Move Fast and Beautify Things
Ruffo Tile & Stone Inc. works hard to create imaginative spaces
Ruffo Tile & Stone Inc. of San Jose is a family-owned and -operated tile and stone installation company serving California for over 34 years. Opened in the early 1980s by Ernie Ruffo Jr., the company serves residential and commercial contractors who hire them to install granite, stone, marble and a whole range of tiles, including porcelain, glass, and mirror or handmade materials.
The company provides commercial and residential custom tile installation. But, what it is most known for is its high-speed hotel and casino installations. Among its projects are the San Fransisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, the Bay101 Casino, and the AC Hotel by Marriott San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront. “We enjoy the fast-paced work of hotels and hospitality,” says Patty Ruffo, Ernie’s wife and Co-Owner of Ruffo Tile & Stone. “Our work never really ends. We work as long as needed to complete everything we need to do to keep our business moving forward. Each project we are awarded becomes a priority, and we follow through even if that means working evenings and weekends. We never clock out at 5 p.m.”
Ernie and Patty, their daughter, Lauren Ruffo-Hiestand, and 12 employees follow industry and quality standards as outlined by the Tile Council of North America, Inc. They are a team that works hard, day and night, to bring designs to life.
At its core, Ruffo Tile & Stone is precisely what you’d hope a family-owned and -operated business to be. It is a company that still believes in the power of personal relationships, that handshakes matter and that they are only as good as their last project. “We take immense pride in our work,” Patty says.
Ruffo Tile & Stone was born out of a son’s need to strike out on his own. Ernie was born into a family of contractors who worked general construction, masonry and roofing. In fact, Ernie Ruffo Jr.’s father, Ernie Ruffo Sr., was a masonry contractor who subcontracted his brothers and other family members on his jobs. So, it was a given that Ernie Jr. would follow in his father’s—and family’s—footsteps. And while he did work for his father for quite a few years, Ernie Jr. didn’t want to become a mason. That’s when his uncle, Pasquale “Pat” Ruffo, stepped in. A tile tradesman, he saw potential in the younger Ernie and took him under his wing. “My uncle trained me and let me work alongside him,” Ernie says. “I worked hard and learned with my hands. I realized that I liked the attention to detail and precision needed to do high-quality tile work.”
At first, the company primarily worked on residential projects and grew by word-of-mouth. “We went into this business with a conscience,” Ernie says. “We went into every home to exceed the homeowner’s expectations and make sure they felt special. They are inviting you into their home, so you must be respectful, communicative and understanding. It’s all about looking at the fine details, the small little details that others may overlook, and doing them right.”
Patty adds, “People chose then, and they choose now, how to spend their hard-earned money. They deserve a good-looking job. And if something is not right, we come back and fix it until it’s perfect.”
Patty continues, “We always have relied on word-of-mouth. We haven’t had to do much marketing because people hear about us through their friends and family. People tell us that they saw a friend’s shower or bathroom or kitchen and wanted our work in their home. It’s a huge compliment.”
Ruffo Tile & Stone’s quality work is made possible by the owners’ obsession with organization and education. “From the beginning, we were hyper-organized,” Patty says. “We order products well in advance, sometimes months in advance, to make sure everything is on the job site when the project starts. We make sure our guys are totally organized and have all the tools and materials they need. No project should fall behind on our account.”
Ernie adds, “We do our homework before we install. All tiles aren’t created equal, so we spend time researching materials, studying the technique needed to install it properly and the setting material. We alleviate problems down the line by doing the upfront work.
“Some GCs (general contractors) or tile contractors will say a project is done whether the homeowner likes it or not. They might be satisfied with their work, but the homeowner shouldn’t be left with a backsplash, shower or kitchen they don’t love. We never do that—the project is done when it is perfect. We don’t leave early.”
Treating people right is important to Ernie and Patty. “We love our projects and contractors,” Patty says. “We return calls and emails almost immediately. We have great relationships with contractors, and we get back to them quickly with answers.”
According to Patty, their hyper-organization and obsession with understanding the materials they use allow the company to do what it does best: move fast.
Beneath their personal and hospitable personas, Ernie and Patty are renegades that enjoy a good challenge. And there aren’t many things that are as challenging as the hotel and hospitality industry.
The industry is notorious for its tight turnarounds, high standards and inability to shut down during remodels. “Some contractors may find it boring because it’s hard, repetitious work,” Ernie says. “But we are not those people, and our guys are not those people. We all like the challenge.”
And the industry indeed throws challenges their way. Their personal best, so to speak, was at the AC Hotel San Francisco Airport/Oyster Point Waterfront, as a subcontractor to C.W. Horton General Contractor. The Ruffo team tiled 608 bathrooms in three months. “That was our biggest, fastest project,” Patty says. “And, we were successful in meeting and exceeding expectations.”
To accomplish this (for those doing the math, it’s a little over six and a half bathrooms a day), the company did what it did best. First, the team began an open dialogue with the contractor. “For some of these larger brands, they have one representative, and you know what they’re looking for in terms of design and quality,” Ernie says. “And our crews learn how to satisfy them.”
Secondly, they coordinated closely with the GC to optimize the schedule. “In a brand-new hotel, it’s not as fast because you can only go in when a floor is ready. But during a remodel like this one—which is the bulk of our work—they close down two or three floors and keep the others open. We go in and work quickly and keep moving because those rooms have a hard open date.” Ernie adds, “It’s so challenging that it’s a little more fun to keep it going and see how quickly the project can be finished.”
Of course, challenges arise on these types of projects. “Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between the design and implementation,” Patty says. “In those cases, we work with the GC and come up with a solution that will meet the contractor’s needs while keeping as close to the design as possible.”
And finally, they allow their teams to work with as few distractions as possible. “With these large, repetitive tile jobs, it’s not something that needs a lot of oversight because our crews are conscientious and enjoy the challenge,” Ernie says. “Our teams also work very precisely to improve the turnaround time on projects.”
Ultimately, the project was finished on time and on budget.
Through the decades, Ruffo Tile & Stone has differentiated itself by its quality, organization and personal relationships. “It is satisfying to see the work after the project is done,” Patty says. “Looking at the lobby and the beauty of it. It’s a neat feeling.”