Gratitude, Persistence, and Strength by Mercedes Austin

Gratitude, Persistence, and Strength by Mercedes Austin

When 2020 kicked off, my major goals for Mercury Mosaics included 

  • Connect all areas of our company so our team could better understand what the other teams are doing – we call this the synergy plan! 
  • Implement our company-wide bonus system. 
  • Finalize plans for a second Mercury Mosaics factory location with a purpose to alleviate large-scale production demands for our most popular shapes and colors. 
  • Elevate my internal team to rise up in our tile organization – strengthening the motto: “Many hands make light work” 
  • Phase myself out of doing day to day sales (5-year saga came to an end in 2020!) 
  • Learn more about the role of a CEO, immerse myself in a cohort to better understand and intentionally build this position to find a CEO for Mercury Mosaics in 2022. 

Gratitude Mercury MosaicsPhotography - Alejandro Romero & Aili Juusola.

Reflecting on Personal Loss 

By sheer existence & in good health, I am reminded of the persistence, strength & gratitude I have that I’m able to be posting a blog on a website for a company that still stands with a team fully intact after the year this has been. In February, personally, I was hit pretty hard with the loss of my mom. You won’t find any presence of her online, however, it was my honor to be part of this article written about her leaving a legacy I know she would want to be remembered for. Part of my love of Minneapolis comes from this relentless mom of mine. Before this year I didn’t know there was a term called red lining. What I learned is that the heart of where I grew up was in that red map. The neighborhood that shaped who I am today, the rich cultures that have always been a normal to me and the diversity of my friends in school and every bus I rode to school on – it has made me into who I am today. Being exposed to what I’ve learned this summer – it made me respect and love my mom even more and understand her drive to make something better. As a family, we didn’t run to the suburbs with some of our friends in the neighborhood, we stayed and fought for our neighborhood and never gave up. As I read through the comments in the article of what people said about my mom:  

We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” 

It is with this sentiment that fueled our team as we led this tile operation through 2020 to the other side. There was a story my mom used to read to me called: “The Little Engine That Could” and the takeaway was a phrase I still say to myself: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”  

Mercury Mosaics Diamond Heart TilePhotography - Alejandro Romero & Aili Juusola.

Mercury Mosaics #2 

To maintain the integrity of our current studio space in the Thorp building, it was time to finalize plans for a second location. As expected, 2020 presented added barriers to finalizing well: everything! Things we anticipated to get done in March were finished in late September setting a number of logistics back.  

Because of how I was raised, I stuck to the purpose driving this project and never took my eye off the mountain. Without making this second facility happen, the livelihood of my team was at stake. Without peeling off this level of production, our Northeast studio was in jeopardy of becoming overcrowded, causing uncomfortable working conditions in less than 18 months. I’ve seen it in past spaces, because we’d have to add kilns to keep up with demand and I refused to let my team make tile in unideal studio conditions. As a young company, we’d already gone through this in 2 spaces. The safety of my team was at stake in persevering through the obstacles to get location #2 on the map. I continued to navigate with a purpose to alleviate large-scale production demands for our most popular shapes and colors. As of this writing, we are on track to have small batches of tile beginning to be made in our new location, in Wadena, in late March 2021. With larger batches being anticipated in April through June 2021. 

mercury mosaics tile factory

Drawing by: Di Zhou & Ruth Baccam.

Elevate My Internal Team

I truly think, and this is just my personal opinion, that it’s far more effective to grow an organization from within. It’s WAY slower, but it’s the most-successful I’ve seen things happen (& gel) at Mercury Mosaics. It really falls back to my belief in the underdog. I’ve also hired from the top and it wasn’t always a picnic – let’s leave it at that. I’ve seen such magic from building the team from within, or simply-hiring with the opportunity to grow. My bias is that I was a kid with no formal business education, not necessarily on the right path but had a passion for making things. Tile happened to be a channel for this passion and hey, maybe you’ll see us branching out into other maker-universes, but for now: tile. 

Why do I champion the underdog? I am an underdog at the core - owning that I sweat to get to where I amEveryone deserves a chance. There’s a certain grit, persistence and authenticity when you have someone who knows what it is to not have everything handed to you and understands the value of working for something. I see a lot of heart in this person and they have the most kindness & humility - I think an entire organization can be built from this. By elevating my team, we’ll make more room to bring others into the team, thus creating more opportunities. I think what 2020 has taught me is that we are more capable and resilient than I ever knew. We’re living the mission that: “Many hands make light work” and day-to-day just feels a whole lot better. There’s a liberation to make 2021 shine & go deeper with our community mosaic work to do the most good.   

Custom Tile Lettering Mercury Mosaics2"x6" Subway Tile in Herringbone - 309E Grapefruit. Custom Tile Lettering - 366 Satin Black.

Implement Our Company-Wide Bonus System 

This is a concept I’ve dreamt about having in place since 2012. I failed in kicking it off then, Mercury Mosaics was in a tough spot financially and not having understood all our numbers – that launch was an epic failure. Fast forward to 2018 I announced it was happening and…. we struggled to get sales numbers to a sufficient place to support the initiative. However, in 2019 we accomplished the first leg of my intention: offer access to health care to the team. By eliminating a commission-based sales model, we invested that cash into the wider team. We sustained this offering with natural cash flow through 2019 and have kept it in through 2020 and are renewing benefits for 2021! Part of this was due in part to simplifying operations by focusing on fewer colors and specific collections and a major overhaul on how we marketed our tile using this focus. In 2020, during a global pandemic, our intentionality with our craftsmanship opened the door for this bonus system to go live. We distributed bonuses to our entire team each quarter through this year. I feel alive as a human being knowing that I’ve set up a system to build my team to be driven to work together and assist each other’s success. We’ve put to bed this old system that a few top dog sales people get all the glory. For me, I could honestly walk away from this company knowing this system is in place to build up the people. Just knowing that by its sheer existence, it’ll just keep growing, bringing to life my commitment to have created living wage artisan jobs in a work environment that’s safe, human-friendly & beautiful. Only, I’m not walking away. *wink  

Mercury Mosaics Color Palette

Connect All Areas of Our Company

I wanted to go from essentially having a bunch of really great islands that I felt pretty connected to and step out of the way so the islands could build bridges to each other. We called this the Synergy Plan and it meant that it was time to increase communication and awareness across the company. By becoming intentional about what all the areas of the company are working on and making better connections between teams, we’d be greater as a whole. This would be necessary if we had a chance to strengthen our operations, it’d speed up our decision-making abilities and elevate our capacity to collaborate as a team. It’s humbling to see the magic that has come from our small, intentional and well-thought-out steps and to anticipate what’s to come by continuing in this fashion: I’m excited, proud and honored by the beautiful humans within this tile adventure here! 

Mercury Mosaics Synergy Plan

Photography - Snap Yourself.

Phase Our Mover & Shaker Out Of Day-to-day Sales 

In order to bring a lot of these dreams and visions to life and simultaneously shift from creating jobs to beginning to build careers for magical, creative humans - it was a huge barrier to also be in the sales seat. Alas, the longest single-job I’ve had since Mercury Mosaics was born 18 years ago is: selling the dream – one tile at a time. Remember that underdog mentality? It is always with me. Just because we’re a two-time Inc. 5000 company did not mean I couldn’t also sell the tile. However, this would pose a lid over us if I didn’t phase out. I knew this and after 5-years of persistence and not giving up – working to build a sales model that would make sense for the next 20+ years and something I have a major sense of dignity – we have it! Our system and process combines all of my desires to incorporate a good-vibes, design & research-led, customer service-focused, non-commissioned process. No one single person is commissioned, but rather when we deliver tile to the client the entire company gets a piece of that victory, so we’re driven to make sure all areas are activated and talking and working with one another. It’s like having a healthy spine and all limbs get fresh blood flowing all the time. My husband is a chiropractor, so he’d be proud I whipped up an analogy like this, however – it is true. 2020: you are the year I’ve retired my hat in the area of Mercury Mosaics staffed by team members called: Tile Ambassadors. I hope to inspire other companies to adopt this model & the synergy among my team I’m seeing with my own two eyes feels like the pride a parent would have of their beautiful children. Proud & humbled. 

Mercedes Austin of Mercury Mosaics

Photography - Brett Dorrian Artistry.

Learn More About The Role Of A CEO 

Once upon a time Mercury Mosaics was started by a single artist trying to turn a craft into a day job. The perfectionist in me needs to be reminded of this because nothing happens overnight, and learning is a constant process. In January of 2020 I enrolled myself in CEO Next an entire cohort of second stage business owners all with goals to grow their companies, create jobs and do better in the world through business. I was not alone! In fact, what I was running into (not enough time in the day to get all the things done where all the things felt equally important). It was incredibly helpful to have this cohort through 2020 into the summer. With what I learned; I will use it to fuel intentionalit& accountability to build this position with a goal to find a CEO for Mercury Mosaics in 2022. 

Mercury Mosaics 2021

I feel like we’re just getting started with some of these major foundational pieces being in place. What I’m actually walking away from is having too many hats and using intentionality to catalog my duties and the duties of key members on the team and delegate them to the proper role in the company. Where there isn’t one, being willing to invent one and fill it. I used to be afraid of hiring more and more people but I use the livelihood of my team to remind me why I need to keep building the structure of Mercury Mosaics as a well-oiled organization and trust the process more. This is what 2020 has taught me. In turn, the value of each role increases as we put more and more intention in our process-building, or refinement of roles, our intense commitment to get the correct functions tied to the appropriate roles and gosh darn it – all the parts fit together more and more like the perfect mosaic.  

“Don’t aspire to be the best on the team, aspire to be the best for the team." -Michael Jordan 

The post Gratitude, Persistence, and Strength by Mercedes Austin appeared first on Artisan Tile Company: Handmade Ceramic Tiles by Mercury Mosaics.

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