Joe MacIsaac may be president and CEO of a company, but he thinks of himself, and those he works with, as curators.
His team at Stone Source includes product design, development and procurement professionals who visit porcelain tile manufacturers and natural stone quarries in search of high quality materials for architects and designers.
In doing so, the company’s leaders must balance two goals: first, Stone Source must find the best porcelain tile designs and the best selection in natural stone. Second, it must ensure its suppliers have the scale, skill and customer service to consistently deliver those tiles and stones.
Controlling the product
To find great designs and quality stones, MacIsaac and his team do a lot of travelling. Specifically, they often visit Italy, which he says leads innovation in porcelain tile design, including the design of the machinery that creates the tiles.
During each trip, the team learns the latest in state-of-the-art machinery and techniques. This technology allows for durable products with intricate detail, and new thicknesses and sizes. Manufacturers can now create realistic porcelain replicas of materials like stone, concrete or wood, which have become a trend in architecture and design. They can also create porcelain tile as thin as three millimeters and up to 10 feet in length.
MacIsaac and his product development and procurement teams attend global trade shows in Italy, Turkey, Brazil, China and the U.S. In anticipation of their two annual product launches, they’ll view thousands of products, choose hundreds for an internal and client review, then narrow the selection to the best 16 collections.
This painstaking process has earned Stone Source a reputation for quality and attention to detail.
“Most architects and designers don’t know the lengths we go to to bring them a curated selection of materials, but once we share our product development process with them, they fully appreciate how hard it is to be good,” MacIsaac says.
From the ground to the showroom
With natural stones like marble, limestone, onyx and quartzite, MacIsaac says finding a quality material is even harder because stones aren’t produced in a factory. Stone Source must work with relatively small companies that quarry the material and cut it into a block, as well as stone processing companies that cut the block and polish or hone the slabs.
MacIsaac says imperfections can show up at any point in the process. Minimizing these risks involves both working closely with quarries, as well as educating clients.
MacIsaac says there is risk of finding hidden imperfections every single time a stone is purchased. Therefore, Stone Source employs five full time stone inspectors who select the best stones from quarries: two in Italy, one in Greece, one in Turkey and one in China.
“Our suppliers understand our standards, so they reserve their best quality, grade and selection for us,” says MacIsaac.
MacIsaac notes that all stones have natural imperfections, or, as he puts it, they are “perfectly imperfect.” Clients don’t mind these imperfections as long as they know what to expect. “Our job is to make sure that our clients are well-informed about the materials they will be receiving. Our entire team goes to great lengths to provide this education and our marketing efforts strongly support this education, as well,” he says.
Controlling the service
In cases where quality control is complex, customer service is even more important. To both get and provide better service, MacIsaac and his team meet with potential partners over dinner to develop rapport and build trust.
Giulianna Ricci, the brand director of Mutina, an Italian tile company that has worked with Stone Source since 2006, describes her company’s relationship with Stone Source as a “love affair.” She says Mutina has had “outstanding results” promoting its tiles in the U.S., and adds, “that this is only possible by working with people who understand us on a personal level.”
In other cases, building rapport means helping partners form relationships with each other. MacIsaac and his team went to Italy and took the owners of a quarry and the owners of a stone and tile processing company out to dinner. By bringing the two companies together, MacIsaac ensured that the quarry owner (who typically quarries blocks and provides only slabs) and the processor (who typically takes blocks and provides only tile), could work together to quarry a selection of stone, cut it into blocks, and then process them into both slabs and tiles. This lets Stone Source offer larger pieces for counters and panels, as well as smaller, matching tiles.
“I like to call it personalized supply chain management,” he says.
The relationship has not only been fruitful for Stone Source, it has created a “budding partnership” for the Italian companies as well.
Strong relationships aren’t just important on the supply side. MacIsaac says the company must also anticipate the needs of the architects, designers and contractors who specify and install Stone Source products.
Promptly returning phone calls, expediting samples and giving accurate, quick proposals, quotes and invoices are all ways the company builds trust with architects, designers and contractors. The company supports the contractors who purchase its products by stocking materials where necessary and managing the procurement and logistics of non-stock orders.
“If everybody likes a stone or tile, but you can’t get it to them on time or within their budget – why bother?” he says.
Original designs and new customers
Recently, Stone Source expanded by purchasing two stone and tile companies in Nashville, Tennessee and East Hampton, New York. Additionally, it opened showrooms in Houston and Dallas, Texas, bringing the company’s showroom total to 10 nationwide, with four distribution centers throughout the U.S.
Stone Source now employs the founder of recently-acquired Mission Stone & Tile as its director of residential design and procurement. She recently developed an original collection for the residential and hospitality markets.
Creating the collection involved putting her designs through a rigorous development process that included design review sessions with the company’s product development team and sales team, and test marketing sessions with architecture and design professionals in Los Angeles and New York.
Stone Source plans to introduce this original collection in its Spring product launch.
“With the development of this collection, not only did we get the chance to talk with some of our most well-respected clients and get their opinions,” MacIsaac says, “but I also got to see the look on the product designer’s face when she saw the first production of the products she designed. Her smile was ear-to-ear,” he says.
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