Introducing a new segment to the blog, Kitchen and Bath Q & A. Here you will get riveting insights from today’s industries leaders. Our first interview is with James Amendola, Director of National Sales & Marketing for SapienStone porcelain surfaces.
Q. Briefly describe your professional background.
A. My career in this industry began back in 1990 while attending college and working as a tile setter. After a few years, I decided to open my own company specializing in custom tile and marble work. In 1994, I founded AMJ Marble & Granite with a predominant focus on servicing high-end builders in Northern New Jersey and New York City. Shortly after, we started working with high-end designers which led our company to grow into a 30,000 sq.ft. fabrication facility in 1999, servicing over 200 kitchen and bath dealers in NJ, NY & PA, as well as some national home improvement stores.
After 21 very successful years, I chose to close down our operations to evolve and adapt. My experience in understanding the needs of a fabricator, market conditions, and the approach to take with various segments presented an opportunity for me to stay in the industry. Since 2009, I have worked with international manufacturers in growing customer segments and distribution channels. In 2016, I joined Iris Group and am now the Director of Sales and Marketing for the company’s SapienStone product in the United States. I oversee our growth in both revenue, market share, territories, and fabricator training.
Q. Now tell us about you as a person (family, hobbies, habits).
A. My family is the most important aspect of my life. I have been married for 20 years to my wife Fran and have two teenage sons, James and Matteo. Although I have been in the stone business for longer than that, they are the foundation that holds me up and the biggest motivation behind my career. Anyone that knows me well also knows that I have a passion for hockey. I’ve played since I was 14 and also enjoy coaching and playing, particularity with my boys who also devoted a passion and talent for it. I like to read, too – business books, biographies and murder mysteries.
Q. From stone to quartz to porcelain, quickly describe the emersion you have seen in the market and also your background?
A. When I started in this industry, the only engineered materials were Corian and ceramics. Everything else was stone including marble, granite, travertine, and semi-precious materials. As technology improved we began to see more and more color and movement in new materials like quartz surfacing, which was inspired by the characteristics, design, and performance of natural stone. Today, the industry is much more technologically advanced and the range of manufactured products is as wide as the different types of natural stone.
Every material and product has its own benefits and place in the market, and I am very thrilled to be working with SapienStone to promote the benefits of using large porcelain slabs in kitchens. I am very lucky to have the technical expertise, market and sales experience to speak to the value SapienStone brings to builders, designers, architects and, most importantly, to homeowners. What I am most passionate about these days is sharing fabricator best practices on the use of emerging materials, help break through their challenges and alleviate their concerns of becoming early adapters by sharing hands-on knowledge and our experience.
Q. In a world that is dominated by natural stone and quartz, why porcelain slabs?
A. This is always an interesting question because depending on who you ask you will get a different answer. The reality is that all products have benefits and drawbacks, the key is educating the market on where each product works best, and educating countertop fabricators on how to sell and work with each so the end user is aware of the pros and cons.
The biggest benefit of porcelain is its extreme versatility. You can use it for kitchen, bath or outdoor countertops, as walls and floors, fireplace surrounds, exterior cladding, and façades. Now, the growth of porcelain or similar ultra-compact materials is introducing an array of pricing, but that is when the quality of composition comes in. SapienStone is made of high-quality raw materials and the technology behind it contributes to its extreme durability. Porcelain gives designers and homeowners the opportunity to specify a stone without having to worry about staining, etching, or scratching. If we track the European and Asian design and application trends, I truly believe we are looking at the next breakthrough of manmade materials.
Q. Please list the top 3 benefits of using porcelain.
- Versatility – Color and finish choices support design aesthetics for any indoor or outdoor space
- Realistic look — SapienStone is the most realistic manufactured product with no design pixelation and a “vein-through” effect for edges
- UV stability – Suitable for outdoor applications because the color and design doesn’t fade with exposure to the sun
Q.What do you recommend to stone fabricators looking at fabricating porcelain?
- Align yourself with a brand that provides technical knowledge like SapienStone does for our clients.
- Get trained in your facility with your own equipment with the manufacturer’s trainer.
- Use the correct tooling and parameters. It’s very common that this is overlooked.
- Use of proper adhesives. SapienStone has its own adhesives and provides alternatives. Our adhesive is the only approved adhesive for outdoor use.
- Take the opportunity to work with SapienStone; we have a strong support system and a great deal of knowledge within our network.
Q. Iris Group is known for their product assortment, distribution, and performance, where does SapienStone fit in the mix of products?
A. SapienStone is the Group’s 12mm line and focused in the countertop world. Our product is specifically designed to cater to builders, architects, designers, and homeowners looking for elevated design, value and outstanding performance for their kitchen, bath, or outdoor spaces.
Q. How do you plan on engaging with designers that want to specify your products?
A. Providing great training, product awareness and sales support. We are very excited to begin a product training series which will be held at locations throughout the U.S. and also through visits to our factory in Italy.
Q. Are there any benefits of producing in Italy vs the U.S.?
A. The manufacturing process can (and will likely be) the same anywhere you go. The key to manufacturing is having a strong process in place, which we do in Italy, with good quality raw materials, and color trends to go after. For SapienStone, it is particularly important to leverage the Iris Group’s heritage in this category as it provides reliability in the quality and production of our products. There are many companies jumping into the porcelain category that are still learning the way, for us, it has been in our wheelhouse for decades.
Q. Where do you see the market going?
A. Much like you have a natural stone market that is made up of different types of stones with key qualities for each, you will see an array of manufactured surfacing materials. In other words, just like in natural stone you have granite, marble, travertine, etc, in manufactured stone, you will see quartz, porcelain, synthetic, etc.
I believe we are going to see the porcelain category grow over the next few years. Maybe not as quickly as we have seen quartz grow but I think with fabricator confidence and knowledge of the category it will help drive specification.
The market will continue to be driven by color, quality, price, and, of course, demand. Our plan is to support our fabricator customers with the tools needed to fulfill those needs with SapienStone. When it comes to the market and the choices available, we will be the top choice for porcelain, driven by a good quality product and the technical support needed to sell our material.