Changing with the Times

Sunderland Brothers Co. brings style to your home

It’s a remarkable achievement for a family-owned company to have existed more than 132 years, but Sunderland Brothers has met that milestone. The accomplishment is due to the company’s ability to adapt to changing needs of the market, from selling coal, cement, and lime in the late 1800s, fabricating marble at the turn of the century, to distributing tile, stone, and quartz today.

Fourth-generation CEO John Sunderland has taken what his great-grandfather started when horse-drawn carriages lined the unpaved roads of downtown Omaha, and transformed it into a nationally-renowned business. He said part of the company’s success has more to do with its broad geographic reach rather than product breadth. With six locations throughout the Midwest, Sunderland is a leading wholesale distributor that does 70 percent of its business in tile. And the company recently received the Best of Omaha award for Best Tile Store of 2014.

The vision of the company is clear, and they know where they fit in the industry. “A lot of people don’t realize we have one foot in the building industry and another foot in the fashion industry,” John said. “Everything is about color and style, so we have to have products that are up front and ahead of the curve. We’re willing to take a little bit of risk with that.”

Many of those products come from Italy and include trends such as large rectangular sized tile, brick and wood tile, and hexagon-shaped tile, all in various colors. “We’re looked at as trend setters,” said Janel Sunderland, Vice President of Marketing. “But it takes a careful balance, and we have a mix of commercial and residential clients, so we try to meet lots of different needs.”

To meet market needs Sunderland has both an outside sales staff who educate architects, designers, and builders on their products, as well as in-house designers who work in the showroom. But all employees are knowledgeable about every aspect of the business. “Everyone in the company receives cross training, including working on an install so they know exactly how it’s done,” Janel said.

Communicating to customers is another priority. Janel said they hold a number of events throughout the year that serve as educational opportunities, such as lunch and learns where designers can see the latest products, to contractor nights where they demonstrate how to install new items. “And our showroom is always open to the public,” she added.

The company also has a dedicated social media manager. Marketing Coordinator Erin Fairchild makes sure the company’s projects and message are communicated on a regular basis using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Houzz. “Because so much of what we do is about style and color, we want customers to see photos of what’s possible,” Erin said. Sunderland just received the five-star rating status on Houzz for having more than 2 million hits on the site.

Looking at photos is one thing. Deciding on what to put in your own home is another. John said there’s a natural anxiety about making permanent changes. “Many people hesitate to use different materials or try a new color, so our job is to understand how much we can influence style and color and help them feel comfortable,” he said. “People dress themselves in their own personal style they love every day. They should dress their homes the same way.”

As a leader in the industry, John said they have a responsibility to continually adapt and change with their customers’ needs, just like his great-grandfather’s philosophy more than a century ago. It’s how Sunderland Brothers survived the Depression and two World Wars. “Every thirty to forty years, the company has gone through a major shift,” he said. “We have always focused on looking to the future without forgetting our past.”

Sunderlands Brothers Co.

9700 J Street

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