EMC Tiles, formerly East Midlands Ceramics, was founded by Barry Slawson, in 1979. Over the next 40 years Slawson and his tight-knit team have created an award-winning supplier of wall and floor tiling products, with a strong geographical focus on the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire. Joe Simpson visited EMC’s new Derby branch to get the full story.
It says a great deal about EMC Tiles, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, that one of its key suppliers remains Gardinea Orchidea: the Italian tile brand with which Barry Slawson established his company back in 1979. This ongoing trading relationship, which has survived the seismic changes that have taken place in both Italian tile manufacturing and the UK ceramic tiling sector over the past four decades, bears testimony to the rock-steady business ethos that underpins EMC Tiles.
While many mission statements can appear little more than corporate spin, EMC’s appears to be a very clear summation of the core values that underpin this successful company-owned business.
“EMC Tiles is dedicated to bringing to the attention of our customers the very best that is available in the world of ceramic wall and floor tiles and associated products.”
“We will introduce into the market the latest innovations in both products and technical improvements, as quickly as possible, whilst always up-holding the industry’s stringent high standards to ensure products are fit for the purpose for which they are intended.”
“We will maintain our continuing value for money policy, whilst always striving to improve on our first class service to all of our clients.”
“This is our aim and promise both now and in the future.”
EMC Tiles, which formerly traded as East Midlands Ceramics, was founded by Barry Slawson in 1979; initially trading from one small high street shop on Mansfield Road in Sherwood, Nottingham. Within 18 months the two adjacent units were acquired and East Midlands Ceramics was able to create one of the first purpose-built tile showrooms in Nottingham.
From this modest beginning, EMC Tiles has blossomed into a major player in the supply of wall and floor tiling products into the commercial and domestic markets, with several top awards to its credit. It retains a strong geographical focus on the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire
In 1989 the company, while retaining the original Mansfield Road premises, developed and relocated to its present headquarters at Southglade Business Park, Nottingham. EMC Tiles commissioned the construction of an 8,000 sq. foot unit which has since been expanded into a 20,000 sq. foot complex with showrooms, warehouse, trade services, business centre, and administration offices.
A branch in Loughborough opened in 2000, comprising ground and first floor showrooms, trade service centre, and warehouse. This has proved a great asset, helping the company to service its customer base in South Nottingham and North Leicestershire.
In 2001, the original East Midlands Ceramics Nottingham premises was retained and re-christened ‘The Anglo Italian Tile Centre’, along with its own product portfolio and marketing methods. This unit successfully traded until 2010 when it was decided to transfer and integrate the business into EMC’s main Nottingham premises at Southglade Business Park.
This move marked the end of the company’s first chapter, in which the Sherwood premises played such a major role. It was followed by the acquisition of a tile business in Leicester in 2014 when an old and respected rival, Leicester Tile Centre, decided to sell. For EMC Tiles this was a great opportunity to expand into South Leicestershire.
Following its acquisition, Leicester Tile Centre quickly became fully operational as EMC Tiles, with newly developed showrooms and a trade services centre. It is now an integral part of EMC Tiles’ branch operations, and a popular and busy outlet in Leicester.
This, along with the recent development of a new site in Derby, has cemented EMC Tiles’s strong regional presence. Today, EMC Tiles employs 52 people and has a proud record of recruiting locally for its workforce.
“Forty years in business is a tremendous milestone for the company and I have decided to make it a personal one too by taking on the position of Chairman of the EMC Tile Group,” states Barry Slawson; a sprightly 76 year old.
This decision creates a pathway for a second-generation management structure to take the helm at a time of expansion, with the company having just added a fourth branch in Derby. The family-run firm will see Barry Slawson’s three sons – who together boast more than 65 years’ experience in the tile sector - becoming Joint Managing Directors. The three siblings – Martyn, Philip, and Stephen – will assume responsibility for day-to-day management of EMC, while continuing with their existing roles; with Martyn responsible for buying and IT; Philip for trade services and counter sales; and Stephen for sales across the group including the commercial and contract sectors.
“I now feel I can hand over the day-to-day running of our company in total confidence that we have the most able and experienced team to take us forward,” states Barry Slawson, “along with the support of many of our long serving, experienced, and capable employees.”
“I would like to add my own very special thank you to all my working colleagues and to all EMC customers, past and present, who over the years have provided the loyalty and support in creating the highly respected company we have today.”
40 years of design evolution
When EMC Tiles was founded back in 1979, the tile world was barely recognisable from today’s sophisticated sector, as Barry Slawson recalls.
“At the start of our tile adventure in January 1979, tile design by today’s standards was very limited and minimal in choice. Production processes and raw materials dictated styles and the market was predominantly towards the manufacture of wall tiles, with little attention given to flooring products. Formats were also confined to small sizes being traditionally 150 by 150mm (6” by 6”) with combinations up to a maximum of 300 by 300mm (12” by 12”) in-between. Towards the end of the decade and in early 2000 innovation moved at a much faster pace. Customers were recognising and demanding bigger choices; particularly in floor tile, design and quality. This marked the start of exciting times in the development and marketing of ceramic tiles.”
EMC Tiles has stayed at the head of this continual product evolution, that has seen single fired tiles, porcelain body, rotary decoration, digital inkjet, and now continuous pressing challenge the market’s perception of ceramic tiles and their application. Today the company offers ranges from more than 30 leading manufacturers. Alongside Gardenia Orchidea Ceramiche, are key suppliers like Cooperativa Ceramica d’Imola, Panaria (Love Tiles and Margres brands), Ascot, Edimax, Saime, Ape, Dom, Original Style, Tilemaster, RAK, DeVi, Montolit, and Siri.
“We are currently dealing directly with 33 tile manufacturers, of which seven account for approximately 60% of our business,” explains Barry Slawson. “The remaining 40% helps to provide a comprehensive balance to our product portfolio.”
The development of this extensive portfolio reflects EMC Tiles’s ability to keep continually abreast of ongoing changes in the tile marketplace.
“We identified, as the business grew, that tiles were now becoming a fashion statement,” continues Barry Slawson. “No longer were wall tiles considered a practical solution to protecting shower and bathroom wet areas or kitchen splash backs, but with the benefit of wall and floor co-ordination with bathroom and kitchen furniture, these rooms became a special place in the home.”
Likewise, flooring materials were getting special attention for the purpose of practicality and hygiene, ceramic wall and floor tiles was a number one choice.
Consequently, a huge demand was made on manufacturers to design and produce products that would be marketable as wall and floor coverage to compete with more traditional materials. The results were stunning.
“All application obstacles were removed, and style, design, size, colour and finish met the high demands the products needed to perform to in use,” explains Barry Slawson.
“Formats were suddenly endless; from modular designs, numerous variations in square and oblong shapes , non-slip surfaces, high-gloss, polished, matt or honed surfaces; all very special and technically developed to meet today’s high standards.”
“Latterly, the introduction of a new generation of tiles for external use - replicas of natural materials like wood, marble, limestone, etc - and floor to ceiling porcelain ‘slabs’, are currently amongst the latest tile industry innovations.”
New Derby branch opens
EMC’s latest venture saw the opening, in June 2019, of a new branch in Derby. This now provides EMC Tiles with a presence in the three major counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire.
Located on the new Eagle Business Park Alfreton Road, the 8,000 sq. ft. unit accommodates the latest wall and floor tile collections in a purpose-built warehouse and showroom, along with a Trade Service Centre displaying all the materials and accessories the busy tile fixer will ever need.
“We are really delighted to have found this location, in Derby’s premier trading zone,” states Barry Slawson. “We think that having Screwfix just down the road is a very good marker. But what really excited us was having a completely blank slate upon which to create our ideal vision of a contemporary tile showroom. We undertook a lot of research into the Derby area before we took on this unit, which was actually brought to our attention by a competitor. And we are delighted with the results. We have really put out stamp on the space and are very pleased with the outcome.”
EMC Tiles Derby certainly lives up to this billing. On entering the premises, one is immediately struck by the trade counter and adjoining showroom, featuring large format Montolit cutters, Tilemaster Adhesives, Siri tools and the essential value added products from top brands such as Schluter Systems and DeVi.
Offering informed advice, educational displays and fixer essentials, such as a massive selection of tiling trims, this space provides complete reassurance to tilers that this is a professional supplier who understands their marketplace. The mezzanine showroom upstairs effortlessly combines compact roomsets, with sliders and other display options to bring EMC’s broad portfolio to life. There is one corner set aside for high value, small format, decorative tiles and mosaics; while the staircase itself acts as a living advertisement for the dramatic designs possible using today’s XXL format tiles.
“Our showroom design objectives attempt to give our customers a real understanding of the use of wall and floor tiles in various applications in and around the home,” says Barry Slawson.
“Consequently, all our showroom centres are constructed round true-life roomset style displays, allowing easy judgement of a choice of products and how they would work in a home environment.”
As is established practice across EMC Tiles’s estate, the Derby branch will host regular “open day” sessions for tradespeople featuring new product introductions and demonstrations. These popular events brings to the attention of the professionals all the innovative and latest products the industry has to offer.
EMC Tiles, in collaboration with key suppliers and manufacturers, also offer comprehensive training programmes to all its staff and clients on new products and systems.
Clear focus on the trade
This focus on the trade is one of the keys to EMC Tiles’s ongoing success. With 40 years’ experience in the tile industry, EMC Tiles is in an excellent position to source the kind of products demanded by professional tile fixers from a worldwide market. Up to 125,000 sq. metres of tiles are stocked in the company’s own warehouses for day-to-day purchase and distribution. Many other products can be sampled and obtained, if required.
And, like all forward-thinking companies, EMC Tiles provides both an informative website and direct online ordering facilities. This is an exciting development for EMC and provides full information on all the company’s services including, the very latest in tile designs, tools and accessories.
Perhaps the last word should go to Enrica Baricchi from Gardenia Orchidea; the Italian tile manufacturer with whom Barry Slawson and EMC has enjoyed a 40 year association.
“Gardenia Orchidea Ceramiche is pleased to celebrate the 40th anniversary of EMC as one of their very first Italian suppliers. During the years, we became not just partners but also friends and we managed to face the changes of the market and the customer’s needs together.”
“Since the beginning, we have been sharing a common vision and approach towards projects and sales in general: excellent service, high quality material and helpful staff made our collaboration easy and very successful.”
Such loyalty and trust is rare in any business and bears great testimony to EMC’s ability to move with the times and say focused. Barry Slawson’s three sons have a tough act to follow, but a strong legacy on which to build.
More at: https://www.emctiles.co.uk
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