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Big River Tile & Stone

Big River Tile & Stone

Big River Tile & Stone is located near Alma, WI, a small river town with a lot of character and a long history. The owner, Michael Kauten, works with that history and character every day. He does mostly remodeling work, adapting his tile and stone work to the oddities of old houses and the old limestone foundations which support them. "I enjoy working with customers, finding solutions to the kinds of problems you run into in old houses. Long straight hallways that aren't really straight, for instance. And some of the newer stuff--infloor radiant heat is the new thing, and it is perfect for tile."

Start-up and Planning

Kauten started Big River early in 2008, after a brief stint doing construction sales in Florida ("too hot, too hectic"). He had been laying tile, one way or the other, since he was in high school, working alongside his dad, but had regarded it as a sideline for much of that time.

Kauten wanted to explore turning the tile work into a full time business. He worked with a Business Development Specialist from the Western Dairyland Business Center "who really helped [him] focus and take the business to the next level."

Marketing and Branding

"At first, I didn't even have a name-- I'd just always used my own name for the business-- but she helped me come up with 'Big River' which really fits, given our location," Kauten said. "She just kept asking questions: 'Who is your market? What else can you do?' And I realized that I could do tile work, inside and out, and I could lay stone-- including the local limestone they cut out of the Winona bluff-- and I could do tuck pointing and restoration work on old stone and brick buildings." They worked on a marketing plan, which included truck magnets-- big magnetized signs that attach to the doors of his truck-- business brochures, price lists, business cards and more.

"Dentistry for stone"

Since then, the business has been steadily growing. "We are coming close to meeting the projections Western Dairyland and I worked on when I started," Kauten said. He has worked many remodeling jobs and restored some old limestone foundations. "It is detailed work-- kinda like dentistry for stone," Kauten said. Lately, he's been thinking about doing some smaller mosaic pieces for a local art gallery.

Good planning, plus Kauten's versatility, his willingness to try something new and his contacts and knowledge of the area (he and his family have lived in Alma since 2000) have made Big River Tile & Stone a success in a year, when many would have hesitated start a business. Kauten can be reached at (608) 685-4021 or bigrivertile@yahoo.com. A website with photos of his work is coming soon.

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