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Natural stone poised for mainstream move

October 24/31, 2016: Volume 31, Number 10
By Ken Ryan

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-57-30-pm Flooring retailers searching for new revenue streams may need to look back a few centuries for the next great opportunity—natural stone. Executives tout natural stone as a product that brings the colors and texture of nature to homes while adding a quality and warmth to a room that proponents say is not possible with any other material.

“As a natural product it creates a look that is truly unique and can’t be fully replicated with products made to look like natural stone,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer/vice president, sales support for Emser Tile.

With stone sales projected to move to the mid to higher-end markets, flooring retailers have the opportunity to profit from not just a flooring product but also countertops, wall tile and decorative mosaics. “As technology continues to advance, we will see increased creativity with stone mosaics,” said Roy Viana, director of natural stone and slab for Daltile. “The increased demand for textured mosaics has helped drive the advancement to three-dimensional tile, which adds depth and character to any room.”

Stone—perhaps because it is a natural material—has spooked some dealers from taking on the category. But that is one of the misconceptions that heretofore have kept stone from being a truly mainstream flooring category. Baldocchi said one of the biggest myths is stone is difficult to sell or explain. “Shown correctly, stone sells itself.”

Viana believes it is important for flooring retailers to continue to educate customers on the maintenance and application of natural stone. “Many home improvement shows feature stone or stone-look products throughout renovations, driving requests for the product,” he explained. “However, it is important that customers are aware of the inherent nature of stone and the upkeep. Proper maintenance of stone will ensure that their investment lasts.”

New developments
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As with other flooring surfaces, stone formats are moving away from small and square to large and rectangular. As stone processing continues to improve and become more efficient at both the quarry and factory levels, costs are expected to continue to fall, making natural stone more of a consideration for the end users with a modest budget.

“Additionally, these improvements are enabling us to offer more stones in larger formats, such as 8 x 36 planks or 18 x 36, which used to either be a challenge or was in limited supply,” Viana said. “The natural stone industry continues to reinvent itself through new stones, finishes and formats in all categories, with a larger focus in limestone and marble products.” Daltile’s new One Quartz collection, comprising 93% natural quartz stone, combines the look of quartz with modern technology to provide a distinctive looking, durable surface.

M S International, a leader in the stone and slab space, recently added 12 new natural colors to its Stacked Stone collection. Two items, Calacatta Cressa 3D Honed and Statuarietto Capri 3D Honed, achieve the on-trend look of Italian white marble, which is gaining popularity.