To support the mission of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), Kevin Insalato of California Flooring in the Chicago area has started officially promoting tile installation certification with focus on the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program.
Kevin is as passionate about quality tile installation as Scott Carothers is (see Why Scott Carothers Cares Intensely About Tile Installation Certification and Education). Only fitting that he should join forces with CTEF to help develop the Regional Evaluators program for tile installation certification. We caught up with Kevin to learn more.
Meet Kevin Insalato from California Flooring
CTEF: Kevin, tell us about your background and how you got started with tile?
I started working full-time at the start of my senior year of high school in 1974 at the largest carpet retail organization in Illinois as carpet cutter, in shipping/receiving and, then in 1975 in retail sales. I took the Dale Carnegie Sales course that year which gave me a nice sales foundation. From May of 1975 to 1978, I was in the US Army in Germany. From 1978 to 1990, I spent time back in retail sales, and management for a major water company in Chicago and Las Vegas.
I came back to Chicago in 1990 as a partner in a retail flooring store. This was my first professional experience with ceramic tile.
In retail, tile was very confusing compared to all the other flooring products. In 1990, we were not aware of proper standards, what ANSI, TCNA or NTCA stood for or did. We hired installers based on their ability to show up, take work out and do it. Some were good, some were not.
I left the partnership due to a difference of opinion on how to treat retail customers. I felt strongly that once you make a deal, you need to stick with it.
CTEF: Tell us about California Flooring.
In 1993, I founded California Flooring as a 100% referral-based floorcovering store. We were and still are a shop at home service.
>> See California Flooring LTD – NTCA Member Spotlight in the January 13, 2016 issue.
I wanted my new company to promote happy thoughts whenever anyone in Chicago heard the name. When you live in this Midwestern climate, palm trees promote feelings of warmth and vacation so I used a palm tree as a logo and settled on California Flooring as the name to promote those happy thoughts.
Initially I had 2 partners. One of those guys owned an installation service. I thought that having a partner providing installation should have ensured that our service was superior. It wasn’t; he worked for other stores, too, and our work came last.
In less than two years, I bought out both partners and changed from subcontracting tile installation to hiring and training employees to provide all of my installations. I worked as the lead installer and trained all of our installers over the years. We stressed service and doing what we agreed to do.
I was not aware of ANSI and TCNA Standards or the NTCA.
CTEF: How did you get involved with the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA)?
In 2007, we joined the NTCA. At that time, we didn't take the time to get the proper education I would have wanted.
The main reason we joined came from attending the Surfaces and Covering Shows each year. Our business had expanded into Kitchen & Bath remodeling where the proper techniques for tile installation were now more important. We talked with Jim Olson and Bart Bettiga at the NTCA Booth at Surfaces and could not pass up the Partnering for Success Vouchers. We would always attend workshops, and receiving the Tile Letter monthly kept me up on new trends and training.
CTEF: What do you love most about tile?
The feeling of accomplishment from renovating a bathroom into a room you can’t wait to use each day is intoxicating. And the knowledge required to properly construct and design the bathroom is critical.
Our challenge involved learning the right skills so our employees could handle the majority of the installation tasks.
I personally love tile. When we can control the entire process from design to the installation, we can specify more tile and less paint. We can ensure that the space makes the best use of form and function using today’s best practices and products, while keeping to our customer's budget.
That's our goal. This helps us create beautiful bathroom designs for our 100% Referral Customers.
CTEF: How did you become more involved with NTCA?
In 2014, the NTCA invited us to a joint NTCA/Schluter Workshop geared toward Business Owners at the Schluter Facility in Reno, Nevada, a cutting-edge facility.
The workshop material was eye-opening. However the group of people we met and talked to convinced us that we had to find the time to be more involved in the Tile Industry. The NTCA is the voice of the Tile Industry; I decided to get more involved.
I was nominated to the Board of the NTCA as the Region 5 Director and served at my first Board Meeting in January of 2015. The collective knowledge of the organization is impressive.
Tile is viewed as sacred as gold and conversation at Board Meetings is about helping all members. The emphasis is on best practices in all facets of the Tile Industry, including ensuring that installers in the field properly understand and perform their jobs, and also count on the NTCA to be there to back them up.
Where were these guys all my life?
CTEF: What about tile installation certification?
My passion for the training and educational advantages available to California Flooring developed while we observed the CTI (Certified Tile Installer) hands-on testing at the Surfaces Show. We talked with Scott Carothers, the Director of the CTEF and our entire discussion can be summed up as “Integrity & Knowledge” in tile installation.
At the end of the show, I signed up all five of my installers at that time to take the CTI Test in March of 2015. Two of my guys went on to take the ACT testing at Coverings in April of 2015.
Not only was this a way of expressing our commitment to everything CTEF and Scott stand for relative to qualified and certified labor, but we also wanted to prove that we are qualified to properly install large format tile.
We feel we have a decided edge over other installers who say they are qualified, yet don’t feel they need to challenge themselves and become CTIs.
We have accepted the challenge and are both CTI and ACT Certified.
CTEF: What is your role with CTEF?
Starting in October of 2016, I was hired by the NTCA to work with Scott Carothers and the CTEF to be the CTI Coordinator.
I was tasked with the job of coordinating the new Regional Evaluators (REs) team handling the increased demand for testing installers wanting to challenge themselves and become Certified Tile Installers. We have selected a diverse group of existing CTIs to expand the ability to test more installers across the USA.
The advantage of this new group of evaluators will be the quicker response time for installers wanting to take the CTI hands-on test.
This will also give the Tile Industry a group of highly trained and qualified professionals who know how to install tile successfully.
Qualified Labor is a critical issue for the TIle Industry and we need to be prepared to meet the demand.
CTEF: Any parting words of advice?
The words that I live by relative to my installers are: “tell me what you can do, then do it.” I hear all kinds of comments everyday that usually include things such as ”I tried,” or “I did my best, “ or “it’s not my fault.” I want everyone to be accountable and decide at what level of success they want to achieve, particularly when it comes to tile installation.
Having your subcontractors or clients tell you what they expect of your employees would make everyone’s life easier. What you charge clients or pay your employees would be a joint situation with a better chance for success.
The first step to success is a clear plan and here at the CTEF, we want to be clear. We are ready to help you become a Certified Tile Installer.
CTEF: Kevin, how can readers contact you?
You can reach me via phone at (815) 468-9400 or leave a comment at the end of this article.
CTEF: Thank you, Kevin!
We also caught up with Kevin at Total Solutions Plus 2016 and asked him a few more questions in this 2:45 minute video:
We're excited about Kevin's passion for quality tile installation and certification and hope you'll help us get the word out about the value of becoming a Certified Tile Installer.
Image credits: Photo of Renata and Kevin Insalato at TSP16 courtesy of CTDA. Installation images courtesy of California Flooring and Kevin Insalato.