Display and service take centre stage at National Tiles’ store in the Melbourne inner-suburb of Richmond.

National Tiles CEO, Nick Walker, explains the concept of its optimal store in the following way: “Our flagship showroom in Richmond is the benchmark for the evolving National Tiles offering. As a design centre, it showcases our range of tiles in the most effective and easy to navigate way.”

It is a forerunner to future store development in the group. He said, “We are looking forward to rolling out this design style throughout all our major stores nationally.”

On display

Melbourne-based IF Architecture created the in-store design. The merchandising units angle the tiles for effortless viewing. The store layout positions these units so that visual presentation and traffic flow work together.

The showroom’s floors, benches and countertops are clad in recycled rubber. This forgiving material protects the tiles, reduces noise and softens the shopping experience, according to the architects. They chose a neutral tone with flecks of black, white and grey to heighten contrast and frame the tiles.

The showroom also has a predominantly neutral palette so that all attention is on the tiles. One exception is the main serving counter which is wrapped in a distinctive blue rubber.

A gallery wall features a dramatic grouping of patterned tiles, and a glass-topped display case highlights the more exclusive imported items. To emphasise the beauty of tiles in situ, the existing concrete columns from floor to ceiling are covered in tiny marble tiles.

Customers can consider their options in a comfortable and relaxing way with spacious zoned areas that have light timber tables with metal-framed stools and chairs.

Retail management

For store manager, Graham Hancox, customer service and training go hand-in-hand. He said, “Providing exemplary service sets us apart from our other competitors. Training is also vital to ensure a strong and stable team. We have online training modules which provide consistent training across the whole company but the most important training is done in-house and face-to-face, teaching each other and learning from other team members.”

Hancox has been in retail and retail management for many years but it is the first time he has been in the tile industry. He has served as the store manager for almost five years. “I developed a passion for the product and business very early on and have loved every minute … it has been such an enjoyable and sometimes challenging role.”

Hancox believes National Tiles’ extensive range of product and prices gives it an edge over competitors because it can “cater to all budgets”. Not surprisingly, the target market for the National Tiles Richmond store is very diverse and can be interpreted as inclusive. “I cannot really put a number on it because it is so expansive as we deal with many architects and interior designers (most of whom have dedicated architect reps servicing them) as well as DIY clients – mums and dads who are either first time or experienced renovators – or builders, small businesses and tilers alike.”

At the same time, National Tiles Richmond sells mainly premium tiles which is a reflection of the upscale area and the demographic that lives within it. Most people want higher-end products for their projects. Other stores in the group have trade sections that offer cash and carry stock, flooring and products such as glues grouts, trims etc.

Interestingly, Hancox said it does not do traditional in-store promotions. Walker explains, “We have traditionally been the sale kings. Every week my father has been spruiking our sales on the radio with his infamous ‘Hello’ ads. We usually had a sale running every two weeks offering 25% off or 30% off but we realised that our customers no longer felt the benefit of this strategy. Customers are now so savvy, they want a more genuine offering.

“Our new way of operating has now come to fruition … When customers shop with National Tiles, they can be assured that they will be getting the best prices every day without the worry that they will be subjected to a run out sale the following week. Australians renovate throughout the year and they shouldn’t have to feel pressurised to buy tiles just because there is a sale on. Now they know they can get their tiles when the renovation or new build requires delivery.”

The group believes it has taken the price out of the equation. Walker adds, “If a customer knows they are getting the best possible price, they can focus on the design, style, size and colour they want for the renovation or project. Our design consultants can concentrate on talking to our customers about what they want to achieve. We understand that tile selections can be daunting and quite a stressful decision-making process. So rather than training our staff about our sales, we are training them with design advice and how to offer the best possible experience and service in store.”

Exclusive offers and promotions have moved to the website which has been driving growth for the business. “We’ve spent a lot of time listening to our customers and understanding what their needs are. As a result, we have invested a great deal of time and capital in our online offering where customers can view our complete range …

“We understand however that whilst looking at tiles online is a great starting point, it’s not a replacement for viewing tiles in real life. We now offer a service where customers can order samples online so they can touch and feel the tiles, pop them into situ, sit them alongside paint colours and textile samples, and then order them all online with delivery within a few days,” explains Walker. The ranges are regularly updated and refreshed.