April 29th, 2013
“How exciting to see the hustle and bustle on today’s Coverings Show. From tile and stone to all types of allied products, both attendees and exhibitors are busy! Don’t miss the amazing exhibitors in every booth…if you can help it! There’s something new around every corner!” – Susan Sommers, Sales Associate with TileDealer
“Lots of excitement on the show floor today: wood looks even better, texture and color (how about gray or blue?) are key and residential is back! Plus education and awards to come!” – Janet Arden, Editor with TileDealer
March 26th, 2013
By Jeffrey Steele
When Sylvie Atanasio joined Country Floors about a year ago, she made no small plans. She and general manager Charlie Duncanson teamed up with one large goal in mind: “Returning it to the glory days was the whole lure of joining the company.”
‘The attraction of coming to Country Floors was back in the day, it was number one,” she says. “It was the Versace of tile.”
Five years ago, in the deepest nadir of the Great Recession, Atanasio launched a new line of tile and stone, AlysEdwards. “Instead of coming up with custom, high-end $150-a-square-foot product, I created products that looked and felt custom, but were ready made, in stock, on the shelf, could be shipped within 48 hours and cost just $26 a square foot. I called it ‘ready-made custom tile.’”
In four years, the line went from zero to $1 million a month. Though it had been unveiled at the worst time, February 2008, “in retrospect, it turned out to be the best time, because competitors stopped bringing in anything edgy or innovative,” Atanasio says.
In the 12 months she has been at Country Floors, she has designed 14 new lines, which are about to be unveiled at Coverings. “But the biggest thing is, when I left AlysEdwards, I wasn’t sure if clients who said they would follow me, would,” she recalls.
“But when the first five lines came out, I did a road trip. It was the first time in a while I felt nervous. Every old customer I went to see signed on as an authorized dealer, to buy into the program. There wasn’t a single one I asked who said ‘no’ to me.”
Tiledealer: How would you describe the creative philosophy of Country Floors?
I don’t know what the creative philosophy of Country Floors is. I can only tell you what my creative philosophy or mission is.
My creative philosophy is to create and bring forth new and cutting edge designs in both luxury tiles and natural stones, whether they are my own designs, or designs that are created by other artists exclusively for Country Floors.
My commitment is to bring forth beautiful tile and stone products. It doesn’t matter if they’re old world or modern. Country Floors has a responsibility to stay progressive, and I a duty to uncover and discover new talent and products designers crave.
TD: What sets Country Floors apart from competitors?
The biggest distinction between Country Floors and our competitors, besides designing and developing high-end decorative and handmade tiles, glass tiles and mosaics, is owning the quarries.
We own our own quarries and the largest stone processing plant in Turkey, and now in Tunisia. We are the direct source, whereas my competitors are just buying from a factory and importing.
TD: What is your own background?
Seventeen years ago I opened my own boutique showroom and found out the hard way that all the desirable lines were taken and that with no clout, no one would give me the time of day.
That forced me to start designing and contract manufacturing with a small artisan studio to make proprietary lines for me. I have learned the tile biz through trial and error. Over the last 27 years in this business, I have made and lost a lot of money. And I have learned to consistently evolve and change to fit the market.
Talking about the industry: real diamonds or cubic zirconia?
TD: How do you see stone faring vs. ceramic and porcelain?
Asking me how I see natural stone faring against the new ink jet technologies available in porcelain tiles today is like asking how I think real diamonds are going to fare against cubic zirconia.
The new porcelains that are being produced today are beautiful, the technology is truly amazing and it will allow the ceramic tile industry to capture a larger segment of the hard surface industry.
But in the end, nothing compares to natural stone! Given the choice, and depending on the application, I would pick the real thing, just like I wouldn’t wear cubic on my left hand either.
TD: What is your own personal design philosophy?
I am not sure what my personal design philosophy is. I know what my mission is, and that is to design beautiful tile products at every price level. Don’t get me wrong, I love designing for the luxury high-end market. But not everyone can afford to spend $50 to $100 plus per square foot. I like developing products that look and feel expensive, but that are affordable to the majority of people. They’re still willing to spend money, but they need to see value.
TD: You’ve designed some custom lines for various manufacturers. What is your process for doing such designs?
I have privately labeled for several large companies, including Marazzi, Florim USA and Arley Wholesale. I recently organized collections for Kolher and Crossville Ceramics If I told you my process I’d have to kill you. Just kidding. My success in designing for other manufacturers is that I really listen to what they want and their vision, and then I design what I think that means.
TD: What would you like to accomplish as a CTDA board member?
During my time as a board member, I can help strengthen the voice of the CTDA, so that we are seen as a network of help not just for the tile distributors, but really the tile and stone industry as whole.
The CTDA is a place to be educated on the most current style trends, new technology concerning tile and the products used to install them. CTDA should be thought as a network of help, a lifeline.
I liken it to the AAA Motor Club. When you have a flat tire, what do you do? First you say to yourself, “&@*%#!”
Then you say, “I need to call AAA to fix my flat.” You never say, “Hmm, I think I’ll fix it myself.” That’s what CTDA should mean to everyone in our industry. It’s a place to turn for help.
TD: What are the most exciting issues for the industry?
Trend wise, I think the textures and the 3D patterns being done in stones are very exciting. The mixed media being used in water-jet patterns, the new thin, large porcelain tiles, and the continued advancement of the ink jet technology and recycled products continue to be on the forefront of what is being developed.
As far as hot topics are concerned, I think a big one is how e-commerce sales are re-shaping how we do business in the tile industry. How that affects tile distributors nationwide and the philosophy of protected territories is a major issue.
The CTDA has formed a task force to address these very issues, and I suspect that at the Total Solution Plus 2013 conference, there will be seminars addressing the Internet and social media.
TD: You’ve been described as something of a firebrand; are there any positions you advance at odds with the industry?
Firebrand… true. I am very provocative, and people think I’m crazy or pure genius, and I’m not for the faint of heart. I am very passionate about having more women executives and business owners get involved in the tile industry. The demographics of our industry have changed quite a bit. Let’s face it, the tile industry, like construction, has always been a male-dominated industry. But there are more women doing business in the tile industry than ever before, many running very successful business.
I would like to see more women join and actively participate in the CTDA, as well as other industry organizations.
TD: What is your forecast for the tile industry over the next couple of years?
I think the business will continue to improve because the American people are getting used to the economy. They realize life must go on, and tile distributors and retailers have adjusted their business models to be competitive in today’s market. Let’s face it, if they haven’t changed their thinking by now, they’re probably out of business.
TD: What will it take for the tile industry to come all the way back and forge ahead of its past successes?
I think to be successful now, companies must re-invent themselves entirely. They can’t afford to rest on their laurels and reminisce about how successful they once were.
I think you need to think novel and act entrepreneurial. More important than having the coolest products, or the best price, or the most aggressive sales staff is exceptional customer service! I have found that if you have stellar customer service people will flock to you and stand in line to do business with you. If you have their best interest at heart they will follow you anywhere because they trust you.
Sylvie Atanasio, Creative Director
COUNTRY FLOORS, Los Angeles
November 12th, 2012
“With the recession, people still want their dream space, but now there’s a dollar value attached to it.”
by Jeffrey Steele
When Lynle Ellis was just a girl growing up in Connecticut, she already had the makings of a future interior designer. She was big on drawing layouts, and already had a very distinct idea of what she liked — and didn’t like.
“I started doing floor plans on my own at age 12,” she recalls.
“I looked at House and Garden magazine, and would do little pencil sketches of room layouts. I was big on sunken living rooms, and tower rooms.
“I couldn’t stand the Bermuda green tile I had in my bathroom. I knew from an early age I didn’t want to date a space.”
Years later, her many satisfied clients are delighted Ellis got an early start doing what she loved. She has been an interior designer since 1991, and has had her own design firm, San Diego-based Lynle Ellis Designs, since 1999, when she passed her NCIDQ (National Certification of Interior Design Qualification) exam and became a professional member of ASID.
Had she not become an interior designer, Ellis might have made a great philosopher, psychologist or commentator on human nature and the economy.
She is a shrewdly observant, honest and colorful interpreter of design trends, developments in tile, relationships between designers and their suppliers, and the psychology of consumer spending on home design.
As the housing industry, and by extension tile, continue long recoveries from the Great Recession, TileDealer reached out to Ellis for a candid examination of her interior design philosophies and how tile figures in the creation of beautiful and functional interior spaces.
She doesn’t disappoint, offering an entertaining and insightful dialogue on design trends for 2013, how the Green Movement impacts design, her biggest challenges as a designer, what she does and doesn’t want from tile vendors, and what’s ahead for tile, design and her own business.
TileDealer: Can you describe your design philosophy?
My design philosophy is pretty easy, and goes with my new tagline, “Inspiring interiors that enhance your well being.” Interior design is about creating a space that enhances who you are as a person.
To me, design is not just about designing a pretty space; it’s about creating a space that works for you and your family, so you have more joy and basic organization in your life. There’s a lot of function in my design.
My first question is how my client wants to feel when she re-enters her space. Some people need creativity and inspiration when they return home, others need peace and relaxation, or honestly anything in between.
That’ s what my design gives them, so they function well and get what they need to decompress from their outside world, be inspired, and be ready and refreshed for the next day. The space feels like who you are as a person.
TD: What do you see as the design trends for 2013, upscale or not?
I work all over San Diego County, and do one hour consultations all the way up to full home, remodel or reconstruction design. I see all economic levels, apartments to multimillion dollar homes, and everything in between. Design should be accessible. It’s not just for those who think, “Well, I can afford it.”
I see all walks of life. Here’s where I’m going, trend-wise, and how I design in general. Basically I mix different elements, contemporary with traditional, and balance masculine and feminine in a space. And that’s what the design trends are: it’s masculine-feminine, traditional-contemporary.
Even if I’m designing a traditional home, I will still incorporate a touch of whimsy, something unexpected, which might come in the form of super-modern tile on your fireplace, or a very contemporary lighting fixture. And then I always, always mix textures. That’s super important, and it’s not a trend. You always must have something coarse with something smooth, and something shiny with something dull. It’s the yin-yang of design and what makes a space unique.
A home can look too decorated, too perfect, and that’s where you have to mix it up, bringing a feminine touch into a mostly masculine home or vice versa.
You have to have that something unexpected.
TD: How does the green movement fit into your projects?
What I find with my clients is they will only take it up to a certain level. They’re not willing to sacrifice what they love for green design. They want green design to be something I think about, but it doesn’t have to be law.
There’s one thing I always do green, and that’s paint. I always do low-VOC paints, and luckily the paint companies have listened and now most of their standard paints are low VOC. What I’m doing right now is a project in the planning stages, where the client wanted green countertops. But on their own, they hadn’t found anything they liked. I introduced them to the recycled bottle countertops, and really cool stuff. It’s Vetrazo. It will create a beautiful countertop that color-wise I can pull the rest of the colors from. You have recycled blue, green and amber bottles, and that allows me to pull my color scheme for the cabinetry and the backsplash tile, making it a cohesive whole.
And that’s a big thing for me.
TD: What’s the biggest obstacle you face as a designer?
How honest do you want me to be? (LAUGHS) Truthfully, budget is the bottom line. With the recession, people still want their dream space, but now there’s a dollar value attached to it.
And that makes for a lot of compromising in the space within the design, and a lot of people are not happy with that.
They want what they are in love with, but have a budget for only what they like. What I do to balance that is have them tell me what they love the most, and we’ll work the budget around that. I don’t want people to sacrifice for a number figure. I can still give them a beautiful space around that one item they love.
Maybe it’s a chandelier they’re in love with, and I get in that by using a less expensive sofa manufacturer. That way, the focal point of the space is still the chandelier, and every time they walk in it makes them happy.
TD: What do you need from clients to produce a great design?
Open communication. It’s that simple. When I meet with a client initially, I want them to give me pictures from magazines of rooms they love and rooms they hate. That will give me sort of a vision into their brain. It’s really important they truly communicate with me. If I present them something they don’t like, which I seldom do, I want them to say, “Lynle, this is not working for us.”
So I will present them with different options. But I have to know. I would love to read their mind, but I can’t do that, so it’s as simple as that.
The other thing is trust. They need to trust they hired the best interior design for their needs. They need to trust that they did their homework at the beginning, so if they can’t visualize something, they know they can trust me as their interior designer, who can visualize it and know it’s exactly what they want.
TD: What do you expect from a distributor in terms of capabilities, delivery, and more?
What I’m looking for from them is the most current materials that are out there. I want to know what’s new and upcoming and exciting in tile design.
But I still want to keep my old favorites, the staples. I‘m not always going to design on trend. Because if you do, you end up with a dated design in 10 years. So I’m looking for my staples, [like] my beautiful pillow edged, glossy cream-colored tile. Don’t take it away from me! Because then I’m going to mix in your really on-trend copper or stainless steel liner. I’m really into metal now. It’s a lot easier to replace a liner down the road than it is your entire bathroom tile.
I’ll also do a beautiful natural stone floor mixed with some of those big 18-by 25-inch rectangular porcelain tiles on the walls. Again, the natural stone is timeless, and I’ll run that rectangular tile up the wall, and use the natural stone as an accent. So you have that traditional natural stone with the more contemporary rectangular tile.
With regards to delivery, I like to know estimated time of arrival. I’m trying to make a lot of elements work, a lot of pieces to the puzzle come together, and the field tile is the major component. I want to know when I’m getting my field tile, as well as when I’m getting my accent tile, so continual open communication between my vendors, suppliers and me is so important.
Let me know. If something is delayed, please pick up the phone and call me. If it is delayed, my clients and I need to discuss whether we will re-select, and if we don’t, how that delayed timing will affect the construction schedule.
TD: Would you advise distributors to change in the way they handle payment terms, becoming more flexible on terms, for instance?
I’m going to say no. I expect my clients to pay me upfront. That way, I have the cash in hand before I place any orders. I would not then expect my tile vendors to give me net 30, net 90 or net 120. I wouldn’t ask them to do that when I’m not giving my client those terms. You do need terms in retail, because you are attempting to sell merchandise before you pay bills. But this is different.
I’m an interior designer, and I’m not holding tile in a warehouse. I’m buying for a specific project, so I always pay cash up front.
TD: When is stone better than ceramic?
Stone is better than ceramic based on how high-end your project is going to be. There’s still an expectation in the high-end market that stone is going to be stone, and not something that looks like stone. There is still a stigma about porcelain looking like a natural material.
I understand it’s more durable. But in a multimillion home, the client is not going to expect to see 18-by-18-inch porcelain tile that looks like stone. They’re going to expect to see the real thing. In high-end homes, for floor, people still expect natural stone. But if it’s a family with kids, I’d recommend porcelain tile.
If you’re a mom and dad of three children six months to five years, you don’t want to worry about maintaining your floor. They’re going to draw on it, drop things on it, they’re kids. So the parents don’t want to have to worry about it. It’s the same thing in a home occupied by older people. I would recommend a ceramic or a porcelain tile, because I can guarantee the slip co-efficient.
TD: Do you see the tile industry rebounding, or will that take time?
It directly has to do with where our economy goes as a country. If it slips into another recession, it’s not going to rebound.
People are honestly tired of living on a tight budget. So they are doing more design. I have had more work in the past year than I had in the previous two years. I would say it’s mid-range rather than high-end. People are doing more renovations. Basically people were getting tired of being super-super thrifty. They wanted to feel that joy again that comes from doing some home projects once more. But if we slip into recession again, all bets are off.
TD: What’s ahead for you and Lynle Ellis Designs?
I’m a planner actually. I’m in the process of developing my own form of design show, where we may start with something just on YouTube.
I have a unique take on my design philosophy, and I want to share it with as many people as possible, so they see it’s not as hard as they might think to add joy to their home and their lives. ###
Lynle Hawkins-Struble (identified here as Lynle Ellis to avoid confusion), owner
Lynle Ellis Designs, San Diego
July 24th, 2012
One-on-One with Donato Pompo, Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants
One might say Donato Pompo’s career in tile was foreordained. His grandmother was a tile company employee while expecting Donato’s father, who not only would go on to a long and illustrious tile industry career, but serve as both inspiration and role model for his son’s career in tile.
In the 30 years since Pompo followed his father’s footsteps into the business, he has earned two MBA degrees, gained five industry-related certifications, written nearly 30 published articles, captured countless industry accolades and presented more than two dozen educational seminars.
Most importantly, he is the founder of San Diego-based Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, and the University of Tile and Stone, a pre-eminent provider of education to industry employees and customers. The university’s online programs are available to CTDA members.
TileDealer: Please discuss your family history in the tile business.
My grandmother worked at Gladding McBean (Franciscan Tile), hand painting dinnerware while she was pregnant with my father. My father worked for Franciscan Tile for 30 years, and then purchased their San Diego location, renaming it Southwestern Ceramic Tile and Marble Company. I was in the tile union as an installer after high school, before being drafted into the Army and serving in the 82nd Airborne Division as an MP paratrooper. I attended college after the military and got a biochemistry education with an MBA in marketing and finance.
After college, I worked in the family distribution business for 17 years, in the warehouse, customer service, driving the large diesel truck and in the showroom. Then I specialized in architectural and contractor sales, and specified and sold many larger architectural projects. Eventually, I managed the company and grew it into one of the largest tile distributors in the country.
My father was CTDA president, and I was on the CTDA board of directors during that time. I later worked as a sales manager for Laticrete International for seven years, before founding Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) on May 5, 2002. I am currently the chair of the CTDA Education Committee.
TD: What did you learn from your father’s experience?
My father was a very successful salesman and businessman. Working with him gave me a great foundation to allow me to be successful in my own business.
TD: How and why was CTaSC Established?
Drawing on my MBA knowledge and industry experience, I created a feasibility study and business plan to determine the needs and opportunities, and to establish that there was a need for a consultancy company in the ceramic tile and stone industries.
I realized there was a need for a sophisticated forensic consultant with installation, distribution, and manufacturing experience and with a science background who could provide and articulate realistic, detailed investigation conclusions. I had been a Certified Ceramic Tile Consultant (CTC) through the CTIOA since 1979 and a Certified Construction Document Technologist through CSI since 2000. With the addition of my Certified Microbial Remediation (CMR), I had substantial experience, knowledge and credentials to be an effective consultant. CTaSC performs forensic investigations to determine the cause of problems and how to remediate those problems; we also perform laboratory testing, prepare installation guidelines and provide on-site quality control services on new tile and stone installations.
CTaSC is made up of accomplished ceramic tile consultants, stone consultants, ceramic tile and stone installers, architects, engineers, general contractors, construction scientists and other industry specialists. Most CTaSC inspectors are seasoned installers with management experience, so they are great quality control inspectors who can also train installers on these jobs. Often tile installers don’t have the opportunity to get formal training in the industry.
CTaSC created the UofCTS in 2002 to develop online education courses for distributors, manufacturers, installers, architects and other professionals in the ceramic tile and stone industries. It provides a means to effectively and practically educate members of our industry.
CTaSC also is the co-publisher of the Catalina Stone Report that is updated every other year and is a contributor to the Catalina Ceramic Tile report. Both provide data and insight in past and current industry trends. CTaSC also develops business and marketing plans for foreign and domestic companies trying to develop products or businesses for the ceramic tile or stone industries.
TileDealer: How do you choose your international team of consultants?
CTaSC only hires quality-minded people with a lot of experience in their fields of expertise. Most CTaSC inspectors are master tile setters who were company owners or superintendents.
When we run into projects where we need a level of expertise that we may not have, then we team up with architects, engineers and testing laboratories that are leaders in their field. In fact, we just added a stone restoration specialist to our team who is working with one of our other terrazzo investigators on a large terrazzo project at a major airport.
TileDealer: One of your services is forensic investigations. Why are those investigations needed and how are they undertaken? What do they reveal?
There is a big need for quality forensic investigations by companies that can provide realistic and reliable conclusions.
Tile failures are very expensive when you consider the cost to tear an installation out, re-install the tile, and likely experience collateral damages that need to be remediated; along with the inconveniences and lost opportunity of use during that process. When there is a problem it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Everyone will pay one way or the other in loss of time, money, and reputation. Everyone typically points fingers at someone else. Parties hire so-called experts to defend them with hypothetical, but unrealistic, conclusions.
Then, quite often, in trying to reduce their costs and hoping the problem goes away with time, the parties responsible only want to treat the symptom of the problem rather than correct the problem itself. Too often, failed projects are not remediated correctly and fail again. That is why they need a knowledgeable and honest company like CTaSC to find the true cause of the problem and to determine what it will take to remediate it.
I have been very dedicated to our industry in volunteering my time over the years to help make our industry better, which has rewarded me with a lot of knowledge, and status as an expert with industry standards. Early on as a Ceramic Tile Consultant I attended all training programs and volunteered my time for performing inspections in San Diego.
As a distributor I was involved in CTDA committees to help develop programs for the industry. I was the chairman of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America Technical Committee for many years. I am a member of the tile ANSI A108 committee, the ISO TC189 committee, the MIA Technical Committee, and the ASTM C18 Stone committee. I participate in the TCNA Handbook committee and the NTCA Technical committee. All are involved in setting industry standards so we can avoid the negative advertising of problems and failures and ensure successful installations.
TileDealer: Discuss the architectural specifications aspect of your work.
Architects are responsible for all aspects of specifications for a project, so they can’t be an expert at any one aspect of it. Typically architectural specifications are ambiguous and incomplete and don’t provide enough details to ensure the installer installs the tile correctly.
Often the architect or designer selects products based on color and texture rather than on suitability. What’s more, they really have nowhere to turn to get an honest answer, since salespeople are always selling them something and embellishing the product. CTaSC evaluates architectural specifications and applications to determine if the application and products are suitable for the intended application. That will include quality assurance testing, detailed specifications referencing specific industry standards, and specifying a quality control process during the installation to make sure the right products are used and installed correctly.
With my science background, experience and expertise in construction documents, we can reduce the risks of project problems and delays.
TileDealer: You provide some of the CTDA’s online training. What does the training consist of?
The Ceramic Tile course includes industry standards and sales techniques. It is designed to give salespeople the tools they need to increase sales, give tile installers the knowledge of industry standards and how to assist clients with selecting ceramic tile, and give professional designers the knowledge of how to select and specify ceramic tile.
The Natural Stone course also includes industry standards and sales techniques. It is designed to give salespeople the tools they need in order to increase sales, give stone installers and fabricators the knowledge of industry standards and how to assist clients with selecting natural stone, and give professional designers knowledge on how to select and specify natural stone.
The Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification course instructs installers on industry standards and proper installation methods for tile thin-set applications that apply to ceramic tile, porcelain tile, stone tile, glass tile and other types of adhered tile materials. This course is also meaningful to architects, general contractors, consultants, inspectors, and owners who want to be aware of the industry installation standards and methods.
TileDealer: Why is the training particularly important today?
Knowledge is power. Knowledge enables the avoidance of problems and false expectations. Employees who are trained become more knowledgeable, more confident in offering their company’s products and doing their work, and more effective at their jobs. Salespeople sell more; in a more professional way, installers install better and avoid potential problems.
Trained architects and designers select products more suitable for the intended application and specify more clearly to avoid project delays and problems. The ceramic tile and stone industries are unique. And most people don’t have the in-depth understanding and experience of our industry.
TileDealer: Who is likely to benefit from the training?
Everyone benefits from training. The entire tile and stone industry benefits from training because, as I said before, when there is a problem, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Tile failures cost our industry a lot of business. When someone spends as much as they do on tile in dollars and emotions, and then has to be subjected to a failure that costs a lot of time and money, regardless of who is at fault, they are likely to avoid using tile. And they will tell their friends and neighbors all about the terrible experience. The result is negative advertising. I see lots of what should be tile jobs go another way because of previous failures.
Most failures tend to be due to installer errors and are the result of the installers not following the industry standards that were created to avoid failures.
All major committees and associations such as TCNA, NTCA, TCAA, CTEF, and UofCTS encourage tile installers to be trained, and specifiers and home owners to only used qualified installers.
Training salespeople helps prevent problems too. As a result, they don’t put out bad information and/or allow their customers to have false expectations.
Training the architect helps ensure the installers get clear instructions on how to install the tile, and that there is a quality control process in place.
TileDealer: You’re on record predicting late last year: “My feeling is tile industry growth is going to continue, but slowly.” Are you more optimistic today than several months ago?
My business has gotten a lot busier, but I still see the industry being sluggish and only slowly improving. Until home foreclosures slow down significantly and housing stops depreciating and starts appreciating in value and building resumes, we aren’t going to see a huge change. Residential remodel work and some commercial work are keeping businesses going right now, and driving the slow recovery.
As soon as more people go back to work and consumer confidence goes up, you will see some good growth in the residential remodel sector that will eventually drive home building, which will drive the growth of the ceramic tile and stone industries.
TileDealer: What’s ahead for Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants?
CTaSC will continue offering its consulting services in finding solutions to problems and providing services to help avoid potential problems and help clients plan for opportunities. UofCTS will continue to develop new courses. We are currently developing a new CTDA Certified Ceramic Tile Specialist Study Guide both for online use and as an insert in the CCTS notebook study guide. We are developing a new course named “How To Specify Tile and Stone with Architects,” that will teach architectural sales reps how to specify their products with architects, and it will teach the architects how to properly specify tile and stone.
We have another course we have started on called “How to Install Tile for DIY and New Professionals.” This will cover all the basics of tile in terms of making sure the tile is suitable for the intended use, how to properly prepare the tile substrate, how to lay out your tile, how to install the tile, how to grout and seal your tile, and how to maintain your tile floor.
I will continue to volunteer with the industry in any way I can. I owe a lot to this industry, which has provided me and my family with a good life and with many rewards. We can be proud in our industry that our products are not only building materials that provide a lot of benefits in function and sustainability, but they represent art and beauty that will be our legacy to the future. ###
TD: CTDA promotes the online training, and members get a break on the cost, but it’s available to others, as are other training programs you have developed. What prompted the development of the first class? Which class was it? What has continued to drive that aspect of the business? For example, you have recently introduced “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification.”
I founded The University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) in 2002 because as a distributor for 17 years, and then as a manufacturer sales manager for seven years, I realized how important educating employees and customers is to the success of a company, as it was for me in my roles as a distributor and manufacturer. Everyone always acknowledges that educating their employees and customers is important, but few have the time, resources or commitment to get it done. Education is important to everyone, but it isn’t urgent, as so many other things are during their day. I always had a special interest in education.
I was the creator of the well known industry TileWise cartoons in 1987 (http://www.ctasc.com/TileWise_Cartoons/) where I worked with an artist and created cartoons about industry problems and issues that exaggerated the issue and conveyed the educational message in a humorous way. When I discovered e-learning technology that universities and large corporations were using to deliver training to their students and employees via a computer and the internet, I was impressed by its effectiveness in teaching, and delighted in that it was a very convenient and practical solution to effective training.
Students get 24/7 access to the online campus and course, the courses are self-paced so the student can come and go at their convenience, and the courses are interactive, which engages the student and reinforces the key points that we want the student to learn and retain. There are no travel costs or loss of productivity, because the courses can be taken at home or at work, and the courses are professionally narrated and loaded with photos, short video clips and animations. They’re enjoyable as well as informative.
The UofCT’s first course, “Understanding the Basics of Ceramic Tile,” has been a huge success. It has been updated several times. It was customized for CTDA Online and recently “Canadianized” for the Tile Terrazzo Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC) to offer to the Canadian market.
With the success of the ceramic tile course, we started getting lots of requests for a stone course. The consumption of natural stone and manufactured stone had increased tremendously, but most lacked the knowledge to be able to intelligently sell the material.
Thus the “Understanding the Basics of Natural Stone” course was created and released about two years ago and then customized for CTDA Online. In June 2012 the stone course was adapted for TTMAC to offer to the Canadian market. In fact, TTMAC has gotten both their ceramic tile course and the new stone course accredited for Continued Education Credits by the architectural organization OAA and AIBC, and they have also been accredited by the professional interior design organization IDCEC.
Now architect and interior designer members from those respective associations earn CEU credits when they take those courses.
As soon as the stone course was released we started working on the new tile installer course, because we knew the industry desperately needed a way to easily and practically allow tile installers to learn the industry standards.
The “Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification” course was released at the beginning of the year and has done extremely well. Now installers can easily learn the current industry installation standards and methods without travel expenses or missing work. The course has been customized for CTDA Online and is now available to CTDA members. The course is currently being adapted for TTMAC. ###
Donato Pompo, founder
Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, Jamul, Calif.
June 13th, 2012
By: Jeffrey Steele
“Tile design is not a stepchild to the interior design business.”
Anna Marie Fanelli learned a vital lesson in her early career as an advertising and marketing professional: the only way to give an advertiser what he wanted was to really get a read on that client. Having long since become a design professional, she’s kept that lesson top of mind. That same ability to really listen now helps Fanelli ensure her designs beautifully reflect her client’s unique lifestyles.
“The way one’s home is designed is just as meaningful a style choice, and presentation of oneself, as the way one dresses,” she observes.
“It’s all about how the space comes alive. It’s about energy.”
For Fanelli, the award-winning co-owner of Tenafly, N.J.-based Floor & Décor, making a home come alive means using tile in ways that are as distinctive as they are dramatic. For the past 20 years, she has incorporated tile in groundbreaking home designs for some of the most demanding and discerning clients in New Jersey.
As her legend has grown, Fanelli has been showered with numerous awards, as well as both national and regional recognition. For two years in a row, she was honored by Coverings and Environmental Design + Construction magazine for a green bathroom she designed that captured the “PROJECT: Green” competition. This year, her submission was spotlighted in the PROJECT: Green Onsite Idea Center at Coverings.
She was also one of just 42 female entrepreneurs nationwide to be featured in the book Never Underestimate the Strength of Women (Jas Literary Publishing).
Her work has been highlighted in publications ranging from the New York Times and Newsday to Better Homes & Gardens Kitchen Makeover and Better Homes & Gardens Bath Makeovers. In addition, she has written columns for New York City-area publications and discussed home design as a guest on a number of radio talk shows.
We invite you to be captivated by the entertaining and compelling views of this consummate tile industry professional.
TD: How did you get started with tile?
That was an interesting journey. I was director of marketing for a point of sale advertising agency. And I had lovely Fortune 500 accounts. And I married John, who was in this business. I was traveling a lot and became physically sick, and was given a year sabbatical by the ad agency. I was newly married at the time, and thought it would be a great idea to work in his showroom.
I got exposed to stone and tile, and loved it. I was able to take the creativity I used in another industry and transpose it to this industry. Instead of going back, I stayed in this industry, came into my own, and now really emphasize tile. Tile design is not a stepchild to the interior design business. I really feel it’s not emphasized enough by design magazines. It takes a tremendous talent to put together kitchens, bathrooms, foyers and outdoor areas using tile.
TD: What are your favorite tile uses?
In residential, I love the foyer, because that makes your first couture statement. I’m really into looking at someone’s personal style, and listening to their lifestyle. That should be reflected in their homes. I learn people’s lifestyles before I design. The foyer dictates how the home will evolve.
But I do quirky things. I just designed a 9-foot-high-by-7-foot wide fireplace. My client is Russian, and in Russia they really appreciate tile. This fireplace brought back [to her] her lifestyle of who she was as she grew up in Russia. What I’m so passionate about is we create art every single day.
And it doesn’t matter if you have a budget, because we have so much material we can work with today; there’s no reason you can’t have design, no matter the budget.
TD: Your PR rep says you are “obsessed with tile.” What’s the nature of that obsession?
The nature of the obsession is that at any given time, or any place, in my life I always seem to be designing with tile. Last night, I had to go to Lowe’s to pick up some paint, and while I was there, I gravitated toward the tile department, to see how they merchandised the product. And while there, I designed a powder room for a rental apartment, giving someone I just met four or five different sketches.
TD: If you attended Coverings, what tile trends most interested you?
I have to say, I was most impressed this year with 3-D stone in wave formats and interwoven pieces. There are a lot of porcelains out there that are doing those wave patterns. And there is another porcelain that looks like a stick format, but is actually dimensional. But at the show, I have to say the most beautiful displays were the Waterjet designs. Waterjet is the process, which is so incredibly advanced.
Yes, it’s pricey. It’s not for every income level. It is laser cut material using stone, glass and a combination of stone and glass. But just the process of all the laser cut pieces that are works of art are incredible.
TD: Where is the most distinctive place you have used tile?
I had a client who said she wanted to have all the archways in her home providing her with a Tuscan, a Mediterranean feel. She had a lot of these archways, and I thought of using the archways as a focal point. And I used the 3-D stone as a mosaic, in a brushed finish. The 3-D stone comes from Italy, and there’s a special process to it. It was new construction. I was the designer on the entire project, but she said everyone looks at the archways, because people don’t think of using the archways.
People just want to touch them; they’ve become the conversation pieces in their homes.
I’ve done bathrooms in which the budget just for tile was $150,000.
The floor was an entire custom Waterjet floor with exotic, intricate field material. The back shower walls depict a muse pattern.
When large budgets dictate something unusual, it’s easy to create couture. The challenge is when you have a tight budget, and still need to be creative. I did the entire façade of a restaurant in New York City’s Times Square, and created a façade that used slates, mosaics, glass and all different size formats to create a Tuscan bistro effect.
TD: How do you help your clients select the most appropriate tile for their needs/purposes?
First of all, there’s a specific process. What do you want to accomplish in a space? I want to be very clear on what my objective is.
And once I have that I want to determine my client’s style. It’s about energy, about how they talk, how they express themselves. That dictates color.
If they’re more soft-spoken, I’m not going to throw out wild colors and materials that go against their grain. If someone is really sloppy, I’m not going to recommend white Thassos marble. If you want that white color, I’ll recommend a crystallized white glass that’s maintenance free but provides a similar look.
It can be beautiful at the outset, but if it doesn’t fit their lifestyle, it’s a problem. You have to know their lifestyle, and the product.
You have to take time to listen. That’s critical. That goes back to my advertising days, where you really had to read your client. Today, with the economy, people are just tired. They’re fatigued. And professionals in our industry are fatigued, because materials from Europe are more expensive and everything‘s more expensive. If you can read and understand the client, your task becomes easier.
TD: What do you need from a tile distributor?
I’m a tile, stone and plumbing studio, but what I need from my distributors is for them to be service oriented [and] knowledgeable about the product. I need pricing at my fingertips [and] stock availability. And if something’s out of stock I need a recommendation, so I don’t have to start all over with the process.
I spec’d the tile for a home down the Jersey shore, I’m thinking about timing because the client wants to be in there by summer, the material has to be cost effective, because she has seven bathrooms.
And I’m thinking about shipping costs. But here’s the thing, I needed chair rail, but it’s not available for six months. So I needed to find a different tile that would fit the needs, still be at the same price point, and satisfy the client.
You have to have someone who knows the line and can effectively provide an alternative, someone you can really depend on.
You need someone on your team who can flip material around and really keep your showroom going.
TD: How could distributors do a better job of marketing and selling tile?
I think first of all, when new product is introduced, you should know all aspects. We don’t have time to look at all the price lists. Be up to speed on the new things you’re bringing in. Is it environmentally friendly? How many formats can it offer? Can it be used commercially? If it’s a porcelain tile, does it need to be sealed?
Distributors should do as much homework as possible, not just give you something new, say “this is our new line” and walk away. I want to thoroughly know the product. I want the distributor to provide several different products. If they’re introducing several new lines, I want them to bring in several things at one time.
People are more impatient today. Because of the Internet, it’s instant gratification. It’s all about timing, and anyone who’s on it and can move fast, that gives you the edge. As a design studio, we value our talent and time, and in our case, if you’re coming to us for a new kitchen floor, new construction or renovation project, we recommend setting an appointment with us to review our portfolio of work. A prospective client may always browse our collections of tile, stone and plumbing. Neither my husband nor I will begin the design process unless we have been retained on the particular project. The retainer is applied to a client’s purchases.
You can buy tile anywhere, but you can’t access talent everywhere. Both myself and my husband offer talent and years of experience. And we have won awards. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for a retainer. If you’re not putting a price on your talent, there’s no perceived value.
TD: Do you have additional training in selling or installing tile?
The client is really in a true design environment. We do tile design for kitchens and bathrooms. We specify all your plumbing that goes with the tile design. It’s hand in hand. It’s one design environment, so why separate it?
We can design custom vanities, we can design lighting, we can do the custom shower doors, we can do the installation. And we have a different perspective on the tile, because of the installation background my husband and I both have.
My advice to studios and showrooms throughout the country is the more you offer a client, the better it is for revenues for your studio or showroom. You don’t need 100 clients, because you’re making as much or more from 50 clients.
TD: What’s ahead for you in your use of tile?
My ultimate dream is to have some kind of webcast or some type of TV show that focuses on tile, and focuses on the process. As an advertising girl, I’m into media. There are so many shows out there, but no one really understands our process, and how it evolves to the next step.
They show it done in an hour; it’s not done in an hour.
It’s an aspiration, something I aspire to. Tile is a labor of love.
I have no qualms about helping people with this talent I have, and my skills. I really believe in giving back. Tile fits my personality, because I’m a quirky gal. My work fits my personality.
Anna Marie Fanelli, co-owner
Floor & Décor, Tenafly, NJ
January 30th, 2012
As a child growing up in Scotland, Sheila A. Menzies was entertained by the stunning floral tiles that surrounded her grandmother’s best room fireplace.
Across the Atlantic in Rochester, New York, Joseph A. Taylor was spending an early childhood in front of a Tiffany tile fireplace at his family’s home.
Inspired by the beauty of tile at very early ages, it was only natural that Menzies and Taylor would join forces to create the Tile Heritage Foundation in Healdsburg, California in 1987. The foundation has since come to be seen as the singular authority on art tile heritage in the United States.
In the One-on-One interview that follows, Taylor and Menzies trace the evolution of their foundation, share their philosophy on the importance art tile preservation, divulge some secrets of their research methodology, and share insights about the future of their organization.
TileDealer: Why is tile preservation important?
Taylor: It’s kind of fundamental, because the tiles that the Tile Heritage Foundation focuses upon are a decorative art form. They would fall into the same category as any other decorative art. When installations of decorative art are part of public places, they become an integral part of the cultural fabric. People identify with this decorative art form on the buildings in their own cities and towns. So in a sense, it’s very definitely part of the cultural fabric, and that’s definitely worth preserving.
Even the glazed tiles that became part of storefront decoration after World War II, with glossy black, maroon, and diagonal patterns or a combination of patterns and designs to attract attention to the store, fall into the decorative art category. They are commercial tiles, produced primarily for their function, but become decorative art because of the design of their installation.
Menzies: A great deal of literature has been dedicated to art pottery, and tiles are no different, but are considered something of a step-child. That’s why we began exploring the questions of what they are, where they come from, and who made them. That’s why we started the Tile Heritage Foundation.
TD: How and when did you start the Tile Heritage Foundation?
Menzies: It was started in 1987 when we were returning from a winter trip. Joe had thought it would be a great idea to write a book about tile history in California, then broadening the book to cover the history of tile across the nation.
It became a larger and larger project. So we agreed, let’s start a non-profit. Let’s ingather, based on who has knowledge.
Taylor: We have a whole slew of taped interviews from those early days. Both Sheila and I interviewed many of the old-timers. I’d been involved with the McIntyre Tile Co. here in Healdsburg, and from my experience was increasingly aware of other companies making tiles. I also met other people who comprised the older generation. So even before the foundation started, I was interviewing people, and many people told me, ‘If there’s anything else I can do, please let me know.’ We felt we had established a base of interest for an organization. We stopped in a bookstore and purchased Anthony Mancuso’s book titled How to Start a Non-profit. Six months later, in July 1987, we got our status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization through the federal government and State of California.
TD: What skills did you bring from the start to the operation?
Taylor: I had worked at a tile company from 1973 to 1985, so I had tile in my blood. Twelve years got me oriented in the tile world, in charge of sales and marketing for what was basically a small company where we not only made our tiles by hand but also made all the machinery we used to make the tiles. My college degree was in English, and I taught in the Peace Corps, and I had taught remedial English at UCLA, and in order to get the message out for the Tile Heritage Foundation, we started with a quarterly newsletter, ‘Flash Point.’
Those skills came in handy. And my family is very artistic, I have two sisters who are professional artists. My mother was an artist, and my dad was active in nonprofit organizations. It was all right there.
Menzies: One of the things that’s always been very important is that Joe and I are kind of a meld. He is a detail person and I’m a big picture person. My background is in art, but not in ceramics. I have a lot of very practical skills, and also write very well. We were on the same page. I grew up in Scotland, surrounded by tiles. My whole focus was easily directed into another kind of artistic and creative outlet. The nuts and bolts of what we do, whether answering questions, researching, archiving or publishing, we have those abilities.
There’s a lot of crossover of skills, and we bring different attributes to the table.
TD: How do you identify tile worth preserving?
Taylor: The installations we deal with aren’t always public. In fact, more than half the time, when we get an inquiry, it’s regarding a private home. Someone wants to identify the tiles on the fireplace. We will get a call in which someone describes their fireplace, and we say that’s like doing a root canal over the phone. You need a picture. Digital photography has made this whole arena so simple for us. Not a week goes by without us responding to someone wanting to know about the tile in their home. Compared to 25 years ago, we now have direct access to all kinds of books on historic tile, and many tile catalogs from manufacturing companies and tile studios operating during the last 150 years. So we have the resources to research what’s found in the home.
Out in the public arena, it’s a different story, because normally the Tile Heritage Foundation is contacted when an installation somewhere in the U.S. is being threatened with demolition. We’re called upon by concerned community members to identify and authenticate an installation in its setting. That’s where our knowledge and writing skills come in, because we’re writing to an architect, a school board, or a government agency to provide our opinion as to the historic importance of the installation. In the case of some installations we’ve been involved in saving, we’re not out there on the front lines. We’re just the information providers. It’s the community citizens who have gotten together and decided they have to find out what this is. When they find out from us that it has significance, they go to bat for these tile installations themselves.
For instance, there were architects who used decorative tiles in fireplaces installed in schools to provide an environment to teach kids how to read. This phenomenon was particularly seen in kindergartens built in the 1910s and ‘20s.
Menzies: Fireplace tiles in schools were used to help teach children how to read. Not only did the artwork on the tile often reflect a nursery rhyme, but the teacher would sit before the fireplace because it was a home-like environment.
Many county courthouses went up across this country in the 18th and 19th centuries where encaustic tiles were used on the floors. Encaustic or geometric tiles are colored clay tiles cut in shapes that make up larger designs. Instead of having a glaze on the top of them, the entire body of the tile was made up of one color of clay creating a very enduring product. However, after 100 years of wear, you do see an impact on that floor.
Many municipalities try to find out where that original tile was made and if it’s available for replacement purposes. That’s an important thing to document. And that information makes a restoration more possible.
PT: What kind of research is involved?
Taylor: In many cases, the Tile Heritage Foundation, meaning either Sheila or myself, have been collaborators in writing tile books that are out there. Or we’ve provided our editorial skills.
What’s important here is that over these 25 years, one of the principal things that Tile Heritage has done is serve as a receptacle for information about the output of companies producing tile over the last 150 years. We estimate we have between 30,000 and 40,000 individual documents about the manufacture of specific tiles.
Menzies: Today, companies and studios sending us new material for the archives will provide sell sheets and other current advertising. We also receive weblinks and digital images of current products and installations. We have over 35,000 images of tiles and installations that have now been digitized, many from slide originals taken by us. It’s a huge body of work available as a resource.
TD: Do you document what you’ve found? If so, how?
Taylor: If you walk into the Tile Heritage Library, which is open to the public by appointment, you find file cabinets and the file drawers are manila folders representing the materials we have on different companies. The files are alphabetized, from A to Z, on all companies producing tiles in the United States, from the middle of the 19th Century on. In addition to these files, we have information on contemporary tile makers organized in the same way. .
Menzies: The information represented in these physical resources will eventually be accessible via a digital card catalog system. Ultimately our files will be able to be researched that way on line. This is one of the priorities we anticipate getting under way soon. We’ve embarked on that with all of our photography, transforming it digitally and documenting the sources.
Currently our ephemeral materials are in physical files; they will remain that way but will be enhanced, kept alive for use with a finding aid or digital card catalog online at our website that would be used to find specific articles, for instance, on a specific tile.
TD: Do you have inquiries/requests from other preservationists?
Taylor: Yes, both in terms of the public installations about which we are approached by people concerned about preserving those installations, and also by private individuals wanting the installations in their homes identified. Preservationists want information on installations in their own communities. They’re concerned about preserving what they have. But they first want to know if it’s worth expending time, energy and money to preserve.
We say no it’s not, or yes it is, and then back up our position with information. There are a handful of very skilled people around the country who are able to remove tiles without breaking them, when preserving the tile is required before a building in which the tile is installed is demolished.
Menzies: What shouldn’t be forgotten is the role of the tile dealer in all this. Dealers will call us because someone has come to them and said ‘I have a really beautiful installation in my home built in the 1920s. I need to have my bathroom tile matched, because I need new piping behind the existing tile installation and part of it has to be removed.’ They don’t know what to do next.
Taylor: What we can do is simply steer the dealers to sources where old tiles are stockpiled for sale, and there are a number of these places around the U.S. We can also direct their attention to contemporary tile makers who are able to skillfully replicate historic art tile.
TD: How’ve you spread the word about the Tile Heritage Foundation?
Taylor: When the foundation first started, we published a newsletter called Flash Point was printed and mailed out quarterly for 15 years: it varied in length from 8 to 16 pages. In the early 1990s, we launched Tile Heritage: A Review of American Tile History. We still sell back issues of these magazines. Today, our comparable publication “E-News” is available online. Starting in 1991, we presented an annual tile symposium that we presented in different cities around the U.S., which were three- to five-day events. We had lectures on historic and contemporary tiles, tours of the city’s tile installations, tile-making workshops, and a sale of art tiles. We did this for 13 years, and it really got to the point where it was too much work, and the community that the events were designed to serve did not fully utilize them.
Menzies: As the web developed over the last 20 years, the way people connected with information changed dramatically. Fewer and fewer people wanted to gather in one place to take part in such symposiums.
Taylor: At Coverings, in the early days, art tiles were presented haphazardly on the convention floor. But the organizers have now highlighted art tile in the American area of Coverings. This is where people gravitate because of the art. It’s a marvelous aspect and really speaks very well of the support of the various tile organizations representing the United States at this international event. This annual convention has had a direct, positive effect on communications within the tile industry. Artists and others know they can go to Coverings, talk to other artists, and experience tile artistry firsthand.
Menzies: This is another place where dealers come into play. We have many dealers who are members of the Tile Heritage Foundation. One of the things they do that helps promote the foundation is display our attractive brochure or a sign that says they are a member of the foundation. They can assist in promoting what the foundation is about.
Tiles being made anywhere today are historic tomorrow. The dealers have catalogs and samples from multiple tile makers. In fact, dealers are archivists — they just don’t realize they are.
TD: Has the foundation developed as expected, or has it morphed a bit with time?
Menzies: The mission of Tile Heritage has not changed.
Our mission going forward has always been the same, preserving, protecting and documenting tiles and other ceramic surfacing materials. Technology has actually enhanced our ability to do that.
Taylor: Technology has greatly assisted communication. People throughout the U.S. have this organization, the Tile Heritage Foundation. They can contact us by sitting down at their computer or contacting us on their iPad.
Menzies: If people don’t know of a particular tile maker, we have a printed directory soon to be available as a PDF online, and we also have resources right on our website, the Member Tile Gallery, with thumbnails taking you to all these members‘ websites. It’s a super resource for dealers, architects and designers. See http://www.tileheritage.org.
TD: What are some of the interesting tile preservation projects you’ve been involved in?
Taylor: Within the last two years, we have been directly involved in saving two historic mantels in elementary schools, one in Royal Oak, Michigan, and the other in Cranford, New Jersey. Both fireplaces were adorned with Flint Faience tiles from the 1920s, both slated to go down with the buildings. In both cases we were contacted by community members, former alumni, who were concerned—desperate is a better term—that “their” tiles were going to be destroyed when their school buildings were demolished. We were able to supply the proper documentation authenticating the historic importance of the tiles and recommend a tile contractor with the expertise necessary to remove the tiles without damage. In Royal Oak the tiles were reinstalled in a new school; in Cranford the tiles are waiting for a new home.
Menzies: Similarly, when the old East High in Erie, Pennsylvania was on the block for demolition, a team recommended by Tile Heritage successfully removed the American Encaustic tile panels from twelve water fountains on the walls of the old school, and these were ultimately reinstalled as a permanent display in the corridors of the new East High School in Erie, not as water fountains but as decorative tile art.
TD: Do you sense tile preservation is gaining more support?
Menzies: In America, it used to be ‘tear it to the ground and ask questions later.’ Now there’s much more awareness and sensitivity.
In communities like Los Angeles, for example, you can’t destroy a building if it has an art element on it, and that may actually be true of buildings without art on them. You may not raze that building without special permits.
Taylor: I’m sure you’re familiar with the Antiques Road Show. Never is a show aired without a piece of pottery or an artistic tile being appraised, because people want to know what those art items are worth. It shows that people in the United States are becoming increasingly conscious of their art history.
It has to do with our age, not our personal age but the age of our country. I think citizens of the United States are getting more and more into the idea that their country’s history is important, and that’s where the Tile Heritage Foundation becomes important to them, in assisting the validation of that history.
TD: Where do you see the Tile Heritage Foundation going next?
Taylor: In addition to the information we have talked about, we also have a collection of tiles donated to the foundation over the last 25 years. These are historic artifacts that date back 125 years. Our intention is to get these in a virtual museum-like setting.
Menzies: These tiles are already photographed; it’s a matter of setting up a portion of our website so those tile images are available. Tile Heritage is not a museum, but we will create one virtually. Getting the tiles in the collections in the public eye is an important thing. And that’s definitely in the works.
Taylor: It will feel like walking into a gallery with art tile on display.
TD: Any final thoughts?
Menzies: None of what we do would be possible without support, and it’s important that the TileDealer readership support Tile Heritage. For more information see http://www.tileheritage.org.
Joseph Taylor, Sheila Menzies, co-founders
Tile Heritage Foundation, Healdsburg, CA
November 1st, 2011
Looking behind the launch of Primo Tools.
When we report Rich Maggio has literally spent almost an entire lifetime in the tile tool field, it’s no exaggeration. As he likes to say, tools are in his blood.
The Maggio tool-making lineage had its genesis near the end of World War II, when his grandfather launched Superior Featherweight Tool Company in Los Angeles. As a student, Rich worked in the factory, sweeping floors and packaging product. After graduation, he handled sales and later traveled extensively to source products in Asia.
Together with other family members, Maggio helped build Superior Featherweight into one of the most recognizable and respected tool manufacturers in the tile, masonry, cement and drywall industries. In 1999 when market conditions were favorable, the family-owned business was sold to Custom Building Products. Initially, Maggio spent a few years working for CBP, assisting in the transition and learning how the tile tool business is conducted in larger organizations.
But Maggio’s heart wasn’t in the corporate world, it was in entrepreneurial ventures. He left CBP and headed out on his own, working with his one-time trading partner in China to build a new company from the ground up offering tools built to his own exacting specifications. For the last nine years, he has worked as an OEM supplier to many domestic tool suppliers.
“It became clear to me that many of the tool suppliers, particularly in the tile industry, were simply doing things the same way they have been done for years, with very little innovation,” Maggio has written. “The only significant change is that tile tools are becoming cheaper . . . in many cases, both in terms of price and quality. I saw that as an opportunity to truly differentiate my tools.”
Maggio teamed up with Rick Baldini, another veteran of the tile and stone industry, who knew tile industry distributors, and knew how to grow the company. Because both are Italian, they chose the name Primo Tools, to denote the number one slot they hope to someday occupy.
They decided to keep the private label operation, but branch out under the Primo Tool name, giving distributors the option of offering their own branded tools, Primo Tools, or both.
Recognizing changing old buying habits can be a challenge, Maggio and Baldini developed a merchandising system to help launch Primo Tools. With the help of Atlanta-based merchandising specialist Retail One, Primo Tools created the “Innovation Station” display system, which puts actual working products, such as Primo Tools’ new Bucket Brush and WringMaster tools on display.
In September, Rich Maggio sat down with TileDealer to discuss his new initiative.
Tiledealer: Why did you believe the tile and stone industry was in need of another tool company?
I really gave it a lot of thought before I decided to start Primo Tool Company. I did it for two primary reasons. First, I believe there is a huge opportunity in today’s marketplace to do something innovative and different with tools, and second, I can’t help myself, tools are in my blood.
Tiledealer: How do Chinese-made tools compare to American made?
For the most part, Chinese tools are substantially different than American made tools. But our product is the exception.
We manufactured tools for 60 years, so when I went to China to have tools made, I didn’t go in with the idea of ordering tools they were already making. I went in with the specs I wanted for the specific tool, and they made it to my specs. So our Chinese made tools are of at least the same quality as our American-made tools, because they’re made to our specifications.
Tiledealer: How are you countering the perception that imports are not always the same quality?
We’ve overcome the perception by telling our story, and by giving our customers and their customers samples of our tools so they can see firsthand the quality, and compare it to tools they‘re used to buying in the United States.
Tiledealer: How are you managing the manufacturing process there?
Besides traveling over there several times a year, I have an office in Taiwan with English-speaking employees who spend weeks in the factories monitoring the quality of the manufacturing. I have spent almost 20 years working with these Chinese representatives, and when I’m not there, they have the ability to monitor the quality themselves.
They are veterans of the tool business for decades, and I’ve trained them myself to understand the difference between an ordinary and a quality tool.
Tiledealer: Can you walk us through the product launch process?
The “official” kickoff will take place November 1. We are already selling some of the new products like Bucket Brush and Wringmaster in select areas. In the initial launch, we will have more than 100 new products available. To get them in the marketplace, we have a network of independent sales reps that will be calling on the wholesale and tile distributors.
In conjunction with our sales reps, we will be attending the contractor events put on regularly at our distributors’ facilities. We will continue to exhibit at industry shows like Coverings and Total Solution Plus. And we will be giving samples out for the contractors to use and test. This effort will be supported by extensive advertising.
Another key component will be our packaging and the way we are simplifying the tool selection process, specifically in the price-quality relationship. We know that the marketplace wants tools in varying performance levels — typically good, better and best. So we have assigned our Primo P1 to the “best” quality, P2 to the “better” quality and P3 to the “good” quality.
The majority of our products are P1 “best,” but there are offerings of P2 “better” and P3 “good” quality to meet market demands. We think the result is an attractive, effective and innovative package, especially for the tool industry. This packaging makes it easy for the contractors and distributor counter sales people to identify the relationship between price and quality.
We will continue to offer a private-label tile tool program for the larger distributors that recognize the value of having their company names on quality tools. We have put a fair amount of effort into our website, www.primo-tools.com, to help tell our story, especially [by means of] the product videos.
We still have a lot of work to do, but we are already getting people contacting [Primo Tools] to find out where they can buy products like Wringmaster and Bucket Brush.
Tiledealer: Where has it been smooth, and where has it been rough?
Great question. It has been smooth getting input from distributor and contractor “friends” on things like product offerings, packaging layout and display design. Having been in the industry so long, we know a lot of very smart, helpful people willing to take the time to give us constructive feedback.
It’s been rough in the length of time it takes to get it all done. Sort of like the old adage when you start something new, you take your original estimate of time and expense, and double it. It has not been quite that bad, but pretty close.
Tiledealer: What would you do differently next time?
There are always things you can do differently. But I’m pretty happy with how things are turning out, though I wish it could have happened faster.
I’ve been fortunate to have the background of a family business that has been sustained for 60 years. I grew up in the business, working in the shop floor sweeping and packaging at the age of 13. By the time I was out of school, I started selling to customers, and grew that in the late 1980s into traveling overseas and starting to source products in Asia. I’ve had 25-plus years to really build that side of the business. So deep down, I knew it would take as long as it did. But I guess I just did not want to admit it to myself.
Tiledealer: How big is the marketplace for tools?
There are various estimates of its size. A couple of issues make it difficult to arrive at an accurate number. Unlike some other industries, we do not have an independent agency [to which] all manufacturers confidentially report their sales, so an aggregate number is available.
And second, there are really several different channels to market for tile tools: home centers, online sales and wholesale distribution.
At Primo Tools, we are only focusing on the wholesale distribution. So if we can get the same share wholesale distribution we had with Superior Featherweight, I will be very happy.
Tiledealer: How expendable are tools?
It depends on the tool. For the most part, contractors are looking for tools that will last them a long time. They’re not looking for tools that will wear out easily or fall apart. They’re willing to spend a little more for a tool that will last and ours will do that.
I would say the true contractors are looking for quality more than ever. They want to stretch their dollar farther than they did before.
But your question speaks directly to our rationale for developing the “good, better and best” product offering
Tiledealer: Can you give a few examples of your line?
Our tagline is “Innovative Tools, Professional Results.” Because of my history in this industry, I’ve had contractors on a regular basis contact me with ideas they’ve come up with for “better mousetraps.” I’ve helped them develop, manufacture, and market those tools. That’s a point of differentiation for our company versus others.
One example is our Bucket Brush. The product was invented by Grant Jones, a successful Californie tile and stone contractor, who wanted a faster and better way to clean mixing buckets. This product will truly revolutionize bucket cleaning. With just a few inches of water and a variable speed drill, the Bucket Brush eliminates the tedious and time-consuming hand-cleaning process.
WringMaster is another innovative product developed to make cleanup of newly installed grout faster and easier. Steve Putnik, an Australian stone installer, is the inventor. He came up with a fast and efficient system to rinse and clean grout sponge floats. While there are mop-and-bucket grout cleanup systems on the market, there is nothing like Wringmaster.
The wringing system attaches to virtually any three-gallon or five-gallon bucket with a few twists of the handles. That’s one of the Wringmaster differences. Contractors can line up several buckets with clean rinse water and simply transfer the wringing system to another bucket when the water gets dirty. This saves a tremendous amount of time. The other really cool thing is that the opposing rollers get the sponges much cleaner and drier than other roller systems, and much, much drier than does hand wringing.
Tiledealer: In today’s economy, is the tool marketplace faring any better than tile or than other tools?
That question I really can’t answer.
But with tile tools, even if it is not necessarily a good idea, a contractor can possibly “stretch” the use of a worn tool until he replaces it. So in today’s difficult economy, I would say, overall, tools may be doing a little worse than tile. That said, I believe the tile tool marketplace is healthier than the market for other construction-oriented tools. I believe 100 percent that right now there is a greater market for rehabbing and remodeling than there is for new construction, and that the rehab and remodeling market is growing.
Tiledealer: So you have already rolled out the private-labeled idea to customers?
Yes, we have. We started going to some of the larger distributors in the U.S. that we’ve known for years, and talked to them about a tile tool program.
Tiledealer: How has it been received?
That’s been fairly well received. With the flexibility we have in our factory, we can produce tile tools with the distributors’ logos either molded into the soft grip handles of the trowels and floats, or the logos can simply be on packaging and labeling. That’s how we started. There was something of a test of the concept before we rolled out with our own line of Primo Tools.
Tiledealer: Are there other private-label related products in the marketplace?
There are not other private-label companies doing it the way we do it, at least to the best of my knowledge.
Tiledealer: Where would you like Primo Tools to be in five years?
Well, as stated in our name Primo, we would like to be in the number one position in the wholesale distribution channel. And I would base that on both tool sales volume and reputation.
Relationships in the industry are very important, and both my partner and I value and enjoy the relationships we have developed over the years. So five years from now, I would expect to see us working hard, being very successful and having fun working with our distributor and contractor friends. ###
Rich Maggio, co-founder with
Primo Tools, Rancho Santa Fe, CA
September 1st, 2011
For more than half a century, Florida Tile has built a well earned reputation as one of the tile industry’s most consistent trailblazers. The company has pioneered new technological innovations, steadily worked to enhance quality and taken the lead in striving to protect both indoor and outdoor environments. Five years ago, Florida Tile was purchased by Panariagroup, a leading Italian tile maker comprised of eight brands manufactured in three countries, and with products distributed to more than 100 countries worldwide. The purchase by Panariagroup has given Florida Tile enormous technological strengths, which the company has leveraged to turn out some of the best digital printing in the industry. One of the company’s porcelain products, for instance, looks more like slate than the real thing, and some say actually installs and wears better as well.
Panariagroup’s partnership and multimillion dollar investment in Florida Tile also enabled the latter’s manufacture of large-format throughbody porcelain tile at what is one of only three such manufacturing facilities in the United States. These developments are consistent with Florida Tile’s mission, “to become the most recognized and valuable domestic brand in the mid to high-end segment of the tile and stone market, [and] to recognize the needs of the market and offer the best products and value for every category and every channel.” Recently, TileDealer requested and received permission to interview Florida Tile’s director of marketing Sean G. Cilona, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company’s marketing department, and whose responsibilities include product development, promotions, advertising and merchandising, among others. Following his arrival at Florida Tile in February 2009 following a successful stint as marketing manager at Roca Tile Group in Miami, Mr. Cilona quickly went to work on a variety of Florida Tile initiatives. Last year, he orchestrated the re-branding of the company and its massive product launch at Coverings in Orlando. He has since carried the re-branding through an updated logo design and a brand new website. In this exchange Cilona weighs in on a number of issues of interest to TileDealer readers. He reveals what he believes to be the keys to Florida Tile’s success, and sheds light on the company’s decision to continue innovating through the recession, when many competitors avoided R & D. He discusses the advantages that flow from Florida Tile’s strategic location in Lexington, Ky. And finally, he dons his prognosticator’s cap to talk about the technological changes he believes will impact the tile industry in the next five to 10 years.
TileDealer: To what do you credit the success of Florida Tile – design or technology?
I think that over the last few years, Florida Tile has emerged as a leader in design. From large format floor and wall, to metal, natural stone and glass tile, we are producing the products that designers both residentially and commercially are looking for. Technology does play a big part in this, especially with the digital printing process, but without good design knowledge and a style that people can appreciate, all the technology in the world won’t help an ugly product.
TileDealer: How does Florida Tile so successfully marry the two?
As a product developer, I try to keep my eyes open to all industries to draw on what is popular and what is emerging for the future. Very often trends in color and design are influenced from the most random places. We have a great network of salespeople that let us know what is going on in the market, and we try to listen to their needs. We combine this with a strong parent company that believes in our ability and our future, and continues to invest in new technology.
TileDealer: Florida Tile continued to innovate through the recession; others didn’t. How and why?
The only way to stay relevant is to continue to be in front of people. Some companies choose to do that through gimmicks, we chose to do it through our products. It was a strategic decision that was made before the recession hit and luckily we are able to continue through the tough times and it seems to be paying off for us. I think that other companies just don’t have the resources that we do, or the willingness to believe in their organization and their people. Good people and good products are always rewarded.
TileDealer: Who are Florida Tile’s biggest competitors in the marketplace?
At this point we have to compete with other domestic manufacturers that target the mid- to high-end segment of the market. This is who we are and that is still our goal, to be the most respected and valued brand in the market. There are always the importers that we have to deal with, both in the low end and higher end of the market. But we feel that we can offer something that is better quality at an affordable price and it is made here in the USA.
TileDealer: Florida Tile is paradoxically headquartered in Kentucky. What strategic benefits flow to Florida Tile from its Lexington location?
The most important is the proximity to our manufacturing facility, which is only a few miles from our corporate headquarters. That move was made in 2010 to improve logistics, communication and synergies between departments. We don’t really get hung up on the name, although we do get a lot of laughs. In any case, a Midwestern manufacturing and distribution center is ideally located to the most densely populated metropolitan areas of the country.
TileDealer: Where do you see technology, the marketplace and tile design headed in the next five years?
I think the industry is going to be heavily reliant on digital printing. As more manufacturers are incorporating the technology, the benefits are going to be more widely seen and images are going to be consistently improved. This process combined with other applications is something that we are already doing, but as digital printing evolves, this is where the design is going to head. As far as the market, it is hard to tell, but we’re seeing a strong growth in our commercial business as we introduce more products targeted at that segment. I believe that once the credit loosens up, we will start to see smaller projects and firms get back on track and hopefully an improvement to the residential market.
TileDealer: What benefits does Florida Tile enjoy by participating in CTDA’s fall event, Total Solutions Plus?
This is a great event for us to get together with our distributors and contractor partners to discuss what is going on in the industry, talk about products and hopefully network to develop some new relationships. Overall, it is a terrific event that we look forward to every year.
TileDealer: What’s ahead for you and Florida Tile?
Florida Tile is still developing and introducing new products to meet the needs of the market and define the trends that will carry out through the industry. We are investing in new equipment and people to allow the company to grow in the direction that we dictate—not that current economic conditions dictate. We are focused on being contemporary, but trying to stay consistent with the values and the fundamental elements that have kept us one of the top domestic manufacturers for the last 50 years.
SOURCE: Sean G. Cilona, director of marketing Florida Tile, Lexington, KY 859-219-5213
July 1st, 2011
Custom Building Products, the 50-year-old Los Angeles based maker of ceramic tile installation products, continually seeks ways to reduce its environmental impact. Director of Technical Marketing Steve Taylor reports that with the introduction of the company’s Emerald System, Custom Building Products has taken action to not only make green compliance simpler, but to move forward on CO2 emission reduction. The Emerald System takes Custom Building Products’ longstanding Build Green program to the next level, Taylor says. All Emerald System products comply with green building agency standards, and all boast recycled material content and low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content. Because they are engineered to minimize their energy footprint, they also comply with major green building initiatives: American National Standards Institute (ANSI), California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Environmental consciousness is nothing new for Custom. Being a SoCal-based company has been an advantage, Taylor says. In the 1960s, California took note of pollution and began regulating VOC compounds. Custom grew up at the same time that these and other regulations were being implemented, helping make it an early adopter of an environmentallyaware philosophy, he adds. For almost a decade, Custom has used pre- and post-consumer recycled materials in its tile and stone installation product manufacturing processes. No fewer than 100 of the company’s building products help contribute to LEED Certification in at least one of several categories. Recently, Taylor talked with TileDealer about the company’s green building philosophy and how Custom Building Products develops new products. Taylor also addresses how the company undertook its intriguing new initiative involving carbon offset credits, and the ways in which it intends to extend and Director of Technical Marketing Steve Taylor reports that with the introduction of the company’s Emerald System, Custom Building Products has taken action to not only make green compliance simpler, but to move forward on CO2 emission reduction. refine its lines of surface preparation, bonding and grouting products.
TileDealer: Please discuss your green building products.
Nearly all of Custom’s products are considered green and qualify for LEED in one of four categories: regional materials, recycled content, low VOC adhesive, low VOC coatings. Some of the better known products include PolyBlend Grout, VersaBond Thinset mortar and LevelQuick self-leveling underlayment, extensively utilized by tile installers.
TD: What is Custom’s green building philosophy.
Being a California-based company, we have always been concerned with the environment. Southern California has always had one of the strictest VOC and emission standards. Custom is concerned with the environment and strives to supply the industry with safe, non-polluting products. We established 11 manufacturing sites across North America to reduce transportation and natural resources consumption. All our facilities are conscious of waste, and employees there do everything they can to reduce energy consumption and the generation of waste to landfills. Dust and water from our processes are recycled back into the process. For the most part, all of this is done on our own. For instance, there are no regulations requiring us to be close to our customers and suppliers. These are things we decided to do on our own to eliminate waste and cost.
TD: How is Custom Building Products developing new products for that market?
At Custom, we all work together to develop new products. Teams with personnel from marketing, R&D and sales evaluate the needs of our customers and formulate plans to fill these needs with new products. Our R&D staff of 40 people works on developing and thoroughly testing these new products to assure successful launch.
TD: What new products are in the pipeline?
Our most recent introductions are our CEG-Lite epoxy grout, an easy to use product that contains recycled content and is part of the Emerald System. We also introduced SpiderWeb uncoupling mat. The Tile Council of North America recognizes that there are some instances that require the use of an uncoupling membrane. We recognized there was a hole in our product offering. The result is SpiderWeb. There are situations in which floors can’t be installed without using an uncoupling mat, which basically uncouples the tile installation from the sub-floor, so if there’s movement in the sub-floor, it doesn’t crack the tile. For a tile installation, concrete normally requires 28 days to cure before tile can be laid. SpiderWeb allows the tile to be set in as little as three days.
TD: How do you anticipate this category will evolve over the future?
Tile and stone are very desirable decorative covering materials. We believe the demand will continue to grow and we will see new products. Many of the newest tile products have also incorporated a green focus and sustainability. Ultra thin tile is an example. This tile is only three mm thick and requires less energy to produce and transport. New tiles like this require new installation products and methods. We plan to make sure that as new tile products are developed, there will be an installation method for them.
TD: You just took on an interesting initiative with carbon offset credits. Can you explain the Emerald System products?
There is so much confusion around green standards — LEED, IgCC (pending), CalGreen, GreenSquared (pending) — that we decided to take the confusion out. We’re watching these standards being developed and want to make sure we have products in place once the standards are approved. We identified products that will qualify for any of these standards and guaranteed that using Emerald System Products will meet the standard and qualify as green. We also wanted to take this one step further and offer carbon offset credits for installations that use a full line of green products. Right now, the Emerald System covers all phases: preparing the surface, setting or bonding tile to the floor, and grouting products.
TD: What made you pursue this tactic?
We wanted to offer more than the traditional recycled content and low VOC in the Emerald System. We have local manufacturing and use regional raw materials. So what else can we do? Many of our products contain Portland cement. Portland cement is the largest producer of greenhouse gases, outside of electrical energy production and transportation. We cannot eliminate use of Portland cement, but we could offset the greenhouse gases emitted during its manufacture. This is one more step to reducing worldwide pollution. In the rest of the world it’s not a choice, it’s a mandate to reduce greenhouse gases. What an offset credit says is if there’s nothing we can do to reduce the greenhouse gases in the manufacturing of our product or the raw materials we use, we can help reduce emissions of greenhouses gases elsewhere, i.e., building a windmill that’s producing electricity, which shuts down a coal-fired energy producer.
TD: How has it been received?
Many of our customers like the idea of reducing greenhouse gases. They see this as a positive attribute for the products. Since this is targeted to large commercial projects, time will tell the value. We’re sort of monitoring the whole thing. We’ve reached out to our field representatives who call on the architects. The trouble is that when an architect designs a building, there’s a year delay between that and the time it gets built, so they wouldn’t recommend any materials until a year later. So we would not see any transactions until then.
TD: Do you anticipate doing this in the manufacture of other setting materials?
There have been discussions concerning the addition of other tile installation products to the Emerald System. As we see the need, we will offer carbon offset credits with more products.
TD: If developers are using these carbon credits, what is their gain?
Developers using the full Emerald System of products, including grouts and mortars, for their tile installation will not only receive up to a lifetime warranty on the installation, they will receive a certifi cate showing the tons of CO2 greenhouse gas they removed from our atmosphere. This can be applied to LEED for credit under the innovation contribution. As more communities adopt Cap-and-Trade limitations for greenhouse gases, obtaining carbon offset credits will be an important step toward attaining the greenhouse gas reductions required.
TD: Your products comply with all major green building initiatives. How long has it taken the company to comply with all these?
We are involved with many of the committees developing the green standards. By constantly reviewing the drafts during the standards development, we can see that our formulas are modified as needed to meet proposed standards. It’s one of those evolving situations. We see things developing we need to address and respond quickly.
TD: Were you yourself always environmentally conscious, or did that develop over time?
I’ve been with Custom for 21 years, and in building materials for 35. I hate to admit it, but I’m a product of the 1960s. There were a lot of tree huggers back then, and I’ve always had an interest in the environment. Being so long in California, where Los Angeles had the worst pollution in the world in the 1960s, it was always, “How can we develop products with no VOCs and solvents?” We were always concerned with making solvent-based products water-based. I just kind of hit the ground running.
TD: What’s ahead for Custom Building Products?
We envision that we will be the green leaders for tile installation products. We will continue to refine and extend our lines of surface preparation, bonding and grouting products that meet the requirements of the green community. We will also position our cleaners and sealers as environmentally sustainable.
SOURCE: Steve Taylor, director of technical marketing Custom Building Products, Los Angeles email@example.com 562-296-9569
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 dot.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org