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Ceramic: New shapes, sizes expand possibilities

July 9/16, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 2

By Nicole Murray

 

Ceramic tile manufacturers continue to push the proverbial design envelope by developing new shapes, formats, patterns and sizes. The aim is to better meet the needs of a diverse and growing range of end users.

In terms of visuals, ceramic is looking to nature for inspiration—literally. Wood planks continue to rise in popularity, based not only on the high level of realism that can be achieved due to sophisticated digital printing, but also because of the advent of longer plank sizes and wider widths.

“Playing with the different sizes side by side adds a more modern yet sophisticated element to the design because the non-linear pattern will pop as a focal point,” said Laura Grilli, senior product development manager, Dal-Tile. As an example, she cited Daltile’s Emerson Wood collection, which is available in three extra-long sized planks, including 12 x 48, 8 x 48 and 6 x 48 formats.

But it’s not just wood looks that are trending. Warm, gray-colored concrete tile, as seen in American Olean’s Union collection, is turning heads, according to the company. “There is a softness that comes through when using gray,” Grilli explained. “Once installed, end users have the option to choose a design direction ranging anywhere from minimalistic to modern.”

Industry observers also continue to track interest in larger formats. While 12 x 24 remains the staple tile size, larger options such as 24 x 48 and 18 x 36 are gaining in popularity. Proponents cite the appeal of minimal visible grout lines, which are inherent in larger tiles, to the greater floor space bigger tiles cover, particularly in more expansive settings.

Larger-format ceramic tiles are also being utilized in various indoor spaces that require a clean and professional look as well as low maintenance. “Think elevator bank walls in office buildings, exterior cladding for hotels and retail centers, feature walls in multifamily lobbies as well as fireplace surroundings in living areas with vaulted ceilings,” said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing at Crossville. “These huge pieces of ceramic tile have infinite design capabilities and are so appealing in these environments.”

Interestingly, larger tiles are creating opportunities beyond interior settings. “Consumers are using larger panels for a monolithic look that takes tile from the front door all the way out to their patio,” said Emily Holle, director of trend and design, MSI. “Ceramic tile has proven its functionality no matter the environment, and people are taking advantage of it.”

But that doesn’t mean smaller tiles no longer have a place in the home. Observers say miniature ceramic tile sizes are still being utilized for decorative applications such as backsplashes or accent walls. “People are much more appreciative of the handmade products these days,” Waldrep said, citing Crossville’s Retro Active 2.0 collection, which is available in 13 different colors and various shapes. “Smaller tiles allow for more options of how to use the space on the wall by playing with different shades of colors and how they are arranged.”

What’s more, using various shaped tiles allows end users to experiment with color and size in both traditional and unconventional ways. For instance, Emser Tile’s Design Form collection of 9 x 9 tiles offers 16 different black and white patterns that can be mixed  to make a classic linear design or busy flooring pattern that can function as the focal point of a design.

“People are playing with irregular angles, linear etching and plaster effects to add texture and alluring dimensions on their walls,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile. “It draws in the eye so much quicker and keeps it there because there is so much to take in when the pattern is kept busy.”

Some of the most popular shapes being used on walls are fish scale, chevron and herringbone—some of which may incorporate 3D textures for a multi-dimensional look. “Our Visual Impressions collection is the perfect example of a wall tile that is not only visual but tactile and can make a space much more comfortable,” American Olean’s Grilli explained. “People are looking to take it to the next level so that you can touch and feel the texture of the tile which adds even more personality to the entire design.”

Technological leaps
Ceramic tile producers attribute many of the latest looks and designs to the advent of digital printing technology. This, observers say, has almost single-handedly ushered in the ability to create patterns and designs that at first were thought to be unrepeatable.

“Ceramic can now mimic looks that cannot be replicated in other materials,” Emser Tile’s Haaksma said. “The tile can capture textured concrete looks, mod-inspired graphic patterns and reminiscent terrazzo prints while outperforming other materials in cost and ease of maintenance.”

More specifically, printing technology has allowed marble to thrive because of the new capability to manipulate small details within the material so the design pattern can expand to more than one tile and be used in larger areas.

“Printing technology has allowed manufacturers to perfect minor aspects of the graphics that could not be achieved in the past,” Grilli explained. “For example, we are now able to adjust how one specific vein looks on a piece of marble that could not have been adjusted previously. This allows us to synchronize multiple pieces together.”

But it’s not just flooring we’re talking about here. Large porcelain slabs, such as Daltile’s Panoramic Porcelain Series, can also be used for countertop applications. “Porcelain slabs are easy to clean, waterproof, scratch-proof, cannot be stained and don’t freeze,” Grilli noted. “They are becoming the obvious choice because of the design capabilities, along with the numerous everyday advantages.”

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Ceramic: Positive factors fuel eight-year winning streak

June 26-July 2, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 1

 

By Ken Ryan

 

The U.S. ceramic tile industry registered its eighth consecutive year of growth in 2017, buoyed largely by a strengthening economy, sizeable gains in the construction and housing sectors, falling unemployment numbers and favorable interest rates.

FCNews research shows sales rose 5.8% to $2.921 billion while volume increased 5% to 2.426 billion square feet. The 2017 numbers were similar to 2016 when sales jumped 5.7% and volume increased 5.5%, reflecting the continued strength of a category that is the third-largest sector in flooring in terms of dollars, representing 13.3% of all flooring sold in 2017, up from 13% in 2016. In terms of volume, ceramic tile represented 12.35% of total industry volume, up from 12.1% in 2016. Only carpet/rugs and resilient account for larger pieces of the flooring pie.

The eight-year winning streak follows a rather dark period (2007-2009) when the cate- gory fell an almost incomprehensible 20% or more for three consecutive years before beginning its comeback in 2010. The nadir took place in 2009, when the ceramic market fell 24.2% in sales to $1.347 billion while volume dropped 22% to 1.28 billion square feet. Fast forward to 2017—ceramic sales have risen 116% since 2009 while volume has increased 89.5%.

While the overall economy—and housing in particular—is showing robust activity, ceramic is taking advantage with gains that only LVT has surpassed among flooring product segments. “Housing starts are crucial for the ceramic tile industry,” Donato Grosser, industry consultant, told FCNews. “During the recession, housing starts fell by 70% and ceramic tile sales fell by more than 30%. Now, housing starts are progressing at a moderate pace. When the sector cools off, it will not do too much damage.”

The combination of still relatively low interest rates, high home equity and a backlog from the economic crisis of 2008–2010 has been instrumental in the flooring industry growing at rates exceeding that of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which grew 2.3% in 2017. Ceramic has been a main catalyst for flooring’s spurt.

“It is almost the perfect storm of economic data that is enabling ceramic tile to continue its double GDP growth rates,” said Raj Shah, president of MSI International. “The U.S. continues to be significantly below the long-term average of residential investment as a percentage of GDP. If we can get back to our long-term average, then we can expect almost a 20% increase in the overall industry size.”

From a residential perspective, there is a strong parallel between tile consumption and new housing starts. To that end, new housing starts greatly contributed to the growth of the ceramic category in 2017, most notably in Florida, Texas and California. There are other trends at play as well. “Single- family homes have generally grown larger in size over the years, providing an opportunity for tile consumption to reach new levels,” said Jason Roshel, product director for Dal-Tile. “These bigger homes tend to use larger quantities of tile because of its style and effortless maintenance. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in wall tile application.”

Role technology plays
Beyond the economy and housing, ceramic tile is taking a disproportionate share within the flooring industry, in part because it is becoming mass marketable due to improvements in technology that have led to applications on countertops, walls and outdoors. Specifically, advances in ink-jet printing have allowed companies to mimic the popular looks of hardwood that so many consumers demand.

“We’re seeing expansion where tile is used for walls and countertops,” said Bob Baldocchi, chief marketing officer and vice president, business development, Emser Tile. “A lot of product we put on floors is also suitable for walls, with 12 x 24 formats and wood-look tiles being the most popular. Ceramic/porcelain and application usage is blurring together. The use of product beyond the floors is happening in all classification of the business. While some products we develop are ceramic, the trend can be seen nearly across the board in terms of what materials are being used to create amazing looks.”

While ceramic sales continue on a healthy trajectory, the average selling price has remained relatively steady for the last four years. Observers cite a directional tug of war that is keeping the average-selling price relatively flat. Among the mitigating factors impacting pricing: less trim is being used today (in favor of profile strips); the growth in wall tile usage; better pricing on 4 x 16 and 3 x 6 white ceramics, and competitive, entry-level price points and competition from LVT/WPC/rigid core product segments. On the flip side, the reasons behind average-selling price increases include: more indoor/outdoor applications; greater feature wall tile usage, and large formats and countertop slab materials. In the end, observers agree average-selling prices for 2017 was virtually unchanged from 2016.

Commercial market
Positive growth was apparent across several commercial segments in 2017, among them corporate offices, healthcare spaces, educational facilities and hospitality. The multi-family segment was strong as well, experiencing growth throughout the year. In general, technology is largely impacting the commercial market with advancements that provide outstanding performance capabilities.

Commercial projects and spending continued on its growth path seen from the last three years. However, growth in the commercial sector was slowed partially due to continued labor issues in the marketplace.

Imports vs. exports
In 2017, imports comprised 68.9% of U.S. tile consumption in square feet, up slightly from 68.6% in 2016. China was once again the largest exporter to the U.S. in volume, a position it has held since taking over the top spot from Mexico in 2015. Chinese imports accounted for 31.3% of U.S. imports (in square feet) in 2017, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). This was up from 29.4% the previous year, and it’s the highest percentage China has ever held of the U.S. import market, research shows.

While the peso has fallen significantly vs. the U.S. dollar over the last five years, ceramic tile imports from Mexico have declined sharply, TCNA reported. Shipments from Mexico comprised 18.9% of 2017 U.S. imports, down from 23.4% in 2016 and off from 27% of U.S. imports just two years ago. Italy was the third-largest exporter of tile to the U.S., making up 18.1% of U.S. imports, down from 19.4% in 2016. The next largest exporters to the U.S. in 2017 were Spain (11.7% import share) and Turkey (6.2%).

On a dollar basis (including duty, freight and insurance), Italy remained the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2017, accounting for 33.7% of U.S. imports.* China was second with a 26.6% share, and Spain was third at 13.9%.
U.S. shipments of ceramic tile rose 4.1% in 2017 to a record high of 946.5 million square feet. Domestic production, which has increased each of the last eight years, has been boosted recently by the expansion and opening of additional manufacturing facilities in Tennessee.

Domestically produced ceramic was by far the tile of choice of consumers, as 31.1% of all tile (by square footage) consumed domestically in 2017 was made in the U.S. The next highest countries of origin were China (21.6% of all tile consumed in the U.S.), Mexico (13.1%) and Italy (12.4%).In dollar value, U.S. FOB factory sales of domestic shipments in 2017 were also at a record high of $1.43 billion, up 6.1% vs. 2016. (FOB port means the seller pays for transportation of the goods to the port of shipment, plus loading costs. The buyer pays the cost of marine freight transport, insurance, unloading and transportation from the arrival port to the final destination.) Domestically produced tile comprised 39.3% of total U.S. tile consumption by dollar value, almost double that of Italian tile imports, which made up 20.5%.

Challenges
While the ceramic tile market has risen for eight consecutive years and bears little resemblance to the 2007-09 period, its growth has nonetheless been constrained by a continuing shortage of labor and—to a lesser extent—the massive growth of LVT and its subsegments such as WPC and rigid core.

The installation shortage has hurt the tile industry more so than others, observers say, because of the difficulty in finding qualified tile setters. However, not everyone is ready to call the labor shortage a calamity. While acknowledging that a lack of qualified installers is driving inflation, MSI’s Shah maintained the paucity of labor shortage is also reducing overall unemployment which is helping the industry. He also suggested that the growth of LVT is not hurting ceramic tile, which is not necessarily the consensus out in the market. “LVT has been a game changer in the industry and is really taking share of laminate and hardwood,” he said. “Ceramic tile has the ability to be used on walls, counters, outdoors, etc., and thus has been able to continue to grow in this environment. Technology is enabling much larger, wider and thicker tiles that can be used on floors, as facades, on countertops, walls as stacked stone, or bricks and outside pavers.”

Some observers believe that while the popularity of LVT- related tile may stunt ceramic’s growth in the short term, the durability of LVT long term is still a question mark. “In a few years, LVT growth may slow as consumers realize that the product does not keep up, it looks like ceramic and is not fireproof,” Grosser explained. “I expect more tile usage, especially tile panels (3½ x 10 feet), on walls particularly in commercial installations.”

Most industry observers expect ceramic tile to continue its positive trajectory in the years ahead, citing the fact that the U.S. is still one of the lowest-per-capita consumers of ceramic tile, and therefore there is still a great deal of upside.

(Editor’s note: The product’s value is calculated at point of entry into the U.S. In other words, it is recorded when it lands on U.S. soil. So, much of ceramic tile’s increase was attributed to suppliers beefing up their inventory levels and not reaching first point of sale.)

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Xpress Global Systems opens new service center

Chattanooga, Tenn.–Xpress Global Systems, LLC (XGS) has opened a new, 68,500-square-foot service center in Lakeland, Fla. According to Darrel Harris, CEO, the new facility allows XGS to more efficiently service a greater footprint in Florida.

“Analysis showed us that a much larger, more modern facility in Lakeland would provide better service to our valued customers and allow us to improve efficiencies,” Harris stated. “The Lakeland facility fits well with our expansion plans in the Florida market and beyond.”

XGS, which began in 1986 as a long-haul shipper for the carpet industry, employs more than 600 people across 31 facilities around the U.S. With decades of experience serving the transportation needs of the floor covering industry, XGS has a long track record of success in handling a wide range of products, including carpet, hardwood, laminate, vinyl, tile and area rugs.

“XGS remains committed to efficiency and growth in 2018 and beyond,” Harris added. “We are happy to add the Lakeland facility to our portfolio.”

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Ceramic: New formats, designs emerge

February 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 18

By K.J. Quinn and Nicole Murray

 

Several of the industry’s major players have invested significant capital and resources into the development of next-generation tile flooring and wall products. Judging by the introductions making their respective debuts at various markets this winter, those investments are paying off.

On one hand, advances in digital printing are enabling producers to introduce head-turning formats and designs. At the same time, technological breakthroughs are helping suppliers improve performance and durability. “We are constantly evaluating our technologies, always looking for new ways to improve our product offerings,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing, Dal-Tile. “Our digital printing techniques allow us to create tile that is so realistic, most customers cannot discern between what is tile and what is the natural surface we are imitating.”

Emerging formats such as large slabs are providing a broader canvas for many of these new designs. At Surfaces, Dal-Tile showcased its Panoramic porcelain series available in a 10 x 6 format. Then there’s the Industrial Panoramic series, which comes in four colors, and the Elemental Panoramic series, which comes in seven colors. Tiles for the new collections are available in varied thicknesses including 12mm for countertop applications and 6mm, which is more suitable for the floor or wall applications.

“We had to go bigger because people’s kitchen islands are growing larger and their surrounding counters have larger wrap-arounds,” said Roy Viana, Dal-Tile’s director of slab and natural stone. “Within this collection alone are color and texture options for just about any look to be achievable along with the durable and long-lasting benefits of porcelain.”

Another hot trend in porcelain tile is thinner looks. One of the most significant advantages of thin tile is the ability to be offered in much larger slabs than traditional tile, according to Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile. “Grout lines are the bane of everyone’s existence in the industry. The monolithic look that comes with larger tiles allows for [rooms] to look spacious and, therefore, much more appealing.”

Vance Hunsucker, national sales manager, tile and stone, Shaw Floors, also cited the new tile’s ease of installation. “Gauged porcelain slabs take less time to install since they are manufactured in large pieces and don’t require the same intensity in terms of grouting and cutting that’s inherent with traditional tile formats.”

New designs in products such as porcelain slabs are offering even more incentives for homeowners and specifiers to choose tile for more than just showers and backsplashes. “We see convergence of designs appealing across both commercial and residential,” said David Koenig, vice president and general manager, Crossville Studios, the tile maker’s distribution division. “Porcelain slabs are starting to come into the market and will continue to gain market presence over the next two to three years.”

Aesthetic enhancements
High-definition printing is completely transforming the category, allowing manufacturers to supply consumers with high-quality floor tiles that resemble natural materials. Image resolution, observers say, is integral to creating products with superior characteristics in terms of detail, color fidelity and graphic designs.

The digital printing process has become so sophisticated that manufacturers are creating tiles that vary from piece to piece, much like the real products.

A case in point is Marazzi’s Urban District BRX collection, which closely resembles brick but is actually ceramic tile. Exuding the look of handcrafted bricks, the Urban District BRX line is inspired by 19th century Chicago brick, so realistic consumers will be hard pressed to tell the difference.

One natural look that remains strong in commercial and residential flooring is wood, thanks to the introduction of new graphics and sizes. Longer, wider formats in wood visuals are becoming increasingly popular, Shaw’s Hunsucker said, a trend that is in line with hardwood flooring. “There appears to be a transition away from 6 x 24 formats, which are quickly becoming more of a commodity product within the market.”

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Surfaces Ceramic Coverage: Tiles go bigger, colors stay neutral

February 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 17

By Nicole Murray

 

One thing still seems to be true regarding the tile trends at this year’s Surfaces: the bigger the better. Large slabs with infinite design possibilities due to printing technologies were seen all over the showroom floor in varied thicknesses. These new slabs are available for floor, wall or countertop applications.

Roy Viana, Dal-Tile’s director of slab and natural stone tile, raved about Daltile’s Panoramic porcelain series. The series’ larger tile formats, which include a 10 x 6-foot tile, provide a cleaner, monolithic look. Industrial Panoramic comes in four colors, while Elemental Panoramic is available in seven colors that mainly revolve around shades of white with marble imitations. Tiles for both of these collections are available in varied thicknesses including 12mm, suitable for countertop applications, and 6mm, ideal for floor and wall applications.

“We had to go bigger because peoples’ kitchen islands are growing larger and their surrounding counters have larger wrap-arounds,” Viana explained. “Within this collection alone there are various color and texture options for just about any look to be achievable along with the durable and long-lasting benefits of porcelain.”

Some of Daltile’s other offerings include Emerson Wood, a wood-look tile with subtle wire-brushed effects in 6 x 48, 8 x 48 and 12 x 48 formats. The large format tiles also feature Daltile’s innovative StepWise technology for improved slip resistance. RetroSpace is a translucent-glazed wall tile that reflects light in spaces and can be mixed with other tiles designs. There is also Chord, a cement-look offering available in a floor tile, 12 x 24 decorative accent and 3-inch triangle mosaic.

Also from the Dal-Tile family of brands, Marazzi is launching D_Segni this spring, which offers a classic reinterpretation of traditional handmade cement tiles. The product will be available in an assortment of colors and decorative accent tiles that can be used individually or mixed together. D_Segni is available in an 8 x 8 floor and deco tiles. Hawthorne is one of Marazzi’s new wall tiles available in an 8 x 24 large format as well as 10 x 14 and 4 x 12 versions. Colors include monochromatic shades of white, taupe and gray in two types of construction: smooth flat surface or beveled edge. Arenella, another introduction, presents the illusion of marble with soft natural tones. It is available in a variety of sizes for floor and wall applications as well as a 2 x 2 mosiac dot-mounted on a 12 x 12 sheet.

American Olean, another Dal-Tile brand, highlighted three of its new spring collections. Union offers an authentic interpretation of time-worn, weathered concrete factory floors. Designed with StepWise technology, Union touts improved slip resistance. Windmere provides smooth concrete and weathered stone looks in a monochromatic color palette. The collection features a full assortment of floor and wall sizes including a mosaic and jolly trim. American Olean’s third collection, Visual Impressions, offers a contemporary and fashionable wall tile in neutral colors and 3D patterns.

Other manufacturers are also taking advantage of the latest printing technologies. For example, Del Conca showcased its Boutique collection—a marble-inspired porcelain series available in four colors. The collection was also just released in 48 x 48 panels.

“The bigger face is so much easier to sell and offers a rustic charm with the dark brown and taupe options,” said Kendall Litton, marketing specialist, Del Conca. “There are visible veins where one could truly be fooled into thinking this is a marble product.”

Among Emser Tile’s product debuts was its Porch collection, a porcelain plank printed in wood patterns with color variations in each individual piece. The collection comes in four colors, but the plank’s “cutting-edge” attribute is its wide range—6 x 47, 8 x 47 and 12 x 47—a variety that allows for staggering patterns when various widths are used side by side.

“The [ability to] mix and match the widths along with the color variation allows for experimentation with light and dark colors as well as patterns and shapes all in one material,” said Barbara Haaksma, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile. “You have the option to use only one size panel for a more uniform look, but that would not be taking advantage of all this collection has to offer.”

The manufacturer’s other offering, Façade, is a cement-themed collection that is combined with a plaster effect to give the tile a much softer, more pleasant feeling. This collection, which can be used for interior and exterior applications, is available in four colors in two panel sizes: 12 x 24 and 18 x 36. As Christine Wu, product development manager for Emser Tile, explained, “We are building on the concrete trend but offering a more welcoming texture, which is something you don’t see very often on the market these days. These colors are so understandable and very diversified.”

Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville, said the manufacturer’s new porcelain stone tile collection, Java Joint, exemplifies the continuous need for fresh designs that play with the basic neutrals. Java Joint is available in 12 x 24, 2 x 2 mosaic and is offered in five different colors. “The colors of this collection are all warm and comforting—similar to the feeling of a coffee shop,” Waldrep explained. “These colors give you flexibility but have just enough edge so your final design looks new and fresh.”

On the topic of flexibility, Dal-Tile’s Viana added that white continues to be one of the best-selling colors within the tile industry because of its ability to balance with the other patterns or designs. “White will always be a best seller,” he said. “Now consumers can have an easily maintainable product that offers a clean and chic look but will complement these bold and more accent-like designs for a nice, easy balance.”

 

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Tile: Technology advances inspire new designs, formats

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By K.J. Quinn

 

Ongoing investments in R&D and improved capabilities across manufacturing footprints are expected to pay off for ceramic tile makers. Specifically, advances in digital printing are enabling producers to introduce game-changing formats and designs that meet consumer and commercial end-user needs for performance, styling and sustainability.

“With new technology in digital decoration techniques bringing the highest aesthetics and emerging formats, offering tile as a potential candidate for many more areas inside and outside of a building today, the growth of ceramic tile usage in North America should continue for the next few years,” said Ryan Fasan, Tile of Spain’s technical consultant.

Ongoing investments made by tile suppliers are bolstering production efficiency and speed to market while creating new, value-added products. Although the industry seems to have a firm grasp on technology, new trends are introduced and customer demands shift, so there is always the challenge of keeping up. “We are constantly evaluating our technology, always looking for new ways to improve our product offerings,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing, Dal-Tile. “Our digital printing techniques allow us to create tile that is so realistic, most customers cannot discern between what is tile and what is the natural surface we are imitating.”

Following are illustrations of some of the latest innovations:

High-definition printing
High-definition printing is allowing manufacturers to supply consumers with high-quality floor tiles that resemble natural materials such as wood planks and marble. “The products now have the appearance of natural materials,” said Lee Wright, CID, NCIDQ, LEED AP, a New York-based designer whose firm specializes in holistic interior architecture. “As a designer, this is a game changer.”

Image resolution is integral to creating products with superior characteristics in terms of detail, color fidelity and graphic designs. “These advances are a result of the investments in technology made both by our companies and the upstream supply chain,” said Vittorio Borelli, chairman, Confindustria Ceramica, the Italian Association of Ceramics. “Examples include wood, cement, resin and stone-look ceramic tiles which reproduce the original materials so faithfully that even experts have difficulty telling them apart.”

The digital printing process has become so sophisticated that manufacturers are creating tile that varies from piece to piece, much like the real products. A case in point is the Marazzi Urban District BRX collection, which closely resembles the look and feel of brick but is actually ceramic tile.

Three-dimensional looks
One of the latest developments in digital decoration is three-dimensional surfaces. “Digital decoration offers a potentially unlimited variety of graphic solutions, eliminating all repetitiveness and giving ceramic tiles an even more natural look,” Confindustria Ceramica’s Borelli said. “This allows for increasingly realistic surfaces with greater tactile appeal, a key purchasing factor that is attracting growing interest amongst consumers all over the world.”

Experts find that as baby boomers purchase or renovate empty-nest housing and millennials enter the housing market, they are looking for interior decorating products with health and safety top of mind. “The look of a nature-based product is a more popular look and style because people associate natural materials as being more sustainable,” Wright explained. “Innovative and creative styles are also becoming more popular again, especially in the commercial sectors, where designers are seeking to do things differently and showcase their own styles.”

Looks like wood
Vendors continue to churn out larger formats and unusual shapes to accommodate demand. “With the increased demand for new shapes and sizes, we are implementing new technology that allows us to create everything from beautiful mosaics in a variety of shapes to large-format porcelain slabs,” Mattioli said.

Experts say the latest porcelain tile panels are opening up possibilities for creative applications in residences as well as installation efficiencies. Some of the advances made in the field of large-size marble-effect porcelain panels were on display at Cersaie in Bologna last September.

“This is an area in which Italian tile manufacturers have been focusing their aesthetic research efforts recently with the aim of developing increasingly elegant and sophisticated materials,” Confindustria Ceramica’s Borelli said. “We expect this trend to make further headway in the market in 2018, exploiting the natural appeal and sustainability for which Italian tile is renown.”

New designs in products such as porcelain slabs are offering even more incentives for homeowners and specifiers to choose tile for more than just showers and backsplashes. “We are seeing some convergence of designs appealing across both commercial and residential,” said David Koenig, vice president and general manager, Crossville Studios, the tile maker’s distribution division. “Porcelain slabs are starting to come into the market and will continue to gain market presence over the next two to three years.”

Further technological advances will allow tile designers even more artistic freedom, industry member say, which is expected to generate a plethora of never-seen-before styles in 2018.

Thin is in
Other advances are evident in the proliferation of thin tile formats. These products, experts say, give consumers the ability to install tile over tile, thereby resulting in less downtime. “I believe the thin tile technology is the innovation that brings the most value to our end consumers,” said Luca Setti, chief sales and marketing officer, Florida Tile.

The architectural and design community has embraced large-format thin tiles (products measuring

4.5 to 6mm thick) as a unique design opportunity for new construction as well as renovations of existing residential and commercial properties. But it’s important to note there are special considerations when working with this format.

“Thin-body porcelain tile installation is markedly different from standard-body (> 7mm) porcelain tile methods,” said Brian Pistulka, business manager, Mapei Tile & Stone Installation Systems. “It requires special setting techniques to prevent breakage during and after installation. The work done in our research labs has provided the first completely documented information on all aspects of this installation process.”

 

 

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Executive forecast: Industry leaders look forward to robust year ahead

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

By Ken Ryan

 

Words like “sluggish” and “tepid” to describe growth in the flooring industry are being replaced by “healthy” and “sustainable” as some of flooring’s top executives see an industry that is now accelerating to a respectable cruising speed as we approach 2018. The catalyst driving this momentum is winning products—the still-booming LVT market and across-the-board innovations in other segments.

We expect 2018 will be even better than 2017. Continued GDP expansion, employment growth and rising wages will drive consumer spending. Residential new construction and refurbishment growth is responding to demographics, and lack of housing inventory with mixed use development continues to shine. After a lackluster 2017, commercial should be stronger in 2018 with rising business confidence.

The big unknown for 2018 could be corporate and individual tax reform. This could be an accelerator for all of the above.

In terms of the biggest challenge facing the industry—short and long term—it is adequate supply of qualified installation. Manufacturers are responding with easier-to-install flooring, but attracting and retaining qualified installers must be dealt with on a local basis. In general, the greatest opportunities are for manufacturers to truly understand consumer and end-user needs and requirements, which result in innovations with real solutions. Also, manufacturers need to transparently provide information and tools for consumers to make better flooring decisions.

We continue to invest and spend capital at record rates, [dedicating resources to] new businesses, new manufacturing platforms and new technology. We will continue to expand our revolutionary StrataWorx carpet tile platform with new looks and new installation methods. We are also investing heavily in our key brands with the rollout of the new Anderson Tuftex brand, a new consumer campaign on COREtec and exciting soft and hard surface introductions from Shaw Floors.

As an industry, we must be diligent about changing consumer purchasing habits—the move to digital, her desire for transparency and ease of transaction, and the reputation and integrity of our products. If we acknowledge and understand the consumer, and offer products, services and selling environments that relate, we will continue to prosper.

 

The variables that tend to drive the success of our business—employment and income, the equity markets, inflation, consumer confidence—are in a good place.  Flooring is a discretionary purchase; therefore, [consumer] confidence is important. If you look overall at the market there are a lot of things that are favorable for the consumer. The GDP is now tripping above 3%, so all things collectively are positive for the floor covering business.

What’s driving it? Never has there been more innovation nor excitement than we see today. Every category is being impacted by true product innovation. We think that is weighing in on stimulating the consumer to come into the category. Air.o is just one example of an innovation that is driving industry growth. To be successful innovation has to be understandable—it has to be executable on the retail end, and it has to be promoted.

Our biggest challenge as an industry is standing out in front of a very inundated consumer. Of all the things that keep me up at night it is that flooring [must] stay top of mind. Are we, as manufacturers, doing everything we can to make the product exciting? Are we adding value and making it relevant at a time when that consumer is about to part with $1,000 to $3,000? Are we continuing to excite consumers? (And that starts with first exciting our retail partners.) The charge of the industry is how do we stand out in front with the most innovative products—not just vis-à-vis flooring but vis-à-vis other big-ticket products like electronics or refrigerators with Internet capability.

As a company, we are going to continue to refine and improve our execution in digital marketing and consumer lead generation in conjunction with our retail partners. Most consumers are starting out in the digital universe in their journey. Mohawk wants to be front and center in that process so our retail partners win in that selection process.

Our whole business culture is built on product innovations that are brought to market with exciting stories and opportunities for our retail partners to upsell their customers. As for big initiatives for 2018, you’ll just have to stay tuned for January.

 

Across the industry, we expect to see a continuation of the measured growth we’ve seen this year, with ongoing migration to hard surface flooring and continued robust growth in the LVT/rigid core category. At Armstrong Flooring we are well positioned to capitalize on the market surge in LVT with the recent increase in our domestic LVT production capacity and leading the way with the introduction of revolutionary new products such as our Diamond 10 Technology, rigid core and exclusive Pryzm LVT flooring.

There are tremendous opportunities out there. As one example, we recently repurposed part of our Stillwater, Okla., resilient sheet plant to produce LVT. This increases our domestic LVT production and leads to better capacity utilization for our sheet business.

Ongoing challenges within the industry include recruiting experienced installers and retail associates to help educate the consumer/end users on their purchase decisions.

As our economy heats up, likely increases in raw materials, energy, transportation and operating costs would likely need to be covered with increased pricing. Additionally, the industry is dealing with overcapacity in some product categories.

Our strategy in 2018 is to improve our mix of sales to higher-growth products like LVT and rigid core, while maintaining strong competitive positions in our legacy categories. At Armstrong Flooring, we’re focused on innovation—not just in products themselves—but in the way we do business. Our marketing campaign, “The Floor Is Yours,” goes beyond illustrating the design and performance of our floors and enables us to tell stories that really connect with consumers. We recently launched a new website to inspire homeowners and guide them through the purchase journey, and we will continue to collaborate with our distributor partners and aligned retailers to ensure we are delivering not only exceptional products but also an exceptional experience for our customers.

One initiative in 2018 is our retailer-centric program, Elevate, which helps independent specialty retailers grow their businesses. Elevate offers resources to drive store traffic, maximize the in-store experience and enhance sell-through via an aligned connection with Armstrong Flooring. We will continue to expand that program in 2018.

 

Overall, we anticipate the industry in general—and Mannington specifically—will continue to see good growth in the residential market. We expect to experience a similar pace as we’ve seen over the past 18-24 months: Roughly a 10% increase in single-family starts and a 4%-5% increase in remodeling activity. LVT/WPC will continue to be the stars of the show. There is nothing on the horizon right now that will change the momentum of that category relative to the other categories. All the other product segments are more aligned with the growth curve in remodeling.

Whereas the economy has driven consumer sentiment in the past, today I think the wild card is the political scene. The X Factor, I think, is tax reform and its impact on both spending and investment decisions.

The biggest challenge we face in the industry is the rapid change and shift in consumer preferences. I can’t think of a time the industry has seen such a shift between categories like we’ve seen over the past two to three years. There’s been incredibly rapid growth in LVT coupled with the emergence of WPC as a major category in and of itself. It has literally changed the game overnight, and that continues to evolve. With so much change in the product mix, retailers and consumers alike are finding it confusing. Our greatest opportunity lies in how we, as manufacturers, help them simplify and focus amongst so many choices.

As always, Mannington has an outstanding lineup of new product introductions rolling out at Surfaces. We can’t tell you much more than that—you’ll just have to come to our booth to find out.

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Retailers recall top intros of 2017

November 27-December 11, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 13

By Lindsay Baillie

 

FCNews asked retailers to name the top flooring introductions of 2017. It should come as no surprise that the responses covered a broad range of products across the spectrum—LVT/WPC, wood, laminate and carpet. Some of the products identified were updated designs and looks from intros of 2016, while others were completely new launches.

Following is an overview of the new products that stood out in 2017:

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Ceramic: State of the industry—Technology, design help drive tile consumption

November 20/27, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 12

By K.J. Quinn

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.12.39 AMSlow but steady. That’s how industry experts describe the current state of the ceramic tile business. Still in recovery mode several years after the Great Recession, the industry continues taking gradual steps forward with economic indicators pointing in the right direction and significant investments being made to improve styling and performance.

When you look at the numbers, ceramic is among the healthiest of all flooring categories. Last year, tile rang up $2.8 billion in sales at the first point of distribution while volume spiked nearly 6% to 2.31 billion units, marking the seventh consecutive year of growth, according to FCNews research. “The U.S. continues to trail most of the world on per capita sales of tile,” noted Raj Shah, president, MSI. “We believe that the U.S. consumption will grow at a disproportionate rate.”

The stateside market remains fertile ground for foreign tile makers, as the amount of ceramic sold is significantly less than other parts of the world. “The import market in general has grown, but the growth percentage for Spain was much bigger,” said Rocamador Rubio, director, Tile of Spain USA. The organization reports U.S. ceramic imports from Spain jumped 19.5% in value and a 22.9% in volume during the first eight months this year.

Traditional metrics used to gauge the state of ceramic—the strength of the U.S. economy, new housing market, consumer confidence, lending and unemployment rates, for example—are all positive. Commercial activity was up in most sectors, with growth seen in hospitality, healthcare, education and corporate spaces, according to published reports. “Ceramic tile is the second fastest growing hard surface category behind resilient in terms of percentage growth,” noted Vance Hunsucker, national sales manager, tile and stone, Shaw Floors. “The increase in U.S. residential ceramic tile sales is driven by consumer demand for higher-end products and a greater breadth of visuals and formats.”

Experts say tile as a percentage of total flooring in single-family new homes continues to rise as it finds more applications in spaces such as patios, garages and basements. Meanwhile, new single-family homes are larger and more expensive, industry observers say. “As a result, these homes often use greater quantities of ceramic tile because it offers the style and luxury homeowners crave without the maintenance and performance concerns found in other materials,” said Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president, product and marketing, Dal-Tile.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.12.50 AMAnother factor impacting ceramic consumption is the fact the category is available in more retail channels than ever before and at price points that can meet nearly every budget. “Mass retailers are significantly investing in the product line, which is increasing awareness,” MSI’s Shah observed. “The likes of Pinterest, Houzz, etc., are providing inspiration to home owners at almost no cost.”

There are unforeseen situations—such as the recent hurricanes in the South and fires in Northern California—impacting flooring choices in home improvement projects as well as new residential construction. “The recent storms are making people rethink soft surfaces and the value of having tile floors,” Shah explained. “We are hearing examples where insurance companies are demanding tile floors be installed as replacements.”

Issues affecting growth
While industry sales and consumption projections vary widely (mainly because U.S. ceramic distribution is so fragmented, experts say), the general consensus is tile is on pace to increase 4% to 8% this year. “We have seen positive growth in the U.S. residential ceramic tile business, something we anticipate to continue throughout the remainder of 2017,” Dal-Tile’s Mattioli said.

Masking the positive gains are numerous macroeconomic issues, experts note. One is new home construction, a sector lagging behind growth expectations. Privately owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly 1.13 million, a 6.1% increase over September 2016, according to the Census Bureau. “Considering the growth of residential construction, it would be a good assumption to say that residential ceramic tile sales are increasing accordingly,” Tile of Spain’s Rubio said.

The average per-square-foot tile price increased from $0.95 to $1.20 in the last decade, FCNews research shows. While this contributed to increasing sales, it also means ceramic is among the priciest floor coverings. “Other products with good visuals such as LVT have also entered the market,” noted Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville. “The dilution of hard surface offerings at a wide range of price points also impacts ceramic industry’s position.”

The lack of qualified installers remains a major issue, as flooring retailers and contractors are challenged to find good help when they need it. “As ceramic tile sales continue to increase, the market demand for experienced installers will likely cause an increase of skilled laborers, as retailers and independent contractors look to find ways to match supply with demand,” Shaw’s Hunsucker explained.

The labor shortage could also stunt ceramic growth, as this lingering issue finally comes to bear. “This is leading to increased labor prices and lower quality of work,” said Luca Setti, chief sales and marketing officer, Florida Tile. “This affects choices being made on what product to spec and buy.”

Investments pay off
Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 10.12.56 AMSuppliers continue investing in manufacturing to bolster production efficiency and speed to market, plus create new value-added products. “Obviously, much more domestic production has come online over the last year and in the upcoming 12 to 18 months,” noted David Koenig, vice president and general manager, Crossville Studios, the tile maker’s distribution division.

Domestic production has been a big story in ceramic the past few years, as several companies expanded production or broke ground on new plants. For example, Crossville, which produced the first domestically made porcelain tile in 1986, expanded its plant and firing capacity last year. “We continue to keep up with fashion and the value proposition of porcelain tile exceeding those of other materials,” Waldrep stated.

The plethora of new styles offers even more incentive for homeowners and specifiers to choose ceramic for more than just showers and backsplashes. For instance, gauged porcelain slabs and panels offer exciting opportunities in areas where tile has never been a player, such as veneers for furniture and cabinetry, countertops, tabletops and exterior paneling. “Finally, in traditional tile, many manufacturers are employing nano-particulates and catalysts within their glazes to inhibit bacteria growth, self-clean—to a degree—and even help to purify the air,” Fasan explained.

Indeed, vendors are constantly evaluating their technology to improve upon their product offerings. “I believe the thin tile technology is the innovation that brings the most value to our end consumers,” Florida Tile’s Setti said. “The ability to install tile over tile gives you the very important benefit of less downtime and still have a result that is beautiful.”

While thin is in, a major point of emphasis—from a design perspective—centers on digital printing. The process has become so sophisticated that it completely transformed the category, allowing production of high-quality floor tiles that mimic natural materials and vary from piece to piece. “This is enabling production of just about any format, size, finish and look, ultimately giving consumers infinite choices of tile,” MSI’s Shah said.

Advances in technology have also paved the way for larger sizes. “The industry has developed new standards for these products,” said Rick Church, executive director of the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association. “The products can be used in many applications, including outside in large commercial construction.”

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Tile: Innovation provides inspiration behind stone designs

November 6/13, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 11

By K.J. Quinn

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.20.40 AMStone flooring flourished as a premium upgrade over ceramic tile, high-end faux stones and even certain hardwoods the past several years, industry experts say. And while the green movement continues to influence consumer preferences toward materials made of or replicating natural materials, the category is experiencing some bumps in the road that threaten to slow down sales growth into 2018.

“We haven’t seen major growth this year in this segment,” said Marc Bergeron, natural stone manager, Cosentino. “We detected a decrease in natural stone demand for flooring.”

The U.S. natural quartz and manufactured stone products market is a $10 billion-plus industry, according to the Catalina Research Natural and Manufactured Stone Product Industry Report released in December 2015 from Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and Catalina Research. While U.S. stone product sales increased an estimated 7.4% during 2016 to $10.2 billion in manufacturers’ dollars, the market is expected to grow more moderately this year. “Volume in 2016 was estimated to be 120 million square feet and is also expected to continue to grow more moderately in 2018,” stated Donato Pompo, CTaSC founder.

Market conditions have softened in the past year due to a variety of reasons. The low end has been impacted by an oversaturation of commodity stones and improved aesthetics in competitive floors such as LVT and ceramic tile. The housing market hasn’t helped, as private owned housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.12 million in September, which is 4.7% below the revised August estimate, the Commerce Department reports.

Top issues
The stone business faces a host of competitive issues.  For example, the nature-inspired styles and appearances of stone are among the most knocked off in the flooring industry. “You can go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy porcelain tiles that look like natural stone for a lot less than you would pay for the natural stone,” Pompo said.

New inkjet technologies are creating porcelain and ceramic tiles to replicate the natural variations typical of stone, making it increasingly difficult for the naked eye to discern the differences between products. Where stone is being hit hardest by these Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.20.44 AMinnovations is in the low end as competitors aim to capture more share from customers who are shopping for stone but may be more attracted to the performance benefits of ceramic tile.  “The technological advancements in porcelain tile technology have impacted stones sales, both commercially and residentially,” said Bart Bettiga, executive director, National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA).

A bugaboo hampering stone sales is the perception it is a high-end product with limited clientele. For years, industry stakeholders and trade associations have touted the benefits of natural stone and dispelled false perceptions to consumers and the A&D community. And while stone remains among the most expensive flooring options, prices have come down so it’s more affordable.

Life cycle costing can provide consumers with insight into the value of stone compared to other flooring. Natural stone can be refinished to look like new after years of wear, unlike porcelain tiles which can get damaged and need to be replaced. And when installed prices are amortized over the life of the floor, experts say the costs look even more reasonable.

“No matter what, the search for low-cost, high-performing products is there and, at the same time, making sure the quality is right for customer expectations,” said Roy Viana, director of natural stone at Dal-Tile. “There is always a demand for that entry-level, low-cost price point.”

An increasing number of retail channels sell stone, making it more available to consumers, architects and designers. At the same time, it is also contributing to more competitive pricing. “Home Depot, Lowe’s, the Tile Shop—what we consider retail distributors—are bringing in more affordable stones that are more accessible to the retail customer,” Viana observed.

Like ceramic tile, the stone industry is plagued by a shortage of qualified installers, making it difficult for retailers to keep up with demand. “If stone tile is not installed properly, it can be quite expensive to fix,” Bettiga said. “Suppliers who sell stone tile and refer or subcontract the installation should make sure the installers have a proven track record of success in stone tile installation.”

What’s trending
Stone tiles are timeless, having been used inside residential spaces for thousands of years.

Among the most popular options for use in the home are granite, limestone, sandstone, slate and flagstone. Each piece maintains its own veining, coloring and natural imperfections, depending on the type of stone and location of the quarry.

“I continue to see limestone and honed materials used regularly,” Bettiga said. “Slate is also popular in many geographic regions, both indoors and in exterior applications.”

What’s trending are dark gray, soft red and medium green colors available in geometric and irregular sizes. Hard, sense stones that are non-porous are being used more frequently in high-traffic areas. Classic styles, such as white marbles, are also growing in popularity and available in many variations.

“Natural stone slabs seem like an innovation,” Bergeron said. “Certain factories are now using [them] to provide more options in large format tiles that previously were only available in a 2-cm thickness.”

In the past year, Nemo Tile introduced Think Thin 1.2, which offers large format, natural stone tiles in a 1.2-cm thickness. “This product is the result of innovation in block processing, slab finishing, material handling and special crates,” said Dan Gorecki, director, stone division. “Designers, contractors and clients are able to have large, slab-sized panels at a fraction of the cost for a custom slab fabrication project.” The lighter weighing materials translate into savings on local shipping, waste and jobsite handling.

Bigger is better when it comes to size, experts say. Variations from tile to tile are more evident, plus it meets pent-up demand for larger formats in residential and commercial spaces. “Recent trends seem to be toward larger format tiles,” Bergeron noted.

Specialized natural stone formats are also gaining traction. For example, “We’ve been seeing a lot of varied, hexagon-like shapes, which is due to design flexibility,” Viana said. “You can create a lot of different, unique installations, even vertical vs. horizontal.”

A newer process enabling highly styled and intricate patterns is water-jet mosaics. “You can program in designs and there is no limit to what it can look like,” Viana explained. “You can program in a flower and get petals cut.”

The latest styles and colors in stone provide end users with more flooring choices than ever before, fueling the trend toward mixing and matching different materials. As Gorecki explained, “Design trends are constantly in flux with colors, tile sizes and details changing by market and application.”