Ceramic tile poised to take back market share
By Megan Salzano Ceramic Tiles is one of only two really ambitious product categories available in flooring today – hardwood is the other. It offers technologically advanced features such as slip resistance and waterproofing, countless end-use applications and unparalleled visuals and designs.
So, what gives? Despite Tile’s continued growth over several years, the category hit an issue in 2019 and 2020 as sales plummeted and growth stalled. Industry experts have pointed to challenges such as labor shortages, supply difficulties and rising costs as the culprits, but 2021 presents unique opportunities.
First, the market is primed and ready for high-performance flooring products to regain market share from ‘value-based’ product categories such as LVT, SPC and WPC. According to a new report from Redfin, a technology-driven real estate brokerage, purchases of high-quality homes in the US rose 26% year over year during the three months ended April 30. That compares to the 17.8% increase in affordable home purchases and the 14.8% increase in mid-price home purchases. The data indicates that ambitious – and often more expensive – products are central.
Several data also suggest that consumers are much more willing to spend their hard-earned money on areas of the home where tiles are indispensable, such as kitchens and bathrooms. These spaces also offer the most resale value, especially if they are lined with quality tiles. And let’s not forget the unexpected – and even unprecedented – growth in demand, with some dealers citing a growth of as much as 70% in 2020, with even more expected by the fourth quarter of 2021.
So how should dealers position themselves to reap the benefits of a booming market seeking high-quality, ambitious products like tiles? According to suppliers, the first step is simple. Talk about it.
“Communicating clearly goes a long way,” said Mara Villanueva-Heras, Emser Tile’s vice president of marketing. “It is always important to understand the look customers are looking for and which design trends they identify as a match for their taste. Then, researching the scope, usage and lifestyle will help identify their waterproofing needs or water resistance, as well as durability, scratch resistance, etc. These scope questions together with the project budget, an RSA will help the client turn a concept into a fashionable and artistic reality – in addition to selling the benefits of tiles.”
Paulo Pereira, senior trader, MSI, echoed those sentiments, adding that good communication even allows tiles to compete successfully with the dominant LVT category. “Tout the advantages that make tiles great: excellent slip resistance, indoor/outdoor coordination, longevity and wall-to-floor application, just to name a few,” he said. “Understand the pros and cons of tiles, with the points mentioned, and clearly understand where tiles stand in relation to LVT. We know that LVT is currently the most popular category, but the fact is that tiles are still as much of a focus as consumer interest if its features and benefits are conveyed to the consumer in the right way.”
Know your tile products and sell them. It’s a simple concept. One that Paij Thorn-Brooks, Dal-Tile’s vice president of marketing, also agrees is the key to success with the category. “Know your products and then sell the inherent benefits of tile and the extraordinarily enhanced added value that is now available thanks to modern technology,” she explains. “Today’s smart tile brands offer you not only beautiful products, but also solutions for your customer’s design, renovation and construction needs. Unless someone demands the cheapest, short-term coating of a surface, you can always argue for how today’s tile products better meet their needs.”
On the commercial side of the business, it’s a whole new approach to design. “Start to see ceramics as more than a cladding product,” says Ryan Fasan, a ceramic tile specialist and Tile of Spain consultant. “The more you can get your customers to think about ceramics as an integral system in the operation of the building, the better off you will be.”
So, what are the key points dealers should pay attention to when upgrading consumers to tiles of plastic-based products? Too many to count, but let’s give it a try:
Tile’s inherent features are vast and broad, but one feature has only taken shape in recent years and opens up unparalleled opportunities for dealers: application. Unlike some flooring products, ceramic and porcelain tiles can be installed almost anywhere in the home – floors, walls, countertops, splashbacks, fireplace/pool surrounds, indoor/outdoor, etc. Not only is it a selling point, but it also offers dealers a alternative to other categories that may perform less well across a wider spectrum of applications and end-uses.
“Ceramic tiles have the functionality to be installed on all your surfaces in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, textures and unique designs that can also be mixed – unlike LVT [and other plastic-based material] products,” said Eric Astrachan, executive director, Tile Council of North America (TCNA).
It is not only the availability, but also the demand that makes this an important topic of conversation. “Consumers and designers have increased their demand for unique design on walls, walls, backs and fireplaces that offer tile,” said Dal-Tile’s Thorn-Brooks. “Leading brands are constantly evolving their manufacturing capabilities to stay at the forefront of technology and offer even better shapes, sizes and finishes for [applications like] walls and in mosaics.”
Another feature that has gained importance in recent times is the inherent authenticity of tiles – genuine, natural materials, eco-friendly manufacturing processes, healthy cleaning options – versus the natural properties of tiles. other product options. It speaks not only to the Millennial and Generation Z consumer, but also to the elderly buyer who has a newfound appreciation for these features amid a new post-COVID-19 normal. “With more time at home, people manage their personal spaces more consciously,” says TCNA’s Astrakhan. “They value quality and authenticity when it comes to materials versus cheap, standard plastic. Instead of wanting more, people want better – a somewhat minimalist preference for quality over quantity, like ceramic tile. Sure, ceramic tile needs a little more work to install, but it’s undeniably worth it. It’s like a home-cooked meal on china plates versus a TV dinner on a plastic tray – you choose.”
One of the greatest plays of tiles is, of course, its age-old waterproof properties. Suppliers agree that tile is the original and the ultimate waterproof floor, regardless of recent claims from resilient flooring proponents. “It’s important to note that while new competing products claim to be waterproof, those competitors have a lot of disclaimers in their fine print because their hard floor coverings aren’t actually waterproof, as they claim,” Thorn-Brooks said. “Tile is 100% waterproof. While spillage can spoil other floor types, the surface of tiles is unaffected by liquids, water or moisture. No other material can beat the combination of the benefits of wet room tiles.”
Emser’s Villanueva-Heras agreed, adding: “We’ve seen vinyl and LVP/T tout that water or water resistance as a key feature, but they’re still not an ambitious product like tile. Tile remains an age-old solution for watertight installation for many surfaces.”
As the talk of water comes to the fore, innovations in surface technology are also a major selling point. For example, slip resistance should not be left out of the conversation. “Slip resistance distinguishes tiles,” said MSI’s Pereira. “Its unique ability to provide an exceptional non-slip surface makes tiles inimitable.”
Looking even further into the future, Fasan of Tile of Spain said the inherent antistatic properties of tiles will play a key role in its future desirability. “As integrated smart-home technologies continue to advance, the fact that ceramics are non-conductive is another key feature. Static charge and other issues can interfere with electrical infrastructure of a smart environment and ceramics “act like a ‘sterile field’ in the arena of both technology and biological.”
While the features and benefits of tile are many, the design possibilities are even more so. Experts argue that tile is a category that really innovates, constantly offering new styles, textures and designs that are unmatched in the industry. “In recent years, tile has been seen more as a utility product, but with today’s technology, tile offers virtually limitless designs,” Thorn-Brooks said. “These products can essentially bring any aesthetic to life. This enables Tile to be a leader in the home and shelter category by continuously providing the latest new fashion-driven products that embody the latest styles and colors.”
Even foreign suppliers greatly contribute to the design aesthetic of tiles. “Italian manufacturers [offer] breakthrough technological innovations for producing hyper-realistic material effects such as stone, wood, marble, concrete, terrazzo and more,” said Brittney Harmond, a Ceramics of Italy representative. “The ceramic tile industry has also seen incredible advances in texture; contemporary ceramic tiles not only look and feel like real marble, stone and wood, but also feel that way, thanks to innovative finishing techniques that produce physical depressions and grooves to match the graphics.”