When National Tiles’ founder Frank Walker first launched the business in 1979, he did so with one small store in Geelong West in Victoria. The business quickly grew with several stores across Melbourne plus a few franchise stores. Now under the leadership of Frank’s son, CEO Nick Walker, National Tiles operates over 40 stores and franchises in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland.
“When we first considered expanding into other states, Frank and I flew to Queensland to meet with the owner of a business we were interested in buying,” explains Nick. “I was really keen. Unfortunately at that stage we couldn’t come to an agreement. So I told the owner that we’d be back the following week and just start up a business ourselves. I’m not sure if he believed me or not, but when I got home to Melbourne I discussed it with my wife, and we moved to Queensland a few weeks later. It all happened really quickly, and it’s the best decision I ever made.”
Adds Nick, “To be honest it was very challenging in the early days. Not long after we arrived at the end of 2006 the GFC hit, so in that regard it wasn’t the best timing – all I saw across Brisbane was cranes coming down not going up. But we persevered and around 18 months after moving to Queensland we opened our first store. We’ve never looked back and Queensland now equates to around 45% of the National Tiles business. Funnily enough I hadn’t spoken with that original business owner for about 12 years and then I had lunch with him last December. He wanted me to buy his business but I said it was a bit late.”
After the foray into Queensland, National Tiles opened a number of stores in South Australia that have become very successful operations. It’s a strong, consistent market and National Tiles has an incredible team there and some key builder partners. The team then made their way into the NSW market. Says Nick, “Our venture into NSW was driven by our partnership with Metricon Homes. Launching into this new market and adding installation to our supply offering was a challenge, but the partnership really flourished. We decided to open a store in Warner’s Bay near Newcastle a few years later and four years on that market has been very successful for us.”
And now, Sydney. It has always been a vision for National Tiles to take the business to Australia’s largest city. NSW purchases around 45% of all imported tiles into Australia, so that market is the biggest in the country. “It’s very fragmented though,” explains Nick, “with hundreds of competitors creating a melting pot of tile offerings with no real stand-outs. The market is driven by some strong independent retailers. So we decided to take our business model to Sydney and create something very bold.”
After searching for the right property for a number of years, the team found the ideal site Alexandria. A very large building at over 8,000sqm, it’s much larger than was originally anticipated. However it was the perfect location for making a statement and launching into the Sydney marketplace with maximum impact “It’s a cracking location, a great traffic hub and ideal for creating the biggest National Tiles store in Australia,” says Nick.
The store will bring a fantastic ‘in stock’ range to Sydney offers great value. “There are currently a number of high-end expensive tile retailers in Sydney and some very cheap alternatives too, but I don’t believe any other retailer offers the breadth and depth that the brand new National Tiles showroom will present. Stock is king, so having stock on hand is a key feature of the new store. We understand that when customers visit, sometimes having travelled some distance, they want to be able to select their tiles and either take them with them or have them delivered within a few days. We will bring a fabulous offer of European tiles at incredible prices that are in stock, delivering what the market needs.”
The new National Tiles store in Sydney will have a multi-layered approach. As well as the cash and carry facility where customers can pick up their tile purchases on the day, there is a 2000sqm double lane trade drive through right in the middle of Sydney. Importantly, there is a strong focus on design. “We have an unbeatable retail offering for consumers with $4million to $5million worth of tiles on the floor at any one time. We will also be working very closely with architects, high end builders and interior designers and will offer personal consultations by appointment with our in-house design team. We have incredible technology on site with our bespoke Tile Bar and Tiles Express, and we have created an inspirational space where design professionals can dwell, meet their clients and take their time selecting the perfect tiles to create the very best custom solution for their projects.”
Coinciding with the Sydney launch is National Tiles’ foray into the Tasmanian market. Again builder driven, the National Tiles team won the contract with Wilson Homes (part of the McDonald Jones Group) – the largest builder in Tasmania. Part of the agreement was a commitment to opening a National Tiles store to support them on the ground. The site team discovered an old hardware store, around 3,500 sqm metres, that was the ideal property for making a grand entrance into the market. Says Nick, “We’ll present our entire range, carry stock and have an awesome trade drive through. We understand that traditionally there has been a long lead time for Tasmanian shoppers, not just for tiles but across the board. We believe that the convenience, depth and breadth of our tile range combined with our design offering, low prices and first-class customer service will help us to penetrate the market.”
“National Tiles is more than just a business,” says Nick. “It’s a family, we will never forget our humble beginnings and we’ll always look to the future. Our core values are our compass – respect, teamwork, customer commitment, relentless improvement and innovation are what keep us on target as the ultimate tile destination.