From Don's Perspective
"We are a custom ceramic tile manufacturing company." I can't even begin to imagine how many times I've used those words in unison, whether it be to describe Limelight or what I do for a living. Truth is, it cuts as close to the point as it's going to get.
So, that's the quick version, but if you'd like know a little more I'll do my best to explain what we do, and how we got here.
(Pictured below, I'm the one without a hat... or long hair.)
How it Started
In high school (I'll bet you didn't think we were going to go that far back), I dedicated most of my day to pottery. First semester of Junior year I took a basics class, and with all my credits fulfilled by senior year I spent pretty much the entire day in the studio. I knew I wanted to get back to it some day, but I honestly assumed I'd be 57 or so just playing in my basement to pass the time and feel creative.
Fast forward three and half years and I was en route to graduate from Penn State Altoona for business marketing/management dualed with entrepreneurship. Things were looking good with some great opportunities on the table, one of which would have had me making more money than any one that age should for a corporation that if you're reading this you've been there. November of my senior year my dad called me, "Hey, in the Pittsburgh Business Times I saw there's an auction in two weeks for a bunch of ceramic equipment, seemed like something you might really enjoy." Or something along those lines, it was a long time ago... Anyways, over the next week and a half or so we looked into it and determined that it was a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of decision and if things went cheap enough we'd go for it. In that time frame I had an interesting choice to make, corporate with money or risks with the chance to make things in USA and provide jobs that otherwise didn't exist. Well, my gut made its mind up and let's just say things went cheap, so here we are.
When it started
That was November of 2012. The auction lots went into storage until I graduated May 2013. By then we found a building and worked on it until it was together enough to start setting up equipment. About February 2014 I started "the production process" AKA learning how to make tiles (Reminder: I went to school for business ), and November of 2014 we delivered our first project. By February of 2015 our showroom was actually worth visiting.
From then on...
Up until this point, and on going for a while our primary focus was our pressed tiles. From our Basics Line to our Specialty Line we had a strong variety, and particularly for the more dimensional tiles we were offering tiles that were otherwise hard to find comparisons. Somewhere in the 2015 era is when the FIESTA® line became a large portion of our focus, I'm not going to go into all of those details right now, but check out that page for more of the story. The FIESTA line, was a lot of work to get off the ground, and it certainly brought us a lot of traffic, but more than anything it pushed us in many ways. Thanks to the creation of that line we made a LOT of improvements. From the way our molds were made, to the process of pressing, into the diligence that went in to glazes (both mixing and spraying), all the way to boxing and even how orders were placed and marketed, the entire process had many transitional times.
Getting the FIESTA line behind us in terms of a main focus was great, but it just so happened that this was around the time that I had some break throughs with the extruded line. You see, while our pressed tiles are awesome, they require intensive work per order, so for our basics they never made a lot of sense. If someone was looking for "subway" tile, unless they really wanted them made locally or were looking for a specific color, I more or less told them that price wise they were better looking elsewhere. Given the design trends of the past decade or so it is pretty apparent why I wanted to combat that battle. For a deeper dive on the Extruded Line's history, well you know what to do...
Who are we now.
Over the years, my mission has been the same, to make quality tiles here in the United States and provide jobs for a dedicated group of people. The path to keeping that going has obviously morphed at times depending on what set of goals I had set. The thing is, we really do enjoy what we do, but as with anything there is a time and a place. So finding a nice balance of what we have to offer was the hurdle. Our pressed tiles are awesome, but they require a lot of set up, often days worth of work before a single tile is made. The FIESTA line with all of its coordinating colors can be a lot of fun, but with all those options comes rarely having the inventory to fulfill an order without having to do small custom production runs.
With the addition of the extruded line, a much less involved process from a setup standpoint, things were on the upside, but lets be honest more sizes than a 3x9 were going to have to exist for that to hold the fort. Then came the new CNC Series, and with that the well-roundness I'd been searching for. Between our various lines we've reached a point where still have very unique products, and can compete in the end of the tile world where I once told people they were better off looking elsewhere. I mentioned that there is a time and a place, and that may have been unclear. The simple truth of the matter is, in many ways our pressed tiles involve too much work for smaller projects, so yes that was at times a burden when you knew going into a project that even breaking even was a long shot. A good press day is a thrill, but a tiny press day out of necessity can feel like a chore. Until we had the options of the Extruded line there wasn't a great way around this, but now we've found our groove of how the sales model needs to be set up so that we can ensure that each project is one to look forward to, for us and the client.
While we continue to streamline the order process for everyone's sanity our tiles are still made per order. At times we'll push out some extra that are available in inventory, but by making the tiles for the individual project we regularly have new and exciting progressions in the line and more times than not the client ends up with a one of a kind design. Growth is desired, but holding onto that custom feel for both the consumer and everyone at Limelight in the process is the goal.