CEO Matt Wilson sees runway for growth for the innovative manufacturer of wet wall products with all of the beauty of natural stone but none of the drawbacks.
Founded by Kristian (pronounced Kris-jon) Roberts in 2004, Design Imaging makes shower and tub walls that look like stone but aren’t. Think of the company as a tattoo artist, but instead of inking art onto bodies, the company infuses designs into a multi-layered composite material that’s used for the walls in bathtubs and showers.
Back then, Design Imaging was just a guy with an idea with no real product or customers, and Wilson was a kid out of college looking for a job. “The job interview lasted for four hours,” says Wilson, who became the company’s CEO in 2011. “Kris was a guy with an idea trying to convince me as a college grad to build something from nothing. I joined when the company was in its infancy at one month old.”
Today, Design Imaging has two business lines: FlexStone, sold through retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s; and Sentrel Bath Systems, which it markets to professional bath remodeling companies, contractors and installers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The company’s wet wall products — created through a digital printing process — capture the beauty of natural stone but are much easier to install and maintain and at a much more affordable price. The walls resist mold and mildew and are easy to clean and maintain.
While the COVID-19 pandemic crushed many businesses, Design Imaging thrived. “Home improvement products have all exploded and done really well during COVID,” Wilson says. “During lockdowns, folks that had disposable income and still had a job were looking at kitchens and bathrooms, and saying ‘I should renovate that.’ They’re taking income they’re not spending and plowing it into their homes.”
Challenges: In the early days, Design Imaging’s biggest challenges were production-related. From inventing the product to designing the manufacturing process, figuring out how to make sure the products are made correctly and consistently wasn’t easy.
After the company got that figured out, the next step was to determine the best way to market its products. Everything from who its target audience is — tile setters, handymen or interior designers — to the proper price point was painstakingly evaluated.
Today, with Utah’s unemployment rate at just 2 percent, the labor market is Design Imaging’s biggest challenge.
Opportunities: Wilson sees more opportunities on the retail side with its FlexStone products. Home Depot and Lowes offer it on their websites, but Wilson has his sights set on getting displays and products into the stores as he’s done with Menards in the Midwest.
“Home Depot has 3,000 stores, Menards has 300,” he says. “Within the footprint where Menards operates, they’re competitive with Home Depot and Lowe’s. Because our product is visually attractive, consumers are won over to it. Displays are a very good thing for us — a stocking program would be great.”
Design Imaging’s Sentrel product also has benefited from pandemic-induced supply-chain issues because all of its products are sourced domestically and it can provide them to clients in about a week. “We keep materials in stock with domestic sources,” Wilson says. “Some of our competitors that do similar tub and shower wall surrounds have lead times of 12 to 16 weeks. For the last year, because of long lead times and inferior customer service, they’ve been throwing customers off.”
Needs: With its products in such demand, Design Imaging needs more space to manufacture them. But the industrial market in Orem is tight and Wilson is having trouble finding space to expand from the 50,000-square-foot facility the company now occupies.
“I’d like to find 100,000 square feet,” he says. “But vacancy rates are at below 1 percent and the stuff that’s under construction now is already leased and it’s still 12 months from being completed.”