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North Adelaide Tiling has succeeded where many companies have failed in becoming a multi-generational business still holding true to the values that made the South Australian tiling business a success.
Managing Director Thomas Schlueter’s father, Thomas Guenter Schlueter, emigrated from Germany to Adelaide in the 1950s and originally started working locally as a roof tiler. However, coming from the cooler climes of Europe, he quickly realised that the fierce Adelaide sun was not his friend and made the switch to wall and floor tiling instead. “I couldn’t blame him; during summer it’s hot,” Thomas tells The CEO Magazine.
In the late 50s, Thomas Guenter went out on his own and established North Adelaide Tiling, running the business successfully for several decades and predominantly contracting to companies delivering new home builds.
“I’m proud of the fact that when I took over in 1988, we had just three contractors, and now we have over 50 contractors.”
Growing up alongside the family business, Thomas says it was a natural progression for him to join the company after he finished his schooling. He started his career with North Adelaide Tiling in 1980, making deliveries and learning the tiling trade, before taking it over from his dad in 1988. “I’m proud of the fact that when I took over in 1988, we had just three contractors, and now we have over 50 contractors,” he says.
Some of the supplier relationships North Adelaide Tiling has developed over the years go back to the late 1950s, when his father first established the business. Thomas highlights Hickinbotham Homes as one of the company’s most valued and enduring partnerships, of which he says he’s extremely proud. “It’s these relationships that are the key factors for me,” he says.
Even with the massive changes in the wider business environment over recent decades, the value of these strong business relationships have proven resilient and are on track to withstand the test of time. “My father bought tiles from Thomas Ray Beaumont [of Beaumont Tiles] in the early days. Thomas Ray would ride his pushbike to my father’s house, and my father would order a couple of pallets of tiles from him and he’d be all excited and go after his next client. We’re still buying from Beaumont today,” he says.
But while some things have stayed the same, Thomas also says a lot has also changed. He says the exponential increase in tile retailers over the past few decades has resulted in a more extensive variety of choice for consumers. Improvements have also extended to tiling itself – where once tiles were fastened with cement and sand, these days tilers are using purpose-made glues, which he says are a more versatile tiling adhesive.
“Doing the right thing by people all the time, at any cost, is what we do – the customer is always right.”
Thomas says that what makes North Adelaide Tiling stand out from its competitors is that the company stands behind everything it does. “We do everything – the waterproofing, the silicone and a whole lot more. If someone wants something done from us, we can do the lot,” he says.
Unlike most companies that faced either a slowdown or a complete shutdown during the pandemic, North Adelaide Tiling saw a significant increase in demand after COVID-19. “To be honest, when COVID-19 first hit, I thought business was going to be tough, that we’d have no work and everyone was going to struggle,” Thomas says. “But it turned out to be the complete opposite. We’ve had so much work now – and there’s no sign that work will slow down any time soon.”
Regardless of this unexpected boost to the business, Thomas and his team still remain committed to their focus on quality and service, which he says has always been non-negotiable for the company since his father first established it in the 1950s. “Doing the right thing by people all the time, at any cost, is what we do – the customer is always right,” he says.
“Integrity is important to us and it’s something we’re very set on ensuring we get right with our clients. It’s hard to build a good name, but we know that if we do the right thing by our clients over and over again, they will trust and respect us for it.”
For Thomas, some of the biggest issues he and his company face are around government bureaucracy, especially when it comes to meeting constantly changing rules and regulations. “The paperwork side of things is over the top at the moment. That’s the main thing I’d really change if I could,” he says.
But while the bureaucracy around occupational safety can be overly complex and doesn’t necessarily make practices safer, according to Thomas, overall the industry itself is doing well.