Eight months ago, Landmark Ceramics opened its North American headquarters with an ambitious plan to produce high- quality porcelain tile 24 hours a day.
Things have gone so beautifully — bellissimo, as President Federico Curioni of the Italian-owned company might say — the Mt. Pleasant site will add a third shift before the end of summer, possibly as early as May. Interviews for positions have been ongoing at the 96-acre, $100-million facility near the Maury County Regional Airport.
“We are quite satisfied,” Curioni told The Daily Heraldon Monday. “The Italian families that have moved here to open and operate the plant are quite happy. We are pleased with the demand for our product made here despite intense competition across the United States.
“It is confirmation of our decision to come here. Columbia is a nice place. Mt. Pleasant is a nice place, and we are happy with the quality of workers we have found.”
Landmark is part of family-owned Gruppo Concorde, which was founded in 1968 and has an international reputation as one of the world’s top tile makers. Curioni has been with the company since 2003.
“We are proceeding at just the right speed in terms of production and quality to get the results we were expecting,” Curioni said. “It has been a great team effort. I am only the quarterback, to use a sports expression, but the rest of the team is producing as we expected.
“We studied where to expand in North America since 2012,” he added. “We had time to research the best place to be. We had time to build a state-of-the art tile manufacturing facility. So with the benefit of four years, we pretty much knew what to expect. Of course, it is exciting to be almost full speed, which would mean operating three shifts, 24 hours of production.”
Landmark Ceramics employs 130, including administration and sales staff, and will add around 40 more with the third shift.
“Within one year of opening, we will have the third shift,” Curioni said.
The plant started producing tile on site June 30 after sending many employees to Italy for training.
“For sure, there is demand for the product,” Curioni said. “When we started, we started with the idea of keep production even with out ability to have great customer service and stay in balance with sales.”
The plant produces many different types of tile. With technology, it can make dozens of different styles. And with the accent on quality, the hiring team at Landmark wants workers who will stay with the company long term.
“Most of the people we hired have stayed with us,” Curioni said. “The turnover is more than acceptable for the key positions.
“I am more and more convinced that money is not the only thing people want in a job. You could be in South Africa, or Russia or Australia, and I have found employees want a good working environment. This company has an important social role in helping families grow and find happiness in their jobs.”
The high cost of opening the plant has not been a short term concern of Luca Mussini, owner of Gruppo Concorde.
“The difference in a family-owned company and a company owned by the market is that we don’t care about the payback right away,” Curioni said. “You have to invest with a very very long-term horizon, and that is what we are doing.”
There we no surprises in the first eight months of operations, either from a production or regulatory standpoint, Curioni said. Local public officials and the Mt. Pleasant and Columbia communities have embraced the company and its workers, he said.
“We have a state-of-the-art facility in a stable democracy,” he said. “To invest in the U.S. market is always a good investment. It was a very good decision for us to come here.”
Demand increases for high-end ceramic tile with the economy, Curioni said, but the Landmark works with distributors and national dealers in selling large volumes of its products.
“We are able to reach the largest and biggest supplier when you make the product here,” Curioni said. “There’s only so much you can do from Italy. The United States is just such a vast market. Clearly, you have to coordinate the territory in the right way.”
Europe is the No. 1 market for Gruppo Concodre. The U.S. market has emerged as No. 2, ahead of Russia, where the company has another production facility, and India.
“There’s a chance the United States can become our No. 1 market in the future,” he said.
In the meantime, the $100 million investment reflects an open-ended commitment to Mt. Pleasant and southern Middle Tennessee.
“We have never laid off an employee in any of our plants in Italy or Russia,” Curioni said. “We have a forever commitment in this business. There have been bad and good economies since I joined the company in 2003. But we have never had to let an employee go because of a bad economy.
“Things are going great,” he added. “It’s just the beginning of the possibilities.”
James Bennett is editor of The Daily Herald. Contact him at email@example.com