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Coverings: Latest tile, stone introductions hit all the right notes

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Mara Bollettieri

Coverings, billed as the largest international tile and stone event in North America, delivered as promised as attendees from near and far came to see the hottest and freshest trends in the industry. More than 1,100 vendors showcased their respective products across the vast showroom floor at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta

“It’s really about connections for anyone who attends,” said Alena Capra, Coverings industry ambassador. “You can meet new vendors, people you can partner with. It’s for tile installers, fabricators, retailers, distributors. Everyone wins because [the connections are] what the show is really about.”

With respect to trends, larger-format tiles, which were prominent throughout the show floor, continue to trend. While the larger format is overtaking the European market, the U.S. is still slowly absorbing the trend, explained Juan Molina, general manager of sales and marketing, Del Conca USA. However, larger tiles are now being used in certain high-volume metropolitan markets, such as Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, to create open spaces.

At the show, Del Conca USA highlighted its Alchimia porcelain stoneware collection, which is available in different sizes and colors—from 120 × 120 cm to 40 × 80 cm. “We are here every year and believe in the show,” Molina said. “This particular convention is the most important one in all of North America. It’s the best environment for customers in our industry to make good comparisons from one factory to another.”

Larger format tiles were also seen in the show’s tiny home displays. Many of the homes used formats as large as 48 x 48, which Capra referred to as a “super large format.” Capra noted that, “some of the homes only had six tiles throughout the whole house.”

While larger, thin-format tiles are currently on the rise, many were on display with more standardized sizes that are wider and not as tall, according to Diana Friedman, Novita Communications, Ceramics of Italy. “Along with that, we are seeing some companies that are doing thick tiles—20mm—but in actually smaller sizes,” she explained. “It’s a new way of showing these thick tiles.”

Wood is (still) good

Wood-look tiles are still holding strong in the marketplace as these visuals are finding their home both inside and outside. What’s more, wood-look tile is incorporating other tile trends such as thinner, longer formats.

“We’re seeing a couple of companies have thin wood looks,” Friedman explained. “We are seeing a 3 x 24-inch version that’s really nice and smooth—almost like a buttery wood, a leathery texture.”

Gianni Mattioli, president and CEO, Ragno USA, sees the importance of wood looks in the marketplace, although he explained it is probably leveling off. Ragno USA saw brisk traffic at its booth during the show, with many attendees stopping to look at wood visuals. To cater to this market, the manufacturer continues to introduce new wood finishes such as traditional and rustic wood looks.

Blast from the past

Honoring the past was an ongoing theme throughout this year’s show, as many exhibitors embraced old-fashioned designs and styles. According to Friedman, a lot of textured tiles with classic looks and ideas were on display in the Italian Pavilion, which displayed over 120 brands of Italian exhibitors.

A huge retro trend that a majority of companies displayed was terrazzo. “Terrazzo has been big and is getting even bigger,” Friedman stated. “We’re seeing a hyper-realized idea of this post-modern look, so there are a lot of colors, a lot of these pastel tones.” She explained that there is almost a “terrazzo inception” going on, where lots of companies are displaying tiles that have terrazzo within a terrazzo pattern.

“Ornamenta has a beautiful ombre tile, which is large and thin,” Friedman noted. “It’s called the Operae collection, and it has a stylized palm leaf motif. The company takes these hyper-realized, classic known elements and makes them bold and bright with a new take.”

Capra also noted the return of terrazzo as well as patchwork. “Terrazzo has been around for a long time in tile form,” she explained. “It has a batch of different benefits and features, so that’s a great option.” With respect to patchwork, “We definitely saw a lot of the patchwork-type look, whether it’s all consistent in black and white—and a lot of color as well, softer tones,” Capra said. “There were a lot of coordinating soft color tones that go with this patchwork—everything from bold geometric patterns to the more traditional-type looks.”

Color tile conquers

Many exhibitors and attendees commented on the usage of bright colors, blues and pastels at the show. As Beth Wickliffe, Clayton Tile, Greenville, S.C., told FCNews, “Anything with color—bright colors—is coming back. A lot more blues coming around—bright blues and navy—but grays are still around as well.”

Manufacturers, such as Marazzi, are tapping into this wide range of colors to create tile for all occasions. Marazzi’s popular line, Middleton Square, is full of bright, vibrant colors in 4 x 12 wall tiles with undulations, 3 x 12 and 6 x 6. “We’re getting a lot of good feedback that people want to move away from blacks, whites and grays,” said Ray Piña, Northeast regional sales manager.

Capra also emphasized the rise in color tile. “Something we noticed is a lot more color—a lot of bright color,” she said. “A lot of dark teals and aquas, different shades of blues, soft pinks and soft greens and yellows.”

One new trend that caught Capra’s eye is contrasting colored grout with neutral or colored tiles, such as gray tile with yellow grout, or turquoise grout with black and white tile. This style, she said, would work great for an accent wall as a kind of statement.

Technological advancements

Although many suppliers are feeling nostalgic what with the return to old-fashioned designs, many are also embracing technological advancements to create innovative tile, such as digital printing. For example, Refin Ceramics displayed its new line, Kasai, a collection that pays tribute to Japanese culture. The line is simple and made in three colors with various decorations inspired by Japan, according to Nick Schenetti, sales rep for the Northeast and Midwest American market, Refin Ceramics. Through the usage of digital printing on the tile, the company has created a tile that gives a look of burned wood.

Many show exhibitors are digitally printing their tiles to develop new styles. “There was also a lot of metallic gold veining on already digitally printed porcelain,” Capra said. “There was a lot of gold over existing design. People are playing with technology to go ahead and create new things.”

Texture has also played a huge role at this year’s show. “I noticed some pattern tile had some texture on it,” Capra added. “There was one with a cactus on it, and you could feel it. You’re seeing subtle textures to really strong textures, like 3D texture. With the advancement in technology, they are able to do that.”

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NRF prioritizes service for partners at NEFM

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Steven Feldman & Mara Bollettieri

Uncasville, Conn.—Winter turned to spring on March 19 as things were heating up at NRF Distributors’ New England Flooring Market (NEFM). With 110 vendors showcasing their latest wares to an estimated 320 customers, Terry Gray, vice president of marketing, was anticipating the one-day event to generate $3 million in business. Every vendor offered some type of special to encourage retailers to make the trip to NEFM and spend.

“This is their local Surfaces,” Gray told FCNews. By her count, only 10 retailers who signed up for the NEFM attended Surfaces. “Instead of flying to Vegas and spending all that money, they can spend a night here and buy new displays and meet executives of the brands they sell.”

The NEFM concept began nearly 40 years ago, when it was held in NRF’s Augusta, Maine-based warehouse. The market eventually outgrew the venue and has been held in casinos for the last 10 years, attracting customers from Maine to Pennsylvania. NRF now hosts three markets a year for its customers—two in Connecticut and one in New York.

One initiative the distributor was focusing on at this event was its newly launched social media platform, NRF Social, which aims to help retail customers build their Facebook and Twitter presence. Michael Gallicchio, social media manager of NRF Social, explained how the program familiarizes itself with the retailer and adapts to his or her specific community and product line. This allows the program to produce a library of personalized content. “What we try to do is engage the community through social media in the name of the retailer and target people who are showing the tendency toward home improvement services. Once we do that, more than likely when people go to buy flooring, they’re going to be thinking about the local retailers first.”

The program costs anywhere from $99-$149 a month depending on the level of service. Ninety-nine bucks a month includes posting content and pictures; for $149 a month, retailers receive content plus paid Facebook ads. Gallicchio emphasized how putting money behind Facebook advertising can be extremely beneficial to a retailer’s business. “For hardly any money, comparatively speaking to what existed 20 years ago—when people spent thousands of dollars in ads—you can deliver a branded message with pictures, specs and product knowledge that will help people make decisions on the fly.”

Around 30 to 40 stores have signed on to NRF Social since its launch in October, and at least a dozen more were added at the show, Gallicchio shared. “NRF had the foresight to not guess what consumers do. We studied it.” The platform allows retailers to maximize their time on the floor with customers while the social media experts handle the advertising.

NRF’s social media team held a four-month pilot program, where it tested numerous types of messaging and online advertising through social media platforms. The data collected from this study revealed what consumers best respond to, so a local retailer can hyper-locally target consumers in his or her community.

NRF has also launched a campaign promoting the “shop local” movement with service, honesty, options and pricing providing the basis for the acronym SHOP. NRF has adorned the back door of its 68 trucks with the signage and is also providing POP material in the form of stickers to retailers. “The idea is to get people to buy specialty flooring products from their local retailer,” Gray said. “It’s a way to drive more traffic into stores. We are driving the fact local stores do it better.”

NRF is also using its trucks to promote its vendors. For example, 28 trucks sport the Tarkett logo and a large room scene visual plastered on the side. “We’ve been doing that since 1988,” Gray said. “We don’t know of any other distributor doing that. It’s the best advertising you can get. That will last 12 years; the trailer will die before the label comes off.”

Gray noted that NRF was up about 6% in 2017 and, like just about everyone, is riding the crest of the LVT/WPC/SPC wave. Beauflor and Raskin are new vendors joining Tarkett, which NRF has handled for five years. “Actually, the last two or three years have been great,” Gray said.

That is not to say NRF is strictly growing because of hard surface. Gray pointed out that carpet is still a big part of the distributor’s overall sales. “Carpet remains 30% of our business. I have carpet in stock all the time.”

Service with a smile 

Service has been, and always will be, something Gray believes is an NRF hallmark. “Truck drivers deliver to every single store twice a week—roll goods, boxed goods, palletized goods. Generally speaking, customers never have to wait more than a week for anything. We even have 400 customers who have given the truck drivers keys to their stores, so they can deliver early in the morning. Sometimes we even start the coffee maker.”

Delivery of product begins long before NRF drivers show up on a retailer’s doorstep. In many cases, product comes from overseas, which requires astute management to ensure proper inventory. “If you are buying containers from China, you must factor in how many weeks and months it takes to get product,” Gray noted. “You need 15 to 18 weeks inventory if it’s coming on a container. You have to have a purchasing system for all the different items. You have to factor in all the nuances of each product lines.”

Retailers attending the NEFM attested to NRF’s focus on service. Jeff Hosking, owner of Payless Floors, North Attleborough, Mass., shared the advantages of using the distributor for his local business. “The pricing is better when you buy it in bulk, and they’re great people to deal with. We’ve worked with them now for a lot of years, and we’ve found them to be very honest when we have an issue. They back up what they say. They help us sell our customers with product knowledge and offer training.”

When asked what separates NRF from other distributors, Hosking did not hesitate to respond. “They’re more attentive. The service is 100% better than most of the other distributors.”

Even retailers who are new to the game are impressed with the service NRF provides. Eileen Nash and her husband, Dylan O’Malley-Joyce, recently opened The Floor Works in Bethlehem, N.H. She shared how they recently had a problem with some of their flooring and NRF resolved the issue. “The manufacturer blamed the installer, so NRF got us an inspector. It turned out to be a flooring defect, and NRF had everything fixed [just] like that.”

As an added bonus, NRF has a printing department and another that handles sampling for wood and ceramic. NRF also offers its customers products to sell on a private-label basis. “We always thought it was important for customers to have their own lines,” Gray said. “Everyone can go on their phones and say, ‘I can buy it cheaper.’ But private-label products can’t be shopped.”

Manufacturers also attest to the value NRF provides. “They’re just efficient,” said Stephan Guindon, executive director, NA, Venture Carpet. “The reputation they’ve built in the marketplace is something I haven’t seen in other areas of the country.”

If reputation is No. 1, then product knowledge is a close second. Bruce Hammer, vice president of sales at Ribadao Wood Boutique, was one who commended the distributor’s familiarity of his products. “They have an extremely knowledgeable sales staff that can talk in depth about the unique species we offer.”

Raskin Industries is a relatively new supplier, only four months into the relationship. “I would say they dominate New England more than any other distributor dominates their own marketplace,” said Ted Rocha, vice president of sales. He likened his partnership with NRF to being a part of an extended family. “They have great support from areas that are very difficult to get to.”

Mike Lewandowski, general manager of American Olean, is also pleased with NRF as a distributor partner. “They support all our new launches and every effort we do in the market.”

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FreeFit: Educating industry on loose lay is priority No. 1

St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., recently  installed 15,000 square feet of FreeFit.
St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., recently
installed 15,000 square feet of FreeFit.

January 6/13, 2014; Volume 27/Number 18

About five years ago the U.S. market was introduced to a new type of luxury vinyl tile: a true loose-lay product where no adhesive was required. The brand was FreeFit, and since its introduction others have rolled out competing products.

The company last year broke the mold once more when, in its search for a vice president of sales and marketing, it tapped Ray Pina, whose 13 years as a trade publication editor covering the resilient category gives him a unique perspective that an industry “insider” may lack. FCNews recently sat down with Pina to discuss FreeFit and some little known but important aspects of LVT. Continue reading FreeFit: Educating industry on loose lay is priority No. 1