Every year, for the past 24 years, the Italian tile industry has honored a distinguished North American distributor for their dedication to promoting ceramic tiles in the marketplace. After considering the work of hundreds of tile distributors, this year the 93-year-old family-owned business, Nemo Tile Company, joins this coveted list of award recipients. Continuously owned and operated for three generations by the Karlin family, Nemo Tile has distinguished itself as a leading resource for architects, designers and contractors, as well as a source of inspiration for homeowners and DIY enthusiasts through its four showrooms in New York. We sat down with Nemo Tile Company President, Matthew Karlin, to talk about the business of tile.
Nemo Tile has a rich company history. Could you outline the key steps in your company’s development?
Nemo began operation nearly 100 years ago. Since the company’s beginning in 1921, we have always been available to our clients. And now, with so many ways to connect, we still make it a point to always speak to them in person, and not rely solely on email. The personal connections, and accessibility, remain very important aspects of how we conduct business. We constantly listen to our clients, so we can better serve their needs and goals. Part of our mission is to always be looking for what’s new and the best performing in tile, to be fully responsive to our clients. We’re also committed to keeping the showrooms fresh, for trade as well as retail customers, so we change things out every week.
Who is your core client base and how has that changed over the years?
Anyone who wants tile is our valued client—from the specifier to the architect, developer, designer, hotelier, homeowner, contractor—that has never changed. People just get more creative on how to buy it, apply it, etc.
What differentiates your company from other tile distributors in the U.S.?
Nemo is a tile distributor, but we don’t just sell tile. Clients come to us for what our brand offers, including our commitment to the greater design community and our point of view about materials. Because of the amount of competition we have in our area, we constantly assess and adjust our business model not only to compete with other tile distributors but also other design-structured brands that cover surfaces, like carpet and casegoods. We compete with international design brands of every category for space in the libraries of A&D firms. This means Nemo must be as clear and convincing with our marketing as we are with our materials.
What steps have you taken to remain competitive in the marketplace?
We are placing a greater emphasis than ever before on our marketing strategy, how we represent ourselves and position the Nemo brand, to create a niche for our business.
What are some of the unique qualities that you associate with Italian tile?
Exceptional design and quality. Consumers still associate Italian products with style and fashion, and they make those same connections with Italian tile. These associations help consumers better understand and seek out the unique qualities of Italian tile. With beautiful fashion comes beautiful design comes beautiful tile.
Can you discuss some of the biggest trends and innovations that have changed the perception and value of ceramic tile in the eyes of consumers?
The embrace of design culture, and tile’s place in it. It’s amazing how much tile you see today in such a wide array of projects; even retail consumers are sharing their tile projects on platforms like Houzz and Pinterest. Both trade and retail consumers are looking for clean, simple materials. Less grout, more tile, which is to say, larger formats. Tile can be thinner, larger, and better performing than ever before, and it can go just about anywhere and look like anything. Tile has a lot more advantages than other materials; it’s just colder and louder.
Where do you see the tile industry heading in the next 5-10 years?
Where is our industry going in the next one to two years? Everything changes so fast nowadays, it’s almost impossible to make a prediction. Once upon a time, people would rely on data to predict where things are going. Now, because the economy changes so fast, along with everything else, we need always to be ready to respond. Both factories and distributors need to be prepared to change and act as quickly as the economy changes.