Tile in 2019: Growth, change & challenge

Tile in 2019: Growth, change & challenge

Monday, April 01, 2019, By Ryane DeFalco from Floor Covering Weekly

Tile and stone continues to be a growth leader for floor covering sales and in 2018 — its growth outpaced overall U.S. Flooring Covering growth for 2018, according to Catalina Research. And, the category gained significant share last year. According to the quarterly report, dollar sales are estimated to have increased 6.8 percent, while square footage could have increased by 6.2 percent.

Tile and stone is estimated to be 14.4 percent of total floor covering dollar sales for last year and MSI president Raj Shah believes the growth can be attributed to the products’ inherent benefits.

“There continues to be strong demand for tile as it takes market share from soft surface and other product categories,” he said. “In addition, there continues to be extended or new applications for tile. This includes the wall, countertops and outdoors. The United States continues to remain one of the lowest per capita consumers of tile, so there is a lot of legs to the industry.”

Momentum, however, slowed slightly in the first quarter of 2019 and industry leaders attribute that to challenges such as the recent tariffs applied to imported goods from China.

“Typically, we would see a surge in the growth of imports in Q1 from companies lowering their inventories from Q4 of 2018,” said Bart Bettiga, executive director, National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA). “However, many distributors increased their Chinese-made inventories in Q4 2018 due to the potential increase in tariffs, hence this inventory impacted the first quarter imports from China as distributors utilized their (existing) inventories.”

Executive vice president of Dal-Tile Gianni Mattioli echoed this statement, telling FCW, “Lots of material arrived during Q4/18 to beat tariffs from China, reducing Q1 arrivals.”

Both executives expect Q1 sales for tile to be flat. Mattoli added that he expects Q2 2019 to be flat as well.

Shah said, however, that there are other impacts on predictions. “Our view is that there will be a little bit of a slowdown from prior years due to macro-economic volatility. Also, mortgage rates have increased which has slightly slowed down the housing market. We do believe there will be a pickup in Q2 and beyond due to the weather problems in Q1. Overall, our view is that the industry should be able to grow in the 4- to 5 percent range this year.”

Performance Pros
The demand for waterproof products continues to increase and tile and stone is an ideal option, reminds executives. “Tile continues to be the surface of choice,” Shah explained. “Numerous reports continue to show that the consumers want to have tile in their home. We are seeing that consumers are really looking for ‘invincible’ materials. Tile has always been the choice when it comes to being waterproof, pet-proof, etc.”

He added that tile is also ideal for outdoors because it can withstand harsh conditions.

“We also see a huge opportunity in the outdoor space when it comes to tile,” he said. “There is a lot of square footage outdoors that can be tiled. With the aesthetics and sizes of tiles being produced today we will see a lot of tile outdoors over the next couple of years.”

Tile is also sustainably sourced with a low carbon footprint and is free from VOCs, PVCs, formaldehyde and allergens. And of course, tile can be used in a variety of ways and places in the home, including floor, wall, shower and countertop installations.

“Tile is well-known for its versatility in both commercial and residential applications,” explained Mattoli. “Tile has several key competitive advantages, including durability and cleanability, when compared with other materials on the market. Tile has an innate durability that resists decades of heavy traffic. It is stainproof, scratchproof, waterproof and fire resistant.” Tile, he added, is also easy to maintain.

What’s Trending
Large format tiles continue to garner attention, especially as suppliers look to offer countertops. As well, planks and varying sizes are trending which is expected to continue.

“Some of the new plank tiles are now being produced in much longer sizes, creating multiple new design patterns.” Bettiga explained. “Tiles that are in larger sizes can also be produced in many different thicknesses, creating opportunities to use them on interior and exterior walls and floors.”

For a complete look at today’s Style & Design, see pages 10 & 11 of FCW‘s latest issue.

Combating Challenges
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the tile market is the current labor shortage. Finding qualified workers is a necessity to any tile project and the limited labor pool is of concern.

“Factors to consider include the availability of a trained and qualified workforce, both in the tile industry and in the entire construction industry, and cost comparisons of labor and materials compared to competitive products,” shared Bettiga.

Shah noted his concern in the marketing and said, “The primary challenge we are seeing is a reduction in average price per square foot. The only way to overcome this is to continue to innovate the product and increase overall volume.”

MSI has a solution in place for this. “In order to increase overall volume its important as ever for us to partner with our retailer/dealer customers and increase the inspiration given to customers,” Shah offered.

Another concern for the tile market is the competition from other flooring categories, specifically resilient. Mattoli recommended highlighting what makes tile unique by providing consumers with benefits and details specific to the tile industry.

“Large sizes and graphic details are impossible to effectively replicate outside of the tile category,” he shared. “One of the tile industry’s jobs is to educate the consumer, so they understand and appreciate the superior quality and design of tile.”

Bettiga agreed. “We believe that ceramic tile and natural stone products outperform competitive products over time, and especially in critical areas where waterproofing and long-term performance and ease of maintenance are desired. It is important to look at consumer and project owner expectations when considering product selection,” he said.

“Tile continues to be an aspirational product — consumers, designers, architects, contractors and builders want to use tile in their projects.” — Gianni Mattioli, Dal-Tile

Gauged porcelain tile
Innovation in the tile segment has led to the vast expansion of porcelain and its properties. In fact, the use of gauged porcelain tile panels has quickly grown across the industry, according to Donato Pompo of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC), who spoke at this year’s Fuse Alliance Annual Conference.

“This trend has really taken off,” Pompo told attendees, adding that market share continues to increase significantly. “There is a lot of opportunity here.” But with more opportunity comes more risk, he warned. “Make sure your installers are informed and prepared.”

Crossville vice president of marketing Lindsey Waldrep told FCW how the company is expanding its offerings to include gauged porcelain tile panels and porcelain countertops.

“We’ve developed sizes that make it possible to use porcelain tile on surfaces that would not have been suited for tile previously,” Waldrep shared. “Now specifiers can get porcelain tile’s superior performance on a seemingly endless array of surfaces, inside and out.”

Gianni Mattioli, executive vice president of Dal-Tile, echoed the popularity of gauged porcelain offerings. “Technology has also allowed us to increase the sizes of our offerings, as seen in Daltile’s Panoramic Porcelain Surfaces. Large-format slabs provide design flexibility for a variety of installations, both interior and exterior, while still meeting budget demands.”