Ann Sacks is the President of Design and Direct Source (DDS). Starting in 2006, DDS focuses on creating sophisticated but affordable collections of tile, stone, and wood that enables designers to pursue their creative ends while balancing the timing and budget realities of commercial projects. DDS can become involved in the sales process at various points. The company may be contacted by an architect, designer or developer at the outset of a commercial project to offer recommendations about hard surfaces, or it may be called upon to evaluate existing choices, or to bid on existing specifications. It concentrates on projects involving hotels, condominium towers, apartment buildings, retail stores, airport terminals, and subway stations.
In 2016, DDS was acquired by Materials Marketing, a member of the RAF Industries family of companies. The acquisition was a natural fit as Marketing Materials showroom is based with ten showrooms nationwide. The combination of the two companies creates a company that can service both commercial and residential customers with the highest level of service and product.
Ann has over 30 years of successful business experience, beginning in 1981 with the company Ann Sacks Tile and Stone in Portland, Oregon. After building a second location in Seattle Washington, and a third in Vancouver, BC, Ann Sacks Tile and Stone was aquired by The Kohler Company, of Kohler Wiscounsin in 1989.
Between 1989 and 2003 Ann served as President of Ann Sacks Tile and Stone (renamed “Ann Sacks”) and the company itself was a division of The Kohler Company. During that time the company grew to have approximately twenty showrooms nationwide.
Ann Sacks has been married to Robert Sacks since 1971, and they have two children, and two grand children.
Get to know Ann:
1. How did your business get started?
My career in the tile industry began with an unrelated visit to a dress shop that imported items from Mexico. Seeing hand painted tiles being sold as trivets, I somehow determined that they would make nice showers and ordered one of each to place on my dining room table . I was still working as a teacher turned social worker when I decided to add Mexican tile floors to the mix and I did the unthinkable by installing them over fine wood floors. Running one inch reversed ads I had enough positive response to open a small store.
2. Best Recent Development?
Recently as part of my personal succession plan I sold my business to a wonderful company which quarries and fabricates natural stone for distribution in North America. Materials Marketing, owned by Philadelphia based RAF Industries, has ten showrooms and serves primarily the residential market. I am already beginning to develop new products for those showrooms and to teach some of the sales representatives more about commercial projects for which they can use the creative but affordable tile and stone programs developed by Design and Direct Source in recent years. One additional strategic benefit is that DDS will market to commercial specifiers the fabrication capabilities of Materials Marketing offering a program that does not have the delays and uncertainties of overseas shipping.
3. Who would be on your list of most creative people?
Creativity for me is less about being able to create something than it is about being able to understand things. More importantly it is about the empathy that should accompany a discerning view of the world.
4. Where do you get your inspiration from for new tile designs?
Unfortunately I am unable to pass along any great tips on the inspiration for our tiles. As a person who is quite practical about life and business the equation is more about what others want than it is about expressing myself. I do, however, take a very strong position about editing and if I feel that something does not reflect our aesthetic system, it will not be selected in the interest of increased sales.
5. What new projects are you working on that we should know about?
Our current projects are incredible. As some of our customers require strict confidentiality I have to exclude many beloved brands but we are extremely proud to be providing tile for MOMA, fantastic hotel brands including ACE, Freehand, Nomad , and many other hotel flags from affordable to luxury. We are currently providing tile for a gorgeous mall that is an example of a new direction in community focused shopping centers.
6. As a successful business entrepreneur, what was the most important decision you made that catapulted your business to the next level?
At the very start of my career in tile I noticed that the eighties were about “matching” things including the popular colorful sinks and tubs that were in fashion. Although fixtures were colorful, tile was still pretty much standardized white. I came up with the idea of creating custom color tile to match to bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and then ultimately to match anything that the customer desired! I inadvertently moved tile from a two dollar category to a twenty dollar category and customers were delighted to be able to achieve a customized result.
7. What practical tips do you have for women seeking to start their own business?
My best practical tip is to be practical. If the investment is limited so should be the time and thought devoted to taking action. After that, learn as you go.
8. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
When I started to teach school in rural Oregon, I wanted to teach things about life, including how we managed our way into war and the Holocaust, and also how the relationships between junior high students might affect their relationships thereafter. My principal understood and supported my effort, and he is a source of inspiration.
9. What are three characteristics you believe every leader should possess?
I think that you have to be willing to embrace complexity and not model simple answers that fail to teach. In my experience, more often than not, employees want a reply that allows them to check off a task, but I firmly believe that is not the path to professional growth.
10. What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?
One has to accept that the urgency and passion one feels as a leader is not always shared.
11. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming an entrepreneur?
An ability to work very, very hard and not expect to get back what you give in the short term. Your biggest asset is embracing that hard work and not allowing yourself to feel frustrated by the fact that it can be isolating and even lonely. If you do not wish to make those sacrifices it may be best to take a different path.
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