Artisan Tile has gone from humble beginnings to working on some of the biggest and most notable projects in Southeast Michigan.
“Dad, I think I want to learn about the tile business.”
That’s how Jennifer Panning, President of Artisan Tile, remembers approaching her father – a professional tile installer – when she sought to do a career-180 more than 25 years ago.
“It was a total about-face from what I had been doing,” recalled Jennifer, who was working for a Toledo, Ohio-based marketing company at the time. “We talked about what to expect, what type of work I would want to pursue, the things that are important to success, and finances. We had several different talks, we discussed different business ideas before I incorporated, made the change, and quit my job.”
Jennifer launched Artisan Tile in 1995 in Brighton, Michigan, with her dad and just a handful of installers. A commercial contractor, Artisan started out installing tile, marble, stone, and eventually terrazzo flooring. Jennifer said the early years of the business consisted of long days, lots of trial and error, and having to juggle numerous responsibilities. With a limited number of employees and a challenge getting experienced tile installers to join a new company, Jennifer remembers doing everything from office work to driving and unloading trucks on jobsites.
After earning its first contract, an $80,000 job to tile a Kroger store in Brighton, it didn’t take long for Artisan Tile to grow and make a name for itself. In the late 90s, it was contracted by Barton Malow to tile the restroom at the Mopar World Headquarters building in Auburn Hills, Michigan – its largest job at the time. From there, Artisan has worked on other notable area projects with Barton Malow, including Lake Orion High School, the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport North Terminal replacement, the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center, Shinola Hotel, and Little Caesars Arena, among others. Jennifer estimates that Artisan Tile has worked on about 100 projects with Barton Malow over the past 15 years, a partnership that has helped fuel its growth and boost its revenue to about $8 million per year.
“Barton Malow has always been one of our largest customers,” she said. “They’ve always been very important to us.”
As the Women Business Enterprise (WBE) company grew, so too did its workforce. Jennifer’s husband joined the business a few years after it launched and took over the financial side of things. Artisan also began hiring more installers. Today, the company has 45 total employees, including many who have been with Artisan long-term. Seven work in its Brighton office and the rest are out in the field.
“I think we have the best group of people that work for us in the industry,” Jennifer said. “I tell them that all the time. I’m thankful for what they do.”
And, of course, Jennifer still has arguably Artisan’s most important resource nearby to tap into as well.
“(My dad) worked to teach me the trade, he was a great mentor,” Jennifer said. “He did a great job of being there, but still letting me figure out things on my own. I still speak with him routinely about different issues that arise. He’s a good sounding board.”