Arizona Tile: a passion for Italian ceramics

Alongside his wife Eileen, John Huarte heads a group of 25 showrooms in the American Southwest

by Simona Storchi

Arizona Tile is the largest importer and distributor of tile and stone in the American Southwest. After starting up as Morena Tile in San Diego in 1977, Eileen and John Huarte – a former football player – expanded their business throughout the Southwestern states, beginning with Arizona and California and from there moving into Colorado, Texas, Nevada and Utah. The figures speak for themselves: 25 showrooms with warehouses, 1.3 million sq. feet of display space, 670 employees, a turnover of more than US $250 million, and a logistics system that includes a fleet of trucks.


Part of the Arizona Tile Team. From left to right, top: Mark Huarte (Vice President of Operations), Gary Skarsten (Vice President), Matt Huarte (Vice President Real Estate) Bottom: Bob Traxler; (President), Randy Morreim (Vice President Stone), Ed Meyers (General Manager), John & Eileen Huarte (Founders), Bob Shuford (Sales Commercial)

The company’s core business consists of Italian ceramic tile for interiors and exteriors, along with a selection of natural stone such as granite, marble, travertine and onyx. “We have a dedicated team of four people who are responsible for our Italian product range and look after supplier relations,” explained Mark Huarte, vice president of operations of Arizona Tile and son of the founder. “We come to Italy twice a year and have excellent relationships with a number of selected key players, with whom we liaise constantly to discuss various aspects of the business.” Arizona Tile enjoys a special relationship with the leading Italian groups in the industry, especially with a number of longstanding partners who support the group’s management in all stages from market analysis through to purchasing. The group chose to focus on Italian products for their cultural content. “Offering our customers Italian products that stand out for their innovation, quality and style proved to be a very good decision,” continued Huarte. “Despite the recession, we resisted the temptation to follow the example of the superstores and offer low-price Chinese products, choosing instead to continue to sell high-value products.”
Arizona Tile has a sales staff of more than 80 professionals specializing in the residential and retail segments, who respond rapidly to its customers needs with a wide range of customized solutions. “This team can fulfil the needs both of large contractors working on shopping malls and condominiums and of members of the public remodeling their homes,” explained Huarte. “In our showrooms customers can see tiles displayed clearly and transparently. We present solutions in a visually appealing way and with the prices always in view. We offer assistance and clearly explain the differences between one product and another.”


Selling tiles is a kind of cultural challenge that involves promoting products that – just like food and art – are part of Italy and its history. “Americans can recognize quality, but sometimes they need help in discovering and appreciating the kind of investment and hard work in terms of research, development and creativity that goes into certain products,” explained Arizona Tile’s vice president. With strong first-half sales figures sustained by the recovery of the real-estate market, Arizona Tile is anticipating further growth in the next six months. Sales of new homes to May rose by 18.6%, while sales of existing homes grew by 4.9%, the second consecutive increase and a figure higher than analysts’ projections. House prices are also rising. The Case-Shiller index measuring price trends in the largest metropolitan areas was more than 10% up on an annual basis and about 1% up on the previous month. “Signals are strong in all market segments,” concluded Huarte. “One aspect that still needs to be improved though is that of shipment times. On average it takes 42-45 days for goods to reach our warehouses after making an order, a period of time that is still too long and has a big impact on our structure and costs.”

The main Italian brands distributed by Arizona Tile:
–    Casalgrande Padana
–    Castelvetro
–    Ceramica Del Conca
–    Ceramica Sant’Agostino
–    Cerdomus
–    Coem
–    Fioranese
–    Isla
–    Marca Corona
–    Panaria
–    Refin
–    Unicom Starker