One-on-One with Inma Roca
November 1st, 2004

By Janet Arden November-December 2004

Inma Roca attended her first CTDA Convention just one month after moving to the US in 1987 to represent the household goods division of a larger company based at the Trade Commission of Spain in Miami. And, she says, “That is where my involvement with the ceramic tile industry started.” Since then, Spain’s role in the American marketplace and Ms. Roca’s role in the industry have continued to grow. Today she continues to represent the Spanish tile manufacturers on the Coverings Board of Directors. TileDealer recently talked with Inma Roca about the industry, the marketplace and—of course—Spanish ceramic tile.

TileDealer: How long have you been involved with the tile industry? How did you initially get involved in the ceramic tile industry?

Roca: I am originally from Valencia, where Cevisama takes place. I studied Business Administration at the University of Valencia. In 1984 I started working for ICEX ( Spain’s Institute for Foreign Trade) at their regional office in Valencia. In 1987 my employer asked me to move to Miami to head its household goods division for the USA, which was based at the Trade Commission of Spain in Miami.

I arrived in Miami on October 11, 1987, and the following month I traveled to visit my first CTDA Convention, which I believe was in San Francisco. That is where my involvement with the ceramic tile industry started. For four years I was in charge of the promotion of the ceramic tile industry of Spain in the US. I was responsible for our very first pavilion in 1988 at the International Tile and Bathroom Furnishings Trade show (the predecessor of our current Coverings).

I left the Trade Commission of Spain in January 1992 and I established my own marketing agency. For a year I did some consulting for a United Nation’s aid organization (Unctad-Gatt). During 1992 and 1993 I did consulting work in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Mexico for the furniture industry. I started to work again in the ceramic field in 1993, when ITSE (another name that Coverings has had) asked me to implement an international promotion program for the show. Then in 1994 they asked me to take over also the PR for the show and the industry’s now defunct Tile Promotion Board. I did this for few years and then in 1998 I took over the marketing and public relations program for Tile of Spain. What I have been doing until last September.

Concurrently with my handling of the Tile of Spain PR program, I have been representing ASCER’s interest at Coverings since the end of 2001. From now on that will be my involvement with the ceramic tile industry. And I am very happy with that activity, because I am a big believer in Coverings. I was there at the very beginning of the show, before it was merged with the CTDA’s one to become ITE. The rest is history.

TileDealer: What distinguishes Spanish ceramic tile technically and aesthetically?

Roca: The origins of Spain’s ceramic tile industry go back centuries. Ceramic tile is imbedded in our culture. Spain ranks as the #1 country in the world in per capita consumption of ceramic tile. In the eighties, our industry underwent a complete industrial restructuring that implemented the latest technology. At that time it was the beginning of the single fire process. So in a few years most of our manufacturers had converted to the single fire process. Since we had a very large production of ceramic wall tile, it was Spanish research in the area of single firing technology being applied to wall tile production that set the world standards. Since 1984 Spain has been known as the world leader in the production of ceramic wall tile. In the nineties our industry invested largely in flooring production and nowadays Spain’s production of floor tile (including all the porcelain techniques) is larger than wall tile.

To answer your question more specifically, I’d say that we have the very latest technology combined with a history and tradition of tile making paired with advanced European design.

TileDealer: What are the strengths of the Spanish ceramics manufacturers?

Roca: I believe that they offer the best products and service in terms of value. The quality-design-service/price ratio is extremely good.

TileDealer: How have Spanish manufacturers responded to green building or sustainable building trends?

Roca: In recent years our industry has been very active on the environmental front. Some of our manufacturers are producing tile made solely from recycled production wastes, including fumes, clays and glazes. In all, Spain has over twenty companies that have been awarded the ISO 14000 certification for environmental responsibility during the manufacturing process, and many more have already started the certification procedure.

Furthermore, as a related environmental achievement, it is noteworthy that a Spanish company was the first to be awarded the European Union’s Ecolabel Certification.

Since 1985 our industry has invested over 1.1 billion euros in improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions. In addition, ASCER has just announced the industry’s commitment of an additional 90 million euro for environmental issues from now until 2007.

TileDealer: How big is the current Spanish tile presence in the international tile market and in North America?

Roca: Leaving China aside, Spain shares the leadership in world tile production with Italy. Our current production level is a little less than 7 billion square feet per year. In 2003 Spain’s tile exports reached 186 countries and topped 3.6 billion square feet. For 2002, the latest year that I have world statistics, Spain’s share of world trade was close to 27-percent.

Regionally, the European Union is still our largest market, absorbing 42-percent in value of our total exports. France, Britain and Portugal remain our largest European markets.

But, the US has been our number one market for the past decade. Our exports here grew at a very rapid rate from 1985 through 2002. Exports fell though in 2003; still Spain’s market share in the US imports of ceramic tile is over 17-percent, the second largest exporter.

TileDealer: Are there any categories that are especially big?

Roca: Although we do not break out statistics to verify this, we know the American marketplace is a big consumer of ceramic floor tile. Perhaps even more importantly, we know everyone here is demanding porcelain tile whether or not his or her project requires it.

TileDealer: Have you felt the growing Chinese impact on the ceramic tile marketplace?

Roca: I’m not sure that I am the right person to answer this question. I think that at the moment we are still waiting to see what is to come. For sure the Chinese will have a strong impact on everybody once they go into export gear with ceramic tile. We do export to China, but not in any significant amount.

TileDealer: The American dollar continues to decline in value against the euro. Have Spanish manufacturers made accommodations to this situation? Do you think they will have to do more?

Roca: Our manufacturers have made great efforts in trying to absorb the rate exchange deterioration. Most have been forced to increase their prices in dollars, but in a very insignificant amount in comparison with the large decline of the dollar against the euro. Some are changing their product mix to better serve the needs of the US market (increasing the porcelain and flooring offerings). Others are merging companies to increase their critical mass, and others are investing in manufacturing in foreign countries. Still they’ll have to position their product away from that of the countries that are selling at the bottom of the line.

TileDealer: What are the benefits of attending an international trade show like Cevisama?

Roca: In 2004 Cevisama received over 86,000 professional attendees, of which 10,000+ were international visitors. Cevisama is a truly international market place where the tile industry of Spain shows at its best. If you do business with ceramic tile factories from Spain, Cevisama is a must. If you still do not do business with Spain, Cevisama is the place to start. In addition to working the show you can also visit the factories, which are clustered in a very close area, 45-minutes drive from the Convention Center.

TileDealer: What should TileDealer readers look for when they visit Cevisama?

Roca: A brand new, and very well designed, Convention Center with over 2 million square feet of space. In addition to a very efficient layout of the floor plan, this new building offers a wide range of hospitality areas for visitors. At Cevisama 2005, your dealers will find the whole ceramic tile industry from Spain exhibiting their new products for the season, and, last but not least, they will enjoy Spain’s renowned hospitality.

TileDealer: Are you anticipating any particular design trends?

Roca: This is a little difficult to forecast. I don’t know if we’ll see any radical changes. I think we may move to more contemporary European looks and away from the rustic looks that have been popular. I think there will be a lot of white, many shades. The big series with many formats will continue. Here the excitement comes from the various sizes and shapes. The manufacturers have excellent guidance for your dealers to sell these programs with or without a designer.

TileDealer: What else do you want TileDealer’s 10,000-plus readers to know about tile from Spain?

Roca: I would like to emphasize Spain’s strong commitment to the US market. Our manufacturers have worked hard to have a presence in the US market, and they are determined to stay. Investment in this market is not faltering in spite of the current weak economic situation.

TileDealer: Although you recently stepped back from Tile of Spain, you continue to represent ASCER on the Board of Directors of Coverings. In fact, you have been attending and supporting Coverings for sixteen years. What changes have you seen in that time?

Roca: When it started it was mainly ceramic tile and it was a small show. It was originally exhibitor-owned. Then CTDA and TCA joined it and it became an industry show. That was the first big change. Then stone was added, and eventually the show outgrew Miami and moved to Orlando. That was another big change. Last year we added a new management company. Today it is definitely an industry show. I am sure we are on the right path. You cannot miss Coverings.

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