Top 10 Uses for Cement Tiles in Restaurants
 
July 13th, 2015

If you’re looking for something special for your restaurant’s walls and flooring that can stand up to high traffic while also being resistant to water, food and drink spills, and environmental damage, take a look at beautiful cement tile. Reminiscent of century-old Encaustic Tiles, cement tiles have been handcrafted by artisans for decades. The designs and colors create a beautiful and durable surface that is more aesthetically appealing than basic cement or drywall, and more durable and eco-friendly than wood or laminate flooring.

At Rustico Tile and Stone, our tiles are made from mineral pigmented Portland cement, are completely customizable, and are perfect for restaurant floors, walls, bars, bathrooms, backsplashes, and even outdoors. Want to learn more? Below are some of our top uses for cement tiles in restaurants!

1. Open up a room. Much like well-placed mirrors give the illusion of space, decorative cement tiles create the illusion of openness in small areas of a restaurant. Try placing our beautiful tile on angled walls and backsplashes to give the perception of more space. You’ll add instant height to the room along with an aesthetically pleasing décor.

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2. Create beautiful backsplashes. With cement tile you can create a striking pattern that is unique to your restaurant’s personality. Try a Mayan-inspired mosaic, a deeply vibrant color mix, or maybe a monochromatic tile scheme. Transform boring walls into beautiful artwork with a design that’s all your own!

cement tile backsplash (1)

3. Generate a mood. Every color and shape creates a specific feeling. If you’re going for modern style with clean lines in an upscale coffee shop or bar, try installing neutral tiles in a geometric pattern. For a European feel at a bistro or Mediterranean restaurant, add some hexagonal tiles with a more antiquated color story. For a fancy and polished look, try a Japanese wave pattern or even combine pristine white and light tan for a polished finish.

4. Make it yours. Customize your own tile. Pick a design. Pick your colors and voila – it’s customized. Experiment with different colors and shapes to create the ambiance you want for your restaurant. Cement tiles come in almost every color in the spectrum, in different kinds of patterns, and in all types of shapes. You’re sure to find the right one for you!

5. Craft a focal point. When you install a gorgeous mosaic pattern or a richly colorful tile, it can become a beautiful focal point in your restaurant. Rather than hanging a picture on the wall, why not think about adding tile instead? Or create a striking fireplace element by outlining it in customizable tiles that nobody else will be able to replicate. Try decorating a niche with tiles on the interior side to create an artistic space.

6. Take it outside. Exterior design is just as important as interior design, and cement tiles are perfect for outdoor eating and waiting areas. The tiles can be sealed which gives them UV protection, water-resistance, and scratch-resistance, and are much more beautiful than concrete.

7. Match your tiles to your menu. Create a unified theme by matching your tiles to your menus! Geometric patterns and sleek, sharp lines speak to Modernism. Rustic terra cotta tiles invite a cultured, world-traveled diner. Spanish-style cement tiles compliment Mexican food restaurants, adding an authentic feel to the space. Bright colors of Moroccan tile designs accentuate the ambiance of many ethnic food restaurants.

cement tile restaurant floor

8. Build a sexy bathroom. Continue the visual story of your restaurant into its bathrooms by installing matching tile on the walls or floors. Your customers can wash up in a luxurious environment with a crimson colored tile, or step into a beautiful resort-like setting with light blues and greens.

9. Create an otherworldly experience. Take your guests back in time or instantly transport them to the other side of the globe with thoughtfully installed tile. Victorian designs can bring a long forgotten era back to life, while Moroccan designs can create a Spanish or Bohemian flare that offers customers a glimpse of another place and culture.

10. Inspire your design. The right tile design and color palette can add the perfect finishing touch to your overall restaurant style. You can pick the color and shape that matches your furniture and color scheme, or you can even use the tile as a basis for your overall design and go from there.

While cuisine may be the primary reason for guests to visit an establishment, it is the subtle design elements that entice them to continue their restaurant dining experiences. At Rustico Tile and Stone, our eco-friendly and sealable cement tiles are a unique way for restaurant owners to communicate visually with their customers.

Portland cement tiles and UV protecting/water-resistant sealers are available for purchase at Rustico Tile & Stone in Austin, TX.

Rustico Tile and Stone is the leading distributor of authentic Mexican tile and stone products for consumers around the world, with a customer base encompassing national floor retail stores, architects, designers, builders, and residential and commercial buyers. For more information about product offerings, price and shipping details, or general inquiries, visit http://www.saltillotileconnection.com. Rustico Tile and Stone is offering generous price discounts throughout the summer in celebration of its 10th year anniversary in business.


Facebook Updates for Businesses
 
April 15th, 2015

This year, Facebook grew to a mind-boggling 3 billion views per day, and 53% of these views came from posts that were shared by users. But as the platform constantly adjusts to this growth, it can be difficult to keep up with the changes and updates.

Facebook’s developer conference took place recently and included several big announcements. These announcements included future improvements to existing applications and exciting new features inside of Facebook. Do you know about all of them?

Facebook Messenger is a text feature used inside of Facebook or as a separate application, and is available on mobile devices. Messenger will be updated with the following:
* Payments can now be sent and accepted through Messenger.
* This application can now be embedded on any website and used as a chat feature.
* Individuals can contact a business through Messenger and the experience will be the same as contacting a friend through the application.
* Customers can track interactions with business such as delivery date, package location or customer service updates.
* Interactions through Messenger will result in the company’s posts listing higher up in the customer’s Facebook feed.
* Greater amounts of data will be available for the company if a customer contacts them through Messenger (for example, past orders, age, gender, FB preferences…)

Currently, video posts are the best way to communicate with fans on Facebook. These posts receive the most views, shares and feedback rates along with the highest preference from Facebook’s algorithms to place higher on the feed of individual fans. The changes to Facebook Video include:
* Facebook videos can now be embedded on websites, whether they belong to the
* Any videos can be embedded by anyone – whether they own the video or not.
* Videos on Facebook now have a size limit of 1.5Gb.
* Videos can be scheduled to go live at specific times and be taken down at specific future dates.
* Video data is still accessible when taken off of live feed (accessible by owner).
* Video can be restricted to certain groups (divided by age, gender, location…).
* A Call-to-Action can be added to the end of a video that will pull the user to any page, even one not connected to Facebook.
* Uploads can now be resumed if cut off during the upload process.
* Bulk uploading is now available even if all videos will not be published simultaneously.
* Live feeds can be published on Facebook feeds.

Facebook is constantly changing. Keeping up with all of these modifications can be a tough job, but hopefully the items listed above will help!

Special thanks to Creating Your Space for this informative guest blog. Shannon Vogel of Creating Your Space is a tile industry staple and has presented well received webinars for CTDA and sessions at TSP. Visit their website for more information about marketing and social media in the tile industry: www.creatingyourspace.com


Visit CTDA at Coverings
 
April 29th, 2014

coverings_booth_photo

The Coverings Trade Show is open! Visit CTDA at booth 9061 to register for Total Solutions Plus 2014, sign up for a committee, order Online Education Sessions and more! We look forward to seeing  you!


Coverings Education Session Spotlight
 
March 4th, 2014

Coverings 2014 Session Spotlight:  Maintaining and Protecting Your Online Reputation
Tuesday, April 29 | 1:45 PM – 2:45 PM | Las Vegas Convention Center

Speaker:  Lisbeth Calandrino, Fabulous Floors Magazine

The reputation of your business is no longer solely in your hands. Internet sites such as Angie’s List, as well as social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, can make or break a business’ reputation. Despite this, many businesses rarely monitor their online comments or try to influence what customers say about them. They seem unaware of the power of online referrals or negative comments. Businesses need to know where customers are posting comments and how to influence the messages about their business. Join this session to gain an understanding about today’s customers and how they influence new business for your company.

Don’t miss this session – register for Coverings 2014 today for free!


Marketing Your Blog: Search Engine Optimization is Essential to Success
 
December 6th, 2012

By Kathleen Furore

Last July, Conestoga Tile, www.conestogatile.com,  launched a blog with one goal in mind: to educate its audience about all things tile. The challenge for this Hanover, Pa.-headquartered wholesale distributor was to engage homeowners, tile dealers, contractors, architects and designers alike—a diverse mix of consumers, all of them potential Conestoga clients.

“Because we have a wide audience, many of our blogs are on topics that everyone would be interested in and can benefit from. For example recent posts have been about understanding shade variation in tile, care and maintenance of tile and stone, effects of lighting on floors and walls and curbless showers. We try to post two blogs per week or eight each month,” Steve Vogel, the company’s executive vice president, explains. “Other blogs we post are supplier highlights and new product introductions. Recently, we started a blog series introducing people to the design consultants that work in our showroom. We will highlight one design consultant every month for the next year.”

To get the blog going, the company ran a few weeks of blog entries before announcing it to the tile world. “We wanted to have some content so visitors could get a good feel for what our blog was going to be on their first visit. Then we announced the blog through an email blast to our customers as well as through our monthly newsletter,” Vogel recalls. “The first month we had 63 visitors. Since then we have had a total of 700 different visitors, and many of them have returned each week to read more blogs.”

Vogel credits Facebook and Twitter promotions and the “From the Blog” feature in Conestoga’s monthly newsletter with the blog’s steady growth. “The writing is done is such a way that search engine words and phrases are used,” he adds. “The blog’s sole purpose is to create Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and drive people to our website. We review Google Analytics and see that people are finding us through Google searches and then moving on to our website. That’s what we want.”

Avoiding the Pitfalls

Vogel and the bloggers at Conestoga Tile have taken the necessary steps toward blog success. Many small business, however, don’t market their blogs in ways that beckon new visitors.

“It’s easy to build a blog, but hard to build a successful blog with significant traffic,” says Randy Fishkin, CEO of SEOMoz (www.seomoz.org), a Seattle-based developer of SEO software. “Blogging rarely takes off after the first few posts. It’s months, sometimes years of effort and dozens to hundreds of posts before the ROI from a blog can be seen. Because it’s such an intense effort with a long payoff, most businesses don’t invest or don’t invest properly, which means the few who do it well and get it right earn massively outsized rewards.”

Inadequate investment of time and resources is just one mistake newbie bloggers make, adds Susan Gunelius, President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc. (www.keysplashcreative.com), and author of “Blogging All-in-One for Dummies” and other books about marketing, blogging, and social media.

“Once the blog has been launched, the biggest mistakes small businesses make are publishing content that is too self-promotional, not bothering to update the blog, and operating in a silo,” Gunelius says. “If you build it, they won’t come—you need to build relationships with your target audience on the sites where they already spend time before they’ll trust you enough to come to your blog.”

Trafiic-building Tips

Understanding Search Engine Optimization and doing all you can to make your blog’s content SEO-friendly is essential to marketing any small business blog.

“SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!” Fishkin explains. “Search engines are unique in that they provided targeted traffic—people looking for what you offer. Search engines are the roadways that make this happen. They are a massive opportunity for traffic, yet many bloggers ignore them, mostly because they don’t understand exactly how to tap into them.”

With that in mind, Fishkin and Gunelius offer the following marketing tips that can help boost traffic to your blog:

*Use Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to Share Posts & Find Connections. Register a personal account and a brand account at Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Use photos and compelling descriptions to make each profile as useful and credible as possible. Research shows profiles with more information have a significant correlation with more successful accounts. Connect with users with whom you share a personal or professional relationship, and start following industry luminaries, influencers and connectors. Services like FollowerWonk and FindPeopleonPlus can also help, Fishkin says.

*Install Analytics and Pay Attention to Results. Fishkin recommends installing the free Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics), which lets bloggers see where visits originate, which sources drive quality traffic and what others might be saying when they link over.

*Add Graphics, Photos and Illustrations (with link-back licensing). Uploading and hosting images, or using a service like Flickr to embed your images with licensing requirements on that site, creates another traffic source via Image Search. Letting others use the images legally in a way that benefits you is also a plus. Fishkin suggests posting a notice under your blog’s images saying re-using them is fine as long as the user links back to your post.

*Conduct Keyword Research While Writing Your Posts. A big part of showing up in search engines is targeting the terms and phrases prospective visitors are typing into a search engine. Google’s free AdWords Keyword Tool can help. Enter words or phrases related to your product or service, and you’ll see related keywords.

*Guest Blog (and Accept the Guest Posts of Others). Guest blogging can spread your brand to people who have never seen your work. It also can be useful in earning early links and references back to your site, which will drive direct traffic and help your search engine rankings.

*Post Frequently. The more great content you publish, the more chances exist for people to find, talk about, and share your content. As Gunelius notes, “Google gives some preference to ‘fresh’ content, so a frequently updated site that’s not breaking any Google rules and is building incoming links to demonstrate its authority should rank higher in search results than a stagnant site.”
*Write Posts That Are Long Enough to Rank in Keyword Searches. While the best blog posts are relatively short, don’t make them too short to be ranked in search results. Gunelius says a good rule of thumb is to write posts that are at least 300 words, which gives you the opportunity to use your primary keyword twice without seeming like you’re keyword stuffing.
*Use Keywords in Blog Post Titles and Body. Whenever possible, include your target keyword or keyword phrase in the title of your blog post. Also try to use keywords in the body of your post as early as possible, particularly in the first paragraph.

*Write a Good Meta Description with Keywords. Search engines use meta descriptions to describe the web pages that appear in their results. A meta description should include your keywords as well as details about the content on the page the link will take visitors to. When search engine results list your blog post, prospective visitors will see the meta description, so it should be compelling enough to convince people to click the link that leads to the post.

*Link Internally and Externally. Try to link keyword phrases to your other relevant blog posts and pages. Make sure you don’t add too many links or your post could be flagged as spam. The accepted link to text ratio estimated by search engine optimization experts is one link for every 125 words, Gunelius notes. Linking to external blogs and websites later in your post is another way to show your blog is connected with high-quality websites.

For more tips about marketing your blog to boost traffic, visit www.seomoz.org/blog/21-tactics-to-increase-blog-traffic-2012 and weblogs.aboaut.com/od/marketinablog/u/GrowABlog.htm.


Blogging Basics – Blogs can boost your business’ profile
 
October 23rd, 2012

By Kathleen Furore

Everywhere you turn, the business world is buzzing about social media. Companies not communicating via Facebook, Twitter and a website risk looking dusty in this digital age; and even those that do are being upstaged by competitors whose blogs tout the latest news about products, promotions and industry trends.

“Business that don’t have a blog lose out on a great new channel for bringing in business. A blog offers the opportunity for a potential customer to get to know the business by reading what they have to say,” says Daniel Decker, internet marketing strategist and owner of One Marketing (www.onemarketingagency.com), a company that specializes in web design and internet marketing, direct marketing, graphic design, and strategic consulting for small and mid-sized businesses. “It’s a much more personal introduction than a standard website. Businesses without a blog will also generally be out-performed in the search engines by businesses that do blog.”

Since tile dealers and distributors are no exception, understanding how to create and manage a blog is key to your social marketing success.

What is a Blog?

“Blog” is an abbreviation for “weblog”—a term used to describe web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. “A blog features diary-type commentary and links to articles on other web sites, usually presented as a list of entries in reverse chronological order,” information from WordPress, a self-hosted blogging tool and full content management system, explains.

While blogs’ style and content vary, most include a main content area with articles listed chronologically (usually the newest on top, and often organized into categories); an archive of older articles; a list of links to other related sites (sometimes called a “blogroll”); and “feeds” like RSS, Atom or RDF files.

High-quality blogs also let visitors comment about posted articles and even message each other—an important feature that distinguishes blogs from static websites, industry information says.

The Benefits of Blogging

Blogging is valuable for tile dealers and distributors for several reasons. It demonstrates industry expertise, increases exposure on Google and other popular search engines, and keeps tile businesses connected to potential clients and the industry as a whole.

“Blogging establishes the expertise of the dealer or distributor. It helps them build the perception of being an industry expert, which in turn makes customers more likely to do business with them,” Decker explains. “Studies have shown consumers are more likely to buy products and services from people they know. You might not be able to personally meet potential customers, but a well-written blog can leave them feeling like they know you. It’s an ideal place to demonstrate your expertise and let your personality shine through.”

The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) benefit is a very important plus, Decker adds. “Greater visibility means more website traffic, and more website traffic means more sales. That’s something we all want!” he says. “Search engines love content, and your blog is the easiest place to deliver fresh content that is relevant to your business. Your blog will dramatically increase your visibility on Google, which will lead directly to more traffic and more sales on your website.”

Blogging also helps tile professionals stay up to date on industry trends and remain “in the loop” as a participant in online conversations.

“Your blog gives you the opportunity to deliver branded content to customers, potential customers and, perhaps most importantly, to search engines,” Decker says. “Your blog gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and your personality while simultaneously increasing the online visibility of your company.”

Statements Tile and Stone (www.statements.com) is one company delivering content and reaping rewards with Ciao! (ciaotile.com), the blog that Statements’ president, Ryan Calkins, launched five years ago.

“We started the blog in September of 2007 to provide a more informal source of information for our clients. Our website, much like a product catalog, needs to be clear, detailed and somewhat technical. It’s not conducive to the conversational tone that a blog can have,” Calkins explains. “For events, interviews, less conventional information and client-generated content, the blog is a much better format. And of course, our goal with the blog was to engage new and existing customers to encourage them to use us as their tile source.”

Calkins says the blog—which includes such categories as Sustainability, Style + Design, Vendors and Trends, plus links to Facebook, Twitter and “Ideabooks by Statements”—has met those goals.

“Ciao! has helped us to build a brand as a personal, local, and engaging business. It deepens the client’s sense of who we are, and creates additional spaces for people seeking tile options to find us,” he says.

Another upside: Blogging can help build a brand at no cost. “It’s possible to blog without spending a penny. It’s a no brainer,” Decker stresses. “If you’re not blogging already, it’s time to get started!”

Ready, Set, Blog!

So it’s time to get started. But what does it take to embark on the road to successful blogging?

While Decker advises tile dealers and distributors to seek professional help to create a blog, he says anyone can tackle the task.

“It is certainly something that can be done by an individual. Sites like WordPress.com and Blogger.com allow anyone to create and maintain a blog completely free of charge,” Decker says. “Anyone with basic computer skills should be able to set up a functioning blog that looks and works just fine.”

Calkins, in fact, turned to WordPress when Statements debuted the Ciao! blog.

“I personally had some experience with blogging for a non-profit, so I was able to set up a rudimentary blog using WordPress,” he recalls. “Aside from a few adjustments to the template, we have not changed the format all that much.”

The story is similar at East Coast Tile (www.eastcoasttile.com), which now boasts two blogs, according to Director Stacey Mednick.

The company’s website blog debuted three and a half years ago, while Everything Tile and Stone is two years old.

“The website blog was part of the design of our then-new website. I believe we announced its launch in eblasts,” Mednick says. “Everything Tile and Stone was created through a company called HiveFire using their Curata (www.curata.com) technology. Neither were difficult to set up, but we spent time designing the look of the blogs and deciding on the types of content.”

The blogs, Mednick explains, have separate missions.

“The goal of our website blog is to inform customers about our products, unique customer service and store locations. Everything Tile and Stone is set to help inform everyone on the Internet searching for topics about ceramic, porcelain, glass and metal tile, stone and flooring,” she says. “We felt the blog on our website was limited to our own customers’ reviews, product mix and store events. Everything Tile and Stone let us branch out into the whole tile and stone industry.”

Posts on Everything Tile and Stone, for example, cover topics ranging from design ideas and shopping tips to “green” tile options and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects.

Maintaining your Blog

Once a blog exists, the only real upkeep is site maintenance—a time-consuming but necessary task.

“We recommend adding content once per week. At a minimum, the blog should be updated twice per month,” Decker recommends.

Calking says his company adds at least one post a month—usually product-related—to the Ciao! blog, and over the past two years has shifted some posts to Facebook and Twitter, as well.

“We have multiple people who can update the blog, each with a different emphasis. Our audience loves to hear about our ‘extracurriculars.’” Calkins says, noting that topics about Statements’ community involvement are popular. “A couple of months back, unbeknownst to me, someone took a picture of me relaxing with my feet up on my desk and posted it under the caption, ‘working hard or hardly working?’ That was one of our most popular posts all year!”

A similar blogging strategy is at work at East Coast Tile. New posts are added to the website blog a few times a month, while updates are added to Everything Tile and Stone every weekday. Mednick shares responsibilities with other employees for the website blog, and is responsible for the daily additions to Everything Tile and Stone.

“For the website blog, I typically ask a few key managers and salespeople to periodically come up with content. For Everything Tile and Stone, the popular tiling topics on the Internet guide my posts. The most popular ones are typically design-oriented,” Mednick explains.

While each tile dealer and distributor will have different ideas about what content to include, current bloggers share basic advice about how to best manage blogging.

Mednick recommends finding a few quick writers who are knowledgeable about specific topics. “For example, find one person who can write for contractors, another for design and another for DIY. Have them each be responsible for a certain number of blogs a month,” she suggests.

“Find somebody in your business who is passionate about social media and let them run with it. If it’s just a chore for someone, that sense will come across on the blog,” Calkins adds, noting that maintenance and security are key. “A blog is another window into your company, and therefore needs to be monitored,” he stresses.

Clearly, blogging has become a marketing “must” for most small businesses. But creating and maintaining a blog can be challenging, especially from a time-management perspective, the experts acknowledge.

“Blogging takes time, and business owners are always short on time. The key is to develop a system and stick to it,” Decker says. “One of our most successful clients dedicates an hour to blog writing every Tuesday, usually from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Choose a time that works for you and schedule it into your week. Treat this time as importantly as you would a meeting with a potential client. It’s not optional!”

Next up: Marketing your blog for maximum exposure and profit
Getting a blog up and running is just the first step toward a successful blogging future. Learn how to maximize your marketing efforts to increase traffic to your blog in Part 2 of the blogging series, coming in the next issue of TileDealer.

A Dictionary of Blogging Terms

Archive: A way to keep track of articles on a site. Many blogs feature an archive based on dates. The front page may feature a calendar of dates linked to daily archives. Archives can also be based on categories featuring all the articles related to a specific category. You can also archive posts by author or alphabetically.

Blogroll: A list, sometimes categorized, of links to web pages the blog’s author finds worthwhile or interesting. The links in a blogroll are usually to other blogs with similar interests. The blogroll is often in a “sidebar” on the page or featured as a dedicated separate web page.

Feed: A feed is a function of special software that allows “Feedreaders” to access a site automatically looking for new content and then post updates about that new content to another site. This is a way users can keep up with the latest information posted on different blogging sites. Some Feeds include RSS (alternately defined as “Rich Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication”), Atom or RDF files.

—Source: WordPress.org


Preparing for disaster: How to stay afloat when catastrophe strikes By Kathleen Furore
 
November 5th, 2011

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve just contracted for one of the biggest tile jobs your company has ever tackled. Papers have been signed and plans drawn. You’ve stored some materials while waiting for others to arrive before work can begin.

And then it happens. A storm hits, downing trees, flooding homes and workplaces, and cutting off electricity to many businesses in your area.

It happened to Mosaic Tile Company’s location in Raleigh, N.C.—one of 10 design centers the company owns throughout North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia—when violent tornadoes roared through the state April 16.

“It tore the roof liner and some of the middle roof off, sucked the garage door into the space next door, and pulled the concrete block demising walls over so they were hanging by the roof trusses,” Chris Hughes, regional sales manager, recalls. The walls separated Mosaic Tile from Agricultural Granite & Marble’s (AG&M’s) space next door.

“The tornado sucked up tiles, and hit the sprinkler system and gas pipes,” Hughes continues. “One of the air conditioning units on the roof was thrown off, others were rolling around, and gas was leaking. It was a bad day here.”

Hughes’s story is one of myriad that have been told as tornados, hurricanes, floods and fires have wreaked havoc nationwide. Yet while these disasters have made headlines, most businesses have no plan in place to ensure they can continue operating if disaster strikes.

Do you have a plan that will keep your company afloat?

“Catastrophes are not selective about who they affect. They affect homeowners and business owners alike,” says Gail Moraton, business resiliency manager at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). “But when a business is shut down by a storm, the owner loses his or her livelihood and the community loses a business. Taking steps now to prepare will improve a business’ chance of not just re-opening, but also remaining open.”

And it isn’t only major, news-making disasters like the North Carolina tornados, Hurricane Irene or Hurricane Katrina that cause chaos. Even a local, short-lived power outage or flood could disrupt your business significantly and irreparably damage not only your workplace but also your bottom line.

 

Creating a plan

Being unprepared to cope with disaster is the biggest error companies commit, industry experts say.

“One of the most common mistakes we’ve seen companies make is not having a contingency plan—not creating a list of emergency contacts for business services such as the utility company, a restoration contractor, electronics/computer services and insurance [claims],” Pete Duncanson, director of training at ServiceMaster Clean, says.

Numbers for the police and fire departments also should be included, the IBHS notes.

Making lists, however, isn’t enough, Moraton stresses. “If those lists are in the building that’s been damaged, how are you going to get it? Have copies of your key contact lists at home, in the trunk of your car, or on a thumb drive you keep somewhere safe—that is the best thing you can do for your business,” she says.

Keeping customers informed about what is happening with the products or services they’ve ordered is another important step. “Put your status on your website and leave a call-in number where you can receive recorded messages,” Moraton suggest.

You also should know if you have business interruption insurance (which helps replace the income your business would have generated if it hadn’t been temporarily shut down by the disaster), and fully understand the coverage before disaster strikes. If your insurance plan includes a business interruption clause, prepare a list of steps required for your business to promptly resume operations on a full or even partial basis. Financial considerations should include payroll and debt needs and obligations, the IBHS explains.

Hughes admits he had no protocol in place to deal with such devastation. However, Mosaic Tile was fortunate to have not only insurance, but also staff from the company’s corporate office in Chantilly, Va. to help from almost the moment the storm subsided.

“Of course no situation like this is ever ideal, but the crisis team was able to keep us functioning and open throughout the reconstruction process,” Hughes says. “They came out and videotaped the site for insurance purposes. Insurance covered some of the loss, and the building owner’s insurance paid for some of the damage…but it’s a never-ending battle.”

“Think about what equipment you have, what your ordering process is,” Moraton says. “You need a business continuity plan. Your business might have burned or been flooded out, but perhaps you could partner with another like business. Whatever you decide, create and then save the plan now because you’re not thinking straight in the middle of a disaster!”

 

Clean-up and recovery

Once the initial shock of the disaster has subsided, the clean-up process can begin. One mistake many business owners make? “They think they can handle the situation themselves, causing more damage and delaying the restoration process,” Duncanson says.

Water damage can be especially problematic if not dealt with promptly.

“Do not wait to call for professional help. Damage from the water and bacteria growth can begin within hours,” Duncanson says. “After flooding, the potential for mold is there, and you have other bacteria that enter the building as the waters rise.”

Duncanson suggest drying or discarding wet items within 24 to 48 hours to avoid mold.

“Even after wet items are removed, mold may remain hidden in drywall, carpeting and HVAC systems. While bleach may be used to control mold, it does not kill it,” he says. “Removing mold requires cutting away damp drywall and sanding wood. The sooner a remediation expert can get to those things covered in mold the less long-term damage.”

Mosaic Tile did not make the mistake of proceeding without professional help. The company hired Cary Reconstruction Company to clean up and move undamaged materials to a temporary showroom, where the team will remain until the original space is gutted and rebuilt to ensure structural stability.

“Ironically, there was an empty location right next to us in a neighboring building owned by the same people who owned our building,” Hughes explains. We have been able to set up a temporary showroom and warehousing facility that has enabled us to maintain some sense of normalcy throughout the ordeal.”

Ultimately being prepared for a crisis, then reacting quickly and decisively when a loss occurs, is vital to surviving when catastrophe strikes. As Duncanson cautions, “Every day a business is closed from a disaster is an opportunity for a customer to go to a competitor.”

Having dedicated employees is another antidote to disaster.

“We are happy to have a team of people dedicated to their jobs…people who go above and beyond every day. Seeing everyone pull together during this natural disaster was a true testament to their commitment,” Hughes concludes.

 

POSSIBLE SIDEBAR/BOX:

Business continuity basics

Want to create a business continuity plan but don’t know where to start? The Open for Business® Basic guide from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) includes 13 forms that provide small and mid-sized businesses with the basics needed to create a customized business continuity plan. To download a free copy, visit www.disastersafety.org/ofbInfo?execution=e2s1&&type=ofb_basic.


POSSIBLE SIDEBAR/BOX:

According to IBHS, every emergency preparedness plan should include four elements:

• Pre-disaster actions to protect people, facilities and contents.

• Emergency evacuation procedures and assignments.

• Essential facility operations (or shut down) procedures.

• Off-site storage (back-up) of information.

 

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Identify your risks!

Just because you don’t live in Hurricane Alley, a wildfire zone or floodplains doesn’t mean your company is disaster-proof. As the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) notes, natural hazards that could significantly damage or even destroy your business exist no matter your location.

To help you identify and prepare for possible problems, IBHS offers an online “Knowing Your Risks” tool that lets you enter your zip code to obtain a list of the natural hazards that may affect your area. In addition to natural hazards, it also covers man-made risks such as interior water-related losses.

 

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A disaster preparedness checklist

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offered businesses the following checklist before Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast. The steps listed below can also be a guide to help you prepare for other weather-related disasters.

1.Take pictures of your property/office.

2.Get updated contact information from all employees. Find out where your employees plan on going if evacuated.

3. Know where you will temporarily be located if unable to return to your place of business and how you will communicate the relocation to employees, customers and vendors.

4. Have a plan in place to communicate with your customers.

5. Have your key vendors’ contact information and if time allows, find out their plans to continue servicing you during and after the hurricane.

6. Have a battery-operated radio and spare batteries to ensure you can receive emergency information.

7. Obtain enough flashlights and other battery-powered lights to do essential work if a power outage occurs.

8. Decide what critical items that must be removed from your business.

9. Identify essential business records that should be removed from the property and determine where you plan to take them. Check your backup process to make sure everything is backed up correctly. Protect the backup copy along with your other essential records.

10. With possible power loss, unplug non-crucial electrical equipment being left behind to avoid shock and surges when power is restored. Move them to a well-protected interior room on floors above the level of potential flooding.

11. Fill vehicle fuel tanks. Fuel may not be available during hurricane evacuation activities.

12. Identify outside equipment and furnishings which could blow loose and cause damage.

13. Ensure that backup personnel know how to turn off electrical power, water, gas and other utility services within your building at main switches.


Breaking the Code
 
November 1st, 2011

QR Codes – those little black & white squares – are a tech-savvy way to deliver product information to customers, here, there and just about everywhere.

By William & Patti Feldman

Here’s a winning equation finding traction in the tile industry (and beyond): Smartphone +2D code scanning = detailed product information on the spot. The small two- or four-tone squares are printed on ads in most every trade magazine (including Tile Dealer), on product packaging, on in-store displays, and on all manner of marketing materials. The most popular 2D codes are QR codes (abbreviated from Quick Response codes) and Microsoft Tags, aka MS Tags.

QR codes are open-source and can be generated by a number of different code generators, while Microsoft Tags are proprietary. There are some differences.

MS Tag provides built-in analytics and enables the barcode targets to be changed on-the-fly without having to recreate the barcode. With QR codes, changing the barcode target requires additional software on the server-side or the “hiring” of a third party provider to manage the server-side software.

Differences aside, the phrase “QR code” is actually becoming the generic term for 2D codes (but not in this article). And you may also hear the technology talked about as “mobile tagging.”

Both the software to generate the codes (QR codes and MS Tags) and the scanning apps to access them are available free over the Internet.

Here’s how it works: Scanning a 2D barcode with the camera of a Web-enabled smartphone running a compatible scanning app launches a link digital data attached to the code. The link can be to a website, a web page with specific product details, installation instructions or promotional offer, a warranty, YouTube how-to or other video, or to other digital content the manufacturer, retailer, or other business wants to share at that time.

Some manufacturers have already launched special mobile websites configured for optimal viewing of the digital information on a smartphone screen.

Smartphone users can even email on the linked data to themselves or others, for later reference or printing.

According to ScanBuy, a leading global provider of mobile barcode solutions, about 25 million people in the U.S. already have barcode scanning capability on their smartphones – all that is needed is a phone with a camera and an Internet connection. Manufacturers and service providers of all types are taking advantage.

Several early adopting tile and grout manufacturers are using QR codes or Microsoft Tags in a variety of ways.

As of mid-October, 2011, Dal-Tile had QR codes on about 800,000 pieces of marketing materials – tile boards that go into displays and out to customers, notes David Warren, digital marketing manager, Dal-Tile Corporation, a manufacturer of tile products.

Currently, Dal-Tile’s two brands, Daltile and American Olean, each use one code per product line. The code links the phone holder to a specific application attached to it for a period of time rather than to the company website. In this way, “the QR code does not ever become extinct. It is always active and up to date in terms of the material we want to present,” explained Warren. “We can change the information the code links to at any time without having to change the website page or code for that line.”

For example, on the American Olean’s Torre Venato line of glazed porcelain, one QR code on the tile board in a display represents the whole line. The tile board displays the tile and all the colors available in the line in the same way all the color options are represented on the website, Warren said. “If someone scans the code on the board displayed at a dealer, that person can view product imagery and more detailed information and order a physical sample of any selected tiles.” So far, Warren noted, feedback from dealers on this is “overwhelmingly positive.”

Between Daltile and American Olean, “about 10,500 of our top dealers have QR-coded tile boards in place,” Warren said.

According to Sean P. Boyle, director, marketing and product management, Laticrete International, a manufacturer of installation systems for ceramic tile and stone, Laticrete has been printing Microsoft tags on its packaging since 2008. “When we added codes to our packaging, we used the opportunity to rearrange some of the elements on our packaging to enable prominent placement of the code in two places, for easy spotting and easy scanning.”

“For consumers walking down an aisle in a retail setting, having the code positioned on the front of the bag maximizes the opportunity for scanning for more information geared to consumers. A different code, with information geared to contractors, is conveniently located on the back of the packaging, near the instructions. This dual placement of codes enables us to route both consumers and contractors to appropriate enhanced information,” he explained. Other Microsoft tags are printed on Laticrete’s sample boards and in print ads.

“Each tag code is really specific as to where we direct the customer to go,” Boyle explained. “Depending upon the product and on the focus of strategy, the code can link to a specific landing page for that product, to a video, or even to a material safety data sheet.” (Laticrete uses its existing website, already configured for reading via smartphones and with specific landing pages for different products, without any modification, as the sources of information linked to the codes.)

For example, for the company’s SpectraLock Pro Premium Grout, Laticrete generated a new page of information to which consumers are directed when they scan the 2D code on the packaging. At that page, consumers can view a video, learn about key features, get warranty information, MSDSs and sell sheets and find installation instructions.

The company can track how many people clicked each, what time they clicked, and how long they stayed – data that can go a long way to ensuring Laticrete is providing information customers find useful, Boyle said. Based on that information and other feedback, Laticrete can change the location of where the code leads, for example switching away from the product data sheet if that proves not especially effective and to a how-to video, to see if that is more effective, he added.

“If we see that a lot of people using the code are looking for more installation instructions, maybe that tells us we need to add more details to the instructions on the packages. We analyze the data every month to see how many snaps are happening, what products and where they’re going where people are looking to read.”

Early on, Boyle reserved about 200 unique codes so new codes are ready whenever he wants to create a new link. Laticrete is currently using about 80 codes, which appear on the great majority of its marketing tools. Laticrete’s use of codes has been extremely successful and very well received by end users, split about evenly between contractors and consumers, Boyle noted.

For contractors, the codes offer a lot of information right on the spot which the physical limitations of the packaging do not allow. For example, if the package is already on the jobsite, a contractor can scan the code and immediately have the ability to download the material datasheet, product instructions, and even Laticrete’s Green Guard certificate, Boyle said.

The benefits to retail

Some retailers are very excited about the possibilities created by mobile codes and in some cases encourage manufacturers to use them because they give customers in the store the ability to get product information themselves that can help with the purchasing decision. And, he added, “If a member of the sales staff scans the code, the information can augment his or her knowledge of the product and help with the sale.”

Crossville, a manufacturer of porcelain stone tile, introduced its new Q2R app in January 2011. The app works with QR codes and is available on any smartphone. The “Quick to Request, Quick to Respond” app is used to  scan QR (Quick Response) codes on all Crossville sample materials, allowing users to immediately get product details, request samples in real time or share links to products through social networks.

Q2R by Crossville allows anyone selecting tile products to create personal portfolios of favorite products right on their smartphones. When users create their individual Q2R accounts, they will be able to revisit their portfolios online anytime for easy viewing of product lists and more.

Crossville Q2R was created as part of Crossville, Inc.‘s Sustainable Samples program, an approach to tile product sampling that lets interior designers, architects and specifiers get all the information they need immediately and quickly request “only the samples they really want just by using the smartphone app,” noted the company.

To get a free QR reader for your phone, you can go to www.mobile-barcodes.com and click on QR Code Readers or just search for “QR reader” + the make and model of your phone. To get a free MS Tag reader, go to www.tag.microsoft.com. To download a free 2D code generator (to create 2D codes for use in your own ads and marketing materials), search for QR code generator or MS tag generator.

###

For Further Information

American Olean

www.americanolean.com

Crossville

www.crossvilleinc.com

Daltile

www.dal-tile.com

Laticrete

www.laticrete.com


Converting ‘Bait & Switch’ Customers
 
May 3rd, 2011

BY CHIP R. BELL AND JOHN R. PATTERSON

There is a new type of customer in town! We call them “bait and switch” customers. They walk in your establishment in search of tile. They ask a lot of questions about features, prices and delivery conditions. You take the bait and get excited. You can almost hear the cash register about to ring up a large sale. Then suddenly, the customer walks out telling you “I’ll check it out on the internet” and you never see them again! Sound familiar? Customers have changed since the advent of the internet and the anxiety of the recession. They are picky—only interested in getting value for their hard earned money. They are fickle—slow to show loyalty and quick to exit with the slightest hiccup. And, they are vain—only interested the “what’s in it for me” pursuit of customized products and personalized service. But, let’s look at it from the customer’s perspective.

Wholesaler Offer: My warehouse is not big enough to store plenty of everything you can imagine, so I only stock based on demand. The key item you want right now may take a while since I am dependent on the manufacturer. When you come to buy from me, location could be a challenge; we’re not likely to be just down the road. Then, there is parking when you arrive. You may have to wait for someone to help you if we’re busy. And, we can help you only during store hours. So, don’t be calling at night or on a Sunday!

E-tailer Offer: My warehouse is limited to the planet! You need it; I can get for you…and, fast. Any size, any color, and any amount. I can have it delivered wherever you need it—in the morning! And, you can shop whenever you want…even in your Fruit of the Looms before anyone else gets up. We guarantee everything. Since we buy in bulk, we can pass the savings on to you. We also have a 24-hour help line if you have a problem or a question—smart people there when you need them. So, which offer would you take? Hold on. The good news is coming. Customers today also want a great experience. They assume the product will be as promised and the price fair. And, the e-tailer on line will have a devil of a time sounding like old Harry who knows the customer’s business like the back of his trowel. Your edge is the experience! Granted you have to be price-sensitive today. You can’t jack up the price, even if you could give your customer Disney World. There are three ways to keep the e-tailer from luring your customers away after you have educated them.

Make it Personal
Buy a book on Amazon and their computer remembers what you bought. On your next visit to Amazon.com they recommend other books that fit your buying preferences. Can your business do that? Why wouldn’t your customers be comparing you to Amazon? E-tailers are continually communicating with customers in a highly tailored and targeted way. Do you have a “Constant Contact” system that lets customers know about specials or offerings unique to their interests? Is your website entertaining, educational, or inspiring… or is it simply an on-line brochure? Does your newsletter communicate more than just specials or deals? Create ways for customers to get to know other customers. A barbeque on the back lot could go a long way to creating a bond enabling you to get to know customers on a more personal way. When was the last time you went to your customer’s location instead of the other way around? If Harley-Davidson can create a “Harley Owners Group” that brings riders together, why couldn’t you create your own version? What if you sponsored seminars like Lowe’s or Home Depot?

Decorate the Experience
 Reach the checkout counter of Dallas garden center Nicholson-Hardie and you can pet one of two big calico cats sprawled across the counter with business cards proclaiming them as “house cats.” Walk into a Bass Pro Shop and notice displays amplified by such eye candy as a giant fish tank and museum quality wildlife dioramas. All these examples are the five senses on steroids augmenting the service experience. When realtors suggest baking an apple pie before an open house and fancy retail stores put a pianist on the sales floor, all are declaring the common sense of uncommon senses. Consider the emotions you want to call to mind. Does that picture really add value? Are restrooms super pleasant? What music should customers hear? What sensory signals do customers get from the parking lot or front entrance? What does signage in the warehouse pick-up look like? What should customers see first, second…last? What do customers hear in the background when phoning? Take a walk through Bellagio, the Venetian, or the MGM Grand on your next trip to Vegas. Notice how they blend sound, sight, smell and touch? What is the mood you want your customers to have in your store?

Give More Than Customers Expect
Be a valued partner to your customers. Great partners give without condition; giving is a selfless act. For the service provider, it is service emanating from the inner joy of serving, not a calculated decision. It requires a focus, not on short-term financial benefi t but on longterm relationship value. While transaction costs are not irrelevant, they can become destructively dominant. Of course, there are some fi ckle customers on the prowl for a cheap “one-night stand” they can brag about as a fi nancial conquest. But effective partners know that such customers are a tiny minority and it’s folly to distrust the balance of customers because of the few who seek to “game” the system. They understand that by seeking win-win solutions and avoiding nickel-and-diming customers, their organization will be rewarded with grateful customers who return, often with friends or family in tow.

Fly your customer’s flag! Constantly look for ways to personalize. Let customers witness your deep and obvious respect for them. Respect can come in the form of deferring to a customer’s unique circumstance. But, its liveliest form is found in the exceptions that are grounded in customer understanding and fueled by generosity. “We don’t normally, but in your case,” “I went ahead and took care of that…,” or “I comped the charge since I knew…” are all the sounds of customercentric exceptions. Exceptions tell customers you are there for them, not just for you. Customers want you to be successful and profitable; they do not want you to be miserly or greedy. The customer world is rapidly changing. There have always been “bait and switch” customers; there always will be. But, the best way to compete with the ease and access of the internet is to create the kind of an experience a computer cannot. Inside the computer is a program; inside the distributor/contractor is a person—with the same hopes and aspirations as customers. Build “high touch” into your service operation and help the shopper discover there is more to value than price.

CHIP R. BELL AND JOHN R. PATTERSON are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About it. They can be reached through www.wiredandangero


Recession Lessons
 
January 1st, 2011

From the importance of building and maintaining solid relationships to the need to continually trim debt loads, lessons from the recession have been abundant in the tile industry.

by Jeffrey Steele

In the tile industry, the recession has meant very difficult economic times. For Barbara Cashman, president and CEO of Greensboro, NC-based GlasTile Inc., which has manufactured fused glass tile since 1990, the downturn of the past few years took both a financial and personal toll. “When I lost a dealer during this time, we were saddened,” she says. “We lost good friends. We lost people we’d been working with for years. They haven’t passed away, but we don’t hear from them anymore.” The steepest economic freefall to hit the United States since the Great Depression, “transcends business,” Cashman adds. “It’s personal.”

If she’s learned anything during the last two or three years – and she has learned a lot, she says – it has been about the importance of relationships. Investing time and energy to develop and support business relationships paid off in hard times, and is one reason her company survived the storm. “It’s not a contrived belief of ours” she says. “We have always had close relationships with dealers and customers, and some of our dealers actually took smaller profits, to support us, and so we could have the job. We would work those things out [and discuss] what we could do together to land a project.”

Tom Carr, president of Pan-American Ceramics, has given considerable thought to the recession and how his company responded to the downturn. Officials of the nearly 30-year-old City of Industry, Cal. tile importer took what to many might seem an unusual stance, Carr explains.

“From the very start, the message I gave our employees, customers and vendors was that we were not going to participate in a recession,” he says. “It sounds funny, but if you start talking about how bad things are, people can always find an excuse. We would still buy product, bring in new products, pay vendors and pay employees. The fact that others were less likely to bring in new products during the recession brought us new customers.”

Another company that refused to accommodate the downturn was Crossville, Tenn.-based Crossville Incorporated, which rode out the recession in fine style, says vice-president of business development Frank Douglas. “We never changed who we are,” he reflects. “We never drastically altered our product mix, never altered the way we go to market, never wavered in our support of our customers or our sales force. We continued our education programs. And when we had to make unpleasant cuts, we did it in a fair way, so that everyone shared in the pain.”

Crossville Inc. was fortunate in that it is privately held, constantly invests in its own future and operates in a sound financial manner, Douglas says. Having seen the recession coming, and made adjustments, company officials still experienced reduced sales. Being a domestic manufacturer worked well for the company. As customers cut back on overseas orders, they took advantage of Crossville’s domestic availability, he says.

Ironrock, the Canton, Oh.-based manufacturer of quarry tile products and architectural thin brick, took a different but equally viable strategy. When the slump turned severe, Ironrock shed its Meredith Collection, which had been developed as an independent firm in the 1980s and later was absorbed into Ironrock. A high-end niche product, the Meredith Collection was discontinued so the company could focus on its core business of more utilitarian offerings, says Ron Williamson, the company’s marketing services director.

At the same time, Ironrock worked on developing its marketing toward business segments that continued growing, such as school construction, green building and national restaurant chain accounts, he says. “It was basically a matter of finding segments that continued strong during the recession,” he says.

Like many, Miles Distributors, a South Bend distributor of glass, ceramic and natural stone tile, with locations in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, responded to the recession by initiating a thorough reexamination of its labor force. It then began trimming employees. “When we got down to the size we needed, what we were left with was the ‘A’ players in the organization,” says sales and marketing manager John Zolman. “Those employees are the best, and are the more productive and stronger workers in the company.”

At U.S. Gypsum, field marketing and technical manager of the specialty products division Steve Rausch speaks for many industry observers. “We’re not convinced it’s over yet,” he says of the long recession. “But we’re getting through it because we had working capital put back [into the business]. And when all this started, we realized “We have always had close relationships with dealers and customers, and some of our dealers actually took smaller profits, to support us, and so we could have the job.” it would be bad. At that point, we didn’t overreact. But we cut overhead. That was our plan of survival.”

What They Would Do Differently

In hindsight, a number of industry players acknowledge they could have done things differently earlier in the downturn. The most common admission is wandering from the basics. “When times are good, it’s easy to expand, buy new products and add staff,” Carr says. “But you have to re-examine some of those ideas even when times are good. In the good times, maybe you should be looking at paying down debt, tightening inventory and maintaining a handle on expenses and credit lines to the bank. The basic things everyone is doing now should have been done at all times, including the good times. We realize that now.”

So does Cashman. She too gave into the temptation to add staff and equipment, as well as upgrade and expand facilities, in booming economies. It’s more important to eliminate all debt, she says, noting businesses that went under often did so because they were debt ridden when the slump arrived.

For GlasTile Inc., 2006 was a boom year. That’s when the company should have been taking stock of its line of credit and its equipment, and should have been exploring the idea of repairing existing equipment rather than buying new, Cashman reflects. “The focus really wasn’t where it should have been, because none of us expected we’d be in the situation we’re in now, and for the length of time we have been in that situation,” she says.

Speaking for U.S. Gypsum, Rausch says with 20:20 hindsight that many things could have been done differently. “USG’s in the entire building process: new construction, remodeling and commercial,” he reports. “In almost every past situation, you ended up with one or sometimes two segments going bad, but not all three at the same time. What happened this time is all three segments went bad, and we haven’t seen real recovery in any one of those segments. “We’re not seeing new jobs come on the boards. We’re not seeing jobs that were on the boards get reactivated. Commercial work has all but ground to a halt. When you look at residential home builders, you know what’s happened there.” Had anyone known how deeply the recession would be felt, more sizable cost cutting would have been undertaken immediately at USG, Rausch reports. “We’re still sitting on a lot of cash,” he adds. “We know there will be a lot of opportunities. You can’t drain yourself to the point that when the economy does start back up you can’t take advantage of it.”

Lessons to Carry Forward

Many industry observers report absorbing lessons during the slump they plan to take with them into a brighter economic day. At Miles Distributors, that lesson is the notion of redefining the word “busy,” Zolman reports. Now that the company has reduced its staff to “the A Team,” officials believe they won’t respond to very busy periods the way they formerly did. “When we pick up again, and get busy, it doesn’t mean we have to throw another body in there,” he says. “In the past, we were so intent on getting another staff member to handle busy times, that we didn’t ask whether that was the right person to hire, or whether we even needed another person.”

For Carr, one essential lesson has been the importance of always keeping channels of communication open. “Take time to communicate with employees,” he says. “They see the news and understand, and know you’re not lying to them. A lot of that communication is missing during the good times. The lesson I’d take forward is the need for communicating with employees, customers and suppliers. They’re all key components of your business.”

Another takeaway from the recession for Carr is the significance of teaming with the right suppliers. When times are difficult, he says, it’s critical to be on the same page with key vendors. That’s because a struggling economy can spur suppliers to make changes that may not be in your best interests. “You have to have an understanding before that happens,” Carr stresses.

Rausch reinforces the point about teaming with the right people. “You need to be dealing with substantial companies,” he says. “I’m all in favor of dealing with the local mom-and-pop store. But if you’re in the tile business and putting a job together, you want to make sure the tile manufacturer is solid, the setting materials maker is solid and the backer board people are solid. What your tile dealer is doing is putting together a complete assembly to make a job happen. Because of that, they’ve got to look at the whole system. They must have suppliers that can stand up with them and back them up.” The lesson to tile dealers, he says, is to align with solid suppliers who view them as partners. “The tile dealer has a customer in John Q. Customer, but he must have a partner on our side of the equation, or he’s going to wind up not having his own customer satisfi ed . . . You have to have value in that complete chain. The sweet taste of a low price quickly fades, under the bitterness of poor quality. That’s a huge problem for many people. You want value, not low price.”

At Ironrock, the lesson was the wisdom of maintaining a lean manufacturing operation, in which effi ciency is maximized and waste reduced to a bare minimum. “Everyone has a laser focus today on all those issues that can cost, and be cost prohibitive,” Williamson says. The recession also hammered home the benefi t of cross marketing. Ironrock cross marketed its architectural thin brick into new applications like brick veneers and stone veneers. The company gave its quarry tile distributors a chance to market its thin brick as well. “You’ve got to look for that kind of opportunity in a down economy,” he asserts.

GlasTile also recognized a silver lining within the dark economic clouds. Noting “the recession changed our whole market scenario,” Cashman says in better economic eras, her company had always created a very high-end product. But the calls it’s now getting as the economy rebounds are for custom work. That has resulted in GlasTile’s smaller accounts staying continually busy, while its production accounts languish. GlasTile is busy, but busy in a different way than before, producing custom work for Disney, and appearing on an HGTV program airing in mid-2011. That work doesn’t warrant keeping her 60-foot production kiln, Cashman says. “We can be flexible, gearing our product line to the custom market more readily than others can,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Between you and me, I hope that production kiln finds a new home.”

The long recession has also given Cashman a chance to reflect on the importance of technology in getting the word out about her product line. The future of tile industry marketing, she asserts, will depend to a great extent on social networking through forums like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “We’re going to have to be much more Internet focused,” she says.

SOURCES:
Tom Carr, president Pan-American Ceramics, City of Industry, CA 626-961-0051

Barbara Cashman, president and CEO GlasTile, Greensboro, NC 336-292-3758

Frank Douglas, vice-president of business development Crossville Incorporated, Crossville, TN 931-456-3912

Steve Rausch, field marketing and technical manager US Gypsum, Chicago 404-281-2218

Ron Williamson, marketing services director Ironrock, Canton, OH 330-484-7468

John Zolman, sales and marketing manager Miles Distributors, South Bend 574-234-4051

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