Posted on

Optimism abounds as serious buyers drive traffic, sales

by Louis Iannaco

Orlando, Fla.—Coverings, the nation’s largest ceramic tile and natural stone show, returned to its roots here from April 17 to 20 as more than 800 exhibitors strutted their stuff for the entire A&D community and more to see.

Things seemed to be looking up as reactions from most participants surveyed were very positive. Toward the end of the four-day event, Karin Fendrich, COO of National Trade Productions (NTP), the company that runs Coverings, said the show had exceeded expectations. “We had set a goal for sales a year ago that we would see some growth, particularly over what we did last year in Las Vegas, and we hit our goal.”

Attendance (attendees only) was up more than 20% from last year, she said. The largest growth area was architects and designers, while the growth in exhibitors came in machinery and stone.

“With attendance, it’s been a little harder to set a goal because the industry has experienced so much shrinkage,” Fendrich said. “We feel we have as many companies being represented as we did before, but they’re just not bringing as many people with them.”

Pedro Miralles, director of commercial business for Spain-based Apavisa, said it’s been exciting because more people attended. “The mood of the attendees is much better as well. It seems the future is going to be quite positive and optimistic.”

Guy Renkert, president and CEO of Metropolitan Ceramics/ Ironrock, was very pleased with the show. “From day one, traffic was solid and attendance was better than anything we’ve seen in the past three years. I was also pleased because the mood was upbeat. Our customers reported a strong first quarter and were optimistic this increased activity would continue into the traditional summer selling season. They were looking for ways to invest and grow their business instead of cutting and finding ways to endure the recession.”

George Larrazabal, national sales manager for Mediterranea, which was celebrating its silver anniversary at Coverings, said the company had a strong show. “We had a record number of customers visit us. We couldn’t be happier with the sales earned and new customer relationships formed. And, to top it off, this is our 25th anniversary. We hosted a Boardwalk-themed party at our booth. This show will be difficult to top next year.”

The traffic in the Crossville booth was, as vice president of marketing, Lindsey Ann Waldrep, noted, “amazing. I thought it was because of our location, which is toward the front of the show floor, but it has never let up. We’ve gotten to see so many of our great customers and with me being relatively new to the company, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to meet with everyone, get to know them and what their needs are.”

Coverings has always been a great show for Florida Tile, said Sean Cilona, director of marketing. “We don’t take attendance as to how many of our distributors come, but it has to be close to 90%. So there’s just a huge buy-in from them. In the last few years, we’ve been very fortunate in that our sales numbers have been up consistently. We attribute this to our distributors’ commitment to our new products. When you’re launching 11 products a year, if you don’t have a pretty good commitment from your wholesalers, it’s not going to work out.”

According to Bryan Boswell, manager for Tau USA, the show was great for the company. “We won the Best in Show award for overall booth. I believe this was largely due to the floor tile, the Onice collection, and specifically the color gris we had on the booth floor. We did notice a more serious business-oriented attendee.”

According to Hector Narvaez, executive vice president, sales and marketing for American Marazzi, the show went “very well. We put a lot of effort into the products we presented, both on the American Marazzi side as well as our sister company, Ragno. Our customers liked our new sizes and innovations. All of our customers showed up. We made appointments, of course. They came, they are committed to all the lines and they brought orders.”

Amy Tanenbaum, executive vice president of Sicis North America, said because the Italy-based company is an internationally recognized manufacturer, “wherever we exhibit, current and new clients will find us.” However, she found the show to be smaller than what the company is used to. At the same time, she noted, the mood of attendees “was very upbeat and hopeful.”

Ryan Fasan, consultant to Tile of Spain, said every manufacturer he had spoken to reported “writing bigger and more orders than they have in the past two or three years. The quality of people seems to be up, which is good because if people are coming to the show and actually writing orders right here on the floor, that means they’ve got a need for product in their stores, and that says good things about the building industry.”

 

What’s trending now  

Trends at the show continue to run the gamut from the ever-popular wood looks (which are now being defined by either an aged, reclaimed design or a more smooth, contemporary pattern) to more planks, rectangular formats and different textures. In addition, bolder colors were seen in accent pieces, not necessarily in primary tiles. “The breadth of the neutral palette seems to be the same,” Fasan said, “but we’re seeing it in stone, wood and metal and in every other material, but it’s keeping to that palette so everything can be coordinated, which I believe is totally different than in the past.

“Most manufacturers today, by utilizing digital technology, are not just doing one décor with a series, they are doing five or six, all in the same tone,” he explained. “You can do a room now with one feeling on the floor, a broad stripes décor or focal wall, and then you can have a stylized floral or a different geometric pattern, all within the same colors. This is creating a very interesting neutral.”

He added that the neutral palette cannot be avoided, especially in North America. But at least it’s interesting now. It’s not just another vanilla tile. Also, you can now do a neutral room, but by using accent colors, it has orange or purple in it, but the overall appearance of the space is still neutral. These colored, multi-hued and vibrant accents are being used with the neutrals to liven up spaces.”

Waldrep agreed. “We’re still seeing really strong, neutral, sophisticated looks but we’re starting to see color brought in with the accents. That’s why the grays we have in our new Shades line work so well. It’s not white or black and it’s not another parchment-type look you see so often in tile; it has more depth than that.”

Green Squared pride

With the recent passage of the Green Squared ANSI standard—the all-encompassing multi-attribute sustainability standard for tile and tile installation materials—companies that had been certified by the start of Coverings, such as Ironrock and Crossville (as well as those scheduled to be certified within weeks of the show) were already wearing their new distinction like a badge of honor.

“We at Crossville are excited about Green Squared and what it means for our industry,” said director of technical services Tim Bolby. “We now have an industry-wide standard—a common ground—by which environmental achievement can be measured and validated.”

As Bolby explained, Crossville is the “first among the first” of Green Squared recipients to earn certification for an entire product line-up as well as for manufacturing processes. “We produce sustainable products through certified, sustainable processes; that is our standard.”

According to Lori Kirk-Rolley, senior marketing director at Dal-Tile, what she likes most about the Green Squared initiative is it takes a multi-attribute approach to certification. “It has more meat to it. To be certified and to have a product be Green Squared certified, it’s quite an accomplishment.

But while it’s a challenge to become certified, she explained, it provides more meaning and credibility to the industry “as opposed to all the greenwashing that had gone on before. For instance, a manufacturer would pick one attribute, get that certified and yet the attribute itself may not have been meaningful.”

Coverings wasn’t all about tile and stone. At FloorForce, a website development company devoted to the flooring industry, CEO Bobby Glennon was pleased with the way the company’s new product catalog had been received. The catalog “has the ability to show all the products the retailer carries on their website from the mills they do business with. The system allows retailers to set retail prices. It also has a shop-at-home module built into it, where consumers can put product samples into a cart and then request a shop-at-home meeting where the dealer can show those specific products.”

At USG, Steve Bjorklund, director of tile and flooring, said the company is constantly looking to innovate and develop “products our customers want.” One of those products is the updated version of the USG Tile and Flooring Solutions app available for both the iPhone and iPad. Version 2.0.2, now available for download in the Apple iTunes store, “includes new features and improvements to enhance the application’s performance.”

The app provides Durock cement board, Fiberock tile backerboard/underlayment and Durock tile membrane information.

 

Logo, Italian style

Confindustria Ceramica (the Italian Association of Ceramics) is launching a new, international advertising campaign in support of Made in Italy ceramics. The campaign shines a graphic spotlight on the Ceramics of Italy logo, connecting it to other international design icons that change according to geographical area. The ad made its U.S. public debut during Coverings.

“‘Made in Italy’ embodies values that are recognized around the world ranging from quality and transparency to leadership in design and innovation,” noted the association’s Franco Manfredini. “Similarly, the Ceramics of Italy logo is a symbol of superior quality, design excellence, durability and environmental responsibility in the ceramics sector. It can only be used by members of Confindustria Ceramica operating in global markets and strictly for products made in Italy.”

 

Tile of Spain milestone

This year marked Tile of Spain’s 25th year at Coverings, and once again, the international brand representing 200 tile manufacturers belonging to the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association (ASCER) brought one of the largest foreign delegations to the show. In all, 42 Spanish manufacturers showcased their wares. At the Spanish Pavilion, attendees experienced cutting-edge technology, sustainable design and architectural solutions from Spanish manufacturers, as well as Tile of Spain’s bold message: “Yes, We Choose Spanish Ceramic.” And despite the recent years of economic uncertainty, Spain’s ceramic tile sector exports grew 7% in 2011.