Expanding upon Old World craftsmanship
May 1, 2006
Italy has always been at the forefront of new technology - particularly when it comes to developing new machinery and methods for producing high-quality stone products. For decades, Italians have been considered pioneers who have set the bar for top-of-the-line stone craftsmanship. And while growing up as part of this Italian culture, Massimo and Matteo Valcavi had the opportunity to learn the formula for running a state-of-the-art operation. So when the brothers moved to the U.S. with their family in the early 1980s, they continued to hone their skills and expand their knowledge of the industry. Four years ago, they graduated to the next step and opened their own manufacturing business, Mosaico Italiano in Pompano Beach, FL, which specializes in the commercial production of mosaics.
The Valcavi brothers explained that in the U.S., mosaics are primarily thought of as a decorative art form. Most U.S. mosaic producers are creating handcrafted pieces that are being employed as accents in wall and floor applications. Seizing an opportunity to build a niche for themselves in the U.S. market, the Valcavi brothers decided to open a manufacturing facility to mass-produce mosaic work for large fields and flooring. Their intention was to create an operation that would replicate the format of large mosaic plants in Italy.
â€œOur philosophy from the beginning was that we maintain a standard of quality as produced in Italy,â€ said Massimo Valcavi. â€œAll of the products we use - paper, glue, mesh - come from Italy. This is for quality reasons, and also the philosophy of, 'If it works, don't fix it.'â€
Getting startedMassimo Valcavi went on to explain that the idea to start Mosaico Italiano initiated because of his experience as an exclusive U.S. agent. â€œWe didn't see U.S. manufacturers using Pragma [machines],â€ he said. â€œThey are very high tech. The machine we first bought was for heavy output.â€
When the company first started, it was only doing service work for other area suppliers. It was cutting 24- x 24-inch tiles with its Pragma machine. After running the manufacturing facility like this for a while, the brothers soon realized the true potential of their company.
â€œHaving these types of machines really allowed us to be on the cutting edge of technology,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œWe definitely saw a need for a facility like ours. There really weren't any factories in the U.S. that we were used to in Italy. They are more artistic here - not on a commercial scale.â€
As a result, Mosaico Italiano was developed with the strategy of targeting the high-end market in the U.S. â€œThere was a niche that wasn't touched,â€ said Massimo Valcavi. â€œWhat makes us interesting is that a distributor from New York can call and say, 'We need 600 feet of a blend of three colors,' and we can supply it in a timely manner.â€
The shop operationMosaico Italiano's manufacturing facility includes a basic staff of 13 workers, with another six or seven who can step in for back-up shifts. For larger jobs, the factory can have as many as 25 workers. About 85% of the time its runs one eight-hour shift, but does increase to two shifts when necessary.
The facility is equipped with two multi-blade Pragma machines. One has three cutting heads, which makes it ideal for producing moldings and cutting porcelain. It is also used to cut 5/8-inch mosaics because it ensures a clean cut, according to Massimo Valcavi. The second machine consists of two cutting heads. It is used to make â€œsubwayâ€ tiles and larger mosaic pieces.
Additional machinery includes two tumblers. The larger of the two machines can hold tiles as large as 24 x 24 inches. This tumbler was a prototype that was purchased in Europe.
A smaller tumbler is used for pieces ranging from 5/8 to 1 Â¼ inches in size. It can produce about 200 feet of tile every 45 minutes.
In a separate room within the 15,000-square-foot facility, a second mosaic operation is in place. Factory workers here set the mosaic pieces on boards, which are then sent through a Pragma gluing machine. The mosaic pieces are glued with a sheet of mesh on top. Each mesh-mounted tile cures for about 20 minutes before the extra mesh around the sides is trimmed, and then the tiles are packaged. The gluing machine can produce approximately four pieces per minute.
Fine-tuning the systemAnd while Mosaico Italiano now has a system in place to quickly and efficiently produce mosaics, it did require a little time to perfect it. â€œThere definitely was a learning curve,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œIt would be naive to think that you start producing excellent mosaics right away. There was a lot of trial and error. It was not just getting the machines out of the box and start going. [But], the fact that all of the machines and materials are from Italy creates a little less worries.â€
To maintain a high quality of standards, all of the cutters in the manufacturing facility are technicians certified by Pragma, and they were all trained in Italy. Additionally, Pragma technicians visit the company's factory about every six months to keep them up-to-date on new technology.
According to Massimo Valcavi, the company started off producing 5/8- x 5/8-inch pieces because, due to their small size, they are the most complex in cutting and gluing. The reasoning was that once Mosaico Italiano could produce these smaller tiles efficiently, the other products would seem easier to fabricate.
A total of 90% of Mosaico Italiano's products are field mosaics, while 10% is artistic mosaics. The company produces between 900 and 1,000 feet of 5/8-inch mosaic pieces a day, and an average of 700 units a day of molding.
The company maintains a stock of materials so that it can respond to customers quickly. â€œWe have about 45 different colors that we offer, but really it could be limitless,â€ said Massimo Valcavi. The majority of the company's stone is imported directly from quarries around the world. The brothers' father, who opened his own distribution business in the Miami area when he and his family first moved to the U.S. from Italy, handles all of the imports for the company.
Approximately 95% of the materials used for the company's mosaic production is brought in from foreign distributors, while the other 5% is from local suppliers. â€œSouth Florida is a good hub for finding importers who bring in so many different goods,â€ said Massimo Valcavi.
He further explained that all of the stone that is imported has to meet the company's strict criteria. â€œAll products are first-quality materials,â€ said Massimo Valcavi, explaining that all of the stone that is brought in comes from matching lots. â€œIt is more expensive, but the product is really a lot better. We don't use scraps of marble.â€
While 60% of the tile used to make the mosaics arrives in a â€œbrokenâ€ format - such as pieces with a chipped corner - the pieces are all calibrated. Additionally, Mosaico Italiano offers 12- x 12-inch tiles that match the mosaics. â€œThe response has been very good,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œSince we have it, and the customers are looking for it, it made sense. We want to be a one-stop shop for high-end mosaics.â€
Marketing strategiesIn addition to the factory workers and technicians, Mosaico Italiano employs an administrative staff of three and nine U.S. sales representatives, who cover a territory that runs from the Eastern Seaboard to California. The company also has a design department that translates designers' ideas into what is needed for production.
To further promote its products and have them on the market nationwide, Mosaico Italiano has 110 dealers and distributors throughout the country. â€œWe are very selective in choosing the right dealer,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œWe usually get between 15 to 20 dealer requests a week, and we only sign two or three. We are very brand/image conscious. We always say that these aren't cheap mosaics, and we want to make sure that they are presented in the right way. We go the extra mile and provide display and marketing programs for our dealers.â€
Another way that the company works to stay on top of the market is to continually research and develop new products. â€œEvery three or four months, we want to come out with a new product line,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œIt keeps the dealers and designers happy, and allows the company to continue to grow. We want to originate ideas and keep them fresh.â€
Many of Mosaico Italiano's new product lines surface from the owners' communication with their sales representatives. â€œI think that is crucial,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œThey are the ones who are listening to what people want and the needs and demands of our customers. [However], we do not take suggestions on blind faith. We'll investigate [the idea] and see if it is worthwhile for us to produce.â€
Also, the company values its contacts in Italy. â€œWe can see if there is new technology that can be applied to new products,â€ said Matteo Valcavi.
Among some of the products recently introduced by Mosaico Italiano are subway tiles and dual-tone moldings. The molding pieces, which each feature two colors, were designed to match the company's mosaic lines. The company introduced a collection featuring mosaics accented by pieces of colored glass, at Coverings last month.
And while offering a wide selection of products is important to the success of Mosaico Italiano, the Valcavi brothers also believe that customer service is extremely important. â€œThe factory is definitely the heart of [the company], but it is also the customer service,â€ said Matteo Valcavi. â€œA lot of times, people say that factories are very difficult to work with. We are very flexible. We want our customers to know that we are not just order takers. It goes beyond that. We are working with architects and designers - that communication is very important and helps us grow.â€