Robert F. Henry Tile has turned a decades-old business into a modern showcase of flooring style.
Written by Alex Watson Photography by Chuck St. John
A tile showroom is always a fascinating amalgamation of possibilities. From the floors themselves to the displays throughout the showroom, the possibilities are right there in front of you.
For the Henry family those possibilities have been the key to a business that has thrived for nearly 85 years now.
“My grandfather started the business in 1933 as a tile contractor. Our focus for 30 years was tile contracting and installation. My father came into the business in the early 1960s,” says Fred Henry, company VP who manages the Birmingham location of the company.
The company began to diversify, continuing to install tile but adding distribution and sales to the mix. In the early 1990s, partners bought out the installation business and continued as Faulkner Tile in Montgomery. That company remains a Henry Tile customer.
Henry’s father at 82 is semi-retired, but he still comes into the Montgomery office, which is headed up by Fred’s brother Rob Henry, who serves as president of the company. Fred has been in the business about 20 years now working in Birmingham with warehousing and distribution functions. A sister, Lynn, works in outside sales and administration in Montgomery.
By keeping the company’s focus on ceramic tile and stone, Robert F. Henry Tile has built unparalleled expertise in their product while staying ahead of the very latest materials and trends as they come on the market. They search the world for the best products at the best value. That means combining the finest products imported from across the globe as well as products made right here in Alabama.
Robert F. Henry Tile has four showrooms in Alabama, one in Florida and two in Tennessee. Out of these seven locations they are able to meet the tile and stone needs of long-time customers across a large footprint.
Over the years, this family-owned company has learned three very important keys to creating long-term relationships with their customers. “Provide the absolute best products available. Offer those products at fair prices. And do it in a way that makes people want to return and do business with us again. As the company has transitioned from one generation of ownership to the next, many customers have returned and sent their children into our showrooms. This family atmosphere ensures integrity in the way we do business,” says Henry.
At the same time, they are committed to design and innovation in the products they sell and the industry they represent.
“We are distributors of ceramic tile and stone through three main avenues,” Fred Henry says. “In the showroom anyone can walk in—designers, builders, customers—to select tiles from our samples. Most often it is end users who may be with a builder or designer, but they are here to see what we have and choose a product that meets their needs and style.
“We also service flooring stores and call on architects and designers commercially,” Henry says.
About a third of Henry Tile’s work is commercial, about two-thirds residential.
“We try to always be aware of the trends. Our business is design oriented. It is really a fashion industry,” says Henry. “We have always been tile and stone focused, but at the same time we are always open for looking at a new avenue of growth in our product lines if it makes sense. So we’ve expanded our product offering to include 20 new mid– to high–end lines, and are renovating our showroom to showcase those new lines.
“We try to hire good employees and bring in people who know what is happening in the design world. We stay involved in designer groups like ASID and stay abreast of the latest trends.”
“Styles in flooring don’t change as quickly as clothing styles, but you can tell a tile is 10 years old. Most of the time the style life cycle of tile is about five to seven years.
“People are better educated than ever before. They bring in pictures from Pinterest or other sites. TV shows are wildly popular. We guide them to the best we can in terms of timeless looks and quality,” Henry says.
Three designers work in the Birmingham showroom. They greet customers and try to help them with what they need and develop relationships with builders and designers. “It can be a little overwhelming, so we try to ask a lot of questions and hone in on the right solutions for each customer. We have been here in Birmingham for 40 years. We try to remind people of all we have to offer. We are a veteran company, but we are on the cutting edge, too.”