One on One with Tena Wooldridge
May 1st, 2011

In her comparatively short time as marketing manager for Tulsa based Orchid Ceramics, Tena Wooldridge has hit the ground running to restyle Orchid’s image to an affordable luxury brand, one consumers ask for by name. She’s also repositioned Orchid to market to  lifestyles pinpointed through research into a half  dozen megatrends, including green building. Finally Wooldridge also helped the company establish itself as an industry leader in sustainability.

TileDealer: What is Orchid Ceramics?
Orchid Ceramics is an import and distribution company of porcelain and ceramic floor, wall and countertop tiles as well as trims and decorative accents. It is based in Tulsa, Okla. and is supported by a complete U.S.-based sales and service team built around a core of group sales, marketing, operations and financial professionals. The Corona Organization –the largest, multinational business in Colombia, South America, founded Orchid Ceramics in August 2002. Orchid Ceramics is defined by superior customer service. In just eight years the company has established a loyal group of distribution partners that continues to grow, and has created a reputation for stellar follow up, on-time delivery and an attention to detail that represents some of the highest standards in the industry.

TileDealer: What prompted the rebranding and the repositioning of Orchid Ceramics?
The pillar of Orchid`s strategy is customer intimacy. We are really dedicated to enriching the lives of our customers whom we refer to as partners, through one-on-one relationships with our U.S. sales, service and operations team with the added support from our Colombian team. This is our family. So the change that Orchid Ceramics is making is more of a repositioning. In a response to the changing economy and devaluation of the U.S. dollar, Orchid Ceramics worked with our partners to create a richer product portfolio. This has allowed Orchid Ceramics via Corona to invest heavily in porcelain products, polishing, and rectification and ink jet technologies, and to have a more balanced portfolio than that of a value-oriented ceramic supplier. We are committed to offering our partners outstanding quality with viable long-term designs that are affordable to the marketplace. Orchid Ceramics is committed to offering affordable luxury from the ground up.

TileDealer: Where does Orchid Ceramics see its marketplace going in the next two or three years?
Orchid Ceramics is committed to being an innovator of products, rather than a fast follower. We constantly review available research on the marketplace with respect to trends in various channels, residential remodeling, new construction and the commercial channel. We have also worked extensively with trend, color and design experts to determine “megatrends” that will support viable product development that fits broad consumer segments. These megatrends offer 5-to-10-year trend concepts, and enable us to focus our product development and positioning to meet current consumer preferences. It also provides us with a platform for solutions selling that our partners can use in their sales cycle as well. I have never been a big believer of selling a product. I like to sell lifestyles and this approach to trendcasting in our innovation cycle puts us closer to offering consumers a lifestyle choice. Choosing products for your home is a personal decision, even in commodity markets.

TileDealer: Does Orchid Ceramics have green products, and a green story?
Orchid’s position on sustainability is a three-fold holistic approach that encompasses environmental, social and economic responsibility both from our parent company, Corona, and Orchid Ceramics. As part of Corona, Orchid Ceramics is proud to be involved in some of the most advanced environmental practices in the tile industry. This is achieved through the research and execution of environmental manufacturing techniques including:

- Reuse of 68 percent of all waste generated by the manufacturing process
- Recycle and reuse of 100 percent of all water used in the production process
- Plans to reduce energy consumption by more than 1,462 kilowatts and thermal energy by 1,077 NM3
- Continued investment and proven results in sustainable mine-land recovery programs

Orchid Ceramics previously used its Tulsa corporate office as the primary source of distribution. In 2010 and 2011, Orchid has consolidated distribution centers in Florida, Houston, and Indiana that allow us to function as a domestic supplier. The consolidation drastically reduces wasted transportation and freight while reducing our carbon footprint. It really doesn’t get much greener than that!

TileDealer: The company was part of CTDA’s Management Conference, now called Total Solutions Plus. Will it hold to this commitment, and if so what value does Orchid Ceramics find in being part of that initiative?
Working with an industry trade association is critical to any business. In a former life I was a marketing director for a trade association, brought on to reposition it — go figure — a recurring theme in my career. There, we published an article touting the merits of being a member of a trade association. One tidbit from that article has always stuck with me. It was that business consultants say 85% of all business failures occur in firms that are not members of their industry’s trade association. If any other business opportunity presented itself and said, “You can use this tool to become much more successful, find new partners and suppliers and, oh by the way, 85% of the businesses that fail won’t have used this tool,“ any self-respecting business person would be silly not to find out more. While I was there, I also created a membership ROI calculator — my best claim to fame — where members could select the products, services and events that they participated in and compare that to their annual dues. Every member, even with minimal participation, had more than 100% return on their membership. If any other investment opportunity were presented to me with those types of guaranteed returns, I would say, “Yes, yes, yes!” (Right after I made sure it was legal, of course!) The point is that CTDA is critical to our success and other companies in this industry. Total Solutions Plus is a more appropriate name, and Orchid is fully committed to being a part of this initiative.

TileDealer: Where does Orchid Ceramics manufacture its products?
Our products are sourced and manufactured globally. We have company-owned manufacturing plants near Medellin and Bogota, Colombia. However, we do also look at other opportunities to source products with talented designers and manufacturers, when those fulfill a need in our portfolio or satisfy a need for our customer partners. We are always interested in looking for manufacturing partners who want to be part of the Orchid Ceramics brand.

TileDealer: Is the company sticking with a South American style, or moving toward American sensibilities?
Orchid Ceramics has always designed products exclusively for the American market. While it is the case that some products are shared between the Colombian and American markets, this is due to the overarching appeal of the design for both markets rather than an attempt to extend the production of a series. Orchid Ceramics’ portfolio is exclusively designed for the tastes and preferences of the American market. In 2006, we created the Orchid Ceramics Design Council as an integral part of our product design and innovation cycle. The council brings together key decision makers from the largest independent distributors in the U.S. to work with our R&D team, glaze manufacturers and Italian design houses. To help this team understand market trends, we provide in-depth research on interior design trends for both the residential and commercial markets. In the end, the team selects the product concepts they would like us to develop over the next cycle.

TileDealer: Do you see the American marketplace as essentially beige?
I think it would be a mistake to classify the marketplace as simply a “beige” market, although it is primarily made up of neutral colors. It is a conservative mix of warm and cool tones that change regionally across the U.S. depending on where you stand. This neutral pallet is always changing and we work closely with design firms to understand these subtleties. Designers like to build off of these neutral tones and add a splash of color to emphasize other parts of their design. We find that more and more are using vibrant features such as glass mosaics or colorful accent tiles to get that element of color into their concepts. So let me bore you for a minute. Or, if you are like me, you may be fascinated by the research. (I am a self-professed nerd and lover of this “stuff.”) Research we have commissioned with third-party experts also indicates that color is critical in the youth market, as the first generation to be born into what is known as the “creative class.” Forty percent of returning young adults have their own full bathroom in their parents’ home, while greater than 20% have their own mini-refrigerator. They are establishing their own living spaces. With that comes a desire to customize those spaces for their own personalities, where color is often used as the indicator. In addition, the median age of firsttime buyers is increasing, with firsttime buyers in 2009 having a median age of 30 and income of $61,000. The shift is away from five to seven years in the first home, and first-time homeowners are now projected to stay in their first home for 10 years (NAR). This has caused a shift to more personalized spaces that are filled with more color, since creating a neutral palette for the next buyer is not as critical. I’d say along with quite a bit of other research that I have is a pretty convincing argument for the popularity of design shows. And these create fabulously rich palettes of color used in home improvement, furnishings and accents. I personally fell in love recently with a great chocolate rug that had huge splash of orange, red and lime green flowers. So I bought the rug and furnished the whole room around it! It’s a great era of personal style!

TileDealer: Does Orchid Ceramics have another company division that sells just to South America, and not to North America?
Orchid Ceramics is a separate but wholly-owned subsidiary of the Corona Organization. We have a full staff of administrative, sales, marketing, service, and product development here in the U.S. The team in Colombia, in the Pisos y Paredes (Floors and Walls) division, sells products in Colombia and other South American countries.

TileDealer: What is it about South American materials and manufacturing processes that make them different and desirable, vis-à-vis European imports or North American manufactured tile products?
Amazingly few industries can say that production processes have remained relatively unchanged for thousands of years, although technology has made this process more durable, stable and efficient on a mass scale. Also, technology is able to improve the tile’s design quality and aesthetics to create products that are life-like copies of real stones, or create new looks altogether that do not exist in nature. Because all factories use similar technologies to produce their tiles, what becomes important are manufacturing costs, lead times and logistics. Our lead times, on average, are two weeks faster than most ceramic tile imports. Add this to our U.S. distribution and we are able to offer our customers a competitive alternative to U.S. manufacturers.

TileDealer: You’re new to the company, very young and finishing up a Master’s degree. How did you get where you are so quickly?
[LAUGHS] I appreciate the compliment and I will remind my husband of this when he lets me know that I am “not getting any younger.” I have simply had the fortune of meeting individuals and having mentors that have offered professional — and sometimes personal — advice that I have tried to take objectively and incorporate into the way I conduct myself. I recall a few — ok, few sets of few — years ago when I was brought into a room with about twenty other individuals and we were all simultaneously laid off from a I thought at the time it was professionally devastating, but when that door closed I moved on to a company where I meant my long-time mentor, Ralph Gauer. He is one of the top five most intelligent and influential people in my career. I was perhaps 23 at the time, and I remember him telling me in an interview, “I like you and you have spunk. Now are you ready to forget everything you thought you knew about marketing, and learn how to get to the next level?” My younger, more absorbed and less witty self thought, “Who is this goofy man? I went to a top 25 business school and he wants me to forget everything? Oh well, I need a job!” His guidance was indispensable. I am obviously a big believer in education, but having a mentor along with experience bridges the gap between education and application. It’s not where you go to school or how much you paid for it, but how willing you are to open yourself to new ideas and experiences that creates success or causes failure.

TileDealer: Is there a family background, or some other background in tile, that makes you an especially appropriate leader for this company?
I have been fortunate to work with two companies prior to joining Orchid Ceramics that function in very similar ways to Orchid. They were both international manufacturers, importers, that sold through distribution channels in the U.S. market. As such, I think and hope I have been able to look at our company with a unique perspective that has a degree of applicability.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for Orchid Ceramics?
We are very excited about the future of Orchid Ceramics. And we are positioning our factories and suppliers to take full advantage. In Colombia, we have added a new high-definition digital printer to our manufacturing line that will give us the ability to produce large-format digitally-printed tiles. With digital printing, we are able to greatly improve the amount of variation that occurs in our tile and allows us to print complicated designs on heavy structural reliefs. This will also give us greater flexibility in our factories and greatly reduce development time in our design cycle. We are able to bring better products to the marketplace, faster than ever before.

TileDealer: Anything else before we close?
Thanks so much for the opportunity.

SOURCE: Tena Wooldridge, marketing manager Orchid Ceramics, Tulsa, Ok. Phone: 918.645.5721

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