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Mosaics and Medallions: Piecing Together the Profits

"Mosaics and Medallions: Piecing Together the Profits"
Stone Business, January 2007, by K. Schipper

With stone becoming more-commonplace in residential and commercial work, mosaics and medallions offer a way to keep the natural theme and give clients a special look.

While mosaics-the process of using small bits of colored stone to make pictures or designs-date back to Ancient Rome and before-the 21st century is putting a while new twist on this millennia-old art form.

The availability of computerized waterjets to cut stone to incredibly close tolerances, along with a rise in overseas producers willing to fill the lower-priced niches of the market, is putting a wide range of design options for mosaics and medallions in front of consumers.

The real trick to tapping this market? Have some ample showroom space-and a trained force to make sales a smooth process for buyers.

BY ANY NAME

The first important detail, though, is to make sure everyone-including the customer-knows that mosaics and medallions aren’t’ exactly the same.

“A medallion is a circle, or a square that has a circle in it, that’s used as an accent price,” says Sara Baldwin, president of Exmore, Va.-based New Ravenna Mosaics.  “A medallion can be made from waterjet or mosaics or tumbled stone, but it’s almost always circular in shape and surrounded by some sort of field tile.”

Roger Souders, vice president of the Vista, Calif.-based Honor Life Medallions, says the terms are often used interchangeably, but some people choose to be more-specific about the method of manufacturing.

“You can have a mosaic medallion, or a waterjet medallion,” he says.  “The difference is in the method of manufacturing and the appearance of the end result.” 

Pini Barak, owner and president of Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based P.B. Marble Services, agrees that the differences in the manufacturing, although he puts it slightly differently.

“A mosaic is putting pieces together but not grinding them to make them look like you have one tile,” Barak.  “You have grout between the pieces.  A medallion involves putting them as close together as possible, gluing them on either an aluminum back or a granite back, and then grinding and polishing them as one piece.”

The two processes can even be mixed.  Baldwin says her company is currently working on a shower design that combines silhouettes of Green goddesses cut with a waterjet then surrounded by mosaic.

Regardless of the design, the main market for these pieces tends to be high-end residences, although it’s wader than that, according to Carol Friend, president of New Rochelle NY-based Terra Bella Marble. 

“We feel there’s unusually broad audience for these products,” Friend says.  “Because mosaics have typically been a high-end item, they’ve been used commercially for a very long time.  Mosaics have become increasingly popular for residential use and are now reaching into a broader segment of the residential population as prices have come down.”

Fried cites dramatic entryways, kitchens and bathrooms as all popular uses mosaics, and adds that her company also utilizes them as tabletops, “which are just gorgeous,” she says.

“Volume-wise, the biggest part of our business is to high-end residences,” says Jo-Ann Zanzuri, who with her husband, Clement, owns Miami-based Stoneworks of Art.  “However, the big jobs, dollarwise, are commercial ones, such as cruise ships and large hotels.”

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Just as not all granite slabs are equal in value, there’s a wide ranger of product possibilities that fall in the general category of medallions.  At the lower end are stock designs, or what Zanzuri call, “quick-to-ship” items.  She says in some cases, hers go out the same day they’re ordered.

“We were possibly the first in the country to come up with a line of medallions,” she says.  “Every year I add to it and change it to try to keep up with looks that I think will keep people interested.  We have some 300 medallions in stock, and people can go on the Internet and see what we have.”

“We stock a line of standard items in our warehouse here,” says Terra Bella’s Friend.  “The idea with those is that people can get something quickly.”

“Even with these items, though, there’s an emphasis on quality.  For instance, Baldwin says New Ravenna has come up with a line called Metamorphosis that’s anything but dull.

“It’s all about the transformation of natural patterns and textures into mosaic designs,” she says.  “It’s more about texture and less about pattern, although pattern is certainly part of it.”

“For someone who’s a bit more interested in a custom product but not necessarily looking to reinvent the wheel, both Zanzuri and Baldwin say there’s an in-between step.

“The customer can do something as simple as tweaking one of our borders and recoloring it,” says Baldwin.  “Or, they can take a field-tile pattern that’s something standard-say a basket weave-and recolor it to coordinate with the carpet in the next room.” 

Zanzuri says Stoneworks of Art invested in software several years ago that lets customers go online and create what she refers to as a custom standard design. 

“They can select one of our designs, pick from palette of colors and just click to add them,” she explains.  “That way, they can add whatever they like, whether it’s a little bit of lapis or something that matches the color scheme chosen by their interior designer.”

At that level, there’s also a choice of finishes, Zanzuri says. 

The final step, of course, is a truly custom item.  Zanzuri says she recently had a woman spend two days at the company’s showroom working to design exactly what she wanted. 

As with any other truly custom work, a medallion can take considerably more time, effort and money than something from a company’s catalog of designs.

Friend says in an ideal world, a custom project begins with the seller contacting her company with drawings or photos, and that assumes the buyer has already settled on a concept.

The field measurements also have to be provided, and there are typically one or more samples to make certain everything is okay before actual production begins.

“It’s very important that the customer knows you can’t make a medallion with a mix of marble and granite because you can’t grind them together,” says P.B. Marble’s Barak.  “Few people understand that you can mix the stones, but you can’t grind them into a whole.”

How long it takes to get a custom medallion delivered and installed depends on the manufacturer.  While Barak and Terra Bella’s Friend quote their delivery time in weeks because they’re buying from overseas suppliers, Honor Life’s Souders says once the preliminaries are completed, his company can manufacture a custom medallion in two days.

“We have an adequate amount of equipment and personnel to do it and to us, turning around production for the new home market is essential,” Souders says.  “You can’t hold up the close of escrow because we can’t deliver a medallion in time for the flooring to be installed.”  Pricing, of course, can go much higher with custom items.  New Ravenna’s Baldwin says prices on her medallions range from $25-$800 per square foot-retail.  Many of the others quote figures beginning around $200 for stock items and going up as customization increases.

“Our dealers typically double the cost at which they buy from us,” says Friend.  “That’s pretty much the suggested retail price.  Some more than double it, but double is typically what they get.”

SHOW AND SELL

Having the right person on the front end of the process to make sure things go smoothly with custom-and even not-so-custom-orders is a main reason these companies are often particular about who’s selling their products.

Certainly the most-common venue seems to be home-design centers.  Souders explains that especially with new homebuilders, they contract with a design center that provides a selection of items such as floor coverings and window treatments included in the price of the home.

“They’re not mandated to go to the design center, but to make it easy, probably 80 percent of them do,” he says.  “There, they end up upgrading to higher-quality products which many times will include a medallion.  We, in turn, have point-of-purchase displays in those centers, which introduce the homebuyer to the actual look of the product.”

Baldwin says her company, too, prefers to sell through high-end design centers.  In addition, she says there are financial requirements on both sides.

“It’s a couple thousand dollars a year they have to spend on samples and materials,” she says.  “We also have expectations on how much they’ll sell in a year.  And, because their staff has to be fairly well-educated on the product, we spend a lot of money bringing them here and training them.”

However, for those willing to make the commitment, Baldwin adds, New Ravenna does distribute through some bath and tile distributors, and even smaller operations that have their own showrooms. 

Seeing the product is very necessary, say both Terra Bella’s Friend and P.B. Marble’s Barak.  Both require their dealers to stock some of their medallions and-in Terra Bella’s case-borders, and prefer to sell through showrooms. 

“If you have a showroom and people are coming in there it’s a good idea to have some on hand,” Barak says.  “People like to see them and touch them; it makes a difference.”

Stonework’s Zanzuri says her company takes a slightly different approach.  While it does sell through design centers, it also works through at least one large stone supplier, and because its medallions often go in spec home, she says it’s a product that smaller shops can sell using a brochure.

“A large component of our business is people in the stone business who have retail showrooms and are selling things like sinks and tile, as well,” she says.  “They may not sell our product every week.  They may not sell it every month, but they want to have it available for that high-end client who wants something a little special or a little different.”

While stone fabricators and suppliers can certainly find some venue through which to get medallions and mosaics to their interested customers, perhaps the better question is whether it’s necessary to prepare for a growing demand for these items in the future.

Opinions on that are mixed, with Barak, particularly, seeing the market reaming about where it is now.

“I don’t think it’s going to be booming,” he says.  “I think it will remain limited to people who have special ideas; it’s for special customers, yes.”

Honor Life’s Souders feels the market will also remain limited, mainly because of the price, which he believes makes the product much-more-attractive to the new-home market than for remodels.

“These are attractive accents for homes, and there’s a perceived value and an actual increase in value when you put on in a home,” Souders says.  “However, they’re not cheap, and that makes adding one an easier decision if you can roll the prince into a going mortgage rather than going out and paying cash.”

However, Friend feels their very uniqueness-coupled with increased availability and lower prices-will continue to grow the market for medallions and mosaics.

“With the fabrication market becoming incredibly competitive, fabricators are trying to expand what they offer,” she concludes.  “It definitely seems to be growing in popularity, and this can be one more thing fabricators can offer to people walking in their shops.” End of Article
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