By Sarah Peiper
Paul Nestor has been working in the construction industry for over 30 years. He got his start in the multifamily market and later transitioned to single-family projects. About seven years ago, having primarily worked with quartz and granite, Paul was introduced to porcelain slabs from Italian manufacturers. He studied the evolution and technology of porcelain, and it sparked an interest in sourcing large format porcelain slabs that can be used for flooring, accent walls, shower walls, countertops, backsplashes, exterior applications and so much more. In 2019, Paul Nestor founded Porcetalia, a large format porcelain slab business aimed at importing and distributing porcelain material as well as providing fabrication and installation services for both residential and commercial applications.
Finding a Niche
Paul found that there weren’t a lot of fabricators who worked with porcelain in his market. Today, Porcetalia has grown to five fabricators working in their workshop and three sales representatives working in the office. They operate from two locations, both about an hour outside of Atlanta. The design center is in Suwanee, Georgia, while the workshop and warehouse are in nearby Cumming, Georgia. They serve the metro Atlanta area and a wide radius beyond, including Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama.
The Porcetalia approach is unique in that they focus on one material source. The team only fabricates large format porcelain, and the material is exclusive to one Italian manufacturer. “Our business has a farm-to-table model,” explained Paul. “We directly import our slabs from Italy; we store them in our warehouse for fabrication. We have a dedicated team in-house to fabricate for our customers.”
The Porcetalia shop is noticeably different than other shops. Walk-behind glass handlers allow for easy movement of the 500-lb. slabs by a single person. The same machines are used for fireplace surrounds, wall cladding and floor covering installations. The cutting equipment is surprisingly simple; large slabs can be scored and snapped like traditional tile on custom tables. The bridge saws they use do not require water systems. Mitering is a significant part of the process, and clamping systems are amazingly efficient for final assembly. They use grinders to polish edges, and forklifts for moving A-frames. According to Paul, porcelain fabrication is a collision of three trades: glass panel handling, tile work and surface fabrication.
Paul says they go through about eight to 10 slabs per day. “We typically keep about 250 slabs on hand in our warehouse at all times,” added Paul. In addition to slab sales and fabrication services, Paul’s team can offer customers basic plumbing and electrical work after an installation is completed. “We try to focus solely on the porcelain fabrication and installation work,” clarified Paul. “But we expand our services now and then to meet customer and project needs when it makes sense.”
Paul sees himself as a porcelain evangelist: “I love sharing our time-built knowledge and resources. The revenue from the porcelain category is vastly larger than marble, quartz or granite. Countertops, fireplaces, shower walls, exterior applications and furniture — they’re all possible with porcelain; I think it looks better, and it outperforms other materials. We’ve seen quartz displace granite, and now porcelain is displacing quartz.” And he’s right. According to The Freedonia Group, porcelain is the fastest-growing domestic countertop material in terms of demand.
A High-Performance Material
In 2001, an early version of large format porcelain was developed by engineer Franco Stefani of the Systems Group, an innovator within the ceramic industry. This product was created using production techniques that employed a large plate pressing process for sizable thin porcelain panels called Lamina. Technology improved over the next 10 years, which allowed for bigger and thicker material. Thicknesses of 6 mm, 12 mm, and 20 mm were achieved, and slab sizes today are as large as 63 inches by 127 inches. Paul says there are approximately 50 porcelain slab manufacturing facilities worldwide.
Porcetalia’s material catalog includes about 25 slab colors available for purchase. Their two most popular colors are Statuario and Calacatta. Statuario features cool gray and blue tones, while Calacatta presents warm brown and golden tones. “All Porcetalia porcelain marble designs are in a high-gloss finish,” clarified Paul, “which is a very distinguishing feature compared to quartz or granite.”
“Another great advantage of porcelain is that it is incredibly durable, much more so than quartz, granite or marble,” continued Paul. They describe porcelain to their customers by detailing how the material has the beauty of marble but does not require the same upkeep. It has the strength of granite, but it’s not as porous, so it doesn’t require sealing to maintain sanitary properties. And Paul says this material captures the stunning color options of quartz while being able to withstand heat over 1,000 degrees, making it ideal for kitchen spaces.
“The product really sells itself; the variety of applications makes it such a great material from fireplace facades to countertops to shower walls,” he said. “The material supports current trends; nowadays, customers are looking for a lot of uniformity in their design, and this product allows for that. The possibilities are endless.”
Going to Market
Porcetalia serves primarily the residential sector with some commercial work mixed in. “We were recently approached with a potential project for an 84-unit multifamily complex to fabricate and install our porcelain for shower walls and vanity tops,” said Paul. “Right now, our business breakdown is approximately 80% residential, 20% commercial. We would like to break more into commercial jobs in the future.”
Porcetalia markets its products directly to consumers, builders and designers. It’s primarily direct-to-consumer, but they are actively trying to grow a customer base with designers and builders in the metro Atlanta area and beyond using digital marketing strategies. Gianna Denisio, Porcetalia’s marketing director, uses Google Ads and other online advertising — even Craigslist — in addition to social media campaigns to reach those specifiers.
“We catch the attention of a lot of designers this way,” said Gianna. “Sharing our product and advertising for our services on Facebook and Instagram is paying off.”
But the key advantage of the Porcetalia approach is that they directly import slabs from Italy, removing the middleman fees. They can sell porcelain at a much lower price compared to quartz or granite and even some other porcelain products. “Past that, we are a one-stop-shop,” added Paul. “Customers can purchase slabs and get them fabricated and installed — all with Porcetalia.”
A Strategy for Success
Paul attributes his success to finding a great product and team that he can stand behind. He’s worked out logistics, including costs and delivery, and he goes the extra mile to understand his target market and how to connect this product to them. “We believe in our product, and we have skilled fabricators who understand how to handle problems and calculate effective solutions. This industry is always evolving, which means there will always be the latest and greatest method or tool to help optimize your business. It’s important to move with the evolution of technology, do not resist it.”
Further, Porcetalia makes it a priority to be involved in the industry. “There are always things to learn and grow as a fabricator and a businessperson,” said Paul. He attends trade shows, like Coverings, to learn more about the development of porcelain and new tips and tricks to use porcelain in the best possible way. He travels to Italy to visit the factories that produce their material. In addition to the International Surface Fabricators Association, Porcetalia is a part of the Facebook Group called The World of GPTPS (Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs), where industry professionals share business updates, project photos, tips and other resources. “These groups and associations are a great way to stay connected to other professionals in the industry and help each other out,” said Paul.
What’s next for Paul and his team? Porcetalia is focused on driving more sales with designers and builders as they explore special contractor pricing that will differentiate themselves from their competitors. “Porcetalia is growing rapidly because of our social media activity, how we leverage digital advertising platforms and simply word-of-mouth marketing,” said Paul. “We hope to double our sales next year as we continue to spread the word. Our business is growing beyond the southeast U.S., and we are actively increasing our catalog with more color options.”
Learn more about Porcetalia at www.porcetalia.com.