Beginning operations as Ceramic Tile Centre in 1987, Cerbis Ceramics quickly grew a reputation for importing the latest European fashions in floor and wall coverings. A wide range, large stock, value for money and impeccable service became the foundations for the business’ longevity and success.
Today, over 25 years later, the very same foundations are still the base from which Cerbis Ceramics’ operations are built. Cerbis is a second-generation family owned and operated business dedicated to sourcing, stocking and supplying the latest European tiles. Its large and modern showrooms showcase huge stocks of inspiring floor and wall coverings to suit most applications and budgets.
As everyone in the tile industry knows, tiles are about much more than just, well, tiles. It’s easy to wax poetic about their origins, which is a complex history where practicality and utility interweaves with aesthetics and — in the 20th Century — even hygiene. They show up everywhere we look in the past and the present day — from the walls of New York’s subways, to Le Grand Trianon in Versailles, where France’s King Louis XIV decorated it with Delft tiles.
It’s the blend of artistic expression with pure industry and trade that many find so fascinating. Those Delft tiles, for example, were originally an effort to copy Chinese porcelain by Europeans in the 17th Century (Europeans would not understand the Chinese techniques until the 18th Century). The tilemakers of Delft (a Dutch city near Rotterdam) were adept at using a tin-glazed technique, where images were painted on fired tiles, before a second firing which rendered the images indelible. By the early 19th Century, however, the tiles from Delft became more rare, as the British developed industrial techniques to manufacture these products more cheaply.
With that kind of complex background, it should come as no surprise that many of the most successful tile merchants in Australia come from Continental European backgrounds. While they are adept at the pure business of tiles itself, they can also provide an introduction that the rich, deep, pre-industrial baseline to tiles, the humanitarian context to an increasingly commodified, digitised trade.
Cerbis Ceramics is one of these tile companies, with stores both near Darwin in the Northern Territory and in the northern Adelaide suburb of Dry Creek in South Australia. While the business was established by George and Athina Tsirbas in Darwin in 1987, since then some of its focus has shifted southward. That came after their son, Angelis Tsirbas, the general manager of Cerbis Ceramics SA, moved down to Adelaide with his wife and opened the company’s showroom there five years ago. In fact, the second generation has taken over the management of Cerbis Group.
History in tiles
It’s evident in speaking with Angelis, how much both the tile industry and his cultural heritage mean to him. “I have spent almost my whole life within the tile industry,” he tells us via email.
“I fondly remember the days that my family migrated from Greece to Australia and my parents took on the challenge of starting their own tile retail business. From a young age, my brothers and I were involved in all elements of the business — from packing, to selling, procurement and logistics. These experiences have been invaluable for my understanding of the industry and management of my business.”
If you need physical evidence of this engagement, you need look no further than the company’s Adelaide showroom. As the photographs indicate, is amazing. Designed by the Adelaide architecture firm of Walter Brooke, the showroom is designed to help guide both consumers and industry professionals in choosing the very best tiles for their purposes.
It does this by providing a series of room “vignettes”, which illustrate the way different tiles and installations can be used to produce a room “feel” and effect. Along with that are displays of tiles themselves, to aid customers in comparison and selection.
Angelis sees the physical showroom as having real advantages over, for example, an internet-based presentation. He said, “All our products are on display in our architecturally designed showroom. Most of our displays have been created to showcase the true variation in colour in pattern of each tile which cannot be fully appreciated in online photos.”
But the real point of the showroom, Angelis reveals, is the way it can promote interactions with the Cerbis staff. “Our current focus is on personally servicing clients. We are passionate about providing our clients with not only the latest products that represent value for money, but a level of service that builds relationships and referrals. We have a fantastic, energetic team that is driven to provide clients with the best solution for their project from both design and budget perspectives.
“Most of the team have studied interior architecture and have an appreciation of architectural products and how to bring together different elements together to create a space.
“I encourage our sales consultants’ involvement in the process of product selection. This keeps them abreast of emerging trends and technology. We also engage our suppliers for specific product training. Training is delivered to staff by international sales representatives for new product ranges and technology. Suppliers within the industry also provide ongoing technical training for installation products.
“Our showroom is open to retail customers and we have dedicated architectural and commercial representatives to service those specifying our products.”
While a fantastic showroom and an enthusiastic team are a good start, in the end no tile business can survive without great product. Cerbis excels in this area as well, through its range and direct, exclusive deals with major European tile manufacturers. Angelis said, “Back in the 80s, we imported predominately from Italy. While Italy remains the leader in tile design and manufacturing, many countries now contribute to the array of designs available in our showroom.
“Nowadays our collection not only includes the finest designs and quality from Italy but also Zellige tiles handmade in Morocco, natural marble from the islands of Greece, encaustic tiles crafted in Vietnam, Japanese styled finger mosaics, and innovative furniture engineered from tiles in Brazil. There is also a strong presence of tiles manufactured in Asia which provide a cost-effective option for the budget conscious.
“Our product range is diverse. We offer intricate mosaics, decorative ceramic tiles, porcelain floor tiles and pavers, natural stone tiles and wall cladding, as well as large format porcelain slabs. Most of these are stocked and offer a great alternative to glass and engineered stone both in style and price point.
“The latest collections of 41Zero42 which represent the cutting edge in design, have been very popular with architects and designers. Our terrazzo and large format tiles and sheets have been particularly popular lately.
“We are the exclusive supplier in South Australia for Ecostone Terrazzo manufactured by Agglo Baghin. Although there are many terrazzo products on the market at the moment, the Ecostone range is unrivalled in quality and durability.”
The Cerbis retail outlet is more than just the lovely face of the showroom — it is backed up by onsite warehouse facilities as well. Angelis said, “Our stock is onsite in the warehouse facilities behind our showroom which gives me the ability to oversee and manage the entire process from the point of selection to delivery. Stocked items are readily available.
“Our customers don’t need to wait for us to bring stock in from interstate warehouses. We find that our customers, particularly tradespeople, really appreciate being able to collect any extra material when needed.”
The final element for the tile business, of course, is the issue of price. Here Angelis leverages both his knowledge of the European market, and the way this has played out in Australia.
“As one of the newer players in the Adelaide market, we have introduced very competitive pricing on European products that have carried an inflated price in Adelaide. We strive to bring to the Adelaide market, the latest from trends and technology from Europe at the most competitive prices.”
Like most tile businesses, Cerbis has found 2020 to be a bit of a difficult year. However, the company has been fortunate in that South Australia has proven itself very resilient in the face of the pandemic brought on by the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Angelise said, “This last quarter has certainly presented its challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially retail foot traffic and selection appointments were heavily impacted as people were reluctant to interact and there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the economy and job security.
“However, as people are adapting to social distancing and active cases here in South Australia have dropped, retail and selections appointments have recovered. Commercial developments already in the pipeline carried on during the retail lull.
“As we always hold considerable stock in our on-site warehouse facilities, we were able to draw on existing stock while supply chains in Asia and Europe were affected.”
The tile industry is one of the few industries still active today that can claim having survived past pandemics, especially the third bubonic plague, which ravaged China and Europe in the mid-19th Century, and only really came to an end in the 1960s.
What those centuries of industrial practice have really taught the tile industry is the value of both patience and persistence — qualities that are evident in the way Cerbis has carefully built and expanded its business in Australia.
Pictured: The team at Cerbis Ceramics in South Australia. (l-r front) Eleni, Elanna (middle) & Zoe and (l-r back) Angelis, Hannah & Alex