Built upon the foundation of Italy’s Florim Group, Florim USA has been committed to ongoing innovation in producing timeless and sustainable porcelain products since 2001. Company officials agreed that it was time for a new point in the firm’s development to take place. After much strategic planning, which included total marketplace evaluations, the firm’s Milestone brand was introduced. We recently connected with Marco Fregni, CEO of Florim USA, to discuss the brand strategy.

FT: What is Milestone?
Fregni: The Milestone brand represents the culmination of our efforts to produce collections specifically for the A&D marketplace, which are distributed via our own separate channels. This means that Florim USA, via its Milestone brand, is designing and manufacturing—directly in the USA for the first time—collections aimed at a new generation of designers who have been showing increased interest in Italian design trends in recent years, with colors and formats that were previously only offered in the North American market through imported products.

The American market has undergone an evolution in aesthetic tastes, which has been spurred on by an increasing demand from designers for colors other than established classics, and by a greater willingness to experiment with sizes other than the traditional 12x12-inch. Florim USA’s Milestone brand now offers porcelain tile collections with traditional Italian aesthetic and technological quality, not only in the 12x24-inch format, which is already winning market share with versions replicating marble and natural stone, but also in 6x36-inch, 8x48-inch and 24x48-inch sizes, usually reserved for replications of wood and natural stones such as marble and travertine.

This strategy represents a revolutionary departure from other Italian ceramic groups with subsidiaries abroad. The mission of Milestone is to create various types of color-body, rectified Italian porcelain tile that to date, have been viewed as luxury imported products domestically. We feel that is a tremendous value proposition for the A & D community.

During the last decade, savvy architects & designers have been bringing the indoors outdoors. The Milestone collection now includes a unique 2 cm (3/4-inch) thick paving system with innovative porcelain exterior floor coverings, offering a blend of design, versatility, performance, simplicity of installation and eco-sustainability. Milestone now produces these durable pavers in the following sizes: 12x24-inch, 24x24-inch, 12x48-inch and 24x48-inch.

FT: Who is the target consumer?
Fregni: First and foremost, the Milestone brand targets architects and designers who insist upon high-quality ceramic products. Florim USA observed the rising demand from this sector, and subsequently envisioned Milestone as proof that Florim USA is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this increased interest. That being said, the Milestone mission statement of “Italian tile made in the USA” also extends to end-users.

While there is solid evidence that traditional ceramic distribution channels are expected to generate limited gross sales due to increasingly fierce competition from various overseas producers, we want to clarify our new strategy is in no way abandoning the traditional distribution sector. The Milestone brand represents an increased commitment to attract the A&D segment, yes, but we remain committed to reaching all markets. It’s a fact that American architects & designers continue to show increased interest in green building, correctly viewing green building designs, strategies and practices as a way to save money through reduced energy and labor costs, now and in the future.

FT: Why did Florim USA choose this timing to launch Milestone?
Fregni: Since 2012, Florim has focused heavily on upgrading its American operations, investing over $60 million on infrastructure upgrades to its Clarksville, Tenn., plant. In the wake of further technological investments made in 2017 and 2018, and with more upgrades scheduled for 2019 and beyond, Florim USA saw this window as the right moment to refocus its efforts under the Milestone brand. There have been several recent upgrades that we feel sparked this decision. These included the installation of a new drying machine and spray-drying machine, as well as the incorporation of a state-of-the-art tile-polishing machine. This investment—the equivalent of Florim’s industry 4.0 plant in Modena, Italy—has made Florim USA the first American-based porcelain tile manufacturer capable of producing gloss polished porcelain tile with stain-proof surface treatment. These upgrades—which also include a latest-generation mono-caliber edge-grinding machine—allow, through our Milestone brand, to meet any requirements designers may have, for any commercial or residential project.