,  | July 25, 2022

Sometimes You Have To Do The Crazy Thing

From Car Trunk to Tile Industry Leader: Tile X Design Founder Dan Emmel Talks Startup Struggles and Industry Challenges

Join us as we delve into the fascinating journey of TXD and gain valuable insights from one of the industry’s leading tile distributors.


Sometimes You Have to Do the Crazy Thing
As we launch our new website, we’re thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with Dan, the visionary founder of Tile X Design. Established in 1990, TXD has grown from a humble startup into a pioneering force in the tile industry. In this engaging conversation, Dan shares captivating stories from the early days, pivotal moments that shaped the company’s trajectory, innovative strategies that set Tile X Design apart, and insightful perspectives on the tile industry’s current challenges.


Lynsey: As we launch our new website, we thought it might be exciting to offer our audience a deeper look into the history and evolution of TXD. Given the dynamic changes in our industry, hearing from a pioneer like you will provide invaluable insights. You founded TXD in 1990, a time when the tile industry was quite different from today. Could you share some stories and experiences from those early days that shaped Tile X Design into what it is today?

Dan: TXD was just a bootstrap startup: a basement office with a PC and a fax machine, the kind with thermal paper that came in rolls. This was next to a tuck-under garage that I stocked with samples. I had worked in the industry for about 10 years and had made some good business friends–design professionals, tile contractors, and manufacturers, too. Their support was crucial. My competitors provided the free marketing buzz by declaring, “That guy is selling tile out of the trunk of his car!” I am still kind of proud about the audacity of that decision, but it’s not like there was another option. Sometimes, you have to do the crazy thing.

Lynsey: TXD has come a long way since its humble beginnings. After those initial years of hard work and perseverance, what were the pivotal moments or decisions that significantly impacted the direction and success of the company?

Dan: Well, I focused on selling porcelain tile to architects and national businesses based in Minnesota. That strategy worked, and we started to grow, opening a small showroom in 1995. By 1998, Home Depot was moving into the neighborhood, and we saw the opportunity to expand just across the street from them. We decided to build a new kind of showroom and opened it in 1999. Within a few years, the residential sector had been providing about half of our revenue.

Lynsey: The character and setup of that showroom was incredibly different from the other typical tile showrooms at the time. Creating a less cluttered and more down-to-earth space must have substantially impacted customer experience. What was the inspiration behind this innovative design, and how has it influenced customer engagement and overall business growth?

Dan: The typical tile showroom had room-sized vignettes, a race-track layout, and a hodge-podge of manufacturer displays. This made remodeling expensive and made it difficult to keep things looking fresh. We hired an architect and created the feeling of a garden, with high ceilings and winding paths leading to generously sized conferencing areas. Display structures were uniform in size and color so that the presentation was more like an art gallery. Of course, the concept and the presentation only generate a positive first impression. You need friendly and professional work partners to keep people coming back. I like to read our Reviews because they remind me why we are here.

Lynsey: It’s clear that TXD has used a multifaceted approach to stand out and lead by example in the industry. Could you elaborate on some of the unique projects or initiatives that have truly set TXD apart and contributed to its reputation for excellence?

Dan: Well, yes, when you are the new kid in a big family, you have to shake things up to get noticed. We took on more challenging projects–like art murals and exterior applications. We invested in professional photography, built a Portfolio, and helped our clients enter tile design competitions. There were so many talented designers and skilled contractors in this market, and they have won a lot of awards. Now that we are well-established we are known for expertise in all kinds of projects and for being “first-to-market” with the latest trends. Another important differentiator, I think, was our Environment & Community initiative beginning in 2006. We began as an EPA Green Power Partner because it was the right thing to do and because it reinforced the environmental and health benefits of the products we sell. But it became a keystone for us, leading us to expand staff participation and helping us to build and strengthen our business and community relationships.

Lynsey: As someone deeply entrenched in the industry, your perspective on current challenges is invaluable. In a rapidly evolving market, staying ahead of potential issues is crucial. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing our industry today, and how is TXD addressing them to ensure continued success and leadership?

Dan: There are many challenges, but I could start with three that we have been working on.

  • The Labor Shortage
    The construction industry is one of several U.S. industries hamstrung by a shortage of qualified labor. There are not enough carpenters, electricians, plumbers or tile setters either. Nor are there enough American workers being trained to meet future demand. We should definitely be investing more in worker training and building bridges for immigrants rather than walls!
  • Industry Consolidation
    Small, locally owned and operated businesses are being replaced by Behemoth Nationals. This is happening in the tile business, too, and I think there are only about three or four of us left that are locally owned. I’ve compiled a Top 10 list of reasons to work with locally-owned tile companies and will save that for another post.
  • Internet Product Selections
    We are also seeing more commercial designers selecting products on the Internet. This can lead to specifications written to the benefit of out-of-state suppliers when, over 90% of the time, the exact same product is available locally. These designers are, unwittingly, creating problems for the owners and contractors on their project and I will also address that issue in more detail in another post.


Stay Tuned For More
This interview not only highlights the remarkable journey of TXD but also underscores the importance of innovation, resilience, and community in the ever-evolving tile industry. As we
continue to face new challenges and opportunities, insights from local business owners like Dan inspire us to strive for excellence and remain adaptable. We hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into the history of Tile X Design and the valuable lessons shared. Stay tuned for more stories and updates as we continue to celebrate the past, present, and future of our industry.

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