When most people think of industry disruption, they don’t think of tile. Eric Edelson, CEO of Fireclay Tile, wants to change that.
Fireclay Tile, which manufactures and sells high-end ceramic and glass tile for both residential and commercial applications, and counts Starbucks and Whole Foods among its customers, is disrupting the industry with their direct sales model and environmental impact.
Fireclay is also the only tile company in the world to receive a B Corporation certification, an accomplishment of which Edelson and his employees are exceptionally proud.
What exactly is a B Corporation? B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there are over 2,000 Certified B Corps across 50 countries and 130 industries, all committed to redefining success in business.
For Edelson, setting his company on a path to become a B Corp was inline with both his personal and professional values.
“I believe in using business as a force for good. I’ve always identified with brands like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s. I remember reading Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, and saying, ‘That’s the type of company I want to be at.’”
Edelson, who believes businesses can be a great vehicle for change, sought to formally incorporate those same tenets of corporate social responsibility in Fireclay, which is what fueled his interest in B Corp certification.
“My hope is we attract people who also value what the B Corp certification stands for, and that it becomes part of our culture and separates us. You can argue that businesses exist to make money, and I do think that’s important. But I’d happily sacrifice dollars to be able to set ourselves apart on any one of the other B Corp metrics.”
To ensure that his employees are indeed living out their social sustainability values, Fireclay formed an internal “B Team” of employees who are tasked with championing the B Corp movement within Fireclay.
“When you lead an organization, you hope and dream that your employees really buy into the company mission and get excited about it, so I’m really excited that we now have six people on the ‘B Team,’” says Edelson.
This year, Fireclay’s “B Team” is focused on philanthropy, community outreach, and inclusion, including fostering stronger ties between people in their manufacturing facility in Aromas, CA, and in their retail store in San Francisco’s design center.
Edelson also believes that Fireclay’s commitment to social responsibility has given them a leg up against their competitors.
“We’re the only B Corp certified tile manufacturer or retailer in the world,” Edelson explains. “Most people still don’t know what a B Corp is, but we’re working to change that. My hope is that when people look at tile, they’re not just evaluating product style and quality, they’re also looking at the company holistically and asking, ‘Is the whole company doing good? Has that been evaluated, measured, and certified?’”
While Fireclay’s social responsibility is certainly impressive, it isn’t the only thing that sets them apart from other tile companies. Their direct sales model is also rare within the industry.
“Fireclay is very unique because we’re a vertically integrated tile company with a direct sales model. Our strategy is to disrupt the traditional tile sales model,” says Edelson.
Unlike the industry norm, in which manufacturers sell through distributors, who sell through retailers, who then sell to customers – Fireclay does it all.
“We cater directly to the end user, which allows us to deliver a superior product, and the best customer experience in tile, hands-down. No one else is doing that.”
And it’s because of their unique strategy and mission that they’re so successful today.
“Fireclay is a challenger brand, a company that never should have survived,” says Edelson. “Most of our competitors and peer manufacturers have gone out of business over the past several years, and yet we’re growing tremendously. We’ve defied a lot of odds.”
In addition to having a great product and a great team, Edelson also credits Fireclay’s success to their investment in technology.
With a team of 105 people located across six states, as well as a recently-expanded 8 acre manufacturing facility in Aromas, CA, and a design studio/retail space in San Francisco’s SOMA design district, Edelson has relied heavily on technology to manage and grow his business.
Fireclay currently uses Zenefits, Salesforce, and a number of different tech platforms to enable them to efficiently and effectively run their business, while delivering a superior customer experience.
“We’ve really embraced technology,” says Edelson, but that wasn’t always the case. “My first four years here, I did everything. I managed all of our HR, payroll, benefits…I remember trying to build my own Zenefits-like solution within Salesforce…I was desperately trying to track my employees’ PTO days, performance reviews, salary changes, benefits. I was also looking for ways to show and educate our team about the benefits we offer them, and the value it brings to them and their families. It was such a pain point.”
When Zenefits launched, Edelson says that moving their business onto the Zenefits platform was a no-brainer.
“The value prop of having a cloud-based software solution to deliver an all-in-one employee and benefits platform – something that was typically only available to much larger businesses – was really compelling, and the economics just made sense.”
“There are many benefits that employees may not realize they have, but Zenefits offers a great platform for businesses to expose these to their employees,” says Edelson.
For companies debating becoming a B Corp, Edelson has this advice:
“If you have an interest in improving your business… if you’re a values-oriented person and want to align your business with companies that have great values… if you want to measure your business against others and see how you stack up on more than just financial metrics… then I absolutely encourage you to pursue B Corp certification. I think it’s invaluable.”
Here’s how Edelson suggests you get started:
— Take the B Impact Assessment. “It’s an incredible, user-friendly tool for all companies to measure themselves across five major categories: environment, workers, customers, community, and governance,” says Edelson. “Allocate four hours to answer all of the questions. It’s a full audit of your entire organization – not just your financials. There will be lot of places where you won’t have answers, but keep going and come back to those questions later on. (We used Zenefits’ Business Intelligence reports to help answer many questions related to our employees: headcount, salaries, etc.) It’s awful, but at the end of it, what you’ll get is a score from 0-200 –and you may not like that score!– but that score reflects where you stand across the categories, and it will tell you if you qualify for B Corp certification.”
— IF you don’t pass the first time (score of below 80), don’t sweat it. The median score of all companies that have taken the B Assessment is currently 55. Fireclay failed the certification process three times before finally earning a passing score of 80 in 2015! (They recently were re-certified with a score of 92.) Just taking the test alone will give you ten ideas of things you can implement literally the next day within your company to improve your score.
— IF you get a passing score (80 and above), and you want to get certified, engage with B Lab. They will go through an extensive review process with you to determine your true score. The first time Fireclay took the online assessment, they scored a 95, and after the B Lab review process, it went down to a 52. Needless to say, B Lab is quite thorough, and they helped Fireclay identify areas for improvement, and provided feedback on the correct way to address weaker areas.