Tile Empire, the store, was established in 2019. But to know more about the family business behind it, the story has to start back in 1951.
Many immigrant success stories begin and end when individuals arrive on Australian shores, have families and work their way into obscurity. They contribute to the economy and society along the way. That did not happen to Nicola Salomone when he came to Western Australia in the early fifties, not speaking a word of English. His arrival eventually led to a tile business that has a strong presence in the home improvement, building and architectural market.
After a few years, Nicola’s wife Concetta followed him to WA and in 1955, their son Gino was born.
Fast forward to 1982 and the first Tiles Expo retail outlet was launched by Nicola, Gino and another son, Frank. Youngest sibling, Mark joined the business in 1986.
There are now four locations: Tiles Expo showrooms in Mandurah and Midland, a warehouse and trade centre in Selby Street and a combined Tile Boutique and Tile Empire showroom in Osborne Park. This showroom is over 1000sqm.
Tile Empire is the latest project to be added to the Tiles Expo portfolio. It targets a more design-driven customer interested in luxury and opened in late October 2019.
The suburb of Osborne Park, where Tile Empire is located, has several ceramic tile stores so the team constantly has to come up with ideas that deliver a point of difference. But ultimately it comes down to “servicing the clientele and displaying products properly”, said Gino.
The approach to merchandising tiles the showrooms is best described as “lifestyle displays”. The directors committed to a lot of space in the new Tile Empire showroom to be able to showcase the tiles in larger areas.
Overall, the business attracts a large cross section of the market in WA and its customers work in the retail, wholesale, construction, architecture industries, as well as DIY home improvement renovators. “At the moment, our biggest clients are in the retail and building industries”, said Gino.
After a market downturn four years ago, the business has “remained fairly steady with some ups and downs”, he said. Sales in the most recent quarter of 2019 have been on par with the same period in 2018.
Tiles Expo has been part of the Tile Boutique buying group since 2009. At the time, it needed to re-badge its name and logo because the directors believed they needed to be refreshed. The idea of becoming part of a group, pooling resources and contributing funds for advertising campaigns were the main benefits that appealed to Tiles Expo. Tile Boutique has a network of 35 independent retailers around Australia.
The business holds major sales events two to three times a year, and creates the marketing collateral to promote them to its customers. There are special posters and ticket sale prices made for the showrooms.
Currently there is no e-commerce functionality on its websites. “Tiles are tactile and we want our customers to not only choose their products with confidence but we also want them to see, touch and truly feel them as we do,” explains Gino.
“As great as technology is, you cannot replicate colour, tone, finish or texture on images satisfactorily enough for us to recommend and offer this type of purchase to our clients.
“You also can’t replicate the same experience online as we provide in-store. We pride ourselves on exceptional customer service including providing everything from technical advice to full colour consultations with our in-house interior designers.
“E-commerce certainly has its place, however until this method of purchase offers a service that improves or is at least on-par with what we are currently offering, it’s not a space we see ourselves getting into.”
Staff and their training are taken very seriously at Tiles Expo. “We are fortunate to have a full time HR manager on staff as we realise how important the wellbeing of our staff is”, said Gino.
“When a new employee begins their job, they are paired with an experienced staff member for several weeks to learn our systems and what we consider as ‘the basics’. Then we provide tailored training depending on the individual circumstances. Both on and off-site training is available, generally conducted by other staff members and directors, or we engage with external professionals when required.”
The opinion of staff is also taken into account when sourcing tile products and updating collections for the showrooms.
“When new lines are either ordered or have arrived, the sales staff are advised and presentation is made to them with relevant brochures and technical data. This is usually done by the directors and representatives from tile suppliers [based mainly overseas]”, he explains.
The current trends are in wood, marble, stone and concrete, according to Gino, so these tile products are still reflected in its core ranges. He adds: “There is a bit of terrazzo coming in which is a little hit and miss but will probably improve. Decorative tiles are also fairly popular at the moment.”
Tiles Expo has invested inlarger and thinner tile formats since their inception back in 2006, said Gino. “Ranges carried in-store range are from 1000 x 1000 x 5mm to 1000 x 3000 x 5mm, and now 1200 x 1200 x 5mm to 1200 x 2700 x 5mm.
“We tend to use the larger tile formats for bathrooms and kitchen splashbacks with the square shaped 1000 x 1000 and 1200 x 1200 for main floors. We also have some 1600 x 3200 x 6mm ties that are also used for splash backs and benchtops but 10mm. are preferable for those areas”, he explains.
Italian-based tile companies are the main suppliers to the business including Panaria, Cotto D’Este, Piemme and ABK. “We tend to have long relationships with our suppliers. If they keep making the right product for our market, there is no need to change. Pricing is always an issue but all suppliers have to be competitive with pricing in our economy. Making the right product is the most important factor to maintain your supplier. It’s not easy for any supplier to continually make the right product every year when the world market is so different”, he said.
Interestingly, the worst time for the business dates back to between1988-1990 when the WA economy was booming but it couldn’t get a reliable supply of tiles. “During the Seoul Olympic Games, it was an absolute nightmare. You just didn’t want to go into the office because you knew the phones would be ringing from customers asking where their tiles were. This is the one time I didn’t want to be in the industry and I didn’t want to go into work”, said Gino.
But he also said there have been several “best and memorable” experiences, too many to mention. He nominates the huge Christmas parties it organises and the annual Cersaie event in Bologna, Italy. “It’s always a great place to go to see what the Italians have come up with especially with the development of technology that is changing every day. And of course, the food, wine and catching up with old friends”, he said.
Gino also cites the opening of its Tile Boutique showroom in Osborne Park four years ago as a major milestone.
Gino and the team at Tiles Expo, have always enjoyed the tile industry despite some tough times because it has always kept them interested. “You meet great clients, reps and people from different parts of the world and also your own staff who are a great bunch of people”, he said.
Pictured: Exterior of the newly opened Tile Empire showroom in Osborne Park (WA). Next to it is the Tile Boutique showroom.