These days, Suzanne Stilson Edgar says she feels like she is starting over in business -- and loving it.
For nine years, Edgar, owner of Surface Style, a distributor of medium- to high-end floor and wall tiles and stone products, had split her time between two companies, Surface Style and Epro Inc., a tile manufacturing business in Westerville. But in April 2000, Edgar sold Epro to Seneca Tile Co. of Attica, Ohio.
Since the sale, she has found concentrating on just one business to be much more manageable.
"I used to think that I could do it all, but suddenly I felt I didn't have control of my life anymore," admits Edgar. "The manufacturing plant ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. The decision to sell was spearheaded by my desire to spend more time with my 6-year-old son."
Edgar backed into the tile business in 1977 after the death of her father.
"The manufacturing company belonged to my father. I was in chemical engineering school at Purdue and I came home to take care of him when he became ill," Edgar remembers. "During that time, I would drive him to the tile factory, and I literally just fell in love with making tile."
After successfully operating Epro for a number of years, she began searching for a local distributor for her Epro products. When she wasn't able to find one that she felt was a good fit, she started her own distribution business in 1991 by launching Surface Style, with a showroom in the Short North.
Surface Style now offers tiles from 30 manufacturers, including Epro.
"Over time, we have taken on lines that are compatible with Epro but that don't necessarily compete with Epro, with the idea of being able to offer a wide array of products to our customers," notes Edgar.
Because her attention was divided for nine years between two companies, Edgar says she never felt able to give Surface Style the attention she wanted to. Since selling Epro and concentrating her full attention on Surface Style, however, she's seen sales increase by 34 percent in 2000.
The company also has moved from its 1,400-square-foot showroom in the Short North to a space on Busch Boulevard that, when completed this spring, will include a 3,500-square-foot showroom and a 3,500-square-foot warehouse.
"Our showroom in the Short North was beautiful, but parking was a problem and we had no room to expand," says Edgar. "We're now in a 7,000-square-foot facility, and our challenge now is to grow the business. It's like starting all over."
Plans for this year include concentrating on marketing efforts to increase name recognition.
"We're starting to do a lot more box luncheons, going to architects' offices and doing presentations," says Edgar. "And we're participating in trade groups and networking in an effort to be more prominent."
Through it all, Edgar says she has realized the value of having good employees.
"You can have the best products in the world or the best showroom in the world, but none of that will matter if you don't have the right people," she says. "I think the key is having good communication with your people so that if there is an issue that isn't working well, hopefully you can talk it out. I know that I lost some key individuals in the past simply because I wasn't available."
Having a significantly smaller staff now -- six employees vs. the more than 40 she supervised when running both businesses -- has helped.
"It really feels like I can get my arms around it now," she says. How to reach: Suzanne Stilson Edgar, Surface Style, 781-6990 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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