The Werthan name borders on legendary within Nashville business circles. And two brothers are quietly extending that family legacy.
Jeremy (far left in the photo) and Michael Werthan, fifth-generation members of one of the city’s most storied entrepreneurial clans, recently added a new chapter to the family’s endeavors in Middle Tennessee.
The 40-something siblings merged their two companies — Werthan Granite and Werthan Tile. To create the new entity, Werthan LLC, they consolidated to one central 35,000-square-foot shop and showroom on Chestnut Street near Greer Stadium. Jeremy, 41, is the president and CEO; while Michael, 46, will direct the tile division.
The brothers, who describe themselves as opposites, say the business union will help them decrease costs and operate more efficiently in an economy that has been brutal to most housing-related industries.
Just before the economic downturn hit four years ago, Jeremy invested $1.5 million in an expansion effort. It was lousy timing, and he admits there were plenty of “sleepless nights and unpleasant days.”
“The recession took its toll,” Jeremy said. “Some people went out of business. It means something to be left standing.”
Jeremy was forced to let go about 10 percent of his workforce and, for a time, eliminate bonuses. Retainers evaporated and he lost many high-paying clients — the contractors, homebuilders and developers who soared during the housing frenzy. Michael’s tile business, then based in Green Hills, was similarly challenged.
Both had to change their mindset and adapt to new kinds of customers.
Werthan Tile began catering to the market for remodels, which meant smaller — but more numerous — orders than had occurred during the housing boom’s peak years. Werthan Granite took on more commercial clients and got used to lower margins. Jeremy also began undertaking more custom work, which has resulted in finding unexpected areas of growth and expertise. One example: The granite shop now has the ability to design and produce components for high-end speakers that sell for $30,000.
The combined tile and granite business is already allowing the Werthan brothers to serve many of the same customers. They have also merged complex technology and software programs, a factor both brothers said gives them an advantage over competitors. They are one of the few fabricators in the nation to use robotic technology for stone processing. Operating daily at the shop on Chestnut Street is a highly sophisticated RoboCut robot, of which there are only about a dozen in the nation.
Although the Werthans primarily serve clients in the wider Middle Tennessee region, including northern Alabama and southern Kentucky, they have snagged unusual jobs elsewhere. One such job includes customized granite pieces for the World Trade Center memorial. Tile and granite orders run the gamut from $200 to $30,000 and more. Small and medium jobs are the company’s bread and butter and get the same amount of attention as the big ones, Michael said.
The brothers view customer service as the cornerstone of the family’s legacy.
“We’re a family known for doing the right thing,” Michael said. “We want our company to represent that.”
Historically, Werthan products have included burlap bags their great-great grandfather, Meier Werthan, sold from a cart in downtown Nashville, plastic and paper bags, auto parts and printed checks. The current incarnation of the original Werthan Bag & Burlap — Werthan Packaging — is located in White House and now manufactures paper bags for the pet food industry. Tony Werthan, another fifth-generation family member, heads up that company.
Josh White of Joshua Builders said the Werthan shop is ideal for custom builders.
“In custom building, it’s not if there are going to be problems or not; it’s what are you going to do when there are problems. They are inevitable,” White said. “The Werthans are of a similar mindset and nature. They help resolve things and aren’t just sitting in the office with their feet up.”
Stephen Riven, senior managing partner of Avondale Partners, a Nashville-based investment and equity research firm, has known the Werthan brothers since they were born.
“The Werthan name in Nashville is nothing short of a legend,” Riven said. “It’s a name that means generosity and very high standards. Michael and Jeremy have the same type of entrepreneurial spirit as their ancestors. I have no doubt they’ll succeed.”
Jeremy says the new company is poised to take advantage of the economy has it heals.
“This year is much better than last year,” he said. “Things are turning and we’ve used the time to sharpen our sword.”