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Entrepreneur Handcrafts Success—One Tile at a Time

December 13, 2009

 

Julie Good-Kruger had a problem. While renovating her family’s home, an 18th-century mill, she was unable to find brick veneer with an authentic look and feel.

The solution?  Using artistic skills honed during two decades in the collectibles industry, Julie, along with daughter Emily Kruger, began to handcraft—right in their own foyer—lightweight tiles that looked like antique bricks but would not crumble or crack like the real thing.

Recognizing that other homeowners might have the same need for high-quality brick replicas, Julie and Emily launched Inglenook Tile Design in 2003. The Lancaster County-based company offers durable, ceramic tiles that weigh far less than actual bricks and come in a variety of designs, from antique-inspired brick to fine art tiles. Julie also uses her sculpting ability to create custom-designed pieces.

Inglenook was not Julie’s first venture into entrepreneurship. Following college she and husband Tim Kruger started a doll business. The company’s products were retailed in 800 stores, sold through QVC and boasted a popular collector’s club. In 2000 the couple sold the company to The Boyd’s Collection, where Julie worked in product development for the next four years.

By many standards, she notes, the doll company was successful. Yet, in hindsight, the award-winning artist recognizes the company may have suffered from success-fueled complacency. “We grew up ourselves in that business. It was like the tail wagging the dog.” Then, she continues, “The market changed. With the internet coming in, stores couldn’t stay in business anymore. We thought we had a niche. We should have diversified.”

Julie wanted something more for Inglenook. “Instead of letting the business grow me, we went in with the idea of planned growth,” she says. That’s when she contacted the Lancaster chapter of SCORE, a non-profit business mentoring group.

Paired with SCORE counselor Fred Phillips, Julie developed a business plan. She learned how to make projections and analyze her company’s strengths and weaknesses, exercises she found “fabulously helpful.” 

SCORE mentor Fred Phillips and Julie Good-Kruger review hand crafted tiles

Julie Good-Kruger had a problem. While renovating her family’s home, an 18th-century mill, she was unable to find brick veneer with an authentic look and feel.

The solution?  Using artistic skills honed during two decades in the collectibles industry, Julie, along with daughter Emily Kruger, began to handcraft—right in their own foyer—lightweight tiles that looked like antique bricks but would not crumble or crack like the real thing.

Recognizing that other homeowners might have the same need for high-quality brick replicas, Julie and Emily launched Inglenook Tile Design in 2003. The Lancaster County-based company offers durable, ceramic tiles that weigh far less than actual bricks and come in a variety of designs, from antique-inspired brick to fine art tiles. Julie also uses her sculpting ability to create custom-designed pieces.

Inglenook was not Julie’s first venture into entrepreneurship. Following college she and husband Tim Kruger started a doll business. The company’s products were retailed in 800 stores, sold through QVC and boasted a popular collector’s club. In 2000 the couple sold the company to The Boyd’s Collection, where Julie worked in product development for the next four years.

By many standards, she notes, the doll company was successful. Yet, in hindsight, the award-winning artist recognizes the company may have suffered from success-fueled complacency. “We grew up ourselves in that business. It was like the tail wagging the dog.” Then, she continues, “The market changed. With the internet coming in, stores couldn’t stay in business anymore. We thought we had a niche. We should have diversified.”

Julie wanted something more for Inglenook. “Instead of letting the business grow me, we went in with the idea of planned growth,” she says. That’s when she contacted the Lancaster chapter of SCORE, a non-profit business mentoring group.

Paired with SCORE counselor Fred Phillips, Julie developed a business plan. She learned how to make projections and analyze her company’s strengths and weaknesses, exercises she found “fabulously helpful.”

For Julie, SCORE counseling was much more than a path toward developing a business strategy; it was also a path toward building a valuable support system. “They look after you. You get the sense of somebody watching over you, somebody helping you. You get the sense of not being alone,” she says.

The entrepreneur’s success is also fueled by her ability to deal with challenges. For example, several years ago Julie began importing tiles from Asia. However, production challenges, rising fuel costs and an unwieldy inventory prompted her to look for an alternative way to produce product that met her high standards.

She found the answer through collaboration with the Veterans Administration Work Restoration Program. Veterans being rehabilitated to re-enter the workforce now produce the tiles locally, giving the company more control over quality and costs.

In 2008 Inglenook was challenged again. Financing for a much-needed new kiln fell through and the company was left scrambling to find a way to pay for the equipment. “You think you’re making the right decision, then, something you have no control over can completely change the picture for you.”

Julie admits there was a time when that type of adversity would have had her “in fear and dread, waiting for the other shoe to drop.” But rather than allowing herself to become mired in the “what if’s,” Julie says she put “one foot in front of the other.” As a result, she was able to find the necessary funds and install the kiln, expanding Inglenook’s production capacity.

The tile maker’s problem-solving ability is paying off. Despite economic conditions, Inglenook’s business is up, fueled by word-of-mouth referrals and business from trade shows. The company’s growing client list includes residences as well as commercial buildings, such as hotels and restaurants. In August 2009 custom tiles the company produced for a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello were mentioned in the magazine Traditional Building.

Julie acknowledges that business ownership will continue to present challenges. Yet this entrepreneur seems to have found the formula for tackling difficulties head on. “Success is a moving target…To have a business, you need to keep your chin up and keep walking.”

For Julie, SCORE counseling was much more than a path toward developing a business strategy; it was also a path toward building a valuable support system. “They look after you. You get the sense of somebody watching over you, somebody helping you. You get the sense of not being alone,” she says.

The entrepreneur’s success is also fueled by her ability to deal with challenges. For example, several years ago Julie began importing tiles from Asia. However, production challenges, rising fuel costs and an unwieldy inventory prompted her to look for an alternative way to produce product that met her high standards.

She found the answer through collaboration with the Veterans Administration Work Restoration Program. Veterans being rehabilitated to re-enter the workforce now produce the tiles locally, giving the company more control over quality and costs.

In 2008 Inglenook was challenged again. Financing for a much-needed new kiln fell through and the company was left scrambling to find a way to pay for the equipment. “You think you’re making the right decision, then, something you have no control over can completely change the picture for you.”

Julie admits there was a time when that type of adversity would have had her “in fear and dread, waiting for the other shoe to drop.” But rather than allowing herself to become mired in the “what if’s,” Julie says she put “one foot in front of the other.” As a result, she was able to find the necessary funds and install the kiln, expanding Inglenook’s production capacity.

The tile maker’s problem-solving ability is paying off. Despite economic conditions, Inglenook’s business is up, fueled by word-of-mouth referrals and business from trade shows. The company’s growing client list includes residences as well as commercial buildings, such as hotels and restaurants. In August 2009 custom tiles the company produced for a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello were mentioned in the magazine Traditional Building.

Julie acknowledges that business ownership will continue to present challenges. Yet this entrepreneur seems to have found the formula for tackling difficulties head on. “Success is a moving target…To have a business, you need to keep your chin up and keep walking.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2009 11:53 pm

    Interesting story. It is always good to hear entrepreneur success stories… thanks.

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