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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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Daltile Interior Design Scholarship entries showcase tile

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 9.36.12 AMDallas—Judging is currently underway for the sixth annual Daltile Interior Design Scholarship Competition, presented by the ASID Foundation. The designs entered by college students nationwide exemplify that tile is now widely used as a design element in today’s interior design world.

“Over the last five years, tile has emerged as a design element, whereas in the past, it was a utilitarian product,” said Shelly Halbert, director of product design for Dal-Tile and one of the judges for this year’s competition. “Five years ago we considered our Daltile products part of the tile industry. Today, they are part of the larger interior design industry.”

The 2017 competition challenged college students to reimagine the Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Center in Washington, D.C., and to incorporate at least two Daltile products in their design vision. Daltile will award $27,500 in scholarships to aspiring interior design students who entered the competition from across the country. The panel of four judges is comprised of professionals from Daltile, OTJ Architects, Booz Allen Hamilton, and last year’s winner, Kristina Tribell of Abel Design Group. Winners will be announced on Nov. 15 at the Daltile Philadelphia Design Studio during NeoCon East 2017 in Philadelphia.

“While reviewing this year’s contest entries, I’ve noticed several consistencies among these young designers,” Halbert said. “As far as their overall style, student designs are generally falling into either modern or organic. Given free rein to use any two Daltile products in their concepts, the contestants overwhelmingly selected products that reflect many of today’s hottest trends in their tile choices—neutral colors and marble-looks, including white, gray and black, as well as traditional marbles in beige and brown. Lots of wood-look tiles, large format tiles and slabs, concrete looks and fabric-inspired tile products were also used. A few submissions showcase a blending of materials, such as wood-look and concrete-look tiles, creating eye-catching designs.”

For more information, visit daltiledesign.com.

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Blustyle launches in the U.S. at Coverings 2017

bluestyleNew YorkAttendees at Coverings 2017 will be the first to experience the North American launch of a Blustyle, the newest Panariagroup brand to enter the US market. The Blustyle brand will exhibit in the Ceramics of Italy Pavilion (Booth #1435) showing a robust offering of contemporary Italian ceramics for commercial and residential settings in different finishes, colors and formats.

The state-of-the-art products on display will include highlights from the 12 new Blustyle collections that are in step with the trends such as rustic and refined wood looks, concrete finishes, oversized stone looks and distinctive marbles in a range of thicknesses from 9mm to 11mm and even 20mm. The entire collection comes with a guarantee for up to 20 years—underscoring the quality and durability of tiles.

“Blustyle is a brand that leverages the experience and qualities of sister company, Cotto D’Este and the whole Panariagroup,” said Paolo Mussini, Panaria CEO. “The brand offers Made-in-Italy, porcelain solutions at traditional thicknesses, taking advantage of the latest technology, the best raw materials, distinctive aesthetics and the production team’s deep respect for the environment.”

In sync with its parent company’s commitment to responsible production methods, Blustyle has already secured eco-focused certifications (EMAS, ISO, Eco-Label) that cover its eco-compatible production that recycles, reduces the waste of all raw materials, manages the plant at its highest efficiency and uses renewable energy.

To accompany the new brand, the Blustyle team has created a range of tools and materials to help with the specification and installation process. A dedicated website and brochure lays out all of the details on the guarantee for up to 20 years and includes technical specs to assist with layout ideas.

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Ceramics of Italy launches 2017 Tile Competition

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-1-39-27-pmNew York, N.Y.—Ceramics of Italy has launched its 2017 Tile Competition. Now in its 24th year, the annual awards program invites North America-based architects and designers to submit their most innovative and sustainable projects from the past five years that take advantage of the excellent technical and aesthetic qualities of Italian ceramic and porcelain tile. Projects that predominantly feature Italian tile—newly built or renovated, domestic or international—will be evaluated by an international jury of design experts in the residential, institutional and commercial categories.

One grand prize winner in each category will be honored with an awards package including: $3,000; a trip to Coverings, North America’s premier tile and stone trade show in Orlando, Fla.; and a CEU-accredited trip to Cersaie in Bologna, Italy with a delegation of architects, designers and design media. A handful of honorable mentions will be selected and the winning contractor/distributor teams will also be rewarded.

The deadline for submissions is Jan. 6, 2017.
For more information, please visit www.tilecompetition.com