CTDA’s Selling Tile by Design Certification Course
Recently, I traveled to Europe. While there, I gleaned many interesting insights into the roots of modern ceramic tile production. As many of you probably know, the use of tiles as wall and floor coverings existed in Egypt as long ago as 4000 B.C. By A.D. 900, decorative tile was used throughout Persia, Syria and Turkey. The use of tile then spread across Italy and Spain. By the end of the 12th century, tile was being used throughout Europe.
I’ll bet that you didn’t know this: the pottery business began emerging in England in the late 18th and 19th centuries. During the early 1800s, England was the international center of the ceramics industry. Ninety percent of the English pottery industry was concentrated in the North Staffordshire Potteries area, which was known as “The Six Towns” region or simply “The Potteries.”
From The Potteries, the established skills and processes of traditional potters greatly fostered the development of present-day ceramic tile production. The introductions of plaster of Paris molds, printed decoration and decal transfers made decorative ceramics available to the masses.
These factories, called “potbanks,” dotted the region. Each potbank was a working community with a culture and a language unique to the local area. In fact, as late as the 1950s, The Potteries had an internationally acclaimed choir and orchestra that went by the name of — what else? — The Ceramic City Choir.
A few of the ceramic industry pioneers that were founded in the Staffordshire Potteries area continue to thrive today. Wedgwood and Spode are still known for their high-quality bone china. From the 52 area potbanks that produced ceramic tile in 1907, H&R Johnson emerged as England’s largest manufacturer of ceramic tile.
In the early 1900s, pottery was a family affair. Before child labor laws were enacted, children as young as 5 years old (changed to 12 in 1911) were employed along with their siblings and parents. The hours were long (53½ hours a week), the pay low (about $2.50 week for men, roughly a $1 week for boys and women, and about 50 cents per week for girls) and the work was dangerous (the average life expectancy was 46). A career in ceramics was a hard life.
Even as specialized machinery was introduced to the ceramic manufacturing process, the skills and labor of the pottery worker remained paramount. The young men apprenticed for seven years to become a journeyman who specialized in a single phase of ceramic production. Whether he concerned himself with the hand painting of designs, applying decal transfers, loading and firing the ovens, or becoming a master potter, the skill and labor of the worker was critical to the success of the early ceramic producers.
All of this is interesting trivia, you’re probably thinking right about now, but what does the history of modern tile production have to do with being a Journeyman Salesperson? In truth, the age of the journeyman is over. Today’s tile setters would not be interested in coming into our business if they had to be a helper/apprentice for seven years. Likewise, can you imagine the reaction you’d get if you hired a salesperson and told him, “You’ve got the job — however, you first have to be a sales assistant for seven years”?
But even in our modern age, we still must pass along our knowledge to the next generation of ceramic tile professionals. How do we do this? Where can we get the sales and technical training new salespeople need? How do we teach them how to use ceramic tile as an art medium?
Unfortunately, most of us do not train our salespeople for seven hours, much less seven years. The fact is a lot of knowledge exists out there in today’s tile industry. The challenge is getting this knowledge to the salespeople.
This desire to pass along knowledge was the motivating force behind the development of the Selling Tile by Design certification course, which has been licensed to the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) in the United States. Originally conceived for sales personnel as a basic overview of ceramic tile, it has blossomed into a full-fledged selling course.
Our desire in creating this truly international training course was to create a journeyman-level salesperson in two seven-hour sessions — quite a timesaver compared to a seven-year apprenticeship! We’ve been able to accelerate the learning process because we aren’t trying to teach skills that must be mastered by the end of the course. Rather, we’ve developed the course materials to introduce the concepts and the basic principles underlying ceramic tile production, design and characteristics. Even more importantly, the course identifies key industry sources that participants can approach to obtain answers to their technical questions.
To better explain ceramic tile characteristics and manufacturing processes, we received input from experts from around the world. We conducted interviews and researched related publications. Carlo Palmonari from the Italian Ceramic Center and Richard Bowman, principal ceramic scientist and president of the International Ceramic Federation (Australia), contributed their insights. We also got input from factories in Italy (GranitiFiandre), The Netherlands (Royal Mosa), England (Gladstone Pottery Museum), Brazil (several factories), and the United States (Crossville Ceramics), to name a few.
Five years from its inception, the course and materials are now complete. We will introduce the Selling Tile by Design certification course during the CTDA Management conference in November. Our goal is to have each and every salesperson in your company certified. They need the broad, extensive knowledge base the course provides.
Wouldn’t you like a company of journeyman salespeople selling your tile? Give them training. Set your course. The creation of journeyman tile salespeople has begun.