Coverings 25: An interview with industry veteran Joe Tarver

Joe Tarver at Coverings 2013 in Atlanta with that year’s recipient of the Joe A. Tarver Cornerstone Award, Werner Schluter (courtesy of Joe Tarver)
This week, in honor of the 25th Anniversary of Coverings, we sat down with a 56-year veteran of the industry, Joe Tarver. He spent 41 of those years with the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) where he was Executive Director and continues to work in an emeritus capacity. Joe spoke to us about NTCA, TileLetter’s role in its evolution, and why the first Coverings ended up taking place in flooded tents.
What are the origins of the National Tile Contractor Association?
What was destined to become the National Tile Contractors Association began as the Southern Tile Contractors Association in 1947. A small group of southern ceramic tile contractors broke away from the Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA) to form their own association, which was most often referred to as “National.”
What early initiatives helped NTCA become what it is today?
Our first endeavor was to make TileLetter a professional magazine. It was a two-color rag sheet but even so we invested in more color, better layout and good presentation of ads versus text. We promoted the magazine and sold more ads with the promise that its circulation and effectiveness would show drastic improvement. Dal Tile listened to my impassioned plea and bought into the program allowing us to print our first four color cover in June 1981. Circulation grew steadily from about 2000 in 1972 to over 20,000. Its digest size gained reader acceptance and TileLetter grew from there to become the most widely circulated and read magazine in the industry.

The First International Tile Exposition (now Coverings) in 1990 in Anaheim, CA (courtesy of Joe Tarver)
What do you remember about the first Coverings?
The first International Tile Exposition (as Coverings was called until 1997) was held June 7-9,1990 in Anaheim, CA. The City of Anaheim failed to complete the convention center on time and show management had to scramble and erect huge tents to accommodate the overwhelming numbers of exhibitors who signed up for the first ITE. Unseasonable rain flooded the tents and made conditions generally miserable for exhibitors and attendees. The show, nevertheless, was considered a huge success.
How has the ceramic tile and stone industry grown over the course of your career?
It’s interesting to note the growth parallels between the NTCA and the ceramic tile and stone industries in the United States. In 1975 the association was struggling to break out of a “regional” classification and graduate to a “National Association” status. The total value of the ceramic tile market in the US at that time was approximately $250,000,000. The current available figures place the value of the US tile industry less than 2 billion dollars from a 2005 high of over 3 billion dollars and NTCA has become a major national and international force in the marketplace.