Ludowici Roof Tile established itself in the United States in 1888 and is America’s oldest clay roofing tile manufacturer. Over the years, the spelling of its name has changed a couple of times but its dedication to quality, long-lasting products has never wavered and, to this day, remains the core ingredient of Ludowici Roof Tile’s success.
Ludowici Roof Tile was first founded in southern Italy with the Ludovici family and was originally spelled with a ‘v’ instead of a ‘w.’ But in the early 1800s, the family moved to southern Bavaria, Germany where there were better clay sources, and they could make a higher-quality product.
Several decades later, in the late 1800s, they moved to the United States, but before the move, the family sent their son to study the design and engineering of terracotta products in Alfred, New York. While he was there, he looked into locations best suited for a plant, and in 1888, he founded Ludowici Roof Tile.
He purchased a brick plant and converted it into a roof tile plant in New Lexington, Ohio, about an hour southeast of Columbus. The location was chosen because of its clay source, its manufacturing characteristics, and its educated workforce. “It had a good setup for producing a large quantity of tile,” says Tab Colbert, Chief Executive Officer of Ludowici Roof Tile. “So, he put it here, and it remained in private hands – the family’s hands – all the way through to the late fifties, at which time it was sold to a group of local folks who owned it.”
At one time, the company had five plants around the country, mainly east of the Rockies. But over time – through the Depression and the World Wars – it slowly downsized all the way down the original plant. Today, it offers forty standard profiles, forty standard colors, and can customize anything it has. And last year, the company shipped to forty-six states and eight foreign countries, as well as the Caribbean.
“There is very good clay base/body here. It’s very pure, with very little silica. There’s very little sand and virtually no heavy metals,” says Colbert. “We’re able to do a whole lot with this type of product and this type of clay. We can burn it hotter, and it won’t break or crack, and we can burn it longer, which gives us the durability. It’s designed to last the life of the structure. And we have clay resources here that will last us another couple hundred years.”
Ludowici Roof Tile prides itself on producing only the highest quality of clay, so unlike companies that manufacture custom grades and builder grades, Ludowici Roof Tile makes only one grade, no matter what. “When it leaves the plant, it is the same, with the same goal in mind and the same aspiration to last the life of the structure,” says Colbert. “That’s our philosophy, and that’s what we’ve done. We proved it when we put tiles on our building; the tiles that we have upon our building are the original tiles from 1888, and they still perform great. We did a lift and relay of all the underlayment and replaced a lot of the old copper flashings, but we put the tiles right back on again because we feel that we have at least another hundred years in them.”
One of the things that set Ludowici Roof Tile apart from others is its passion and dedication to customization and its openness to new processes, technology, and most importantly, its willingness to employ new ideas and methods whenever possible. “We love listening to clients tell us what they want. It could be a college or corporation that’s looking for a specific color or design or a residential application where the person likes a certain look, but wants to do something a bit more unique,” says Colbert. “We’re not a company that sits down and designs everything for production and runs stock material.”
Ludowici Roof Tile does keep some stock, but only a very small amount, most of which is non-coloured red clay material, because it really wants to give designers, architects, homeowners, and building owners a clean palette so they can specify exactly what they would like to have done.
One misconception the company battles regularly is the notion that tile roofs are not affordable. “That shows that we haven’t done a very good job of educating people,” says Colbert. “You can afford it. If you can afford a metal or plastic roof, you can afford a Ludowici roof. The difference is we have a seventy-five-year warranty which is unique in the industry, but even more unique is how that seventy-five -year warranty comes from a 130-year-old company. Not too many products can say that.”
The Ludowici Roof Tile tagline is ‘affordable luxury.’ “A lot of people don’t think about putting tile on their roofs, but if you are looking for something that’s long-lasting and you don’t want to have to worry about redoing it in fifteen years, having the color fade out or having a lot of noise (like with metal), we’re a good solution,” says Colbert.
In the spirit of continuously looking for new ways to promote its name and product line, Ludowici Roof Tile is presently in the process of partnering with CIA, a flooring and stone company out of Montréal, Canada to open a new location in Atlanta, Georgia. “We also have plant tours, and we have a design center here with a ceramic engineer that works with clients when they visit,” says Colbert. “This makes them feel more comfortable about the product and demonstrates why we believe in it. We feel strongly that our product is the best of the industry.”
Ludowici Roof Tile, like many others in the building industry, has had to creatively find solutions to the ever-present problem of lack of laborers. “We have co-authored some grant requests for the schools to teach more trade-oriented types of subjects,” says Colbert. “We’ve been working with them (schools) to develop programs where they (students) come into the plant; they see what it’s like; what their career could be, and where it could take them.”
For Ludowici Roof Tile, it is not just about selling; it is also about providing a safe and predictable work environment with competitive wages and great healthcare. “We don’t lay off. We pay the highest wages, and we have the best benefits in our county,” says Colbert. “It’s sometimes hard to find people who are willing to do manual labor, but it’s a long career. We have a lot of people who have worked here for over forty years and have made an incredibly good life for themselves and their families. For us, it’s finding people who want to be the artisans and who want to do something long-term and be part of a growing company.”
Ludowici Roof Tile’ products work in both warm and cold climates; the company has projects all throughout Alaska and northern Canada where it gets very cold. “Thick and durable, our tiles are fired at the highest temperature in the industry for the longest period in the industry. It’s essentially tempered glass,” says Colbert. “So, we can go in any environment; hot, cold, marine, desert. It doesn’t make any difference.”
The tile color is part of the Ludowici Roof Tile warranty, whereas, with many of the other concrete and clay manufacturers, color is not guaranteed.
Ludowici Roof Tile also believes in giving back to the community. When it no longer had any use for a parcel of land of 180 acres, the company decided to create a park where it built the best baseball field and girls’ softball field in the county and created one-, two- and five-kilometer hiking and running trails. It also took an old mine, which is now a huge pond, and stocked it so the community can fish for free. And where there was no pool or anything like that in the town, it built a splash pad where people can play. There is now a nice playground for the kids in the area. “It’s just been an absolute joy to watch every day,” says Colbert.
In addition to numerous other smaller projects, Ludowici Roof Tile helped sponsor the county’s bank and has also worked with people outside the company to create Perry Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) which takes in stray animals, gets them taken care of and then puts them up for adoption.
As Ludowici Roof Tile continues to grow, it plans to continue to offer only the highest quality custom products while maintaining the same level of service and high standards it has proudly upheld for more than a century.