One – on – One… With Barrie Dekker
 
November 1st, 2005

 

By Jeffrey Steele

November-December 2005

“Our goals are simple—To win in the marketplace”

As vice-president of strategic sales for newly launched, Chicago-based StonePeak Ceramics, Barrie Dekker brings to her position a wealth of experience. Representing the fourth generation of her family to work in the ceramic business, she has personally been involved in the ceramic industry for 25 years. Dekker spent her initial years in the industry on the wholesale distribution side, and later joined Graniti Fiandre and eventually Crossville Ceramics.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with TileDealer, Dekker discussed a myriad of topics, including the product focus of StonePeak Ceramics, the reasons the company was launched when and where it was, and the ceramic tile market trends that are likely to impact the company and its competitors in the years ahead.

TileDealer: What inspired StonePeak’s founders to launch the company?

Dekker: There are many factors that helped convince us to launch our business in the U.S. The current market factors are excellent, and demand for ceramic tile has increased and is expected to continue growing. Manufacturing in the U.S. provides us an advantage in getting product to the market quickly. We can ship one box, one truck or even ten trucks the day of the order. If the shipments were coming from Italy, the delivery time would be at least six to eight weeks, in addition to transportation costs.

Because Stonepeak Ceramics is an American company, we design tiles with American tastes in mind. Our whole approach to business is in keeping with the American way.

TileDealer: Can you describe the product line?

Dekker: Our initial product introduction is comprised of seven collections, all of which are porcelain. Four series are unglazed, or through-body tiles, and three series are glazed. We will continue to add a number of collections on an ongoing basis. The unglazed product lines include a general porcelain series called New Basics, as well as a Terrazzo series, a Limestone series and a Marble series. Sizes range from 6-by-6 inches to 24-by-24 inches. The glazed series is our newest introduction. We have one collection called Café, which has an urban look. We’re offering a slate series that resembles a warm, natural slate and is available in five colors. The third collection is CastleRock, which has a natural old travertine look.

TileDealer: What are the best sellers? The most innovative products?

Dekker: Because we are new, having launched our company at Coverings in May, it’s difficult to predict which lines will be the best sellers. We anticipate interest in all of our product lines, particularly our through-body Limestone and Marble. We also expect significant interest in our glazed collections, given the fact that the glazed market is much larger than the unglazed market today.

As for innovation, we have a production process for our unglazed products that we refer to internally as our “ Technology Tower.” The equipment allows us to randomly control powder placement, resulting in unique tiles that do not repeat in pattern. We are constantly tweaking and updating our manufacturing processes to ensure our products are one of a kind. We are the only manufacturer in the United States offering this advanced technology today.

TileDealer: How well has StonePeak been received in the marketplace?

Dekker: It’s been terrific, even better than we anticipated. The market is very ripe for both the products we have to offer and the services we provide. We are approaching the market in a truly American way: friendly and easy to do business with.

We’re hearing approval from many different segments, especially from our independent network of distributors. Their response has been outstanding. They’re eager to partner with domestic manufacturers; they love what they see from our product offering; and they’re excited about the programs we’re putting in place.

TileDealer: What’s been the response from potential competitors?

Dekker: We do not have a strong hold on our competitors’ response, as we have been focused mainly on the response of our distributors, which has been overwhelming. Our distributor partners are enthusiastic about our product lines and have shared positive feedback on our marketing programs and materials, logistics programs, ongoing product research and development and customer service enhancements.

TileDealer: How many distributors have you acquired?

Dekker: We’re currently working with approximately 30 distributors. We’re close to having a comprehensive network of distributors that covers every territory in the U.S. Our distribution network is focused on serving North America. That’s our priority.

TileDealer: Are you aiming at the same high end of the market as Crossville?

Dekker: We are targeting both the residential and commercial markets with middle to high-end tiles. This portion of the market is growing and fits with our expertise in designing and producing higher-end porcelain ceramic tiles.

TileDealer: How big is that market?

Dekker: Right now, domestic shipments within the U.S. are in the neighborhood of 700 million square feet per year. The total market includes more than 3 billion square feet per year, with imports accounting for about 80 percent.

TileDealer: What appealed to StonePeak about the sites of its manufacturing facility and executive headquarters?

Dekker: There are a number of reasons it made sense to locate our manufacturing in Tennessee. The main reason is the close proximity to many of the raw materials we use in our tiles. We use all kinds of clays and raw materials from a variety of states around the Southeast. Also, there’s a great work ethic in the area, providing us with a strong and dedicated workforce. Because tile is so heavy to transport, being located near the majority of the U.S. population and the geographic center of the continental U.S. is key.

With our corporate headquarters in Chicago, we are in the heart of a well-known architectural and design community in the country. And when we think of bringing clients in to meet with us, Chicago is a very easy place to get to.

TileDealer: Can you undercut imports in price?

Dekker: The market conditions are in favor of manufacturing here in the States. The exchange rate between the Euro and dollar has made it very expensive to purchase in Europe. We are cost-efficient and competitive for those reasons, coupled with the fact that our state-of-the-art factory includes an extremely efficient production process. We are not focused on competing with suppliers coming in from Brazil, China, Turkey and Thailand.

TileDealer: What trends are impacting the market?

Dekker: In terms of product, natural looks are “in” right now. Stone in particular is a hot commodity. Large units are gaining in popularity and usage, and we have the ability to make tiles as large as 24-by-24 inches. We’re getting away from the more rugged and rustic looks. Although those tiles are still popular, we’re seeing a trend more toward straight edges.

Glass and metals, which we will be adding as accents to complement our lines, are still a strong influence. Natural wood is the newest trend. While we don’t currently offer any wood-looking porcelain tile, we may in the future. We will continue to respond to the market and offer new introductions on a regular basis.

Market trends are also influencing our business. Due to the rise in income and low mortgage rates, we’re seeing people buying homes, as well as refinancing and remodeling existing homes. There is more attention paid to permanent surfaces like ceramic tile these days, and the consumer is much more educated about the advantages of porcelain tile in particular. They’re willing to make upgrades more readily today than we’ve seen in the past. There are also a lot of second home buyers purchasing ceramic tile that we haven’t seen in previous years.

In general, the interest in tile is growing, and with that we’re seeing new applications. People are taking tile out of the bathroom and into more living spaces within their homes. Even in cold climates, people are starting to use more tile on floors, where historically they’ve used carpet or vinyl. There are many more exterior applications available today as well. People are paving their patios, they’re building outside fireplaces, paving outside sidewalks, gardens or stoops, and swimming pool surrounds.

Several factors are influencing people’s decisions to bring tile outside. For one, setting materials, or the allied products, have become a lot more sophisticated, allowing for better installations. This gives people comfort in using tile in places they otherwise would not have. And customers have been more receptive to using hard surfaces and recognizing the value of that. Ceramic tiles increase the value of homes, are extremely durable and easy to care for, and are beautiful.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for StonePeak and ceramic tile in general?

Dekker: Interest in porcelain is growing significantly. Our goals are simple—to win in the marketplace by providing superior products, rapid customer service and responsiveness, easily accessible inventory, timely shipment of orders, and competitive pricing.

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