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Tile consumption down slightly, execs stay upbeat

October 27/November 3, 2014; Volume 28/Number 10

By Louis Iannaco

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 10.59.34 AMBy most accounts, domestic tile consumption thus far in 2014 has fallen off slightly, but most tile executives remain optimistic about the rest of the year heading into 2015. The consensus seems to be that despite a slower than expected improvement in U.S. housing and remodeling, the tile segment remains strong following last year’s rebound and subsequent growth.

As Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing at Crossville, observed, 2014 has been a good year, but not the great year originally expected. “There are a few factors at play. The economy didn’t return at all levels as anticipated. Also, at the beginning of the year we were plagued with extreme weather that affected construction starts, ability to ship product and even the number of days showrooms were able to be open. In spite of these challenges, we’re satisfied with the year overall.”

The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) also noted economic factors affecting the industry, reporting that through July 2014 U.S. ceramic tile consumption was 1.44 billion square feet, down 1.8% from July 2013 year to date (1.47 billion square feet). In the U.S., dollar value consumption was $1.7 billion (July 2014 year to date), up 3.9% from July 2013 ($1.64 billion).

“We did not expect the market to be down this year in square feet,” said trade data analyst Andrew Whitmire, “given the positive housing and construction data and other economic indicators we’ve seen this year.”

Ceramics of Italy and industry consultant Donato Grosser, who is also president of D. Grosser and Associates, said current ceramic tile sales are flat and projected to be so for the whole year. “The economy is stop and go. Housing is basically flat. Consumers do not have enough money, and salaries are lower than before. About 40% to 50% of the people who were unemployed and found a job are earning less than they were in the previous job. Many are underemployed and working part time.”

While some noted economic indicators as reasons for the downturn in consumption, others offered a more positive outlook, especially regarding the commercial sector. Bart Bettiga, executive director of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), noted that in talking with the organization’s commercial members, the group believes 2014 has been markedly stronger than 2013.

“Overall, both residential and commercial work and profits have increased approximately 10%,” Bettiga said. “In some markets (South and West), these numbers seem even stronger.

“With the uncertainty we’ve been faced with in recent years,” he added, “our members have kept their expectations at a minimum. Overall, it is safe to say 2014 exceeded expectations.”

Dal-Tile, the country’s largest tile producer, reported ceramic increases in dollars and volume, and estimated growth from 3% to 4% for the industry overall.

“Dal-Tile sales continue to exceed expectations,” said Lori Kirk-Rolley, vice president of brand marketing. “Simplifying and improving our product portfolio and customer service, driving productivity and strengthening our manufacturing capability in North America and China have been the focus.

“We’re delivering strong results in the short term,” she explained, “but preparing for a stronger market in the future.”

At Tile of Spain, representative Rocamador Rubio Gomez was also bullish on the future, believing the market is completely recovered as shown by construction data in recent months. “According to a new Kitchen and Bath study by GMP Research, U.S. construction grew 12% in 2013, fueled by private expenditures (+20.6%).”

George Larrazabal, national sales manager of Mediterranea, reported the company has experienced a very strong year thus far. “We’ve seen double-digit growth in both our commercial and residential product offerings and beat our expectations for 2014. We surpassed our goals despite having them set very high. We feel this is due to innovative product designs that continue to offer our customers new design options and formats.”

Green, installation initiatives

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.13.14 AMThe tile segment’s consensus regarding recent green and installation developments was a positive one. As TCNA standards development/green initiative manager Bill Griese noted, Green Squared/ANSI A138.1, enacted in 2012, continues to strengthen the tile industry’s presence in the green building community.

“With continued influence and an emerging presence in today’s most well-known green building standards and rating systems,” he said, “awareness of this standard and the overall demand for Green Squared-certified products are on the rise. This has resulted in increased A&D familiarity with Green Squared.”

As Kirk-Rolley noted, Dal-Tile and American Olean were among the first companies to endorse the Green Squared program. “All of our U.S. facilities and our Monterrey, Mexico operations were included in the third-party audit process, so architects and designers can be confident that a selection of Dal-Tile products meet the standard’s requirements.

“In 2013,” she added, “we successfully completed all the process changes needed, and now 100% of our Daltile and American Olean manufactured products meet the Green Squared certification to the ANSI Standard–A138.1, Sustainable Tile & Installation Materials.”

While sustainability is gaining importance across the board, some industry figures report a wider acceptance of the efforts in the commercial community. “Thankfully, we’re seeing an increasing level of awareness of the Green Squared ANSI standard in the A&D community,” Larrazabal said. “However, we haven’t seen quite the same awareness in our residential channels yet.”

Crossville is another company continuing to progress with the green movement. It recently released its 2014 Sustainability Report as gleaned through a formal survey and follow-up discussions conducted by a third-party sustainability consulting firm, and is based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting and ISO 26001 frameworks. Crossville’s 2014 report meets the requirements of LEED V.4 MRc3 credit, and is the first such sustainability report in the company’s 28-year history. It is also the first GRI-based document released by a tile-only manufacturer, denoting a significant milestone for the tile industry.

“This report is a comprehensive compilation of the many measurable aspects of our sustainability initiatives,” explained John Smith, Crossville’s president. “It will serve as a resource for our customers in the design and building communities and, hopefully, be a standard bearer for our industry.”

Another industry initiative—this one on the installation front—is the Advanced Certifications for Tile installers program (ACT), enacted in 2013 by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Kirk-Rolley said the installation professional is one of Dal-Tile’s core customers, and “we support industry initiatives like ACT that assist in their professional development. ACT takes that training to the next level. The end result of certification is a visually stunning installation that will last in its designed purpose for a lifetime.”

Waldrep noted Crosville’s support of ACT. “We’re proponents of any program that encourages and recognizes excellence for installers, including ACT. Every aspect of our industry stands to benefit when installers are compelled to advance their skills and capabilities.”

Bettiga, also a major proponent of ACT, added, “We recently were successful in getting the ACT language approved for inclusion in the TCNA Handbook for the installation of ceramic tile. We’re trying to shift the emphasis for specifiers and general contractors to move from accepting the low bid on a project to the lowest ‘qualified bid.’ ACT certification will create a level of confidence when project owners, architects, consumers and specifiers consider awarding the bid to the most qualified tile contracting company.”

And the program’s momentum seems to be picking up speed. Just recently, CTEF, working in conjunction with Schlüter Systems, hosted the first hands-on testing of the ACT program for open shop tile contractors at the Schlüter headquarters in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The installers taking the ACT tests first had to be recognized as having successfully completed the CTEF certified tile installer (CTI) testing of their skills and knowledge.

During the two-day testing, the pre-qualified CTEF-certified tile installers demonstrated their hands-on abilities in skill sets including large-format tile and substrate preparation, membranes (both sheet and liquid), mortar bed (mud) floors and shower receptors. “Prior to taking the hands-on portion of the ACT test,” Bettiga said, “each installer was required to successfully complete the online knowledge test, proving their command of the test subject.”

Environmental developments

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.14.35 AMAnother top-of-mind subject in tile is the development of environmental product declarations (EPDs). At press time, this subject was to be discussed at the Total Solutions Plus (TSP) conference in San Antonio.

“We will be providing an update on TCNA’s effort to release an EPD for ceramic tile made in North America,” said Eric Astrachan, TCNA’s executive director. “At TSP 2014, we will announce this EPD’s completion, publication and certification by UL Environment.”

The North American ceramic tile EPD is a report that quantifies the environmental impacts of generic North American-made ceramic tile throughout its life cycle. It contains information about tile’s carbon footprint and resource depletion potential, among other things. With the North American Tile EPD, Astrachan noted, the environmental qualities of tile can be compared to those of other types of flooring products.

“Also, tile producers can compare the qualities of their products to those of the reported industry averages from the EPD in order to identify environmental strengths and areas needing improvement,” he added. “With the North American ceramic tile EPD completed and certified, products from manufacturers that submitted data will be automatically eligible for point contributions to LEED and other green building standards and rating systems.”

Trends

There continues to be a strong movement toward larger formats, wood looks, rectangular sizes and thin tiles in the segment.

“Wood looks are clearly among the hottest trends in the marketplace,” Kirk-Rolley said. “The use of tile that emulates wood is a style gaining momentum in both floor and wall applications for several years. Designers have specifically been leaning toward long, linear plank sizes. What was first introduced as a traditional take on hardwood floors has evolved to include more colors and textures to choose from than ever.”

In addition to warm rustic visuals and various structures, “water-stained and brushed visuals have recently been introduced,” she explained. “These products typically are offered in multi-color blends that are very authentic looking.”

When it comes to larger formats, Larrazabal continues to see an increasing demand for 8 x 48 leading the way, “as with our plank format offerings Dream, Boardwalk and American Naturals. Rectangles continue to be popular and we recently introduced an 18 x 36 in several of our series (Soho, Elements, Stonehenge) with strong success.”

As the style of thin, large-format porcelain tile continues to be popular in the U.S., the industry is rallying to create parameters for product use and installation. To that end, the NTCA, Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC) came together midyear to offer a shared position statement regarding acceptable thickness of 5.5mm or more for thin, large-format porcelain tile panels used in flooring installations.

“Our Laminam by Crossville 5.6 collections (5.6mm in thickness) launched earlier this year, already exceed the stated requirements, putting us ahead of the game in terms of the evolving standards for the large format, thin porcelain panel category,” Waldrep said.

According to many manufacturers, thin tile is also the future of ceramic.

For example, Ryan Fasan, technical consultant at Tile of Spain, said, “With the same strength and properties of regular ceramic, thin tile can be offered in large, groutless formats for counters, showers, walls, facades and more. It’s less costly to ship and it’s easier and more efficient to install. As the tile becomes more popular and is used in more projects, standards and training will help make it even more mainstream.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.15.16 AMAs Grosser noted, work is being done at ISO level to set standards for large format tiles and panels with various thicknesses. “The future of tile is headed in that direction and new standards are needed to meet the challenges of evolving products.”

Meanwhile, at the recent Cersaie show, Italian manufacturers exhibited a move beyond tile’s traditional role as a floor or wall covering and into the realm of smart materials. ABK Group unveiled a technology called Auto Leveling that adds elasticity to porcelain tile, ensuring perfectly flat installations, while Piemme’s Cottage tiles include embedded photovoltaic cells that create self-illuminating outdoor flooring.

In terms of innovative formats, Florim showcased some of the largest thin slabs in the industry—5.5 x 11 feet and only 6mm thick—and Faetano introduced a new tile that is part of its Murales series, designed to wrap corners.

Trending styles presented by Tile of Spain companies at Cersaie included matte black finishes, distressed wood planks, vintage patterns, delicate motifs, mix-and-match patterns, gradients, subtle reliefs, geometric designs including hexagons and metallics with mirrored effects.

Future outlook

As for the rest of 2014 and the start of next year, executives appear to be positive about ceramic’s future. As Waldrep noted, current market reports indicate 2015 will bring an increase in commercial building projects, which is “a positive forecast for our industry. As for Crossville, we’re poised to make an impact on our industry by advancing our messaging on sustainability. These advancements will be a driving force for Crossville and our customers in 2015.”

Tile of Spain’s Gomez noted, “We feel that the U.S. market is a priority for Spanish exports. Ceramic tile use is on the rise, and the number of distributors and retailers are also growing. Spain is perfectly positioned with technology, design and sustainable product especially made for the U.S. market. Many companies have worked hard to improve their distribution to the U.S. so that tile is stocked and ready to be provided quickly for projects.”

In addition to its planned construction of a glazed porcelain manufacturing plant/distribution center in Dickson, Tenn., scheduled to open in late 2015, Dal-Tile is also undergoing expansion and adding additional capabilities at its Sunnyvale, Texas, manufacturing facility. This will allow it to meet the demand for larger sizes and more sophisticated graphics/textures on the domestic front, Kirk-Rolley explained.

“These facilities provide us with a number of key advantages,” she added, “including the quality of the local workforce, access to raw materials and an ideal location from which we can ship to a majority of the U.S. population quickly and efficiently.”

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Digital inkjet technology: A revolutionary development

How it’s changing the industry one tile at a time

Volume 27/Number 21; March 3/10, 2014

By Louis Iannaco

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 10.49.50 AM“It will revolutionize the industry.” “It’s a game-changer.”  “The business is never going to be the same.”

When it comes to new products and innovations, we’ve heard it all before. But just how many times has a real change actually happened? It is a rare instance when something new turns out to be truly revolutionary in changing the way things are done in any given industry. But, in ceramic tile, there is one fairly recent development that has done just that.

With the advent of digital inkjet technology, manufacturers can make their products look like anything they want. In developing new designs, product surfaces have become works of art, canvasses on which product designers can now work their magic. Today, any shade of color, texture or pattern can seemingly be achieved. The digital process is, in fact, a revolutionary development in the world of ceramic tile. Continue reading Digital inkjet technology: A revolutionary development

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Tile: Surfaces is all about new sizes, wood visuals

Feb. 17/24 2014, Volume 27/number 21

By Louis Iannaco

The ceramic tile segment continued to strut its high-tech stuff at Surfaces. Armed with the latest state-of-the-art technology, porcelain/  ceramic tile producers had popular looks on display, with highlighted wood visuals. Also with a strong presence were the different shapes and sizes now available. From an increasing number of planks to rectangular shapes and larger formats, manufacturers continue to make porcelain and ceramic products replicate other “natural” materials.

Another trend includes the combination of wood visuals with more standard ceramic finishes, such as travertine, slate and marble features, enabling the consumer to mix and match her décor according to the various tones of the floor. Thanks to advanced technology, ceramic producers have now come full circle; they’ve made their products mimic other categories and are now coming back to their own.

Bedrosians

“They weren’t ‘tile’ kickers; they were buyers,” said Linda Bedrosian about the traffic the company experienced during Surfaces 2014. A petrified wood look was the star of the show, while another popular offering was its Statuary textured porcelain as well as a parquet visual.”

Epic, a new porcelain wood look, also attracted a lot of attention. “Many people are putting it on their walls and mixing it with mosaics,” she said. “It can be used commercially and residentially.”

Also, concept boards that featured different ceramic and porcelain looks allowed designers to shop for everything they needed with just one stop.

Crossville

The focus for Crossville was on SpeakEasy, a porcelain tile collection that offers the look of authentic, old barnwood interpreted in a range of contemporary, large-format plank sizes. With its modern take on timeworn wood’s appearance and texture, this line is designed as an alternative to traditional hardwoods.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 4.04.09 PMAccording to Lindsey Waldrep, Crossville’s vice president of marketing, the name of the product reflects Crossville’s intention to present a product that reinvents wood visuals and is easy to work with across commercial and residential markets. “SpeakEasy is all about ease of selection—a great option for those who specify products and a reliable go-to for those who sell our lines as well.”

Waldrep said various looks and a range of design options are the keys to SpeakEasy’s appeal.  “Not to mention it’s porcelain, so it will perform well in various settings, including places where real hardwood may not be the best option.”

The collection’s five colors mimic the tones of stained timber, while plank sizes are designed to enhance the genuine wood appearance. SpeakEasy is recommended for interior floors and walls and exterior vertical applications in commercial and residential environments. Additionally, the line is Green Square certified and contains a minimum of 4% pre-consumer recycled content.

What differentiates SpeakEasy from the many wood-look porcelains on the market today, Waldrep said, is the markings and characteristics of real wood with its saw marks, chatter and knots. “But it does not try to emulate real wood insofar as we offer quarter-sawn, half-sawn and rotary-peeled faces all mixed together. I believe that gives it a lot more visual dimension.”

Another big hit at the show for Crossville was Sideview, a new glass mosaic wall tile collection. Inspired by the art deco period, the line features multi-beveling on metallic-look mosaics. The beveling’s dimensional effect enhances reflection of light, providing an upscale look for wall installations.

Dal-Tile

North America’s largest tile manufacturer was at Surfaces once again with a full slate of introductions. New products included three colorbody porcelain collections, Season Wood, Acacia Valley and Valor; three glazed porcelain collections, Exquisite, Porada and Avondale, and glazed ceramic Marble Falls and Clio mosaics.

Dal-Tile highlighted each of the current tile trends by labeling them as different vignettes. They included wood, reclaimed wood, planks and large-format tiles.

Season Wood features a reclaimed wood look in five colorways and four sizes. The collection is manufactured at Dal-Tile’s new factory in Italy.

Emser

Similar to many tile suppliers, the story for Emser at Surfaces was about size, as the linear look has surged in the last 12 to 18 months for the company. “We’ve seen a percentage of our business really gravitate toward the linear sizes,” said Bob Baldocchi, director of marketing. “What we’ve decided to do, instead of launching more series, is take our best-selling series and introduce more sizes, configurations and choices, and then we’ll add a few more colors into the mix.” Additional sizes include 6 x 36, 12 x 24, 16 x 32 and 8 x 32.

Another development from Emser includes collections featuring both a polished and matte look. “It gives people the flexibility to design rooms a bit differently when they can take a matte product on the floor and see the polished product on the walls,” he said.

Emser has also been working on developing lines that are geared toward commercial but also fit into residential applications as well. “By bringing [commercial] looks into residential, we are finding the best of both worlds,” Baldocchi said.

Florida Tile

What people took away from Florida Tile during Surfaces was its large-format wood looks and its digital porcelains, as well as “our multi-graphic digital products, specifically the Mingle collection,” said Jack Bramson, Western region manager. “It features a new level of sophistication I believe is just beginning to take hold.”

According to Bramson, “The people coming to see us have come here to buy. And there seems to be much more optimism as well.”

As far as heading into 2014, Bramson said Florida Tile is optimistic. “We are increasing capacity, investing in new technology, new lines and new looks. We’re bullish about the year.”

Interceramic

Catherine Buehre, Interceramic’s Central region territory manager, said the company introduced several marble looks as well as some glass mosaic collections that garnered positive response. “Our newest marble look, Vesubio, did very well at the show. It’s a floor and wall collection that got great feedback.”

Another highlight for the company was the Trio collection featuring wood, cement and stone looks. “All of the color palettes work together so you can mix and match them,” Buehre said. “And the cement offering has some real visual interest to it.”

When considering the coming year, Buehre couldn’t be more excited. “We have some new introductions coming and our Coverings launch will be very large. Our new Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 4.05.07 PMplant in Mexico is producing much of our large-format tiles.”

Mediterranea

Like many others, the focus at the Mediterranea booth was not necessarily new products but new sizes, according to Don Mariutto, vice president of marketing. “The biggest change is in one of our all-time series, American Naturals,” he explained. “We’ve now moved into the 8 x 48 format, rectified. It used to exclusively come in 6 x 24. We are relaunching the collection with new marketing materials and display sets for the new larger format.”

The company’s Bayside collection, a rectified, four-color series, also introduced a new 24 x 48 size. “This is currently being produced and is in stock right now,” Mariutto said. “Designers are requesting larger formats. We can do more from a design perspective. Using the latest inkjet technology, we can do everything we thought was cool on a 6 x 24 on a 24 x 48.”

The company is currently considering adding more sizes to some of its newer series, including 6 x 36 and 18 x 36. “These will be added later in the year; sizes for Mediterranea that we’ve never offered before,” he said. “Rectangles remain very popular; we’ve seen a decline in the market for the old 18 x 18. People have been saying they like the larger sizes.”

Attendees also responded well to the two new series offered by the company—Ocean Drive and Flow. Mediterranea’s Dynamic HD Imaging design technology is utilized to blend the look of cement with the veining and coloration from stones.

Ocean Drive is available in three sizes with matching bullnose trim and mosaics, and four colors. Flow uses an inkjet manufacturing process to create a blend of design and format— featuring the lines of marble with a texture. The line is manufactured in two sizes and three colors. Also available are mosaics in two sizes along with matching bullnose trim.

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Mediterranea introduces Flow series

White interior of the stylish apartmentDoral, Fla. — Mediterranea has introduced the Flow series of porcelain tile that uses 6-head inkjet printing technology.

Manufactured in both 6x 24 and 12 x 24 inch sizes, Flow is offered in Cream (beige), Pearl (white) and Tusk (taupe). Also available are mosaics in two different sizes, along with matching bullnose trim.  The company said the Flow series continues Mediterranea’s design tradition, to deliver a new series at the cutting edge of the latest trends.

 

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Mediterranea debuts Ocean Drive series

Modern Living Room
Mediterranea’s new Ocean Drive in Shell.

Doral, Fla.—There are few thoroughfares as distinctive as the glamorous strip that hugs the sandy coastline on the southern tip of Miami Beach. Just as South Beach merges its Art Deco heritage with the sophistication of the Italian Riviera, Mediterranea’s new Ocean Drive series blends subtle, yet striking graphics to create one of its most perfectly balanced series to date. Continue reading Mediterranea debuts Ocean Drive series

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Mediterranea achieves Green Squared certification

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 4.17.24 PMMediterranea, a leading manufacturer of porcelain tile in the USA, has announced that its StonePeak production facility in Crossville, Tennessee has attained Green Squared certification from the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

ANSI A138.1 Green Squared is the American National Standard Specification for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles, and Tile Installation Materials.  The standard addresses not just product characteristics, but also manufacturing, end of product life management, corporate governance and innovation. Continue reading Mediterranea achieves Green Squared certification

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Mediterranea’s Forum recreates the look of travertine

Forum Cappucino
Mediterranea’s Forum in Cappuccino

Doral, Fla.—From the great art and sculpture works of Michelangelo to the modern musical creations of Gershwin, genius never goes out of style. And today, Mediterranea recreates nature’s genius and delivers the look of classic, vein-cut travertine like never before with its new porcelain tile series, Forum. Continue reading Mediterranea’s Forum recreates the look of travertine

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Mediterranea introduces Bayside series

The tile design artisans at Mediterranea have taken high-tech design of porcelain tile to the next level with pioneering a new series targeted squarely at the American marketplace.  Welcome to Bayside — a perfect combination of cement and stone that features cutting-edge design, yet has mass-market appeal.

Bayside is designed for the new age we live in, delivering a clean, more minimalist look sought after by architects and designers while offering a totally unique blend of graphics and colors that are poised to be volume sellers in the U.S. market.  Utilizing Dynamic HD Imaging inkjet technology to replicate cement and stone graphics, Mediterranea blends these two essential elements into one porcelain tile product, delivering a look never before seen in designer showrooms or grand estates. Continue reading Mediterranea introduces Bayside series

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Mediterranea introduces River Valley

Inspired by the enchanting isle of Sardinia, Mediterranea is pleased to introduce the River Valley series – an innovative combination of elements from the old world and the new.

Found along Sardinia’s jagged seashore cliffs and lush Mediterranean valleys are extremely unique natural stones found only in this special corner of the world.  Mediterranea has utilized its Dynamic HD Imaging inkjet technology to combine these distinct stones with modern cement graphics to create a never-before-seen combination of cement and stone.

River Valley is offered in four rich color selections: amber, bronze, copper and sand.  And with sizes in 12 x 24, 18 x 18 and 13 x 13, River Valley is manufactured in the most popular formats to suit any residential or commercial installation.  2 x 2 mosaic and bullnose trim pieces are the perfect complement to any project.