Since it was founded in 1954, Florida Tile has evolved into a leading tile manufacturer that is at the forefront of technology and quality service. Originally started by Jimmy Sikes as a small operation in Florida to produce one specialty trim shape that was difficult to find, the company has grown in many facets and is owned today by Italian-based Panariagroup. As an American company with European owners, Florida Tile believes that this synergy has made for a successful business model. In addition to continually investing in state-of-the-art technology, the tile manufacturer also strongly follows many green practices, which contribute to an overall sustainable building environment.

Its strong commitment to the environment inspired Florida Tile to create its CARES (Creating A Responsible Environmental Strategy) program. A major upgrade of its facility in Lawrenceburg, KY, in 2007, involved creating a system that allows the company to recycle and re-use the byproducts of its manufacturing process, including water utilized in production, clay, unfired tile, dust and unfired ceramic tile.

“We made the decision when Panaria bought us [in 2006] not to send any more tile to the landfill,” said Sean Cilona, Director of Marketing. “We bought a grinder. It’s a tough process, but we are dedicated to putting [byproduct] back into our tile.”

According to Cilona, 40% recycled content is put back into each product. “That’s a big deal for architects and designers trying to do LEED projects,” he said. The certification was made by the independent Bureau Veritas, a third-party world leader in conformity assessment and certification services.

Taking its commitment a step further, Florida Tile has received Green Squared Certification for all tile lines produced in its Kentucky plant. Developed by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Green Squared certification provides accurate, third-party verified information on the environmental impacts of certified tile products. “Multi-attribute standards such as Green Squared are becoming increasingly recognized and encouraged as a resource by green building programs such as LEED, the National Association of Home Builder’s standard for green homes and the International Green Construction Code’s Green Building Code,” said Cilona.

Additionally, in 2011, the tile manufacturer was honored by the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture for its achievements in resource sustainability practices and by the Kentucky Energy Alliance for its commitment to energy management. Florida Tile was recognized along with others who “promote sustainable practices and have made impacts at the state regional and global levels.” Winners were chosen based on their contributions to societal, corporate, economic and environmental sustainability. When winning this award, the company reiterated that sustainability was an important consideration in Panariagroup’s investment in a state-of-the-art tile manufacturing equipment.

Location is also a large component to Florida Tile’s green initiatives. Situated just outside of Lexington, KY, its plant is within 500 miles of its raw materials that come from surrounding states. Moreover, its facilities are centrally located in the Mid-West — making it within 500 miles of 80% of the population of the entire U.S.

“Raw materials come from Ohio and Indiana, which are not too far away,” said Tyson Brass, a ceramic engineer who is Director of Manufacturing at Florida Tile. “We [also] try to recycle as much as possible. If we save on raw materials, it is better on the environment. We figure if we keep it in-house, it is also a good selling point.”

Brass explained that Florida Tile started saving scrap about a year and a half to two years prior to starting to use it. “Another part of the recycling [efforts] is that we take all the dust from the collectors and it goes back into the body of the tile,” he said.

A commitment to technology and customer service

As one of the leading Italian manufacturers with a strong international presence, Panariagroup is distributed in more than 100 countries around the world. It has eight brands positioned in the high-end of the tile and stone market: Blustyle, Cotto D’Este, Fiordo, Lea and Panaria in Italy; Love and Margres in Portugal, and Florida Tile in the U.S. With more than 1,000 employees worldwide, 300 sales agents and over 9,000 customers, Panariagroup has brought a strong support of knowledge, technology and financial stability that has pushed Florida Tile to expand in the domestic market, reports the tile manufacturer.

“To me, it is like coming home,” said Bernie Schwartz, Vice President of Manufacturing, when talking about Florida Tile being bought by Panariagroup. “They are dedicated. They are going to keep the business up to date. It takes courage to make capital investments.”

Panariagroup also believes strongly in customer service. “Through the recession, an advantage for us was that we could send distributors what they needed,” said Schwartz. “They are dedicated to service. Italians are also really good with product design, so it is a win-win situation.”

To produce high-quality products, Florida Tile has put in place a trademark system, HDP-High Definition Porcelain, which uses high-speed printers to give authentic looks to the tile designs. Panariagroup was a leader in this technology, and Florida Tile is the first domestic manufacturer to use it, explained Cilona.

“Being a part of Panariagroup is really great because they were leaders [in technology],” said Cilona. “We’ve been doing it about four years.”

At the time of TILE’s visit, Florida Tile was in the process of commissioning a new digital printer. “This will allow us to make tiles larger than 36 inches,” explained Cilona. “Technology is changing all the time. Just a few years ago, everything was in roto color. Now in three years, it is almost obsolete.

“We are having a debate about replacing people with computers and cameras,” he went on to say. “We are a high-end manufacturer. We want to work as a team — people and computers and cameras.”

Quality control is taken seriously. Florida Tile values both the mechanical and manual visual inspection. It believes the combination of both results in producing high-end products.

Tiles are laid out on the floor to do a shade inspection to make sure that the colors blend together well. A sorter looks for any visual defects in the tiles and an automated portion checks the tiles to make sure they are the correct size. Final inspection involves opening a box from every other palette.

Florida Tile has a nationwide and Canadian network of independent distributors with over 300 locations. It will be opening its 20th branch in Dallas in March and a location in Boise, ID, is expected to open this spring.

According to Richie Kincaid, Director of Logistics, shipments from Florida Tile’s distribution center in Lawrenceburg are prioritized by their distance. The ones the furthest away are sent out first.

Florida Tile plans to launch several new tile collections at Coverings 2014, which will take place in Las Vegas at the end of April, including its new thin tile program.