The joint Surfaces and StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas show, held recently at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, saw an uptick in attendance of 4.3 percent. It was evident on the show floor that the aisles were more crowded, and optimism was up.

Roland Thompson, of CFI’s (International Certified Floorcovering Installers) Delmarva chapter and the Maryland/Northern Virginia Floor Covering Association, summed up the sentiments of many at the show. “This year compared to last year feels more upbeat. It feels like there’s been more traffic, the educational seminars have been on the whole very good, and overall the show seems up this year.”

Thompson said he was attending the show to keep up with the industry. “Part of the reason to come here is to see new products, but this show is worth my time and money year after year just for the education and networking opportunities.”

The educational events came in many flavors: live demonstrations around the show floor and in Tool Alley (a tool-focused area sponsored by FCI), as well as seminars, symposiums and certification testing.

The Tool Alley demonstrations included 30-minute presentations by Bullet Tools, Brumbo Tools, Duo-Fast Fastening Systems, Imperial Blades, PAM Fastening Technology, Power Adhesives Ltd., and Troxell USA. Chris Grundy, host of DIY Network’s Cool Tools, was on hand to enthusiastically and humorously put the tools through their paces during the first full day of the show.

Educational events. Many educational seminars at Surfaces were geared toward installers. FCI columnist Dave Gobis and Custom Building Products’ Mike Micalizzi, sr. director of technical services, gave a presentation on thin-set mortars. According to Micalizzi, “Many people abuse thin-set. For thin tiles and large tile especially, it is important to select the right thin-set.”

He added that quality thin-sets may be pricier, but that is because they have more polymers to ensure better bonding. “Polymers are like a chemical spiderweb inside the thin-set that helps bind the tile to the substrate and allow movement.”

To demonstrate the importance of using movement joints in tile installations, Micalizzi wedged a 6’ straightedge between two tiles lying six feet apart on a table. After forcing one penny between one end of the straightedge and one of the tiles, the measuring tool bowed 1 1/4” off the table. When he wedged in a second penny, the straightedge rose an additional 1/2”.

“Two pennies made that much difference in six feet of space. Now imagine your typical tile installation. You have to allow for movement and expansion,” he said.

For his presentation, Tom Jennings, CCA Global corporate trainer, talked about selling installation as a service. “There is a sameness to much of the product that we [the retailers] sell. The only thing that differentiates you long-term is service, and that includes installation.”

According to Jennings, every business owner needs to train his or her installation force. “Great companies never expect their staff members to self-train.”

He also suggested ways to put a customer at ease and make her feel in control. “Call ahead of schedule and say you will be on time. Then, when the pickup pulls into the driveway, call to say you’re there. When you’re finished with the work, walk the installation with the customer. Show your pride in your work. And if the customer calls in with a complaint, thank her. Respond at her first convenience, not yours.”

Floor Trends columnist and industry troubleshooter Lew Migliore hosted a two-day Floor Covering Symposium with topics geared toward retailers, installers and other industry professionals. Devin Schlisner, Base King’s operations manager and vp, spoke about his company’s EnviroStix, a pre-applied, poly-acrylic system designed to resist extreme moisture levels and be ready for the immediate installation of the flooring.

“There are no VOCs. No flash or cure time. It can go over an existing floor if it’s sound. We have lot of jobs in hospitals where it has been laid over existing VCT,” he explained.

Joe Tuttolomondo, XL Brands vp and general manager, called his company “the largest private-label manufacturer of adhesives in the nation.” He also warned against choosing a product on price alone. “Adhesives are usually the lowest-cost component of an installation, until they fail.”

Finally, he recommended that more installers become trained in using spray adhesives. “If you don’t use it, wake up. It’s economical, practical, and causes less wear on your body. It moves the installation along in an expedient manner.”

Certifications and associations. The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) used its booth to give a sneak peak of the new Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program. The program was created in association with CTEF, the Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA), the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC), the International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA). Tile Council of North America (TCNA) manufacturer members also contributed to the development of the program.

The ACT program, which covers Large-Format Tile Installation/Substrate Preparation, Mudwork, Shower Pans, and Membranes, offers a unified certification system for both union and non-union tile installers. According to Scott Carothers, CTEF’s exec. director, “Everyone will be listed in equal fashion, to move the whole industry forward. There is practically no barrier to entry.”

He said that each of the four tests takes less than a day, and all four tests do not need to be taken to earn a certification. The testing methods are based around the TCNA handbook and ANSI standards. “As we grow the program, more certification areas will come along,” he added.

CFI hosted a two-day carpet workshop for the first time at Surfaces. According to CFI’s Jim Walker, these types of sessions are invaluable to the industry. “The installers are getting techniques they didn’t have before. Guys from all over the country are coming out here to see how to do it right.”

All types of carpet were discussed, including woven, cut-pile and cut-and-loop products. “We don’t push any one product over another. There are no politics – either you can do it, or you can’t,” Walker noted.

The National Wood Flooring Association operated an NWFA-member pavilion at the show. “This is a new format for us,” explained NWFA COO Anita Howard. “It gives us a chance to share our message and an opportunity for some of our smaller members to economically present at the show. For some of these companies, they would have no other way of getting in front of this audience.”

Michelle Miller, North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors’ exec. director, announced a new partnership with the World Floor Covering Association. “We are reaching out to distributors to find out what some of the challenges are, and we will set up some regional educational events. NAFCD would help sponsor it, and people in the industry could use some of the WFCA scholarship fund to attend.”

New products and promotions. This year’s show featured an array of special promotions and contests from manufacturers and suppliers. LATICRETE celebrated the 10th anniversary of its SpectraLock grout line by asking show-goers to throw small footballs through a hole in an oversized SpectraLock bucket for a chance to win one of 10 iPad minis.

MAPEI held a press conference during the show to announce the grand-prize winner of the company’s 75th anniversary sweepstakes. The sweepstakes prizes totaled $75,000, including the $50,000 grand prize, a Polaris Ranger all-terrain vehicle for first place, and assorted other prizes.

The grand-prize winners were Jeff Bennett, president, and Dale Walton, vp, of Business Flooring Specialists in Fort Worth, Texas. Bennett recalled how shocked he was when he received the phone call. When asked by FCI what the business partners planned to do with the money, Walton said, “I wish I could say something interesting, like we’re going to Tahiti. But we’re going to be reinvesting the money back in the business.”

Also at the conference, MAPEI’s Dr. Giorgio Squinzi shared his insights on the company. “The growth of MAPEI is continuing. Last year was a difficult year, especially in Europe, but 2013 will be another success here in the U.S. market.” Luigi Di Geso, MAPEI Americas president and CEO, added, “We are placing a lot of emphasis on Mexico and South America. We are on the cusp of gearing up MAPEI Brazil.”

Custom Building Products promoted its RedGard shower installation system, which consolidates the company’s shower installation products under the RedGard waterproofing brand name, and also debuted its new line of profiles and transitions.

“Our profiles and transitions are a new program this year, with more than a hundred colors, shapes and sizes available. We’re giving our customers a well-rounded system, and it’s all designed to work together. This is a line extension we’ve been looking into expanding into for a while,” noted Tony Pasquarelli, Custom Building Products marketing services mgr.

Quick-Step/Unilin also displayed its newest profiles. The Incizo multifunctional molding, which previously offered four options, now offers five different profiles, including a stair nose. The product, along with the company’s other accessories, are now sold under the Performance Accessories name. David Moore, Unilin assistant product mgr., said, “We’re doing a better job of showing off the accessories portion of our business. It resonates more with customers.”

USG unveiled a new line of self-leveling underlayments, including Durock EcoCap, which is designed to offer a reduced carbon footprint and use less water. “This is a highly environmentally sustainable underlayment,” noted Phil Ciesiulka, USG director of business development.

Bostik’s newest product is the HeatStep radiant heating system. According to Chris Eichmann, Bostik marketing communications mgr., “We are always looking for things that we can sell as a total system, so we’re happy to add this to our line.”

Traxx Corp. took the wraps off its FloorFixx underlayment system during the show. The product is engineered to provide a free-floating, self-leveling and sound-reducing underlayment for LVT, VCT, vinyl, carpet, cork and linoleum. FloorFixx panels are connected via a pre-applied adhesive system, and no fasteners are required, according to the company.

Lignomat showcased its new BL2 Memo-Chip data logger, which comes with the company’s RH probe. According to Grete Heimerdinger, Lignomat USA vp, “This product will give a user the history of an installation’s moisture condition.”

Surfaces 2014 will return to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center next year, Jan. 27-30. For more information, visit www.surfaces.com.