Building Business through Relationships
Ceramic Technics Ltd. (CTL) is a leading importer and distributor of high-grade porcelain tile and natural stone materials, primarily to commercial clients. Headquartered in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, CTL offers over 500 collections from the U.S. and Europe to clients throughout the retail, hospitality, healthcare, corporate and educational sectors. Strong relationships with the architectural and contractor communities have set the company apart from its inception and have been a secret to lasting success, while a dedicated, close-knit company culture has also played a vital role in CTL’s longevity and growth.
The CTL success story began in an unfinished basement when two friends took a risk, pooled their resources, and launched their own independent tile and natural stone distribution company. As longtime industry insiders, co-founders Gerry King and the late Tom Fielding had the skills and experience to make a go of it – but little else. “It was an incredible leap of faith,” King remembers. They supplied Tom’s basement-turned-office with two telephones, a Smith-Corona typewriter, and plywood with sawhorses from Home Depot to create a makeshift sample area.
The founders wanted to build their own body of work and take it to Atlanta’s architects and designers. “Most distributors want to fill demand, but we wanted to create demand by working with the A&D community to help them solve design challenges with the best natural stone, porcelain, ceramic and mosaic products we could secure,” King explains.
Instead of using the title Sales Representative, the founders opted to use the term Architectural and Design Consultants, highlighting the fact that these team members would boast a design background or an understanding of the importance of design and the designer’s personality. These architectural and design consultants would “consult with the A&D community, listen and understand the challenges of a given project, and then respond with a group of visuals – whether it was a limestone visual with a slight surface texture or a concrete visual with a smoother texture,” King says.
“Atlanta is a city where you have to pay your dues,” says King. “Having been born in the northeast, I wasn’t familiar with Southern hospitality. We were greeted kindly by the local design community; however, similarly with any new company, business was slow [at first]. It wasn’t until our third year that we could add to our team, and it was close to four or five years before we could add more.”
As they say, slow and steady wins the race; the team continued to build relationships – and business. Today the company employs 200 people and has expanded from its Atlanta base to serve 30 markets throughout the country, from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts.
The founders’ innovative vision has garnered industry respect as well as business success. In 2016, CTL won the prestigious North American Distributor Award awarded by the Confindustria Board of Directors in collaboration with Italian tile manufacturers. This recognition “raised the eyebrows of our competitors and really put us on the national map,” King shares.
As CTL continued to expand and prosper, the team worked hard to maintain the culture that the original founders established. “The culture that I tried to create at Ceramic Technics is a profound appreciation for the energy and the efforts that our entire group brings to the company,” says King. The result is an inclusive environment where all contributions are valued and recognized. “We believed that all individuals were an integral part of the company’s success.” says King. This attitude has earned the loyalty of the staff for several decades. The team refers to themselves as the “CTL family.”
CTL has continued to prosper even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges, the company has grown in multiple commercial sectors over the past year. “The demand for evolution has never been higher,” says President Kory Bowling. Giving the current state of the industry, the team dedicated time to reassess and streamline internal operations to promote future success. When Bowling joined CTL in October of 2019, he had left a Fortune 500 company to spearhead the growth and development within Ceramic Technics.
Bowling brought Operations Manager Brian White on board in June of this year to apply his organizational skill sets to CTL’s warehouse operations – “With over 20,000 SKUs of different tiles and 25,000 square feet of warehouse space dedicated to samples alone, an updated organizational structure was necessary.” This enables the company to stock and stage all its samples, “making it more efficient for our coworkers, our sample family, and our warehouse family, and supports our external operations as well,” shares White. “Maintaining such a large selection of sample inventory allows CTL to provide to our clients quickly and accurately.”
With limited opportunity for “in person” interactions this year, the team has diversified how they promote products and reach clients. This has required a significant reassessment of the company’s digital platform to ensure all clients have access to new products. The effort has included an increased emphasis on social media, exploring a vast variety of digital content as well as a new website that will launch in 2021. “It has never been this important to be digitally accessible,” says Digital Marketing Manager Courtney Fetterolf. “We understand how profoundly powerful connection is, regardless of social limitations.” In addition, the company is increasing its web presence via the third party site Material Bank, the largest material marketplace in the architectural and design industry.
A huge focus this year, and moving forward, has been to deepen relationships with the contractor community. CTL has hired experienced outside sales consultants and assigned customer service agents to focus their efforts on contractors, realigning the company “to be more front facing” with new and existing contacts to nurture “a direct relationship,” says President Kory Bowling. “This will inevitably create a more sound and reliable alliance between CTL and our contractor community.” With a direct point of contact for each client, working with the CTL team is easier, more efficient, and more pleasurable than ever before.
These relationships will be increasingly important – and mutually beneficial – as CTL expands into new subsectors of the commercial industry. Doug Rain recently joined the team as the Vice President of Sales, assisting in the diversification of professional relationships and strategy – specifically multifamily, adult living, and healthcare sectors of design and development, all of which the company expect to grow quickly in the wake of COVID-19.
With over 50,000 square feet of space in the company’s warehouse – and an expansive 2 million square feet of readily available inventory – CTL is ready to provide solution to any and all sectors. After building lasting relationships, a strong company culture, and growing steadily for 32 years, CTL has overcome the challenges of 2020 and is well placed to continue growing into 2021 – and beyond.