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After a dozen years, Natural Stone Specialist growing seeks more commercial biz

NATURAL STONE SPECIALIST

November 24, 2008

UPDATE

NATURAL STONE SPECIALIST

Location: 483 Gradle Drive, Carmel

Phone: 846-2660

E-mail: lauras@nssindy.com

Web site: www.nssindy.com

Founded: 1996

Founder/owner: Laura Christy

Service/product: Tile wholesaler and importer

Employees: 6

Revenue (past 12 months): $2.5 million

Date of first profile: July 2003

Like any good curator, Laura Christy keeps her gallery space filled with cheerful lighting and a plain floor to keep attention drawn to the art. After all, in her gallery, the tile is on the walls.

Twelve years after its opening, Christy, 40, is still just as passionate about Carmel-based Natural Stone Specialist, which sells high-end stone, metal and glass tiles.

"It's my baby; everything I have is involved in this company," Christy said. "I live and breathe tile. It's not like a 9-5 job. If we have a bad day here, I can't sleep at night. It's part of who I am."

It was that concern for her company that led Christy to drop the installation portion of her business, which at one time accounted for about 25 percent of her revenue.

Four years ago, her husband and operations manager, Michael Christy, convinced her that it was draining the business. Christy said she couldn't do everything she needed to in the showroom and make sure that the installations were going smoothly.

"It's not the same when all the sudden you take something important to you and you turn it over to somebody else and maybe they aren't as invested as you are, they don't care as much as you do," Christy said.

By not offering installation, Natural Stone lost the opportunity to offer tile-and-installation packages to builders. Since most were looking for package deals, she had to find a way to replace the lost sales.

Christy found an answer at the flooring stores that she used to compete with, offering to be their wholesale tile importer and distributor. The flooring stores were skeptical, since she had been a competitor for so long, so she also dropped the retail portion of her business.

Natural Stone's Carmel showroom has room to display more options than the flooring stores, but customers don't buy directly from Christy. Customers who end up there typically don't know what they want, so Christy and her staff will help them decide.

Christy also designs tile patterns for customers — usually at no cost, much to her husband's dismay. She only charges for mosaics, since they take much longer.

"I can kick out drawings for a whole master bath in 30 minutes," she said.

Christy sees her business growing into more commercial areas, and, given her success landing deals for casino projects and several with locally based Clarian Health, it seems likely. She's turning to focus on these well-funded projects in light of the economic downturn, but still enjoys working with private clients.
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