Ceramic tile e-commerce | by Alessandra Ferretti
Marco Simuttis is the owner and managing director of Dortmund-based sales company Fliesenrabatte. After training as a wholesale and foreign sales manager at Raab Karcher in Dortmund and working at the company for two years, he felt disillusioned by the lack of prospects in the sector and decided to study economics with a specialisation in e-commerce at the Fachhochschule in Dortmund. During his studies, in 2004, he founded the online company Fliesenrabatte.de together with Jean-Philipp Berfeld.
What gave you the idea of starting up a ceramic tile distribution company?
During my training, I learned a lot about ceramic tiles. At that time there was only one competitor in the sector who was selling ceramic tiles, so Berfeld and I saw an opportunity to start up a similar business. Recognising the potential of e-commerce, we initially opted for an online sales model then in 2013 opened a physical sales outlet.
What were the most important steps in your company’s history?
One of the most important steps in our development was the opening of a 450 square metre showroom in Dortmund in 2013, followed by a 600 square metre store in Münster in 2015. In 2016 we expanded the warehouse to a capacity of 4,000 square metres. Our latest expansion was in 2019 when we added a further 1,000 square metres to the Dortmund showroom.
Both showrooms, the 1,450 square metre site in Dortmund and the 600 square metre space in Münster, are close to the city centre. We now have a total warehouse capacity of 60,000 square metres of tiles.
How is Fliesenrabatte currently organised and how is it performing in the market?
Fliesenrabatte had an average of 25 employees in 2019, including 15 sales staff. Tiles are our core business, but we also sell sanitaryware items along with all the other products displayed in our showrooms. We also recognise the potential of wood and have teamed up with Parkettrabatte.de, an online sales channel like ours that specialises in parquet and traditional and sliding doors. Together with them we have set up an in-house partner network with the same sales philosophy.
How is your online ceramic sales business going?
Sales are growing steadily and our Internet presence is increasing every month. The concept of combined online and offline sales (currently 50% per channel) is proving very successful.
In 2019, we were very proud to receive the prestigious Deutschlands Beste Online-Shops 2019 prize in the Tile Shops category from the Deutsches Institut für Service-Qualität (DISQ). And in an Internet and telephone survey of 40,000 people, asking them what they thought of this and other sites, our website topped the rankings in terms of quality and value for money.
Who are your main customers?
95% are end consumers. We are also seeing growing interest amongst architects because we offer design-oriented products and present them well. In the end, the architect advises the customer, who also buys from us.
What are the main areas of use of the tiles you sell?
We cater for all end customers’ needs, particularly interior tiles for use in the bathroom, living room, kitchen and guest rooms, although we are also seeing growing interest in exterior tiles in thicknesses of 2 cm and 3 cm. Customers realise that by choosing the same tiles for the patio or garden as for the living room they can create a sense of seamless continuity between indoor and outdoor spaces. This way, when they look out of the window the room seems to extend outwards and appears much larger.
Compared to the past, what do you see as the most important aspects of customer relations?
By the time customers come to us, they have already picked up a lot of information from the Internet, particularly through social media such as Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Google, and have very clear ideas.
We have to be able to answer all their questions, so our employees need to be very knowledgeable about our product range and our suppliers. Customers are always impressed and inspired by our staff’s professionalism and expertise. We aim to offer a solution to every problem.
What are your expectations from your ceramic tile suppliers? And what are the most important qualities of Italian tiles?
Italy maintains its leadership position in terms of design. Italian tiles always look special, they have the best feel and the most beautiful aesthetics and texture. Cheap products simply can’t compare. We always focus on quality, and with Italian products we’re used to having the very best.
What do customers look for in Italian products?
Above all, quality, design and expertise. The Made in Italy label is a positive quality for our customers. Italy is renowned the world over for its design, fashion, lifestyle, cars and food, and customers rightly project the qualities of these sectors onto the tile industry. Whether fashion, ceramics, food or home design, a product acquires greater value if you communicate the fact that it’s Italian. Customers want the very best product, something sophisticated. The days when price was the most important factor are over.
What differences do you see between Italian products and those of other countries?
Italy is a trendsetter. It’s always one step ahead of the others and offers sophisticated products. Other countries look at what the Italians are doing and copy them.
Every year we go to Cersaie to see the latest Italian products. It’s the Italian brands that dictate global trends in tile design.
What should Italian producers do to further improve their performance?
One thing that needs to be improved with some urgency is marketing for the German market. Presentations and catalogues are often incorrectly translated into German and sometimes the only language available is English. We often show customers products directly on the Italian companies’ websites and only a few of these have a German version. This would be a very effective way of improving visibility and sales.
What is the current state of the construction market in Germany?
Construction continues to boom, driven by low interest rates and cheap money. But although there’s plenty of work there are no skilled tile layers available.
Italian brands distributed by Fliesenrabatte.de