One – on – One…Kristin Traynor
 
November 1st, 2006

Designers Are Pushing the Boundaries of Typical Applications

By Jeffrey Steele

November-December 2006

When it comes to working in metal, Kristin Traynor has proven her mettle. This Renaissance woman created sculpture as a kid, earned a college degree in sculpture and design, and over the past few years has carved out a niche in tile. Her company’s bronze and pewter accent pieces have won acclaim, as has her innovative glass tile.

TileDealer recently caught up with the busy Traynor at Scottsdale’s AZ Hot Dots, the company she founded six years ago. In the following in-depth interview, she opens up about her transition from jewelry and sculpture to tile, reveals how her unique bronze, pewter, glass and ceramic with metal inlay tiles are made, and lends insight into the ways the newer tile materials and designs are helping expand the marketplace.

TileDealer: What is your educational and design background?

Traynor: I grew up in Ohio and graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1996, with a degree in sculpture and jewelry and metal design. I’ve always enjoyed working with metal in various forms, sizes and compositions. Even back to Shrinkie-Dinks, I was making them into sculpture. And I actually continue to design jewelry that sells locally.

TileDealer: How did you get started in the tile industry?

Traynor: After my graduation, I moved to Flagstaff, and I worked in jewelry and design there. Then I moved to the Phoenix area from Flagstaff in 1998, and settled in Scottsdale, working in jewelry and design. And it was in 2000 that I actually founded the company, AZ Hot Dots, with a partner.

The process of jewelry I was interested in was casting metal, so from casting jewelry to small decorative tile wasn’t that big a jump. And so in starting, we focused our efforts on pewter and bronze tile. We started actually marketing locally with only 25 tile designs. Things were well-received, and we focused a lot on building relationships with salespeople, and took their suggestions of what would do well. For instance, people asked for more decorative and nautical pieces.

We focused on the feedback we received. And shortly thereafter we doubled our catalog of tile designs, and started expanding outside of Arizona. Our goal was to grow the product line and produce a new catalog each year with fresh ideas and options. My husband Dan, a sculptor and graphic artist, and I took full ownership of the company in 2005. Dan actually designed most of the tiles available now in our new Expedition catalog that we introduced in March, 2006.

TileDealer: Why produce metal tile?

Traynor: Pewter and bronze each offer a unique look, distinctly separate from one another. Pewter has a clean, contemporary appeal, whereas bronze has a rich, old-world feel. And I think it’s important to offer our dealers a variety of options to profit from, depending on their customers’ individual styles. In addition, we offer multiple finishes for each metal. We have six different finishes for our pewter products, ranging from finishes that match stainless steel appliances to antique copper and bright copper. We offer 12 different finishes for our bronze products, our most popular bronze finish being an antique brown, a finish with an old-world feel to it.

TileDealer: How are your pewter and bronze tiles made?

Traynor: Our pewter contains fine silver, the same type that is used in the jewelry industry. It’s lead-free, which is environmentally friendly and prevents tarnishing. Our bronze tiles are made from the same metal you’d find fine art gallery sculpture cast from.

Both of our pewter and bronze tiles are created from start to finish by hand, and the metals are hand-poured, hand-cast and individually finished.

Our orders ship within three to five business days. So one day we’ll pour the metal, the second day we do tooling—where you clean the metal up and polish it—and then the third day we put the patina on the surface and then seal the metal. We do let the patina settle into the metal, and then the clear coat does take a 24-hour drying period to seal it. Then we package and ship the orders.

TileDealer: Can you describe the product line?

Traynor: In addition to our wide variety of metal, we also offer a diverse selection of glass, stone and ceramic with metal inlay. Our focus is to have accents that suit a wide range of personal tastes and décor, making add-on sales easy. With our glass tile, we have more than 30 colors available. And they are available in matching sets of decorative glass and field glass. The glass is actually kiln-fired, with separate sheets of glass fused together to create our own custom colors. For instance, we layer different shades of pink to create our own custom shade of pink. You fuse different sheets of glass together so that when they’re fired, it creates a deeper, richer color.

In our ceramic with metal inlay tiles we offer more than 40 colors. You can inset any of our decorative metal tiles into ceramic field tiles. Customers can choose any of our pewter or bronze tiles and have them inlaid within the ceramic field tiles. We also offer pewter letters and numbers that can be inlaid as well within ceramic. Customers can spell out “coffee” or “tea,” making for great kitchen backsplashes.

TileDealer: Do customers need to do anything to maintain the metal tiles?

Traynor: No. Each of our hand-made metal tiles are treated with an industrial clear coat used in the automotive industry. This seals the metal from aging and prevents the metal from discoloring. To clean the tiles, a mild dish detergent and a soft sponge or cloth is recommended.

TileDealer: What are some of the factors behind your company’s success?

Traynor: We attribute the loyalty and continued business from our dealers to our customer service. You can have the greatest product on the market, but if you’re unavailable to answer questions and ship orders in a timely fashion, then you’ll lose the repeat business. And we focus on building solid relationships with our dealers. We’ve got eight other people in addition to myself. But I’m the one who answers the phone. I like the customer interaction, and it allows me to maintain or control the quality of service.

TileDealer: How has AZ Hot Dots been received in the marketplace?

Traynor: Fantastic. We fill the need for easy-to-incorporate specialty items that personalize any installation. Having no minimums and a quick turnaround allows customers to achieve that high-end installation look in an affordable manner. We have set designs that we offer, and in that sense it is a manufactured product. But the appeal is that each piece is created and finished individually. And we have hundreds of different designs, to try to appeal to a variety of personal styles and preferences.

TileDealer: How do you assist dealers in selling your products?

Traynor: We supply full-color catalogs that feature all of our products, and offer a variety on installation applications. In addition, our newly redesigned Web site, www.azhotdots.com, allows dealers and consumers to print our catalog either black and white or in color. No pricing is printed in our catalogs or on our site, so dealers can share the information and design ideas with their clients, and then supply their own markups. We also offer discounted sample displays for each of our product lines.

Showrooms can pick their designs for the displays, as certain designs will sell better depending on the different demographics of each location. I think it’s important to be flexible with the dealers, depending on their showroom needs. Therefore, we also offer loose samples, and can customize a display to any size or financial investment.

TileDealer: How do you suggest dealers maximize their profitability in selling your products?

Traynor: Showrooms that display our master set, which is the five-board showroom display unit, tend to sell the highest volume of our products. It’s no surprise, because the bigger presence with product in the showroom, the bigger the sales will be. In addition to this, mixing accent pieces with tiles helps plant ideas in the customers’ minds. Customers see a unique or artistic tile application, and they want to recreate that in their own home. We also discount our product to encourage showrooms to include us in their vignette designs.

TileDealer: Where do you think the next growth marketplace will be for accent tiles?

Traynor: Our focus has always been to provide salespeople with fun and innovative designs to incorporate into everyday installations. Showroom personnel enjoy working with new designs and keeping everything fresh. At AZ Hot Dots, we are introducing several new product lines in late fall that have been in development for the last year. We’ve actually spent a long time designing these lines, mixing materials such as stone and glass, and pewter and shell inlay. These new lines are completely unique and original; we’re excited because they’ve been extremely well received in test markets.

TileDealer: What’s next?

Traynor: The designers are pushing the boundaries of typical applications. And definitely the incorporation of new materials, such as glass and metal, has really expanded the market into new directions. I see no risk of taking on new materials, especially with all the new materials like metals and glass being used as accent pieces. All they do is enhance the installation, and allow for personalization on the part of the homeowners.

 

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