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Natural stone poised for mainstream move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Retailers' guide to stone: Pros are best for installing natural stone

Volume 28/Number 6; September 1/8, 2014

(Editor’s note: This is the ninth of a 10-part series on introducing flooring retailers to stone and the opportunities the category presents.)

Sponsored by Emser Tile

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From ancient monuments like the pyramids in Egypt to the great civilizations of India and China, natural stone has been an important part of architecture throughout history, lasting for hundreds of years.

These days, natural stone is becoming a more common option for consumers who want to beautify their homes with this distinctly unique product.

But before any of that can happen, the stone must be installed properly. And that work is best left for the professionals, as natural stone is heavy, arduous work, extremely exacting and requires training and special tools.

Bob Baldocchi, director of marketing and sales support at Emser Tile, said preparation is vitally important when it comes to installing natural stone. “Prior to install, the mechanics should lay the material out to get a sense of range and looks,” he explained. “Make sure everyone is comfortable with what they are seeing.”

This step is important because there is tremendous variation in natural stone. The samples the consumer sees in a retail showroom won’t be the same as what she gets in her home because the colors and mineral veining will vary. “You really need to inspect the flooring before putting it down,” Baldocchi noted.

Up next for installers is preparing the substrate. “You want to make sure you are starting with a substrate that is appropriate for the material you are laying down.”

Installers apply a thinset mortar—Baldocchi said the right type of mortar is critical—directly to a cement subfloor and lay the tile. Wood subfloors require a CBU (cement backer unit) for support and to provide a moisture barrier.

The substrate material may move. This can occur when water penetrates the grout, or when freezing and thawing causes the tile to crack, rise or chip. To help prevent this, some installers use Ditra, a brand of underlayment that allows for slight movement of the substrate without damaging the floor.

Stone tiles install slightly differently than ceramic or porcelain tiles because care needs to be taken for the natural variations in the stone. Stone tiles may have fissures that vary in thickness from piece to piece. To lay these tiles properly, a good foundation and layout is required.

The professional installer will measure the area and snap chalk lines for an accurate layout. Some pieces will need to be cut to fit a particular shape of the room. These are measured, marked and set aside for hand cutting. The installer then uses a wet saw with a 10-inch diamond blade to customize the stone. Freshly cut edges are smoothed by hand with a smoothing stone.

Baldocchi recommends waterproof membranes in wet areas. Many waterproofing membranes feature anti-microbial protection to help fight off stain-causing mold and mildew. As well, waterproofing membranes help prevent the occurrence of poor indoor air quality.

Stone floors are rarely precisely level, Baldocchi said, but quality installers check to ensure everything is as level as possible as they move along, setting the tiles or stones. To compensate for the varying thickness of the stone, they adjust the amount of thinset mortar.

After the floor is laid and the thinset mortar has fully cured, the installer fills the joints between the tiles with grout. (Un-sanded grout is most commonly used.) A grout mixture is spread over the tiled area to fill in the joints (the grout curing process takes about 48 hours). Installers then wipe off the excess with a sponge.

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The different types of natural stone flooring

Volume 27/Number 23; March 17/24, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 10.51.05 AM(Editor’s note: This is the third of a 10-part series on introducing flooring retailers to stone and the opportunities the category presents.)

Natural stone is a product of nature, offering vast differences in composition, color and texture, even among pieces from the same source. This is a key selling feature for flooring dealers who can highlight the truly unique designs and myriad applications of natural stone products.

But natural stone is not a simple sell, according to one expert. For dealers who carry natural stone products, or who are interested in getting into the category, it is critical they understand how it works and reacts to elements, and that they can clearly communicate that to their customer base. Continue reading The different types of natural stone flooring

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MIA launches iStone app for iPad

Cleveland — Marble Institute of America, the authoritative source for natural stone standards and education, and studiomarmo, the renowned Italian expert on natural stone graphic and web design, have announced the much anticipated release of iStone, a natural stone swatch application for the iPad that is available in the Apple App Store. Continue reading MIA launches iStone app for iPad

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New historic documentary on natural stone in the works

Cleveland — M S International (MSI), one of the industry’s largest stone distribution companies, is making it possible for the Marble Institute of America to produce a major new documentary that memorializes the global historic relationship between mankind and natural stone. Funding for the documentary will be provided by MSI.

The 35-40 minute documentary will be based on a creative concept by Mr. Manu Shah, founder of MSI of Orange, California.  The documentary will trace the evolution of man and stone from prehistoric times to today’s thriving use of natural stone as one of the premier decorative building materials used in commercial buildings and homes around the world. Continue reading New historic documentary on natural stone in the works

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Keynote panel discussion for tile industry leaders at Coverings 2012

Kinnelon, NJ – Tile industry leaders will gather on opening day of Coverings 2012 for a keynote presentation and panel discussion highlighting marketing successes. “The Web is Your Best Marketing Tool” takes place Tuesday, April 17 from 8:30am to 10am and features National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) executive director, Bart Bettiga, Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc. president, Amber Fox, Welch Tile and Marble Company president, Dan Welch, and David Allen Company vice president, Martin Howard. Christine B. Whittemore, chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now, will moderate the session. Continue reading Keynote panel discussion for tile industry leaders at Coverings 2012