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Do What You Love: An Artistic Entrepreneur

Do What You Love: An Artistic Entrepreneur

Ever dream about finding a way to do what you love for a living? In my "Do What You Love" column, I ask people who've done it to tell me their secrets. Here's hoping they inspire you to do the same.

Nancy Epstein is a woman in a man’s business. Not only did she start her own tile business, she revolutionized the way the industry works.

As founder and CEO of Artistic Tile, which has a showroom in New York’s Flatiron district, Epstein has created a tile and natural stone empire with eight showrooms, worldwide distribution in more than 160 additional showrooms, and corporate offices and warehouse in Secaucus, N.J.

Epstein found a way to do what she loves and she offers advice on how you can, too.

BusinessNewsDaily: Explain you what you do for a living.

Nancy Epstein: As the CEO of a luxury tile and stone company that both retails and wholesales, you would think I spent most of my time reviewing financials.  Ten years ago, that would have been true. In today's highly competitive design environment, however, I spend most of my time working on new product development. Our monthly introduction of proprietary designs are what differentiates Artistic Tile.  Almost half of my time is spent traveling the world to work with artisans and crafts people to execute our designs.

Artistic Tile CEO Nancy Epstein

BND: How did you end up doing this for a living?

N.E.: Twenty-seven years ago, I gave designs to a custom cabinet maker for my oldest son's bedroom furniture. By the end of the project, I was hired to do the design work for him. Furniture was not enough for me, so we expanded into ancillary products. Those products became my focus.  I bought out the cabinet maker’s interest in 1987, when he decided he was not interested in the ancillary products, and he retired shortly thereafter.

It's no surprise that my focus landed on tile. I absolutely love tile and stone and find it the most interesting part of the design world. Stone tells the story of the world's history, my favorite subject, and ornamentation (especially handcrafted jewelry) is my passion. 

BND: What was the crucial decision you made that led you to this place in life?

N.E.: In 1993, I decided to risk opening a luxury showroom on a highway, and open it to the public as opposed to a closed-to-the-trade showroom. It was the first in the country. By June of the same year, I felt that the luxury client no longer wished to wait 12 to 16 weeks for product to arrive. I wanted inventory that could be shipped to clients within 24 hours. The only way to do this was to go into the import and distribution business myself. My existing suppliers were gun-shy of heavy inventory. So I did it myself. My first containers arrived in January of 1994, and they have been flowing ever since. I was 39 years old at the time and had three young sons and a very supportive husband.

BND: What did you want to be when you grew up?

N.E.: A schoolteacher.

BND: Why do you love your job?

N.E.: I love history, religion and politics. I get to immerse myself in all three when designing globally. 

BND: What's the biggest misconception about your job?

N.E.: That traveling is like being on vacation. It is actually closer to the truth that most of my actual vacations wind up becoming business travel. Wherever I am, I find myself seeking artisans, suppliers and sights that can inspire tile designs.

The second misconception that I have been battling my entire career is that my husband finances me to work so that I won’t spend my time spending his money!

BND: If you didn't do your job, whose job would you like to have and why?

N.E.: The only other job I could possibly think of that I might enjoy more than mine is being president of the United States. I was raised in an incredibly liberal and unwaveringly patriotic home. I would like to be able to give back to my country and give all citizens the opportunity this nation has brought me and my family. Just two generations ago, my grandparents fled Eastern Europe. We may be an imperfect nation, but we are the best imperfect nation in the world. Our people are our strength. Americans are the most charitable and caring people on Earth. We are a true melting pot of culture and religion. That diversity is our strength.

Unfortunately, the president never calls me for advice — then again, neither does my husband.

BND: Do you think having a job you love has made you a better person in other areas of your life?

N.E.: Of course it has. When you can be not only happy but enthusiastic to go to work the next day, to get on the next plane, to meet people from all over the world, you have a sparkle that is contagious.  When you can learn and share, and grow and promote growth, you and those around you become better people. Additionally, my travels allow me to see many of the places where my family's philanthropic efforts have affected the local populations.

BND: What's your best advice to other people who are trying to pursue their career dreams?

N.E.: Be brave. Don't listen to naysayers. Be willing and able to make decisions quickly, sometimes without knowing all of the facts. Be willing to be wrong, and not letting the fear of making mistakes slow you down.

BND: What's your idea of the perfect retirement?

N.E.: This is a subject that I give a lot of thought to!  My dream retirement will have to be in a place or places I can share with all of my family.  My sisters and I have been apart a lot of our adult lives; I want to be together when we retire. I adore not only my daughter-in-laws, but their parents as well. 

I don't want my grandchildren to have to choose; I want all of their grandparents to be together in one place. And if I can’t see my grandchildren constantly, the retirement would be far from perfect.


Jeanette Mulvey has been writing about business for more than 20 years. Know someone who loves what they do? Tweet @jeanettebnd with the hashtag #dowhatyoulove.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.