We were proud to learn early this year that we were given a Best Of Houzz award, in the category of customer satisfaction. I can’t imagine a category that would make me more proud. After all, if our tiles weren’t beautiful, if I didn’t listen to our customers’ needs, if we didn’t deliver in a timely way, or if our customers were disappointed at all, there would be no satisfaction for Houzz to recognize. It is really about the total experience. Our customers wrote to Houzz to recommend us for this award, completely unsolicited. Thank you to those of you who sent in recommendations — you know who you are, even if I don’t.
There are many things that are part of this avocation of mine. I work with many architects, builders and designers, as a kind of team. We all work with the same goal in mind — to make the home owner happy, and to create a space that is both beautiful and easy to live in.
I was raised in a merchant family, growing up under my dad’s feet in the prescription room of his retail pharmacy. His customers were his friends, living together in our small Wisconsin town. At dinner, on holidays, and in the middle of the night, he would leave the house to open his store for people in our community, who needed their meds right away. Although most of my customers are in other states, my instinct is to create that same sense of community for them. It used to be that people knew who created their goods and services, instead of the disconnect that is part of our time. Like my dad, I live my business. When I am out of the office, I have call-forwarding to my cell. I pick up evenings and weekends, because sometimes people are in the middle of installing their tiles, and have a question. (Not in the middle of the night, please…I will be polite, but not happy!)
I don’t just sell tiles. I can be a resource every step along the way, from the design to the finishing details. When customers visit my office, they will often bring blueprints, cabinet doors, and pictures of how they envision their home. Sometimes they email me the room plans, photos, or drawings, and we use those to work together. I am an artist/designer, and offer free advice and consultations to my customers, when asked. If I think our tiles will not be right for a space, I will say so. I look at pictures of existing bricked parts of a home, and help make suggestions of which color mixes will look best with it. I know all about the installation process, and can help with grout selections and recommend sealers. I often help customers find installers, if they are working on their own, or talk with their installers on the phone. Sometimes people will ask where they can find certain historic fixtures, or other items for their homes, and many times I can pull a card from my Rolodex.
Our tiles are all made to order, and are custom. We have suggested color mixes, but those are just a guide. Most customers decide upon their own color mixes. Here is a recent picture of one of these mixes — the customer pulled the plastic back to take a quick, informal picture of the work in progress (foot and all). This mix has all off-white clay powder and wood fire ashes, fired into our red clay body. (I’m kind of in love with it!)
Often, people will ask for a particular size or texture for our bricks. I will make up a new series of molds, at no extra charge, for orders of over 1000 sq.ft.
I have also created special accent tiles for customers. Once we did floors in a restored pig house, and there were a few pig tiles made for the floors. Another customer wanted a raven tile, because their farm was named “Raven’s Den”. Still another had me make a cast of her grandma’s cow butter mold, and I made some tiles for her floor. We make stamps of pet footprints, or child hand prints. We stamp the names of children, or special dates, into the tiles. People have sent me plants from their garden, and we will fire these impressions into the bricks. When these plants, or stamped tiles, are part of the total order, I don’t charge extra — it’s just part of the fun.
Some customers have made arrangements to bring their children to my home/office, and I set them up at a table with damp tiles to decorate. We have a craft day, and they create their own pieces to include in the family’s wall or floor. If I’ve just baked, customers have been known to sit down for apple dumplings, brownies, or banana bread (and take home recipes).
Maybe this is why so much of our business comes from referrals, or even from homeowners who bought tiles from us before. Sometimes past customers come to see me when they are in the area, invite me to their homes, and send Christmas cards.
With most of our houses furnished with mass produced items, often imported, sometimes it’s nice to look around our homes, and feel a connection to the artisans who were part of them. It’s even nicer when we know that we were part of the creative process. There is a Latin expression, anima locus, which means the ‘soul’ of a place, or its essential personality. I like to think we are part of that signature in a home, and are somehow connected to the families who live there.