Although Coverings 2018, held last May in Atlanta, is a tradeshow known for its extravagant exhibits of all types of stone, tile and sundries, it’s great to see a strong presence of installation-related events at the show. The education available to contractors is always top-notch. To have the chance to network with other professionals in the same trade and share ideas, thoughts and troubleshooting tips is invaluable to those who attend.

The Live Installation Demo Stage seemed to be going nonstop throughout the entire show and always drew a crowd. Topics ranged from thin set mortars to waterproofing systems, shower pan assemblies and so much more. Additionally, the Stone Fabricators Alliance drew crowds to “The Cage,” an area where they demonstrate live fabrication and install countertops. They also have fabricators on hand to answer technical questions.

The “Tile Geek” contractors were out in force, too. Seems like I saw a lot of John Bridge and his lovely wife, networking with contractors. Those of you tile setters who don’t know John should definitely log on to his John Bridge Forums at johnbridge.com. There you’ll be able to find a lot of answers to your questions and network with other tile-setters from all over the country.

New to the show this year was the Installation Experience, a self-guided walking tour of failed installations along with live, hands on demonstrations of proper installation methods and a kitchen featuring a finished installation. Scott Carothers from the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) said it was a 3,500 sq. ft. exhibit and had him stressed during the build. You and your team did a great job of making it happen, Scott!

Tiny houses were again a hit with attendees during the Installation Design Showcase. Show-goers were able to walk through three tiny houses being tiled during the show by National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Five Star Contractors. These contractors are the cream of the crop and show it. The tiny houses are just like a typical installation, with people constantly walking through your work—and these guys are used to the pressure!

There was plenty for a contractor to see in the exhibit halls (Photo 1). And yes, I said halls as there were three large areas of the show floor which made my feet hurt by the end of the show! This is where you see what you’ll be setting in the next year, as a lot of the new styles come out during this show.

What did I see that’s hot? Well, the color gray is still in, plank tile is still hot, and even more thin gauged porcelain tile was being exhibited (Photo 2). Fortunately, there are exhibitors on the forefront of tool manufacturing to handle these thin gauged tile panels.

One of these exhibitors was European Tile Masters. I got to meet with the president, Benjamin Szell. He walked me through his exhibit explaining all the new tools to assist contractors—from a cutting table designed for thin panels, to a pull-along scoring blade similar to a zip line and even a trailer to transport large, thin panels (Photos 3 and 4).

One thing you don’t often think about is how to transport these panels. Most contractors will have an “A” frame in the back of their trucks and transport them that way. The problem with that is these panels are much thinner than traditional slabs and that brings up the breakage issue, especially when the panels are very expensive. Benjamin’s trailer design stores the panels vertically, which takes up less space than an A frame and is designed to keep the panels from flexing—which greatly reduces the chance for breakage (Photo 5).

At the Gundlach booth, the Montolit system for thin tile was displayed. Giuseppe Maffei, representing Montolit at the booth, was a busy man during the show answering questions from attendees. They also have a full line of cutting blades for all types of tile.

Being a member of the NTCA or a contractor at the show has its privileges also, as the NTCA Contractor Lounge was a place to relax and get your second wind. The NTCA also featured several giveaway events and sponsors who gave short presentations of their products (Photo 6). Products raffled off included tools, sundry items and coolers worth thousands of dollars.

The Tile Heritage Foundation had a booth set up for attendees to contribute to the Global Monumental Hand-Print Mural, which will be installed at the Tile Council of North America’s (TCNA) headquarters in Anderson, S.C. The concept is to create a tile mural honoring everyone with his or her “hand” in the tile industry today. All imprints will be part of this historic tile installation for posterity (Photo 7).

So, after a day of walking and speaking with attendees what’s the best thing to do? Relax with your industry colleagues! There were plenty of after-show get-togethers during the week. We were invited to attend the Schluter and Natural Stone Institute receptions, to name a couple, and we had a great time reminiscing with old friends and meeting new ones (Photo 8).

Coverings 2019 will be held in Orlando, Fla., April 9-12, 2019. Hope to see you there!