Before he set out to revolutionize the tile industry, Cengiz Elmaagacli first looked backwards. At 16, a detour from high school in Canada took him to Ankara, Turkey, to become the third generation in his family to sell wholesale construction materials. “For 16 months, I basically ran my dad’s company. By the time I came back to finish [high] school, I’d lost all interest. I only wanted to run a company,” he says.
So while other kids prepped for prom, Elmaagacli founded Anatolia Tile + Stone in Toronto to buy and distribute tile—which to him was the most interesting material on family offer. “I took orders before school and carried tiles in my lunchbox,” he remembers.
In the late 1980s, the tile market in Canada was controlled by a few large companies with the same problems: “They all had very high overhead, and they were all outdated from a technology perspective,” says Elmaagacli. He decided to focus on taking the business into the future.
“Technology has moved from analog to digital, which opens up a whole new world of design and creativity,” he explains. “We can reproduce photo-quality resolution of a surface onto a clay surface.” The company’s new Mayfair HD collection, for example, features eight stone replications of what Elmaagacli calls “the most desirable marble in the world.”
Available in 12,000 retail distributors, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, the company’s products have been hand-selected, scanned and reprinted; or sourced graphically and recreated; or imagined and created in-house. With 250 employees globally, Anatolia designs in Toronto, outsources its manufacturing to Turkey, China and Italy, and then ships product back to a 1.1-million-sq.-foot warehouse in Toronto.
When you’re trailblazing, finding the right people is a challenge. “Since nobody else is doing this, we can’t rely on tile design experience,” says Elmaagacli. Instead, Anatolia’s strategy is a very personalized, one-at-a-time hiring strategy that plucks employees from other industries. They began with traditional graphic designers, then scooped up interior designers. A fluke meeting added an expert from the yachting industry, where every inch of space is at a premium, and Elmaagacli is next seeking a visual artist. “We’re looking everywhere for people from any industry with experience in different fabrics, materials and surfaces.”
With their unique and varied skills at work, Elmaagacli promises his product—unless you’re a trained expert with a keen eye—is almost indistinguishable from a conventional tile. “Most consumers would never be able to tell the difference,” he says, though they’ll definitely notice the price. Anatolia can recreate the most interesting and expensive tiles on earth for a mere fraction of the price.