Blog Updates

Julie’s Update: New kiln and other news

The most exciting event this week was yesterday’s delivery of our new Bailey gas cart kiln! We have been making many preparations for its arrival, such as putting on a new roof, pouring a new (level) concrete floor, and adding to the size of our workspace.

This kiln will improve our lives in many ways. Most importantly, we will be able to cycle many more tiles through our kilns, and shorten the lead times on most orders. We will also be able to load and unload it without crawling inside, so it will more user-friendly.

It is a sophisticated kiln that regulates itself, and we will not be required to baby-sit it on

evenings and weekends as it fires, as we do our present gas kiln.(Perhaps this fall we will get wood chopped for our fireplaces, after all!) So much of our time over the past year has been taken up waiting for the gas kiln to finish its firing cycle.

With the kiln, we also took delivery on an additional electric slab roller, which is part of our production process. With it, we will be able to add another line of workers, and fill that gas kiln regularly. Next, we will need to make a larger break room! With our new equipment, we are ready for the busy fall building season.

We will welcome Ben tomorrow, another veteran worker from the Coatesville VA Hospital.

We are excitedly anticipating an article that will be published soon in Architectural Digest, featuring a home renovation that used a large number of our Summer Kitchen brick tiles. When we have more information on this, we will share it in our blog.

Cheers,

Julie Good-Kruger

Inglenook Tile Design

Manufacturing in the USA

by Julie, Inglenook Tile co-owner

Last night, before sleep, I began thinking about all the changes we have weathered with our small, growing company. When we started Inglenook Tile Design about five years ago, our original business plan was to use my experience in design and product development to manufacture our tiles in Asia.

I didn’t expect, however, that the factories wouldn’t understand why we wanted our tiles to look old. It was very difficult to communicate that we wanted a random, rustic look, with no two tiles being exactly the same. Our factory wanted to make products that look exactly the same – it is a sign of consistency and quality for them in a country where “new-looking” is synonymous with “modernity.” However, a uniform, modern look was exactly what we did not want. The search for a factory who could reliably create the antique look we wanted dragged on.

Frustrated by the slow progress, we turned to the Veteran’s Industries in Myerstown, PA. It was a sheltered work program for veterans from the Lebanon Veteran’s Hospital. We trained the veterans to make our tiles, and they were supervised by the facility manager, Dave, whose commitment to us and our products grew into a great friendship and boon to our company.

In 2005, when the government unexpectedly closed the workshop, we were forced to make other plans and move to our own warehouse space. The husband of one of our former employees from the doll company (our first company) owned a warehouse, so we signed a lease for a corner of it and moved into the echoing, unheated space.

Meanwhile, some Chinese friends found us a factory in Asia. We visited, trained the factory, provided them with molds, and began to import. The factory did a beautiful job, but we noticed several problems: first, it was hard to anticipate what to order ten to twelve weeks before the shipment would arrive. Would we need 4×8” tiles or 2×8” tiles? In what proportion would we mix the order? The factory only made a narrow range of products–if customers wanted special color variations, we had to make them ourselves. As a result, we found ourselves making more and more tiles in our chilly warehouse, bundled in overcoats, and standing in front of an anemic heat dish. The other problems arose, most prominently rising Chinese labor costs and high ocean freight costs. We realized that our manufacturing needed to come back to the US.

A couple of years ago, we brought everything back to our Pennsylvania warehouse. We enlarged the space, added insulation, and built out an office and break room space. Due to our positive experience with the Lebanon VA, we turned to the Coatesville Veteran’s Hospital for workers and contracted with their Work Restoration Program. (Read more)

Our relationship with this VA program and with our vets has been a great blessing and allowed our company to grow with the increasing demand for our brick tiles. This week, we were pleased to hire Billy, who has worked with us for 6 months through the VA and just graduated from their program, as our own full-time employee. We continue to expanding our workspace, buy new equipment, and hire more people as several of our past blog entries have chronicled.

I am a believer in the world community and global trade. That being said, when you see “buy American” slogans, it may or may not mean anything to you – but it has new meaning for me. As I tallied up who we are helping to support with our American-made tiles, I was amazed. One small business has such a far-reaching impact on other local businesses and individuals! For example, we make a difference to our friend/landlords by leasing space from them. Our business helps support US-based box companies, kiln and clay companies, and warehouse equipment suppliers. Even the local hardware store, where we buy paint for our warehouse floor, feels the impact of our decision to manufacture in Kinzers, PA. Then, there are utility companies, electricians, our employees, our veteran workers from the VA Hospital, and our driver, Heather, who takes them home. There are office supply stores, print shops and trade show promoters. As I thought through the list, the breadth of the others we touch by manufacturing our tiles surprised and inspired me.

Until I was thinking alone in a quiet room last night, I never realized how many people are benefiting from this one little company, nestled in a corner of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I went to sleep, proud to be paying our bills and sharing our prosperity with our neighbors.

Julie’s Update – June 30, 2008

At Inglenook Tile Design, we are in the middle of lots of exciting changes and expansion of our products and our equipment!

New Product Development

This week and last, we are surging ahead with the development of our two new floor tile collections – the Castles and Abbeys Collection and the Old World Collection. Much of last week I spent deciding which designs to offer first, and then sizing them for the molds.

New Equipment

To make these new tiles, we needed a ram press, so about a month ago, I flew to Taos, NM to look at the press and arrange for the shipment to Pennsylvania after several months of talking with its former owners. There has been a lot of anticipation around here about having it running! Finally, last week, the electricians were here to run lines to our new ram press, and this week we are ready for the mechanic. Watch our blog for updates as we create the first samples of our new tile designs. We will also use it to make roof tile in the future.

We also ordered a much larger gas kiln from Bailey Ceramics last week, and can hardly wait to get it! This kiln will allow us to increase our production of tiles in the brown and deep red tones, the beautiful Providence, Mount Gretna, and Honeybrook color mixes (Read more about color mixes). The picture to the left shows an example of a Bailey gas kiln-ours will be much larger.

This new kiln will be easier to load and unload, and we won’t have to babysit it until 10:00 PM on the days we fire, like the one we have now. I should have bought a Bailey kiln last time! Several people would fit in the kiln we have, so I guess we could make a room out of the new one. We are also ordering a second electric slab roller from Bailey, so that we can add another line of making tiles (we love the one we have).

New Installations: Visiting Customers

Emily and I visited our customers, Walt and Tandy, last week, and pictures of their home are now posted on the blog under “Feature Project: Harvest Moon farms.” Walt and I pose for a picture with their floor to the left. Next week, we will be visiting another customer who has our tiles on both interior and exterior areas of his home. Watch for this blog posting and and maybe a video on YouTube.

New Veteran

Welcome to Tom – another veteran who started today. He recently returned, injured, from Afghanistan, and is on the road to recovery. We are happy to have him!

New Kittens!

On a personal note, Emily drove to Buffalo, NY, to pick up her two new Siberian kittens. They are regaling the family with their playful antics! Visit her breeder’s website. See the picture of our new little friends.

As you see, we are really growing here! Subscribe to our blog to keep updated on all the changes and our new products and pictures. As of last week, you can now subscribe to our blog via email or RSS. See the link on the right hand side of the blog.

Happy 4th of July! We hope you have a wonderful time with your families!

Best wishes,

Julie

New Blog Features

We recently put up several new interactive features on our blog and are excited to share them with you!

Chat with Us

If you have questions as you browse our blog or visit our website, ask them in the “Chat with Us” box on the right hand side of the blog. I (Emily) will be manning this chat feature during regular work hours and am looking forward to answering your questions or just shooting the breeze :-). This chat feature is private–other blog visitors cannot see what you are typing, so there are no silly questions!

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Subscribe

You can now subscribe to our blog by clicking on the one of the links under “Subscribe to our Blog” (on the blog’s right hand side) or on the RSS link directly below this paragraph. This feature allows you to get updates from our blog without needing to check back all the time, similar to a news feed feature from CNN or another news source on your email account homepage. Choose Bloglines, My Yahoo, Google, My AOL, Live Bookmarks or My MSN as the platform for receiving these updates.


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Find great links at Del.icio.us

I just started gathering bookmarks that you might find useful or just plain interesting on Del.icio.us, the social bookmarking website.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it (we hadn’t either until just recently), social bookmarking is a great tool for sharing the websites you like with your friends and family. Simply join at Del.icio.us and start adding your favorite websites, articles, blog entries, etc. to share with others. You can find lots of interesting websites that you may have overlooked using search engines by browsing the bookmarks of like-minded people. Fun!

To see our tile and historic building links, visit Emily_at_Inglenook_Tile. These bookmarks are still in progress, so add “Emily_at_Inglenook_Tile” to your del.icio.us network to keep updated on new links. I’m interested in seeing your bookmarks, too!

For those of you who like our blog, add Inglenook Tile to your del.icio.us bookmarks or another social bookmarking site. Several popular options are given at the right hand side of the blog. Linking to us helps other tile or historic home enthusiasts find our blog and website.

Part of another social bookmarking network? Leave me a message in the Chat box and I’ll join that one next.