement parks is outlined and the structure of things ranging from automated teller machines to floor and ground surfaces is also addressed.

In a technical bulletin regarding floor and ground surfaces, the Access Board, an independent federal agency that provides information on accessible design, notes that 27 million Americans have some problem walking, of which more than a third report a severe problem: “Ambulatory persons with mobility impairments—especially those who use walking aids—are particularly at risk of slipping and falling, even on level surfaces.”

In a nutshell, the ADA’s guidelines for ground surfaces require them to be “stable, firm, and slip resistant.” “Stable” is interpreted to mean that the surface remain “unchanged by contaminants or applied force.” Firm means it “resists deformation by either indentations or particles moving on its surface” and slip resistant means the surface “provides sufficient frictional counterforce to the forces exerted in walking to permit safe ambulation.”

Most would agree that ceramic tile, provided that the proper substrate is used, meets the first two requirements. Problems arise when it comes to slip resistance. Slip resistance is measured as the “minimum tangential force necessary to initiate sliding of a body over the surface and the body gravity force. The coefficient of friction between the two surfaces is the ratio of the horizontal and vertical forces required to move one surface over another to the total force pressing the two surfaces together.”

Dave Yanchulis, an accessibilities specialist with the Access Board, admits that the government hasn’t been able to nail down a requirement for slip resistance, explaining, “The reason is that there isn’t a uniform test procedure for measuring slip resistance so we can’t specify a value without a uniform test method in place.”

Therefore, without corroborating research, values for slip resistance are not specified in the ADAAG and manufacturers of flooring surfaces seem to have leeway to interpret the Act’s parameters. As Yanchulis explains, “We understand that there are some norms in the industry regarding slip resistance levels based on which measuring method you use.” However, the Access Board recommends a static coefficient of friction of .6, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a static coefficient of friction of .5 (a higher number reflects more friction or slip resistance).

However, as the Board notes, “some slippage is in fact necessary for walking, especially for persons with restricted gaits who may drag their feet slightly….a very high coefficient of friction may actually hinder safe and comfortable ambulation by persons with disabilities.”

The government doesn’t favor one material over another when it comes to floor and ground surfaces. “We generally don’t call out accessible or non-accessible materials as long as our three criteria are met,” explains Yanchulis. “We don’t rule anything out although some materials certainly raise questions, such as a very loose, gravelly material for an outdoor trail, for example, or a very highly-polished surface for an interior.”

Markku Allison, a resource architect with the American Institute of Architects, agrees: “When you’re looking at accessibility issues, I have not seen a strong correlation between surface selection and accessibility. Within a particular surface family, like tile, there might be certain products that meet standards better or worse for accessibility issues. For example, if you’re working with stone floors, you might not use a polished granite—you would use a textured granite for better traction…You try to imagine the situations where someone’s coming across the floor in a walker, and think about what makes it safest and most easily traversed.”

Allison notes that a wide range of tile products are slip resistant, whether due to special coatings that have been applied or the actual texture of the tile. As he points out, “you see tile in most restaurant kitchens…where slip resistance is a huge issue.”

For graded surfaces, like ramps, the Access Board notes that ceramic tile might not be appropriate. If it is used, the Board suggests tile that has a coefficient of friction of .8. However, Allison notes that ramps that connect Washington, DC’s subway system to Reagan National Airport have used tile successfully.

Thomas Klose, principal of Thomas F. Klose Architect, Inc. of McLean, VA, says, “Ceramic tile is a good surface compared to carpeting, especially if you need to roll a wheelchair on it.” Klose specified tile for a job he did at DuPont’s corporate headquarters in Wilmington, DE. “The things we were looking for there were a smooth surface, meaning that the edges of the tile weren’t tumbled or rustic in any way, and we used small joints, like 1/16 of an inch and tried to get the mortar joints flush with that…Smooth is good. Falling is a fear for people in wheelchairs or on crutches.” Klose adds that an unpolished surface is also good, and he always specifies matte tile because it has a “tooth” to it.

Dave Milanowycz, northern regional sales manager with Lakeland, FL-based Florida Tile, notes that starting last June any new glazed porcelain floor tiles the company produces will automatically be ADA compliant. The new tile now has a coefficient rating of at least .6 wet or .8 dry. Through the attrition of old lines, Milanowycz predicts that eventually all of Florida Tile’s floor tile will one day be ADA compliant.

Milanowycz notes that the corporate decision was prompted after the company, whose product is used mainly in the residential market (although the new line is suitable for commercial purposes), started fielding more concerns from builders who are catering to an aging population. “We do a lot with builders that cater to 55 plus communities and as you see those communities aging, they’re looking for more ADA compliant floor tiles, because they know they’re going to need it in the future or have an elderly relative live with them.”

It used to be only architects that would spec ADA compliant tile, says Milanowycz. Today builders and even individuals are asking for the product. Consequently, having an ADA-compliant product is a strong selling point. Milanowycz notes that his own mother, who is 75, picked slip resistance above any other quality when she recently tiled her kitchen. “That doesn’t mean that aesthetics are compromised,” Milanowycz is quick to add. “If you saw them you’d go crazy and say this is a gorgeous look.”

There’s nothing about Florida Tile’s ADA-compliant tile that shouts that it helps with accessibility, but Milanowycz does note that it has a matte finish. “You’re not going to get a high shine in ADA compliant,” observes Milanowycz, “but the glazes have come a long way.” He adds that glazes in development overseas are promising to deliver both high shine and slip resistance. He also notes that tiles can be designed with a greater than .8 coefficient of friction but they tend to degrade footwear and be hard to clean.

While demand for tile is often regional, Milanowycz says it’s a trend in those who are over age 55 to use tile throughout their homes, regardless of where they live. “They’ve been through the wood, they’ve been through the carpet, they’ve been through other flooring materials, so now the most proven factor for them has been tile…We’re definitely seeing a higher percentage of tile used in the aging community and a lot of times they’re looking for more ADA compliant tile. They want slip resistance and no maintenance.”

There are other ways that tile can assist people with disabilities. Not only can it provide a safe surface for those with impaired mobility, but special tile surfaces can help the visually impaired. For example, the Washington Metro system has a band of bumpy tile at the edge of the subway platform that tactilely alerts commuters to the fact that they’re at the edge. Allison notes that many urban areas use grooved tile in curb cuts to both alert blind people to the change in elevation and make the cuts more slip resistant.

Adding Slip Protection

There are numerous products on the market meant to be applied to existing tile so that it conforms to the slip resistant requirements of the ADA .

Peter Ahern, owner of Spring Valley, CA-based Slip-Tech, said his company started by serendipitous accident in 1984. He was living near Silicon Valley , where silicon chips are routinely etched out with hydrofluoric acid. Some acid spilled on a tile floor in a chip lab and workers discovered that the floor was much harder to mop. A friend of Ahern’s in the tile business got called in to diagnose the problem and that gave Ahern the idea that he could make a lot of money using hydrofluoric acid as an anti-slip device. Ahern notes that all anti-slip manufacturers rely on hydrofluoric acid, which is why no one has an exclusive patent on anti-slip products.

Ceramic floors might be less slick but, Ahern is quick to point out, deglazing does make tile harder to clean. Electron photographs taken of treated tile show that the acid opens up air holes in the tile and dirt gets trapped in the spheroids. Consequently, Ahern notes that the product shouldn’t be used on white floors and he’s turned down jobs on white tile. Cream colors are less of a problem but with light colors, cautions Ahern, “you have to be careful in the degree at which you etch it.” He normally treats light tiles less than darker ones.

One such product is manufactured by Slip Guard Systems, Inc. of Orange Park, FL. Company owner Jay Dorsett notes that the floor must be cleaned properly before the etcher and neutralizer are applied. As Dorsett notes, product that is not put down on a thoroughly-cleaned floor has a tendency to bead up and then treated areas stand out against non-treated areas.

Most Slip Guard is sold through tile dealers who “are trying to solve problems.” “I hear every day,” notes Dorsett, “people say ‘this is supposed to be a slip-proof tile and it meets the coefficient of friction for ADA requirements but it’s still slippery when wet’ or someone will find that their installer accidentally put the wall tile on the floor.” Using Slip Guard is a way to salvage the situation rather than tear up the floor. It also, says Dorsett, “makes it possible to use a lot of tile in wet areas and entrances and pool decks where it normally couldn’t be used.”

Ahern firmly believes that Slip Tech and similar products need to be applied by qualified contractors. “You have to control the amount of etch,” he notes, “it’s not a matter of one bottle and one strength. What works well on one tile will destroy another one.” More importantly, notes Ahern, hydrofluoric acid is a strong chemical and a class A hazardous material. It can get on skin and not be felt until several hours later when it’s burning a hole down into the bone.

Slip Tech technicians always ask that a tile sample to be sent to them for analysis prior to treatment. For example, notes Ahern, it takes a different concentration of acid and a longer “dwell” time to take .2 tile to a .6 than it does to take a .5 to a .6. Floors that use a variety of tile with different coefficients of friction need to have those tiles individually treated for optimum performance.

Dorsett claims that his product doesn’t alter the appearance of the glaze or the aesthetics. ”When you treat it and the tile is dry and you run your hand over it, you can’t even tell. It’s as smooth as it was beforehand. It’s when it’s wet that it makes the difference.” Sometimes, notes Dorsett, slippery tile is specified for aesthetic reasons and then is treated afterwards.

If every floor were to be laid with tiles that were manufactured to be slip resistant, it would seem as if companies like Slip Tech and Slip Guard would quickly be out of business. “In reality,” claims Ahern, “there are very, very few tiles that meet the .6 coefficient of friction….Manufacturers find it very, very difficult, almost impossible, to make a pretty .6 tile. You can make what I call prison tile, real rough stuff, that if you fell on it you’d bleed, but very few tiles that you find attractive can be made at .6 in the factory, which is how this [deglazing] industry got going.”

Ahern notes Slip Tech has been used by a number of different entities ranging from banks and casinos to 7-11s and McDonald’s. All of them were anxious to avoid slip and fall lawsuits, so Ahern feels that the $3 per square foot it costs to treat tile is money well spent. He is so confident of Slip Tech’s anti-slip properties that he once had kids play basketball on a sopping wet treated tile floor to demonstrate the product’s effectiveness before representatives from the Hilton Hotels chain.

To view ADAAG’s technical bulletin on ground and floor surfaces please visit:

http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/about/bulletins/surfaces.htm


Showroom Trends: Looking at your showroom from a customer’s point of view.
 
November 1st, 2005

 

By Janet Arden & Kate Pancero

November-December 2005

Your showroom is critical. In the best of all possible worlds, it can draw in the buyer, encourage her to shop and eventually choose something she’ll enjoy in her home—in fact, she’ll enjoy it so much she’ll tell admiring friends that she bought it from you.

As industry professionals, we’re comfortable with the array of products, textures, colors, and sizes available in today’s showroom. But the customer, who may have never bought tile before or who may have only done so occasionally, is easily overwhelmed by what’s available. Your job—and that of your showroom—is to engage the customer and make shopping a positive experience.

Recent tile and display trends have been developed to meet changing needs and customer expectations.

The basics

Kathy Webster, Director of Marketing for Miller Multiplex Displays, points out that the goal of any display system is to show off the product—in this case tile—rather than the rack. Floor and wall racks have long been the staples of tile display. Traditionally they have been designed to minimize floor space, maximize display and remain otherwise unobtrusive.

Swinging panels are perhaps one of the oldest but, says Webster, most successful concepts for display because they allow the dealer to mount a lot of samples in a small footprint. They can also be combined with wall racks by hanging the swing rack above wall-mounted shelves which may have removable products on them. The customer can stand in one place and view a number of products. Another familiar option is a free-standing rack designed to accommodate samples vertically rather than horizontally.

The “big” trend

It’s no secret that one of the biggest trends in the industry has been just that—big. Large tiles have become increasingly popular throughout the US. One difficulty with showcasing the large tiles is figuring out where to put them.

Larger tiles mean heavier product and a need for sturdier displays. “As the product gets heavier, we have to be in tune to the total weight that the fixture is going to have to handle,” said Stan Kennough, Vice President of Sales at J. H. Best Display. One of the challenges for display manufacturers is ensuring that display boards can not only handle the weight of the product, but also maintain an aesthetically pleasing design.

Patricia Chavez is a Sales Consultant with Diversified Display Systems. The company is introducing a new, three-tier rack to hold 45 large format tiles in the same format as its familiar existing rack. The company is also ready to customize displays to suit particular materials.

Webster says large format—which continues to get larger—increasingly requires custom display pieces. She says slider systems are a good solution to managing the size and weight of larger materials while still maximizing floor space.

Vignettes offer experience

If shopping for tile is potentially overwhelming for the typical customer, then walking into a showroom with several tile vignettes allows customers to see a concept right in front of them. One of the benefits of using showroom vignettes is that they give the customer a sense of the environment a tile could provide in their home.

“People walk into the showroom and see it looks the same and walk back out,” said Michael Kowalczyk, General Manager and Founder of Display Ideas. Instead of simply providing customers with the usual concept boards, configurations mounted on small boards, and swatches of various tile combinations to illustrate design ideas, many tile showrooms are giving their clients more options with showroom vignettes. These mini-rooms offer a “slice” of a kitchen, bath, entry or other room to illustrate tile installations on the walls, floor and even countertops. Vignettes often incorporate bath or kitchen fixtures or even furniture to develop the look further. This is a trend that has been on the rise in luxury tile showrooms for several years. Not surprisingly, its success and the growing sophistication of many customers have led more and more dealers to incorporate vignettes into their showrooms.

A combination of well-done vignettes and traditional displays allows the customer to view different materials in different settings. She can get a true feel of what she does and does not like. Some dealers suggested that clients often pick out the same material in different formats and finishes. This way, the sales person will get an accurate sense of what their customer likes, cutting the choosing process down from 3,000 different tile options to 100.

Kowalczyk believes display materials make a difference. Custom display boards are becoming more popular in the tile industry, especially those made of wood. “Wood is warm and inviting, while metal displays are cold and industrial looking,” he said.

One dealer compared tile showrooms to couture on a New York runway. The client may not wear the totally trendy dress, but the same concepts are applied to the ready to wear, practical clothing seen in the department store. A tile showroom designer may choose to display the outlandish in order to give the client an inspirational idea for their own design project.

Webster says Multiplex designs vignettes for dealers based on the design needs of a specific client. They are, essentially, all custom designs.

How tall is your tile?

Dealers always face the same display dilemma: show the most amount of material using the least amount of space while maintaining the display’s user-friendliness. Some dealers have been tempted to build up. Unfortunately, the taller the display, the more difficult it is for the average customer to have access to the product. Understanding who the average decision making customer is, is also important. According to Kowalczyk, “80 percent of design decisions are made by the woman.” He believes keeping the woman in mind is vital when designing a showroom. In the United States , the average female is 5′ 4″, while the average American male is 5′ 9″. “Large tiles in the footing of metal display, makes the average woman unable to reach or it would be too difficult to reach up there and bring the tile down without breaking it,” said Kowalczyk.

With the large tile trend, wood displays are becoming more useful because they are shorter than metal. “Wood displays are set up to be never over four feet tall,” said Kowalczyk, “the line of sight is never broken.”

Focus on the line of sight does not just involve accessibility. Lighting can make a world of difference in a showroom. It ensures what the client sees is what the client is going to get, said Kennough. Make sure the showroom is well lit so customers can appreciate the natural nuances and shade variations of the tiles. Lighting is the key to ensuring that the client understands exactly what they are going to install into their home. Be it a combination of natural, halogen and/or fluorescent lighting showrooms need to be well lit so you can see all the nuances of the different products. “The characterization of the lighting is natural so that when it gets taken home, it presents the product well,” said Kennough.

Trends come and go in the tile industry. In keeping with these trends, dealers are challenged to effectively display new products so the customer sees their full potential. The in-house dealer design team needs to be creative with installations, by playing with different possibilities during the planning process to see what works best for your showroom.


Leadership Letter: You’re invited! The 2005 Management Conference is November 10-13!
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

Traditionally, the CTDA Management Conference has always been a great time and place to get inspired, motivated, and informed at educational seminars planned to update us on our industry and the ever-changing world of business. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to network with industry peers and see how they do things at their own businesses.

The 2005 Management Conference is scheduled for November 10-13 at Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage, California. I hope you’re planning to attend.

Personally, I have always found the Management Conference to be one of the best benefits of CTDA membership. I always learn something to take back to my business. This will be especially true in 2005.

The conference kicks off on November 10th with futurist Jim Carroll on “Coping with Ketchup: How to Adapt to a World of Constant Change.”

The 2005 schedule also includes a two-part session on mold. Could this be the new asbestos? Part I will consider what mold is and is not, the latest technology available to prevent growth, and what you can do during installation to stop it before it becomes an expensive problem. Part II will discuss the ramifications of mold for homeowners, contractors, distributors, and the courts. Get an update on the most recent insurance issues and what you can do to avoid potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more, in mold claims.

I especially enjoy the Distributor Forum, networking, sharing ideas and experiences with fellow distributors is always a good time and beneficial for all of us attending. Distributors gather to discuss subjects primarily of exclusive nature to distributors. It is a time to share your successes and your failures and take home a few new ideas to implement. This year’s session will take place immediately before the Friday morning business session with two topics selected for discussion in roundtable groups and results presented to the whole. (Attendees won’t miss any of the other planned business or recreation events!) Topics will be chosen by participants prior to the conference.

Elsewhere, the schedule is just as rewarding:

• Expect a big motivational bounce from marketing expert Jim Feldman on “Shift Happens! Survival Skills,” Mac Fulfer on “Every Face Tells a Story.”

• Eric Chester will help you understand, manage and motivate “Generation Why.”

• Al Bates will present his Company Performance Report.

In addition to these programs, CTDA will be welcoming two more inductees into the CTDA Hall of Fame. There will be more time for informal networking on the golf course and at informal special events.

The CTDA Management Conference is your opportunity to invest in the growth and profitability of your business and one of the most rewarding benefits of CTDA membership.

Many of you are already registered for this important event, but if you aren’t yet, please clear your calendar and plan to join us.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Cindy Bell
CTDA President


From the Editor’s Desk: What the experts are saying about “what we like”
 
September 1st, 2005

by Janet Arden, Editor
September-October 2005

A good friend of mine and her husband are building a new home in another state. They ran into an interesting glitch when the tile they had chosen was delayed in Customs. My friend was surprised, largely because she was not aware she had chosen anything imported. “I just pointed at the one I liked,” she said.

In fact, pointing at what we like is how most of us do a lot of major shopping. We rely on the seller/dealer to lead us to the best products based on some parameters we’ve given regarding budget and design. Granted, some shoppers may be focused on domestic rather than imported goods or environmentally-conscious, energy-saving products. But I think for the most part, we are all hooked on the “one we like.”

Of course an awful lot of what we like is determined by what the marketplace offers.

A big part of what we do here at TileDealer is to try to educate our readers on what’s available in the marketplace that your customers may or may not like. So in recent issues we’ve talked about glass tile, underfloor warming systems, and porcelain tile.

This issue takes a look at yet some other trends that are driving the marketplace, reflecting not only “what we like,” but what the industry experts are saying about these trends.

Forget the old saying about good things in small packages when it comes to tile. Large format—from 12 by 24 and up, in squares and in rectangles, is showing up everywhere. It can be mixed with smaller format pieces or not, installed on walls as well as floors, inside and outside. Designer Cathy Stadelmaier offers her insights on where and how large format works and those times when it doesn’t. She offers some surprises, so don’t miss her feature.

Second, whether you are selling stone tile or not, and whatever the size, it’s one of the hottest product categories right now. In fact the use of residential stone has jumped 30-35 percent in the last several years. It’s durable. It mixes well with other materials. Granite tile is a more affordable option for the customer who wants a granite countertop. And so it goes. For an introduction to stone, we went to the top—Gary Distelhorst is the Executive Vice President of the Marble Institute of America and the subject of this issue’s One-on-One.

Next, what colors will be driving the marketplace? For starters, you might want to check your coffee cup—latte, espresso, mocha. According to Barbara Schirmeister, ASID, the newest neutrals are from the brown family. And they play beautifully with a palette of saturated hues from turquoise to raspberry. Mix in water and air colors, as well as reds and oranges, and you have quite a palette to choose from!

Finally, many thanks to Walter Iberti of the Iberti Group who graciously caught this correction in our last issue: In “What is Porcelain?” on page 46 a sentence mistakenly says “porcelain’s high absorption rate impacts installation.” Of course, it is the opposite—porcelain’s very low absorption rate of less than 0.5% impacts its installation and defines it as porcelain.


Innovations
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

World Sales Group

Marquis Series

NEW from World Sales Group!—Marquis Series glazed porcelain—This honed travertine product is available in four warm natural colors in a 17″ x 17″ format. To request a sample please contact Jerry Stone at 972-407-6973 or by email at worldsalesgroup@aol.com.

TEC® introduces 3N1TM Performance Mortar

TEC brands introduced 3N1 Performance Mortar, an entirely new category of mortar that allows tile installation professionals to use the same mortar—and follow the same installation process—for virtually every ceramic tile and natural stone application encountered. At the same time, 3N1 delivers the performance capabilities found in the highest-quality premium mortars. 3N1’s unique formulation combines the advantages of latex modified, medium bed and non-sag mortars into a single, easy-to-use solution. 3N1 is also extremely lightweight—a 30 lb. bag delivers the same amount of coverage as a 50 lb. bag of traditional latex modified mortar. According to TEC Brand Manager Sandra Eich, 3N1 incorporates breakthrough technology that makes it ideal for any application and installation technique. “3N1 is unlike anything on the market in that it can be used for common tile sizes, wall or floor applications and heavy and large-format applications while exceeding performance expectations,” she said. Advanced nanotechnology and microsphere technology is at the heart of 3N1’s versatility and top performance. Nanotechnology—the use of fine particles, or nanostructures—deliver powerful adhesion, full contact and cohesive strength. The interlocking nanostructures enable 3N1’s non-slump and non-sag characteristics. Microspheres—tiny, hollow globes within the mortar—create a ball-bearing effect that produces easy trowelability. The microspheres also help contribute to 3N1’s non-slump and its ability to support wall tile weighing up to 6 lbs. per square foot without sagging. 3N1 also features the TEC patented adhesion promoter, ZS-100, for excellent bonds to porcelain and enhanced bonding to difficult substrates, such as plywood. 3N1 exceeds ANSI A118.4 and A118.11 shear bond requirements and carries a Residential to Extra Heavy Commercial floor wear rating. A proprietary blend of fungistatic agents inhibits mold and mildew growth. 3N1 Performance Mortar is available in white and gray. (www.tecspecialty.com)

Four new collections

American Olean, a leader in ceramic tile has introduced four new product collections. “American Olean’s goal with these four new collections is to provide homeowners and designers with the latest, most popular stone looks in a wide variety of colors and sizes, from very large to very small. These new collections also offer unique accent packages that really allow homeowners to upgrade the look of their design project,” said Matthew Kahny, vice president of marketing at American Olean. Carriage House floor and wall tile emulates rustic natural stone and is available in Canvas, Straw, Saddle and Buckskin and four field tile sizes (18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″, 8″ x 10″ and 6″ x 6″). The Highland Ridge collection features a rustic, textured surface complemented by four random shade/color variations. In addition to its three modular field tile sizes (18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″ and 6″ x 6″), the collection is enhanced by its 2″ x 12″ two-color blend accents and 4″ x 12″ riverstone pebble borders. A 1″ x 3″ mosaic, sheet-mounted in a brick pattern, completes the collection. With its rough-hewn edges, Cortesia boasts the rustic look and texture of chiseled travertine. Four soft, rich colors (Bianco, Dorato and Noce) feature dramatic shading and random color variation. Cortesia’s multiple-size field tile package includes a 20″ x 20″, a 10″ x 20″ rectangle, a 13″ x 13″ and a 10″ x 10″, all of which allow for numerous pattern options. Accents include a 40″ x 40″ medallion, as well as 1″ x 13″ and 3″ x 13″ borders—all of which feature delicate fossil motifs and random-sized mosaic pieces. Lyndhurst Mosaics feature earthen colors and a slightly worn appearance. The color palette includes Woodland (shades of brown), Millstone (shades of light beige) and Meadow (shades of blue, green, cream and brown). The 2″ x 2″ dot-mounted mosaics were designed to coordinate with a multitude of other American Olean product lines. (www.aotile.com)

Fritto Misto

With a variety of exquisite colors, Gruppo Ceramiche Saicis S.P.A, one of Italy ’s top producers of high-end porcelain tile, introduces its new series, Fritto Misto, which is a blend of various shades and colors. This series is the latest line in Saicis’ Saitech Gres, glazed porcelain tile collection. Available in three colors: Chiaro, a grayish white blend, Scuro, a darker brown with splashes of lighter brown, and Medio, a color that blends dark and light into a tan hue, Fritto Misto is a tile line that provides patterns to complement any room style and interior applications. Saicis offers the Fritto Misto series in convenient sizes. All three colors are offered in sizes of 18″ x 18″, 12″ x 12″, and 4″ x 4″. Included in this series are decorative mosaics mesh-mounted on a 12″ x 12″ size sheet. “Fritto Misto is a series that allows the customer to choose a style that suits his or her needs,” said Vittorio Galerio, Saicis North American Manager. “These colors are designed to accent any interior environment.” (877-675-3772)

Roble from Ceracasa

Ceracasa proposes Series Roble in Porcelain Tile: ceramic wood that shows shade and texture variation among the pieces to give a more natural appearance. The model Roble from Ceracasa, available in sizes 15×63.2, 7.4×63.2 and 3.6×63.2 cm, is produced in two colours, Dorado and Miel. They can be used both as wall and floor tiles in halls, bathrooms, kitchens or other high-traffic areas, especially where water or humidity would limit the use of other materials. Because these ceramic “wooden’ pieces are rectified, ceramic wood from Ceracasa can be placed with a minimum laying and grout gap. The latest in decoration is available to your customers in “Roble miel or Roble dorado.” (www.ceracasa.com)


Industry Insights
 
September 1st, 2005

September-October 2005

Palmer new V-P at Mid-America Tile

Thomas J. Kotel, President of Mid-America Tile announced the appointment of Jim Palmer to the newly created position of Vice President, Sales & Marketing. Palmer, an industry veteran of over 20 years comes to Mid-America Tile from Florida Tile where he served as Midwest Regional Manager. Prior to that Palmer was the Vice President, Colorado Operations for Hughes Western Sales. According to Kotel, “Jim’s extensive management background with ceramic tile and commercial resilient products was exactly what we were looking for to help take Mid-America Tile to the next level.” Mid-America Tile, a wholesale flooring importer/distributor founded in 1961 serves the greater Chicagoland area from its headquarters in Elk Grove Village and its branches in Romeoville and Mundelein, Illinois.

Ammons joins Bostik

Randy Ammons has joined Bostik Inc.’s Flooring Group as Territory Manager, overseeing Hydroment® ceramic and DURABOND® ceramic, carpet, vinyl, and patch product accounts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Ammons is adept at managing strategic accounts and servicing distributors and retail centers, and their contractor customers. “Through the years, I’ve had to sell against several Bostik Flooring solutions in the field,” Ammons said. “While I had my share of successes, there’s no doubt that Bostik Flooring is unmatched in this industry in terms of breadth of product, and the superior performance that its people and proven products consistently deliver. I grew to respect Bostik Flooring so much that I simply couldn’t pass up this tremendous opportunity to join them.” Robert McNamara, National Sales & Marketing Manager for Bostik Flooring, said, “Randy is a determined, successful contributor who takes the time necessary to truly listen to clients and follow through on their needs.”

Interceramic opens new plant in Chihuahua, Mexico

Interceramic announced the opening of its newest manufacturing facility, Plant 8, in Chihuahua, Mexico. After more than 26 years as a manufacturer in the ceramic tile industry, the company now has eight manufacturing facilities in four different complexes; three located in Chihuahua, Mexico and one in Garland, TX U.S.A. This new facility increases capacity by 25%, bringing current total manufacturing capacity to 400 million square feet.

This new project started last year and represents an investment of $30 million. This plant, which was designed by Interceramic’s engineers in collaboration with Sacmi, the world leader in the manufacturing of machinery for the manufacturing of ceramic tile, is the most sophisticated in the world to date. The company’s mission has been to stay at the forefront of technology to better compete in North America and world wide.

In keeping with this philosophy, the new plant includes the most advanced glazing equipment to accomplish the newest looks in demand in the market, and the finished product is handled entirely by automation and utilizes robots operated by lasers. Interceramic’s products are distributed in Mexico through a unique system of more than 200 franchised galleries. In the US and Canada, Interceramic is available through a network of over 100 independent distributors as well as 23 distribution centers/store galleries, which are all owned and operated by Interceramic USA.

Raish Joins Ceramic Tile And Stone Consultants

Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, LLC (CTaSC) announced that Steve A. Raish has joined the company as a forensic consultant investigator and a ceramic tile and stone installation trainer. Raish will be in charge of the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (U of CTS) hands-on installation programs where he will develop and teach installation training programs. Raish will also manage forensic installation failure investigations and will perform some inspections himself. Raish is a California licensed installer of ceramic tile and stone and is considered an expert craftsman. He started Steve Raish Tile Company in 1985 and spent 15 years specializing in custom installations of ceramic tile and stone to include slab stone installations. In 2000 Raish went to work for Laticrete International, a manufacturer of installation products for ceramic tile and stone, and he worked there until joining CTaSC. At Laticrete, Raish assisted architects in writing ceramic tile and stone installation specifications and performed “live” hands-on demonstrations for training programs. He also provided on-site assistance to installers and investigated job problems. Raish was honored with the special H.T. Swanson Award in his first year of employment at Laticrete.

Louisville Tile celebrates 50 years

Louisville Tile Distributors celebrated its 50th year in business with simultaneous “birthday” parties at each of the company’s eight locations. “We have enjoyed 50 years of success thanks to the dedication of our people,” explains Jud Wilcox, Founder and CEO of Louisville Tile Distributors, Inc. “The Louisville Tile family has reached this half-century mark together.” Louisville Tile currently has eight locations, employing 140 people, throughout the mid-east region. The multi-million dollar company has diverse product offerings, longstanding customer relationships and the buying power of eight branches. Today, Louisville Tile is poised for additional expansion, having proven to be an evolutionary distributor able to change and grow with the times for long-term success.

Laticrete: Supplier of the Year

LATICRETE International, Inc., a global leader in the manufacture of tile and stone installation systems, received the prestigious title of TileAmerica! “Supplier of the Year.” The award, presented annually at the Coverings exhibition, recognizes the TileAmerica! supplier who has provided “outstanding support and superior service throughout the year.” TileAmerica!, a multi-location tile and stone retailer/wholesaler headquartered in New Haven, CT, chose LATICRETE as “Supplier of the Year” out of TileAmerica!’s multitude of suppliers world-wide, and in the first full year after taking on the LATICRETE product line. “We have suppliers all over the globe, but this year’s best in products and services happened to be right here in our own backyard,” said Brian Knies, TileAmerica! President. “This award is presented on behalf of TileAmerica!’s associates and recognizes the LATICRETE team for its outstanding supplier efforts. LATICRETE has proved to be very customer focused and has definitely contributed to TileAmerica!’s success.”

Mer-Krete Maxxon Alliance

Mer-Krete Systems announced a strategic partnership with Maxxon Corporation, in which Maxxon will recommend the exclusive use of an anti-fracture membrane from Mer-Krete, to meet new TCA guidelines F-180-05 and F-200-05. The guidelines recommend crack isolation membranes to be placed over poured gypsum underlayments prior to adhering to tile or stone. The alliance also enables Maxxon to offer improved customer service with Mer-Krete’s 15-year warranty. Products endorsed include Mer-Krete’s anti-fracture membrane Fracture-Guard 5000 and the waterproofing membrane Hydro-Guard 2000. Mer-Krete will recommend Maxxon’s industry renowned gypsum underlayments as products of choice, making the 15-year warranty proprietary with all Maxxon underlayments. “Maxxon is clearly the best at what they do, so we’re very pleased that a company of this caliber recognizes what we have to offer,” said Tim McDonald, CEO of Mer-Krete Systems. “Just as sand and cement complement one another to create an enhanced all-purpose substance, we believe our two companies shared strengths will provide many additional customer benefits.”


Installer Update: Tiling for Fun and Profit
 
September 1st, 2005

 

September-October 2005

By Dave Gobis

While many may moan and groan when asked to do a custom tile pattern, for a true trade person there is nothing more satisfying. When the opportunity presents itself we know we are about to receive a break from our typical get-it-done-fast-cheap-and-now.

Whether art work, residential construction or commercial monuments these projects are long admired and remembered. Speaking from personal experience, they also typically lead to many referrals and the potential to develop a niche market, something that sets you apart from the crowd. Custom work takes patience, lots of patience and isn’t for everyone.

For those fortunate enough to be creative and skilled in specialized, installation techniques, the rewards are way beyond monetary; the job satisfaction is enormous. Just ask Colleen Stanton of Geometric Tile. She started her business after becoming disillusioned with the choices available when restoring a Victorian home in 1999. Since that time she has created over 100 patterns on a modified software program and has been traveling the country installing her patterns and fabricating patterns for other installers with detailed instructions.

Eric Rattan not only designs and installs tile but also makes it in his studio. Mr. Rattan was the recipient of the 2003 Prism International Natural Stone Design Competition Residential Award of Merit for his stone mosaic Crane Dreams and for a follow-up to that accomplishment, went on to win the Spectrum International Award in 2004 for his residential commission Fallen Leaves. He got his start in the industry as a stone apprentice and went on to study ceramic engineering and became a producer of custom ceramic tile.

Greg Andrews is no stranger to tile professionals, especially in the glass tile community. Andrews won First Prize, Residential category in the 2005 Spectrum Award for a 2000 square-foot swimming pool and spa tiled in paper face mounted three-quarter inch glass mosaic tiles. The pool floor features a circular pattern that follows the radius of a pre-mounted medallion reaching out to the brown inlay.

These are just ordinary people like you and me with distinctly different tastes who went on to develop their love for their trade into an art form.

So how does one get started in such fun work? You need to have a few creative bones in your body. If you are a tile person and love tile, that should not be a problem. Good tile people, whether they are in sales or installations, are adept at being visionaries. You are used to seeing the big picture before it takes shape. The general public is not good with abstract thoughts such as this pattern would look great in here. Affluent homebuyers, the prime market for custom work often have a hard time envisioning an end product. If you can properly present a vision, upselling is not at all difficult.

Most who do custom pattern work installation use pattern templates in the field while they are installing to keep things on track. Therefore, after you sell your vision it is important to make the installer fully aware of not only the pattern, but also all circumstances surrounding the installation. It is all in the planning when it comes to executing any project, doubly so with handmade artistic efforts.

So are you ready to take the plunge into custom patterns? Do you want to sell premium products?

First and foremost, any custom work requires top shelf materials across the board and good installation practices. I used the word monuments earlier in this article, and there is a reason for it. When doing this type of work, those paying the bill rightly expect their job to last a lifetime. This is the time to spend money on only the best tile, labor, setting materials, membranes, and substrates. This sounds simple enough, but unfortunately many dreams are ruined by shortsightedness in this area. I have seen more than a few award winning jobs go into the dumpster due to inappropriate materials and/or faulty workmanship. Quality in both should be part of the price in the project; you do not want a callback or complaint on these types of installations.

If you cannot build quality in, it is not meant to be. If there is any question about the proposed method being appropriate for the application, consult with a qualified party. You will find many setting material manufacturers offer various warranties based on method and product used. This is a good place for their inclusion and may well make the difference in being awarded the project.

Pricing these projects can be a challenge. From a sales perspective, a clear picture of costs is possible. For installation, costs can be a little cloudy. It only takes a few jobs for people to notice and set yourself apart from the competition, but you have to get them out there first. Once that is accomplished you will have more opportunities for additional jobs with higher profits.

But be aware, this art stuff can be addictive. I still drive my wife crazy with little projects. My current art project under construction is a glass tile pyramid base made of solid concrete for my mailbox post so the snowplow quits knocking it over during our Wisconsin winters. Just trying to be different.

I’ll let you know at a future date how many requests that generates—I am sure it will.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, 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 many years prior to his current position. Mr. Gobis is an author of many trade related articles and a frequent speaker at industry events. He is a member of the Construction Specification Institute, National Tile Contractors Technical Committee, and voting member of The American National Standards for Ceramic Tile Installation and Setting Materials (ANSI A108/118) and Tile Council of America Installation Handbook committees. He can be reached at 864-22-2131 or dave@tileschool.org.

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