Over the last 25 years, Merola Tile (Merola) has steadily grown into one of the East Coast’s leading tile distributors. Now, through an exclusive relationship with the Home Depot, the New Jersey-based division of the distributor and wholesaler is going nationwide.
“In 2013, sales were up 30 percent over 2012 and so far, in 2014, they’re up more than 20 percent and we’re aiming for a $25 million year,” reveals John Merola, division president of the family-owned company. “We’re now competing against the big guys, including the five largest tile companies in the U.S. in this market.”
While Merola has exploded in recent years, the company hails from humble family roots in Brooklyn, N.Y. “My brother Kevin Merola, CEO of Merola, founded the company in his basement bedroom back in 1987 after working for a mom and pop tile store in Brooklyn,” recalls John. “Kevin and I are two of 11 children -five other brothers and four sisters.”
For a large family, the Merolas were a close one. “We had one bathroom and our motivation ever since is to make sure no one has to have to wait online to go to the bathroom,” jokes John.
A year after founding Merola, Kevin asked John to join him and the brothers have been running the show ever since and importing quality tile products from around the world. Merola originated in Brooklyn and the company still operates a division in the city selling wholesale to dealers, local tile stores and home centers.
Hitting a homerun with Home Depot
In 1999, Merola launched its Somerset division fittingly in Somerset, N.J., which was created to serve as a national distributor for Home Depot. “Over the years, we’ve evolved into two different companies,” explains John. “We were selling to mom-and-pop shops throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, but 15 years ago, we closed on our first Home Depot account and that sparked everything.”
“I was Merola’s top salesmen,” recounts John. “We started with one Home Depot store and that grew into 10 and before I knew it I was so busy I had to give up my sales accounts to focus directly on our relationship with Home Depot. It’s been a Cinderella story the whole time.”
Now from Somerset, Merola operates on a national level with Home Depot, shipping from New Jersey to Hawaii, Alaska to Guam with the help of 51 employees. “Our goal over the next year is to stock more products and hopefully start with Home Depot Canada, as well,” reveals John.
To meet the ever-expanding demand, Merola has ramped up its facilities. “Originally, we shared one building with Home Depot and slowly but surely that grew,” says John. “We have a 42,000-square-foot building in New Jersey and a 50,000-square-foot site in Brooklyn. This year, Kevin purchased an 117,000-square-foot plant in Long Island and we’re moving into well more than 107,000 square feet in New Jersey, as well. We’re effectively doubling and even tripling our square footage.”
John says one aspect that has bolstered the move-up is the development of Merola’s online presence via HomeDepot.com. “Five years ago, all the sales were in store, but now HomeDepot.com is a growing part of our business and we’ve experienced great online success,” he notes.
Anything but mainstream
Merola competes with big-name industry players by avoiding mainstream products and going for more specialty, imported items. In 2008, Merola’s Somerset division added the SomerTile line of products, which is currently available via wholesale to specialty stores. “We don’t go after 80 percent of the product mix, instead we go after that other 20 percent and we import the stuff no one else is importing,” explains John. “We have a very eclectic, international mix. Our job is to bring in the product for the customer that’s walking out the door of a large competitor’s house because they wanted something unique and completely different.”
John says some of the most popular of Merola’s products are retro-inspired throw-backs. “Stuff that’s out of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s movement is making a huge return,” he reveals. “Our Lantern porcelain mosaic tiles have been very popular as well as the Penny porcelain and shell tiles. We’re enjoying huge success with these products.”
As for any company growing at a rapid rate such as Merola, John says the process hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. “There are always challenges when you’re moving at this pace,” he shares. “There were points over the last 25 years where we’ve had some really tough times and we’ve had some really great times.”
“A few years ago, one of our large customers went out of business,” recounts John. “It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to recover from that. Kevin, myself and some other managers cut our incomes to practically nothing to get through, but we did and learned from it. We’re still making mistakes but the important thing is that we keep gaining wisdom.”
But no matter how large Merola gets to be, John says it all comes back to improving homes and improving lives. “That’s where our dedication is, not just to our customers, but to our staff and ensuring that any experience they have with us is a positive one,” he says. “They need the chance to earn a fair income, work with great people and gain the experience and skills to make them a better person.”
“Improving homes, improving lives,” that’s been the company’s motto and continues to be as Merola Tile strives for unprecedented success.
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