SAN DIEGO, CA -- In 1977, after 10 years of playing football at the collegiate and professional levels, Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte decided to focus his leadership and team-building skills on a new business endeavor. He took a leap and signed a lease on the back of a cardboard box and opened the first Arizona Tile location in San Diego, CA.

Forty years later -- with hundreds of employees, nearly half of which have been with the company for over a decade, and many who have been with the company since the beginning, unparalleled customer service, and products from around the world -- Arizona Tile has become one of the leading tile and slab distributors in the U.S.

"Our success solely comes from the vision that John and [his wife], Eileen Huarte, had for this company when starting it -- the sensibility that our relationships with our customers and our fellow employees are the most important aspect of what we do," said company president, Bob Traxler.

Arizona Tile strives to provide a uniquely positive experience for each customer. The company prides itself on providing customers with ideas and information they may need in order to move forward with their projects. Whether a customer is working on a large commercial project or creating a small mosaic design on a table, the company endeavors to provide that customer with the best experience they possibly can.

"We've stayed focused on taking care of our customer needs as best as we can, and they're satisfied and become a referral service," said founder, John Huarte.

Beyond assisting with products, the company strives to meet the necessities of their customers by listening to what their product and location needs may be. This has helped Arizona Tile identify which markets would benefit from a nearby showroom, as well as pinpoint which types of products customers are most in need of.

Originally, Arizona Tile began as a ceramic tile supplier. As their customer needs changed, the company evolved to accommodate those needs. In 1993, Arizona Tile introduced slab materials to their inventory. At that time, the company had 12 slab colors available. In 2017, the company is now one of the largest slab distributors in the U.S., offering over 235 slab products. In addition to slabs, the company also distributes several various natural stone, porcelain, glass and mosaic tile products that you won't find anywhere else on earth.

Still, the company's executive team attributes much of Arizona Tile's success to the dedication of their employees. "There's a sports element to our teamwork," said John Huarte. "People aren't perfect and they're going to make mistakes, but you have to learn from them. And I think without ever even talking about it, from my examination, (the company) has naturally followed that sports culture."

John's disposition has also had a great impact on the way the company operates and has a significant impact on how employees work together.

"John's always been an extremely humble man. And when he was in leadership (at Arizona Tile) that meant that there was no such thing as a closed door," explained Eileen Huarte. "He was accessible and he was willing to do anything. If he was in the warehouse and saw somebody loading boxes of tile, he would be right there to help move the job along. If the showroom needed to be cleaned, he jumped right in and cleaned it, and had the showroom ready on Monday morning for customers. And I think that everyone else around him picked up on his energy and we had a lot of great people early on who didn't think of themselves as having just one title or as wearing one hat. They recognized that they were a part of something here, and we all wanted to make this good."

It's that willingness to help others that sets Arizona Tile apart in the industry. A willingness to help their customers achieve the design they're looking for, a willingness to grow as their customers grow, and a willingness to grow a team of dedicated employees who can assist customers long term.

"We have always seen ourselves as a company serving our customers in the western United States," said Traxler. "But, we continue to grow our footprint geographically. And as our customers have continued to grow and have started moving eastward, I think there's more call for us to grow and to cast our eyes a little further east, and as time goes on, I think we will. The single thing that drives [our growth] more than anything else is our wish to create opportunity and value for both our employees and also our customers."

This growth is evident as the company excitedly awaits the opening of their newest branch in Austin, TX, at the start of 2017. John Huarte's son and Arizona Tile's vice president of operations, Mark Huarte, adds, "We're excited to announce the building of our Austin, TX, location and our intent is to continue that path with another store."

As Arizona Tile celebrates four decades of dedicated service to their customers, they look forward to growing from their roots. "Growing from that humble mindset that really was the formula of our success," said Traxler.