EMERALD tile + marble - Dave
Tile work runs in your family. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started.
My dad and my uncle worked as tile-setters since immigrating from Italy. During the summers, me, my brother and my cousin would work for them. As I got older and finished my schooling, I decided to take this on as a career choice and became a tile setter myself. When my dad and uncle retired, I decided to open up my own shop on St. Laurent. So in 1996, EMERALD tile + marble was born and we began importing tile and expanded into manufacturing stone countertops. My cousin even designed our original logo! When we outgrew St. Laurent, I built our current building on Sheffield to house our retail store, our warehouse and our manufacturing facility under one roof, and then expanded into Kingston.
You’ve been in business for 22 years – what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the local industry since opening your store?
The local industry has definitely become a much more competitive business. Although we should all be strong supporters of our neighbours and buy local, companies are coming in from other cities - particularly Montreal and Toronto. It’s always hard to see their trucks on local job sites. You need to constantly stay on top of changing trends, so I take some of my staff to shop the major shows every year and import some of our favourite tile and stone products.
You’re big supporters of the Ottawa community. What does it mean to you to be able to offer 35 people employment with your company?
A business like EMERALD tile takes a wide variety of people. It takes a team to build a business like this and keep it going every single day. We have people in manufacturing, tile-setting, sales, accounting, etc., and some of them have been with us for over 20 years... that's saying a lot. It makes me proud that some are learning a new skill, while some have become experts in their field working with us, but no matter what you do here, you're given the opportunity to provide for your family, and there are no limits to growing within the company.
You mentioned that the process has gone digital. What was involved in the work when you first started, and what does going digital mean for you and for your customers?
When we first started, the manufacturing involved measuring by hand and cardboard templates. About a decade ago, the industry switched to digital which meant laser templating and manufacturing done by machinery. So just as an example, we went from being able to manufacturer 3-4 kitchens a day to 8-10 kitchens per day. Timeframes and costs decreased significantly, which got passed along to customers and all of a sudden, stone countertops became more affordable and practically the standard in homes. 20 years ago, seeing a stone countertop in a laundry room would be unheard of! Nowadays, it's almost become a must.
What goes into choosing the tiles and stones you source? Is there something specific you look for; something you try to avoid?
Granite and quartzite are always so interesting because they're constantly mining new colours. Natural stone truly never goes out of style. Some people appreciate that no two slabs are ever the same. For those that prefer uniformity, manufactured quartz has come such a long way in the past 3-5 years, even being able to mimic natural stone. Then there's marble, limestone and the latest - porcelain slabs. Porcelain tile has come a long way too, and we take a lot of cues from the European market where tile has always been used more prominently then in North America. They reproduce the look of cement, wood, marble, stone… almost to surprising perfection. At the end of the day, it's all up to customer preference and we do our best to source a variety of different products.
What sets EMERALD apart from the big commercial box stores? What do consumers get when they outfit their home using locally owned retailers?
We are the only business in Ottawa to manufacture countertops in our facility, import tile and all the setting materials you’ll need too…so we're truly a one-stop shop. Renovations – no matter how big or small - are always fun and exciting, but they can also be stressful at times. We always strive to provide a truly personalized service, and a great customer experience. Not just your first visit, but every time you walk into our store.
Why was it important for you to include a play room for kids in your store?
When we were building our Sheffield location, I was actually about to become a father myself for the first time. I was constantly noticing young kids hanging off their parents’ legs while they were trying to shop. They were always so stressed and pressed for time! So adding a playroom seemed like a helpful distraction for parents and kids' alike. My own kids have spent A LOT of time in them .
How do you balance family life and running a business?
Every business owner will certainly agree that to balance family life and running your own business is a challenge. They have to both be priorities. That's why it's important to have a great staff that supports you when you have to get to that Christmas play or that sports tournament. It's equally important to have a family that understands when you have to go to trade shows out of town, or make a few site visits on a Sunday morning.
What is your favourite local restaurant?
There are so, so many great local restaurants in Ottawa... where to begin? Some of my greatest friends are in the restaurant business so I don't want to be left off their Christmas card list! But if I were to plan a perfect day, I'd grab breakfast at Baker Street Cafe. Lunch would be at either Lollo or La Bottega Nicastro - cannoli and espresso a must! For dinner, I would end up at Mezzanotte or Babbo's for some good home-cooked Italian food... but please don't tell my mother.
You’re a big hockey fan – thoughts on the Senators this season?
Ask me that again in 3 years. Obviously they're in a rebuilding phase, but the young players they have are fun and exciting to watch.