Case Studies

The Tile Shop

Making tile and stone design inspiration more accessible
  • Written by: Self-submission by Lindsey Rose, Consultant to The Tile Shop
  • Produced by: Sean O'Reilly
  • Estimated reading time: 5 mins

At age 32, Robert Rucker established The Tile Shop, a small tile and surface store, which first opened its doors in 1985 in Rochester, Minn. Having worked previously for the former Color Tile, Inc. Rucker was no stranger to the tile industry. His vision was to create home fashion in a construction industry, which he did by traveling to the edges of the earth to uncover timeless, coveted, high quality and natural materials, and bringing them to life in a showroom setting so customers could visualize how the finished product would look in their home.

Lucky for The Tile Shop, demand for tile and natural stone surfaces continued to grow steadily – both surfaces offer durability and encompass many styles, colors and textures that allow people to express their own idea of beauty.

In 1992, the company expanded its network of retail stores outside of Minnesota, going head to head with big box competition and stretching throughout the Midwest to the East Coast. Flash forward to today, and the company, now publicly traded  on the NASDAQ under “TTS,” is on the heels of celebrating its 30th anniversary, and operates more than 100 showrooms in more than 30 states. Each Tile Shop showroom is a design destination, providing a selection of thousands of premium tile and natural stone options for residential and commercial customers, which the company also sells online.

The Tile Shop, headquartered in Minneapolis suburb, Plymouth, Minn., employs 1,200 employees, including manufacturing and distribution center staff in Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin, designers, highly trained regional managers, store managers and sales associates, marketing and customer service teams, administrators and inventory managers.

Current COO Chris Homeister, who will assume the role of CEO in January following Rucker’s retirement, brings strong retail expertise from his previous role at Best Buy, and works closely with the entire organization – from purchasing, design, manufacturing, merchandising and marketing to corporate and sales – to promote quality, innovation, service and growth within the business. And that means keeping tabs on the performance of existing product lines while staying ahead of new materials and designs that are on trend, all while being able to sell it all at a competitive price.

Customer experience and service first

The Tile Shop stores carry approximately 4,500 in-stock SKUs of tile and natural stone products from around the world in numerous color palettes, textures and materials, including glass, ceramic, porcelain, marble, granite and beyond. “Depending on location, each retail showroom has somewhere between 30 to 70 styled living spaces, ranging from bathrooms and kitchens to mud rooms, fireplace surrounds and more,” Homeister says. “Each display features 10 to 20 products that we offer exclusively and source globally. Our goal is to greet customers’ aspirations with inspiration from real life examples of what that tile on the wall or floor can look like, along with expert guidance as they take on their project.”

Homeister and his team offer everything from basic ceramic subway tile to compete with what customers can find at The Home Depot and Lowe’s to high-end marbles direct from Italy, Greece, Turkey and China that can compete against any high-end specialty tile shop in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Every piece comes in direct from the source, including manufacturers and stone quarries around the world.

“We don’t go through distributors,” Homeister explains. “We are direct sourcing the materials – the clay and stone that get turned into tiles.” The company also produces a private-label line of grout, thinset and sealant in-house.

Additionally, The Tile Shop boasts standout product design. “Design sets us apart from other suppliers,” said Homeister. “All of our sales team members in every store are fully trained on buying and installing tiles, as well as understanding the design story of each product we carry.”

Service is another component of the company’s success. For professional contractors and builders, The Tile Shop has a six-month return policy with no return fee or restock fee for any product purchased. Homeister and his team strive to differentiate the business from the big box stores by serving as a specialty retailer with a deep understanding of each of the products. Additionally, all customers receive free shipping to their home or to a nearby Tile Shop store when their purchase is more than $399.

Evolving product line

As trends in tile continue to evolve, The Tile Shop works to manage and maintain product lines that meet consumer demand. “Any shade of gray is pretty popular as people continue to look at creating more contemporary spaces in their homes,” Homeister notes. “Glass tile is a huge seller. Glass is very en vogue, and has a broader color range than traditional tile.”

The company has also seen an explosion in the admiration of faux wood surface products. “We offer full plank tile that is ceramic tile or porcelain, but looks like wood,” he adds. “This is a significant competitor for the consumer considering hardwood flooring. The product is offered in planks up to six-feet long. It will never scratch and it is water-resistant, more conducive to heat and half the price. We offer more than 80 different SKUs, including products that mimic cherry wood, or replicate aged wood like what you would find in a wine cellar.”

Homeister and his team predict a number of other trends growing in the tile business. “People really like the combination of glass, stone, ceramic and stainless steel mosaics,” he says. “These four different materials placed together becomes a stunning mosaic. It’s a real jaw dropper that is very cool. More consumers tend to use these mosaics in a border, to add definition to white or gray glass tile. For the money, there is a lot of wow factor without breaking the bank.”

With a strong product line and highly trained staff, Homeister sees the company continuing to grow. “While margins and sales are a necessity, we strive to serve as a resource for customers, including homeowners, designers, builders and contractors,” he says. The business offers consulting, design assistance and even do-it-yourself classes.

The Tile Shop is expanding with a growing presence in the western states, where the team will continue to provide valuable surface products and surfaces to a broad demographic.

Published on: April 2, 2015

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