A long history in the tile business has made Weston Tile the No. 1 choice for low prices and knowledgeable service.
Tiles are everywhere these days and in almost every size, shape, colour, pattern and material imaginable. With so much choice available, homeowners want expert advice on how to pick the best tile to suit their floor, wall or focal point. If there’s anyone qualified to provide good advice to this end, it’s a family who has been selling tiles for 70 years.
Since its beginning in 1942, Weston Tile has become one of the leading tile retailers in the Greater Toronto Area with one of the largest tile selections in North America. Under owner Howard Macklin, the company sells high quality ceramic floor tiles, wall tiles, resilient flooring and related supplies to both contractors and the public. The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Howard Macklin about the company and the tile business in Toronto.
Howard’s father Charles Macklin founded the business after years of working for a competitor tile company in the 1930s. “Those were the depression days, it was tough to make a living. He (my father) worked for this competitor on the order desk for several years – in those days they paid very little and when he asked for a raise they said they couldn’t afford it. But he saw that the contractors coming in were making a good living. So he went into partnership with one of them and Weston Tile was born.”
Tiles of the Times Past
The company began in a garage on Dupont Street, Toronto, installing tiles as well as selling them to contractors. Success encouraged the co-founders to buy a plot of land at 700 and 698 Weston Road, on which they built new premises in 1947. “At that time it was mostly just farmland around here, so we’re talking quite a bit of history,” remarks Macklin.
After a period of both selling tiles and contracting, Charles Macklin bought out the business and stopped installing tiles, turning the company into a contractor wholesaler. “In those days, there wasn’t much choice for tiles,” Macklin adds. “There were maybe 10 choices of wall tile for the bathroom and two choices of floor tile for the bathroom, and that was the only place you used ceramic tile. No one had ever heard of using tiles in the rest of the house. And tiles were much smaller in size than they are now.”
With this limited choice there was no need for a showroom, and contractors were the only customers. However, Macklin says things began to change in the early 1970s. “All of a sudden, people started using tiles everywhere in their houses, from kitchens to fireplaces,” he recalls. The company extended its premises and built two large showrooms in which to show the large range of tiles now available to a new set of retail customers.
“Our 5,000 square foot showroom has more than 5,000 different choices of tiles, our 2,000 square foot showroom has a couple hundred different tiles,”
Macklin explains. “The downstairs showroom is kind of like a bargain basement, it’s an in-stock showroom, while we usually get orders in for the tiles upstairs within a day or two.”
Better with Age
Weston Tile’s large selection of tiles is one of its main strengths, alongside its customer service and low prices. Many of the company’s strengths derive from its longevity. “We’re in the same building we bought many years ago – we own the building – so this helps keep our expenses down and our prices low,” explains Macklin.
“We don’t get greedy and pump up our prices really high in order to give contractors large discounts, like other companies do. We maintain everyday low prices, meaning contractors can’t get such large discounts, but we’re concentrating mostly on giving the customer good value. The people that walk in know they’re going to find the tile here at a cheaper price than elsewhere. That keeps us in business.”
Being an older company also enables Weston Tile to provide a higher calibre of customer service. It may be the only company in the GTA that can and will provide very old tiles in small quantities to replace ones that have broken after long years of service in a customer’s home.
“People have come in looking for just two or three old tiles to replace broken ones. Most places didn’t want to help them but we’ve got a reputation for helping people searching for just a few tiles. These people couldn’t believe that we would spend half an hour rummaging around the back of the warehouse for these tiles, due to the fact we’re one of the oldest companies and have tried not to throw anything out. Once we’d found the tiles, we wouldn’t charge for them and the customers would be so thankful that whenever they did need tiles, they made sure to come back here and they also told other people. It was like free advertising.”
Weston Tile has always relied primarily on word-of-mouth for its self-promotion and has never used any advertising besides the yellow pages in the past and its website now. “Once a customer came in and she couldn’t wait to tell me that she had asked maybe 30 people in her office, ‘Does anyone know a good place to buy tiles?’ and was surprised that several said ‘Weston Tile,’ which she’d never heard of,” Macklin recalls. “If customers receive good service they’ll tell their colleagues, and that’s how we’ve survived all these years – people telling other people about us.”
Keep it in the Family
Macklin says taking care of the “little things” and putting customers first is one of the secrets to Weston Tile’s success. “We’ve always held back from expanding too fast or getting too large – we’ve always worried about taking care of every little customer,” he explains.
“There are a lot of businesses that have expanded too fast, let the customers fall at the wayside and failed because of that. Some have expanded and been successful, but in our case, we’ve stayed small and paid attention to the little things, and it’s paid off for us.”
As Macklin nears retirement, he looks back on his life working at Weston Tile fondly, as he started working for his father here at age 13. Howard went to York University in Toronto, came away with a business degree and worked as an accountant for a year before realizing he’d fallen in love with the family business.
His son Toby similarly got a science degree from York University and secured a job in the technology sector, but decided he’d rather continue the tile legacy instead.
“My son Toby and daughter Chelsea have joined the business and in the future, Weston Tile will be left in their hands,” Macklin says. “As long as they give the customers the proper respect they deserve, I’m sure the business will keep going for another 70 years.”