Ames Tile & Stone Ltd.
In 1912, brothers Cyril and David Ames founded a small import shop in downtown Vancouver, importing toilet bowls and sinks from England, as well as locks for local businesses. This partnership lasted only a fortnight, but Cyril’s knack for business became apparent as his small, independent company grew.
Around World War II, he moved the operation, opening up a small 100-square-foot warehouse to import tiles from Wales. For more than 100 years, the company he founded, Ames Bros. Distributors Ltd., has continues to grow, rebranding itself as Ames Tile and Stone Ltd. (Ames) in 2008.
Ames is now a leading importer of fine tiles, serving dealers, designers and contractors throughout Western Canada. Currently, the business operates out of five offices in Burnaby and Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; Edmonton, Alberta; and Winnipeg, Manitoba, with approximately 150,000 square feet of warehouse and office space.
With three generations of family ownership, Ames has changed significantly over the years. By following markets and keeping close tabs on consumer trends, the company has remained ahead of the curve for over a century.
In the late 1960s, Japanese mosaic tiles grew in popularity. For more than a decade, these tiles made up 80 percent of Ames’ sales. In the 1980s, home and business owners in Western Canada began to favor Italian tiles. These larger, high-quality tiles are still the staple of the business today, making up 60 percent of sales, while the other 40 percent comes from a mix of international suppliers.
John Ames, current CEO of Ames, followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him. John has been with the company since 1977, when he joined the family business after working odd jobs and attending university for what he says is a bit longer than most students.
“I’ve been doing this 37 years,” John says. “I love the product, we have great people and I enjoy the staff. Everyone here is passionate about what they do. I don’t do much on the operational side anymore, but I love the people, the product and the industry. I’ve been extremely fortunate with my career and the success it has given me over the past four decades.”
A diverse inventory
Training plays an important role in operations at Ames. John and his management team invest heavily in staff training, familiarizing sales and service people with products.
“Everyone talks about people as an asset,” John notes. “Our Burnaby customer service desk has a combined 138 years of experience, which is more than anyone else in our industry. Our people have a true depth of knowledge and we spend $250,000 on training every year to keep our staff educated both personally and about the products we sell.”
In terms of products, Ames offers an enormous selection of tiles. On the supply end, the business has exclusive contracts with approximately one dozen Italian tile companies. “Our products are exclusive to us in Western Canada,” John explains. “We focus on exclusivity, knowledge, product uniqueness and service. Our Italian tile is of the highest quality, and our service is the best in the industry; head and shoulders above our competitors. We have an innovative product line and customers like dealing with our staff.”
That line includes a broad range of imported Italian tile. “You can tell Italian tile by the surface, the look, the glaze, depth and quality,” he notes. “Chinese tile is generally very good quality, but they tend to copy, whereas Italian tile manufacturers are the innovators.” Other sources include suppliers in India, Malaysia, the United States, Turkey and Spain.
John explains that inventory continues to change as time goes on, adjusting to consumer demand. Tile size, in particular, is growing. The Ames team recently brought a 4-foot by 4-foot tile selection into the warehouse. While these tiles are very large, home and building owners prefer larger floor coverings, because grout lines are eliminated, providing a more consistent feel and a more spectacular look.
Ames products have been featured in a number of high visibility projects throughout Western Canada. John says some of his favorites involve public and high-volume transportation systems.
“Our tiles went into the new Evergreen line, which is a light rapid transit system,” he explains. “We did all stations for that line. We have done a lot of work at the Calgary Airport. We were also involved in the Link project, a Vancouver airport expansion that linked the airport to the rapid transit system.”
According to John, high-end homes have also been a major market for the team. One homeowner completely renovated his home, ordering $120,000 worth of tiles.
As online presence becomes more important for businesses year after year, Ames is committing large investments in technology. Ames has an in-house smart phone app, Ames Online, which is free in the Apple Store and through Google Play. A version is also available for Android devices. Users can open up the app and see the entire product selection with specifications, as well as amounts in stock. The market is changing and Ames is catering to new demographics throughout the region.
John’s oldest son, Andrew, age 27, will likely be involved in the business in the next five years. John believes Andrew will become the fourth generation of the Ames family to lead the company.
To bridge the gap between John and the next generation, John Olson, now president of Ames, was hired in 2010; he is only the second non-family member to hold this position. With a strong hold on technology and a firm grasp on the market, Ames is looking forward to continued growth in the coming years.
“Of all the available flooring surfaces, including carpet, linoleum, laminates, ceramic and hardwood, two surfaces are beginning to dominate the market: porcelain and hardwood,” John explains. “Wall-to-wall carpet is really getting hit hard, as is linoleum. Tile will last a lifetime and this industry continues to innovate. We feature electric heating for installation under tile and stone, which is becoming more popular, especially in home construction.”
John reports consistent return on investment, positive relationships with customers, happy employees and overall steady growth. Ames strives not only to serve customers, but to ensure his employees work at a great place.
Since 2008, Ames has been ranked every year among the Best Workplaces in Canada. In 2013, the company ranked No. 10 out of 50 companies, in addition to No. 7 overall for best workplace for women and was one of six to win a workplace fairness award. For the fifth consecutive year, Ames has been recognized as one of the Best Managed Companies in Canada.
Solid management, open conversations with customers and lasting relationships with strategic partners have all resulted in a successful and growing business model. Ames continues to build on decades of success where other suppliers and importers have fallen behind. Looking ahead, Ames Tile & Stone Ltd. views the past with pride and the future with optimism and thanks all its internal and external partners for 103 years of success.