Miles of Tiles

By: 
Sep. 18, 2017

Once upon a time, Great Britain Tile CEO George Clamp played and coached soccer in — you guessed it — the United Kingdom. That all changed, however, in the late 1970s, when a coaching gig brought him to Chicago and then the Tampa area. He fell in love with the west coast of Florida, and a few years later he moved his entire family to the Sunshine State and went into the tile and flooring business.

At age 15, George Clamp had learned how to install tile from his uncle, even though he aspired to a soccer career. He passed the knowledge on to his children, including son and heir-apparent Steve Clamp, who today helps George, 67, run Land O' Lakes-based Great Britain Tile. The company was founded in 1986 and has enjoyed steady growth, even during lean times like the housing market downturn a decade ago.

“Dad just loved the environment and saw the potential for growth here,” says Steve Clamp. “It was the early '80s and he saw lots of opportunity. He said, 'That's it; we're moving here.'”

Great Britain Tile, with a niche in selling and installing tile, natural stone, wood, laminate flooring and other products, generated $4.3 million in sales in 2016, up 19.4% from $3.6 million in 2015. It also continues to do business as a lean, close-knit, family run operation: It has 11 employees, several of whom are former soccer players who've known the Clamp family for many years. Steve's sister Jayne also works for Great Britain Tile, while George's other son, Chris, left three years ago to start his own flooring company.

“One of our warehouse guys, he's from Nigeria,” says Steve Clamp. “He plays soccer, he coached my sons, and he still currently plays. And one of the other guys who works here is my good friend; I play with his brother; he played with me.”

He says some of the company's ex-soccer players had experience in tile and flooring, but not all. “We just kind of took them under our wings and steered them in the right way,” he says.

Steve Clamp's not too shabby at futbol, either. He was good enough to play at the University of Tampa and then worked in the sport for 11 years before he joined the family business. Transitioning from soccer to flooring wasn't easy, he says, but his background in operations was a big help, especially when it comes to wrangling third-party suppliers and service providers.

“The most difficult problem with our business, especially in flooring, is you're dealing with a lot of subcontractors and superintendents you're trying to get all on the same page,” Steve Clamp says. “Once you figure that out, and you get some good guys you can rely on, it really helps.

Another strategic success is George Clamp's ability to read the tea leaves of Tampa Bay development. In the early 2000s, he bought a parcel of land in then-rural Pasco County on U.S. 41 between state highways 52 and 54. Recalls Steve Clamp: “Everyone was like, 'What are you doing? You sure you know what you're doing?' And he's like, 'I know what's coming.'”

What came, of course, was the recession. But now that area, where the company is based, is one of the fastest-growing parts of Tampa Bay.

George Clamp was also wise to form alliances with major homebuilding forces in the area, such as Lennar Homes. But what really helped the company get through lean times, says Steve Clamp, was its relationship with Lutz-based Morgan Auto Group. Even when people aren't building homes, they still need to buy cars, and Great Britain Tile benefited by landing multiple deals to provide flooring services for auto dealerships and warehouses.

Great Britain Tile also survived the housing market downturn by launching an online store — at a time when many competitors weren't operating in that space. The site, gbtilecollections.com, boosted overall company revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars, says Steve Clamp.

Despite its ability to nimbly adapt to changing market conditions, Steve Clamp says Great Britain Tile has no grand ambitions to expand — for now, at least. It's content to add new product offerings, such as vinyl, hardwood and, most recently, carpet, and focus on maintaining the mutually beneficial working relationships it's forged with builders in the region.

“We like to align ourselves with people who we have a good relationship with, and we can trust, and we know,” he says. “In this business, it's all about who you know is gonna pay you. In construction, it can be a gamble.”