Last Updated on December 10, 2020
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About Melanie Ocana
I have a BBA with a double major in Marketing & Management from Hardin-Simmons University, MBA from Texas Tech University. After spending some time in the non-profit industry, I took on self-employment. My first venture was in an eBay franchise store, which failed miserably.
After putting life back in order, I found myself in South Texas experimenting with selling Saltillo tile (handmade Mexican terracotta tile) on eBay. That was over 15 years ago. Today, my husband and I own the largest manufacturing operation for Saltillo tile. We distribute Saltillo tile and other specialty handmade Mexican tile & stone products worldwide. And… I no longer sell tile on eBay!
Also, during the past 15 years, I married my business partner and started a family. We have an 11 and 9-year-old, and we’re a licensed foster family. We do our best to protect the margin for family life, but we’re also actively involved in our community. My kids and I serve together through our therapy dog, Max. He and I are a licensed therapy dog team. We enjoy reading with kids in local schools. Also, my kids and I take Max to our local assisted living center to visit with residents.
About Rustico Tile & Stone
Originally in McAllen, Texas, through experimentation on eBay, I discovered a gap in the market with revenue potential.
After having overwhelming success with selling Mexican tile on eBay, I realized quickly that there existed a gap in the market for getting those products to areas of the country where people desired Spanish style homes. It was rare to find any company that could successfully ship Mexican tile products worldwide.
That began our learning process. At the time, we knew nothing about Mexican tile, manufacturing, freight shipping, or running an online business.
I created a website and learned everything I could about SEO and PPC. Social media marketing wasn’t on the radar at that time.
Then, we learned how to import Mexican tiles into the United States. Next, we learned about to package and ship 2500 pound pallets of clay tile. We made every mistake possible and damaged a lot of tile in the process. But those expensive lessons have paved our way for success today.
Without debt financing any business step, we took our first $200 paycheck 10-months into the business. All revenue until that time was reinvested into growing our baby business. We took over manufacturing and controlled the supply chain from manufacturing to distribution… paying attention to every penny.
We also run an installation extension of our business in the central Texas area. So for our local customers, we offer a turnkey transaction from materials to the finished installation.
Fast forward to our headquarters in Leander, Texas (near Austin); we’ve distributed over 13 million square feet of tile to over 110,000 customers and businesses worldwide.
Today, we are the Mexican tile experts with an industry-leading blog. It’s been a challenging and fun journey filled with blessings beyond our comprehension. Our artisans in Mexican, staff in Texas, and gracious customers are our passion. The tile is our conduit to making beautiful spaces where friends and family gather.
How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?
Initially, we gained our early customers through eBay only. Once we had a website, we generated leads through PPC (Google, Yahoo, & Bing) while waiting for our SEO efforts to land us on page one for several keywords. We have served over 110,000 people and businesses worldwide.
How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?
As an online business, we rely on more than PPC today. I made the strategic decision several years ago to develop an industry-leading blog. Our blog content (interior design, product how-tos, & architecture) is a primary driver for our lead generation. We still generate leads through focused PPC also.
What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?
Learn everything possible about the competitors in your field. Find out what they do well and what they don’t do well. Then, evaluate your personal and business strengths and capabilities. Find those gaps and fill them while slowly improving the areas of weakness in your business.
Also, be kind. Kindness toward your staff, suppliers, and customers pay itself forward. Kindness creates loyalty, and that is the least expensive way to generate repeat business and customer referrals.
Finally, don’t spend money at the onset of your business on things that won’t generate revenue. Fancy stationery and business cards are lovely but most likely unnecessary in this electronic age. Every penny spent should generate revenue in some way. As monetary success grows, splurge on the luxuries (a little).
What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?
It’s great to sell beautiful tile and stone. But those products are only as good as the craftsmen and women who do the installation. We have a delicate balancing act between educating our customers about the appearance and benefits of our products and the technical “how-to install” process. In the early days, we’d receive a few complaints about our tile.
Upon investigation, we quickly learned that when the proper installation materials and the process weren’t followed, costly mistakes happened which affected our products. We paid for contractors’ mistakes.
Often times, that means we spend a great deal of time educating contractors and installers about our products. They don’t pay the bills, but they ensure that our customers have a great experience with the finished installations.
What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?
I married my business partner! This has repeatedly taught me that there’s a fine line between being business partners and a married couple. While we don’t have a perfect marriage, our commitment to one another and our family comes first. The business follows behind.
And our kids play “Rustico” at home. It’s humorous to hear how they’ve learned and interpreted our business.
What Are Your Favorite Books?
Anything You’d Like To Plug?
If you’re looking to adorn your space with handmade beauty, consider Mexican tile and stone. It’s affordable, durable, and easy to maintain. Visit us at RusticoTile.com
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