Robin Petravic

Robin Petravic

Co-owner and Managing Director | Heath Ceramics

Industry
Home Furnishings 

Location
Sausalito, Calif.


Robin Petravic: The Co-owner of Heath Ceramics Talks Tough Times and the Next Wave of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

Heath Ceramics was founded by Edith and Brian Heath in 1948 in Sausalito, Calif. and quickly became the gold standard in ceramics tabletop and tile. The brand has since become synonymous with American craft and the simplicity of design wedded to quality and craftmanship. Husband-and-wife Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey acquired the brand in 2003 and consider themselves stewards of Edith’s original vision. When they bought the company, it was struggling financially and had roughly 20 employees in Sausalito and Cathy and Robin turned the business around and have seen opened new showrooms and manufacturing facilities. Heath now has four locations in California and boasts $30M in sales in 2019.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 
We’re only three weeks into the “Shelter in Place” order that closed our Heath showrooms and factories and which we expect to last a further eight weeks. We are heavily supported by our four brick-and-mortar showrooms, and our revenue dropped overnight by 85% when they closed, so the task at hand is cash planning to make sure we understand how long we can last and when other funding is needed. We’ve already had to make some really tough decisions to reduce our size, saying goodbye to some great people so that we can keep some other great people once we reopen as a smaller company. We know that demand and our customers will be changed when we re-open. We’re all feeling pretty bruised right now, it has been very hard on a lot of people. Our next concern at hand is setting a clear path for our teams for how we reopen.

Heath Ceramics sells an array of ceramic tabletop goods, as well as tiles, furniture, and accessories.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
We were fortunate to have strong inventory going into this, and so we’ve put more emphasis on our online business, and the conversation with our customers. They’ve been incredibly supportive and a real beacon of optimism for us. Our approach has been to be honest and inspiring to our customers, who have inspired us in turn with their stories—some of these people have been customers for 50 years and for over many generations in their families, so we have a place in their homes and family life where we’re all spending a lot more time right now. We’re leaning into our online business and social media to fill the void of our closed showrooms.

Heath is a company that’s about connecting with people in physical spaces, so we’ve had to be flexible in finding new ways to reach and support our customers.

Our creative and marketing teams have banded together to put our best foot forward online under the circumstances, putting together impromptu photo shoots at their homes and ad-libbing in all sorts of creative and amazing ways. Heath is a company that’s about connecting with people in physical spaces, so we’ve had to be flexible in finding new ways to reach and support our customers. Like others in our position, we’ve hosted a few online promotions and become far nimbler in having a focused web and editorial point of view that responds to the moment. While metrics help us make critical choices, our direct dialogue with our customers has been incredibly powerful. These conversations provide valuable feedback and give us the opportunity to build even stronger relationships.

One of the company’s four showrooms in California.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now? 

No one knows how quickly the economy will recover, and we are expecting it to be down significantly while preparing to do what we can to be pleasantly surprised. One of the big challenges we expect to see is how quickly customers will start to come back to brick-and-mortar stores, it’s been a traumatic experience to be scared of being fewer than six feet away from strangers, and in physical retail, we have to be prepared to ease into things in new ways. We’ll put more energy into online, as we’ve already begun to do, as we’ve all become a lot more comfortable in that environment.  

Heath Ceramics’ tiles installed in a bathroom.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 
In 2008, we were proactive and opened a new showroom and added product lines, we were creative and positive in how we got through that downturn. This situation is much much tougher, with so many more unknowns and so much less within our control, but a similar mindset is important—we need to stay optimistic, creative, and open to working in new ways, to meeting our customers’ needs in new ways. We need to not assume that business will ramp up in the same way it was before, we need to be observant and nimble, both adapting and leading the way to new approaches.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime 

 

Morning routine?
I’m very grateful right now that I’ve been a runner for years. Still running every morning has become even more important, it’s critical to clearing my mind and giving me energy to start the day.

Currently binging? 
We fell down the Tiger King rabbit hole and are still looking for a show to replace it that will feel more “cleansing”.

Currently reading? 
I’m not feeling like I need more digital content after a full day on video calls. I like the perspective I get from the Economist, balanced with the small-town news we get from the subscription we have to the Chilkat Valley News, a small-town paper from Haines, AK. it arrives weekly in the mail. We wait a few days before we touch it.

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
The first few weeks of this was just work all the time, all hands on deck. My wife and I run the business together, so it wasn’t much about home life. Now it’s important that we’ve got a daily schedule in our family that gives us some structure. Getting out for bike rides with my son is a great way to both get out of the house and spend some time together. We also take a lunch break and walk the dog together. We’ve worked through lunch for years, so this feels like a positive change.

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Exercise in the form or running or regular dog walks. Sleeping as well as I can is even more important. Eating as well as I can provides the added benefit of becoming an even more creative outlet to shift my mind somewhere else.

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal? 
That feels so far off. Our thoughts are more on getting our people through this first, but I can start to imagine a road trip to Alaska, spending time camping and fishing.