VOL. 11 | NO. 10 | Saturday, March 10, 2018
Memphis Tile and Marble A Family Affair for 50 Years
By Don Wade
Back in the 1960s, Hugo Kumitz had a tile and marble company in Memphis. His top employee was a man named Thomas Cox.
After several years, Kumitz had a suggestion for Cox that bordered on an order: Go out on your own, Kumitz told him, you’re too good at this to not start your own company.
And so in 1968, Cox founded Memphis Tile and Marble Co.
Memphis Tile and Marble Co. president Ricky Cox is celebrating the business's 50th anniversary. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
Today, as the company celebrates its 50th anniversary, son Ricky Cox is the president and runs the show. Ricky’s two older brothers chose other careers, one recently retiring after 35 years in corporate with UPS, and the other still operating a restaurant public relations firm in California.
Dad, Ricky says, still helps out. But at 76, Thomas Cox can afford to set his own boundaries and he does: He’ll run a job for his son if it’s close to his home, in the same ZIP code.
The industry has changed dramatically with each passing decade. In fact, Ricky Cox, 45, says, “Back in the ’90s were the best years. Dad ran 10 crews. He had 25 or 30 employees. It was a much bigger company. We do half of what he used to do. Honestly, I don’t know how he did it. Man, he was working 16-hour days.”
Cox says his days are closer to 12 hours. The work is still hard, the business is still competitive, but in a different way. One decision the elder Cox made has continued to pay dividends for the company. He became very involved with the National Tile Contractors Association, even sitting on the board for a couple of years.
The company has continued a close relationship with NTCA, and recently Ricky and three of his employees earned advanced certification on installing ceramic tile.
“It’s a test and it’s not easy,” Cox said. “A guy that’s been laying tile for two years couldn’t pass it.”
That level of expertise in combination with the company’s 50-year track record and relationships have kept business at a good level, even though the company today has 12 employees.
Ryan McClain, owner of McClain Construction, strictly does remodeling jobs. He’s been using Memphis Tile and Marble Co. for several years.
“They show up when they say they’ll be there,” McClain said. “The people he has working are all respectful. If there’s an issue after the fact, they come back and take care of the issue.”
When Ricky’s father got the business really going, cultured marble – a man-made material – was very popular. Cox says no grout was used so it was easy to clean.
“That’s why everybody liked it,” he said. “But nobody does it anymore. It all transitioned to tile and the tiles are getting bigger. When I started out the biggest tile was an 8-by-8. And now they’re making porcelain tile 10 foot by 5 foot. Mainly for commercial walls.”
In February, Cox made a bid for a major tile installation job at the Criminal Justice Center Downtown. Cox says 85 percent of their work is residential, 15 percent light commercial. The company does a lot of work with builders on luxury homes, say 8,000 to 10,000 square feet.
A home that size might have five bathrooms in the main house plus another in a pool house. That’s a lot of places for tile. Plus, kitchens aren’t just kitchens anymore. Formica gave way to Corian, which was supplanted by granite, which now has major competition from quartz. Countertops matter.
“Now quartz is the hot item,” Cox said. “It’s high-end. You’re not putting it in a tract home. They’ll spend 50, 60 grand on tile and countertops (in a luxury home). That’s somebody that’s got a designer and wanting to pick out the highest-end materials you can find.”
He can’t – and won’t – try to match what Lowe’s is offering.
“There’s no way I can compete with Lowe’s. They advertise $35 a square foot installed for granite, have three or four colors, and sub out to somebody that can do it for nothing because they can get all their work. We do everything here in-house. I can stand behind the work.”
McClain appreciates that and that Cox is forever looking ahead.
“He’s cutting-edge with the technology,” McClain said. “He’s always looking for a better way to do things, if there is one.”