Janice Gable Bashman reports on how Artistic Stairs, a leading builder and installer of high-quality customer stairs and staircase parts, thrives in a highly competitive environment.
Some people see stairs as merely a means of travel from one level of a building to another. Others envision grand structures designed and created to make a statement. For Artistic Stairs, a company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, stairs are structures deserving the same care and craftsmanship found in fine wood furniture. It is obvious when looking at the success of this 30- year-old company that builders and homeowners alike agree with this philosophy.
Artistic Stairs got its start in Calgary in 1979 and quickly expanded to Edmonton. The year 1983 brought a geographic expansion out of Canada and into the United States, where Artistic Stairs established business and offices in Phoenix and Tuscan, Ariz. The move into the United States enabled the company to bring its unique design concepts to new customers in a previously untapped market. In 2006, Artistic Stairs merged with the Staircase and Millwork Company of Atlanta, Ga., and in 2008 it acquired Image Design Stairs located in Charlotte, N.C.
Today, Artistic Stairs is considered the “largest stair and railing installation company in North America, including Canada,” says Eric Trope, CEO. “We have the largest geographic spread of any player in our industry, and, as a result, we are able to transfer products and services from a variety of markets across different geographic
HIGH-END SOLUTIONS FOR BUILDERS
With the help of approximately 600 employees, Artistic Stairs designs, creates, and installs a full range of products including: wooden stairs that are either curved, straight or spiraled; a full range of balusters constructed from either wood or metal or a combination of both substances; safety rails that meet OSHA compliance for fall protection; temporary stairs used during home construction and pre-fabricated factory built curved stairs. The company is able to use any type of wood ranging from basic paint grade wood through very exotic material such as tiger wood and black walnut.
“Each of our stairs is unique, and each job is unique to the needs of the home,” Trope says. “We average 35,000 homes per year and work with the builder, builder’s architect, and homeowner to design the desired stair. Depending on the complexity of the job, we may become involved when the initial plans for the house are designed and work with the builder and homeowner all the way through the construction process of the home. We also work with structural engineers to ensure the structure of the stair is sufficient, and we try to stay on the cutting edge with regard to our design and service offerings.”
INVESTING IN QUALITY
In Calgary in 2004, Artistic Stairs built an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, the largest of its kind. This allowed the company to manufacture a volume of high-quality products under one roof. The addition of the company’s 45,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta and its 30,000-square-foot facility in Charlotte enable Artistic Stairs to meet the needs of all its customers in a timely and efficient manner.
While Artistic Stairs does not invest in formal research and development initiatives, it does invest heavily in its workers, and that ultimately improves product offerings and customer satisfaction. “We invest in our people in terms of training and upgrading their skills. We want our installers to be the best in the industry and capable of completing the most complicated projects,” says Trope. In the past 18 months, Artistic Stairs spent over $50,000 per month in training new and existing installers.
A customized Web-based scheduling system was rolled-out in 2007 to allow the company to schedule its installers across a variety of regions with different levels of complexity. What this accomplished was an increased ability to send the right installer to the right job at the right time. This program also allows the company to interact on-line with its customers.
MOVING ON UP
With centuries of expertise in the design and manufacture of stairs and stair products, Artistic Stairs continues to introduce new and innovative product designs (stairs and balusters), which enable the company to provide a unique product offering to its customers. What this means, ultimately, is that customers are able to differentiate Artistic Stairs’ products from its competitors’.
Although the housing market has been softening in North America for the past two years, Artistic Stairs remains able to respond to its customers’ needs. “Home builders want to build a house and sell it as quickly as possible,” Trope says. “We are able to respond to demand with our systems faster than our competition, and we are able to make any necessary last-minute changes. This is a very difficult market, but our products and responsiveness enable us to meet demand and make sales.”
Cost of goods has also influenced the price of product. To remain cost-competitive, Artistic Design developed a global supply chain that enables it to source high-quality materials at the best prices. The company uses its market presence to negotiate
with its suppliers both locally, domestically, and internationally. Ultimately, this cost savings is passed on to the company’s customers.
At present, Artistic Stairs is seeking to expand its business beyond the residential market and is beginning to branch-out into more commercial areas, such as churches, hotels, and car dealerships. But the company is quick to point out that it will not sacrifice high-quality workmanship for growth.
STRONG CUSTOMER LOYALTY
Growing a business often relies on many factors. For Artistic Stairs, growth is through a reputation for being reliable and for producing high-quality products on time and at the quoted price-point. As a result, the company has developed strong customer loyalty. It relies on word-of-mouth, previous customer experience, direct salesmen (who call on builders on a national level), and a strong Web presence to build its business. Local advertising is also used.
For the past five years, Artistic Stairs has experienced 25-percent growth per year and expects increased growth in the future. Pretty impressive, especially given the current economy.
LEADING THE INDUSTRY
In additional to high-quality products and service, an entrepreneurial culture is a key factor in the success of Artistic Stairs. The company believes it important to permit its salesmen and operating managers to make their own decisions on the job. This enables employees to provide excellent customer service and fulfill customers’ expectations in a timely and efficient manner.
In addition, the company strives to maintain sound practices with regard to environmental consciousness. When available, Artistic Stairs purchases lumber products from mills whose practices enhance the forest ecosystem. The company also controls its waste systems by sorting waste and sending it for recycling.
Safety is another concern for Artistic Stairs. Here, it is involved with advising building code development and providing insight and expertise to the building code process, particularly in Canada. “Our involvement in this process ensures that we are
able to provide our customers with a cost-effective product that is safe for their use, and it reduces the chance of liability for both us and them,” says Trope.
Trope adds: “Artistic Stairs is the largest and most reliable provider of installed stairs and staircase parts. And it is our focus on being on time, every time, backed with the processes and systems that our competition does not have (the management, installers in the field, manufacturing capability, and global supply chain) that allows us to provide a package that few of our competitors can match.”