Tile Trends: Stone Brightens Sluggish Sales
 
October 2nd, 2009
Fourth Quarter, 2009
By Kathleen Furore

Looking for a light at the end of the dark economic tunnel? If so, try turning to stone to help sales shine in the improving but stillsluggish economy.

“The stone market was experiencing hot year-over-year growth for many years prior to the economic downturn. And while it has cooled like all building materials, it is still one of the bright spots in today’s flooring marketplace,” Dan Marvin, director of quality assurance for Florida Tile in Lakeland, Fla., reports. “The perception of stone as a high-end look, and the increased availability and high quality of today’s stone products have led to continued demand.”

Stone’s market share is growing compared to that of ceramic, and prices are dropping as supply grows and the economy stalls, Donato Pompo, founder and CEO of Ceramic Tile And Stone Consultants, Inc. in Jamul, Calif., explains.

“Now is a good time for distributors and dealers to focus on stone tile because it is becoming more affordable, it has a great image considering it is millions of years old and lasts for thousands of years, and there is more profit in selling stone,” Pompo says.

“Selling 100 square feet of stone at $7 per sq. ft. with a 30-percent margin (for $2.10 per square foot profit) is a whole lot better than selling ceramic tile or some other floor covering at $3 per sq. ft with a 30 percent margin (for 90 cents per square foot profit),” Pompo adds.

POPULAR OPTIONS AND APPLICATIONS

There are several products you can offer customers who want to enhance their living spaces with stone. Options include marble, granite, limestone, travertine, and quartz-based stone. Travertine is the biggest seller at Florida Tile, according to Marvin, who notes the company offers travertines from Turkey and Mexico. “While a few years ago people wanted just the filled and honed light travertine, it seems designers are becoming more adventurous and working with chiseled-edge products, unfilled travertines, and stones with more color and veining like our Picasso and Argento products,” he reports. “Consumers are also becoming more sophisticated about stone and are willing to mix more colorful marbles, limestones and granites in with traditional travertine. Slate also continues to be a popular choice.”

Pompo, too, has seen increased demand for the distressed look. “For floors, the 18″ x 18″ size seems to be in greatest demand. Beige and white seem to be the most desirable colors, but limestone and travertine tiles in particular are being processed in a way that gives them an old, distressed look,” he says. “In some cases it is a chisel finish and the stone surface is treated with an acid to further enhance the distressed look.”

While these kinds of textured finishes deliver a more slip-resistant surface, distressed, chisel-finished products require more maintenance because they must be sealed regularly and the textured surface tends to pick up dirt more readily, Pompo notes.

Small stone mosaics in various patterns also are very fashionable and in demand, Pompo adds.

And just where are homeowners installing the stone products they select?

Backsplashes remain a mainstay for stone and are often enlivened with glass and metal accents that transform them into what Marvin calls “mini art galleries in the home.”

Recently, more stone is popping up in bathrooms and outdoors, with the popularity of outdoor kitchens “opening up new avenues for using stone that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” Marvin says.

While slab stone is used for kitchen counter and vanity tops, Pompo says stone tiles aren’t used as much in those applications. “Stone tile is more regularly used on the interiors of floors in bathrooms and throughout the home,” he says. “We see stone a lot in showers, which works well if it is installed correctly. We do see installation errors in showers regularly because many installers don’t understand how to properly waterproof showers, and they often take short cuts that can result in failures.”

Exterior balconies and pool decks are common applications for stone in high-end homes, Pompo says.

And as Florida Tile’s Marvin notes, consumers are increasingly turning to stone because it outlasts many other flooring materials like carpet and vinyl—a big plus with today’s increased emphasis on “green” installations. Florida Tile’s GREENGUARD certified stones, which don’t emit harmful chemicals into indoor areas where they’ve been installed, are just one example of the products favored by environmentally-conscious consumers.

Crossville® is addressing the growing marketplace for natural stone with its new Bella Via collection. Crafted of the finest stone from around the world, the Bella Via collection epitomizes elegance and luxury—yet it is in stock and readily available. Recommended for interior walls and floors and exterior walls, it features a honed finish and a choice of nine hues: from the delicate Champagne, Ivory and Golden Beach, to the neutral Seashell, Gascone Beige and Napolina, to the lovely Seagrass, and finally, the robust Walnut and bold Nova Blue. The Bella Via collection comprises sheet-mounted 1" x 1" mosaics and 2" x 2" hexagons, plus 12" x 12" and 18" x 18" stone field tile. In addition, the collection’s designer, Barbara Schirmeister, ASID, DC, CAUS, created a Versailles Pattern (available in Ivory and Walnut) which consists of multiples of the following stone field tiles: 8" x 8", 8" x 16", 16" x 16" and 16" x 24". Trim pieces include a 5/8" x 12" pencil liner and a 2" x 12" chair rail. www.crossvilleinc.com.

EXPERT ADVICE

Communicating all the benefits stone brings is the first and possibly most important step in polishing up your business’ stone tile sales.

Stressing that stone is affordable; can be easy to care for and maintain; and comes in a variety of colors, finishes and sizes is one approach, according to Arizona Tile. Because natural stone might seem pricey at first glance, tell customers to consider its durability, lifespan and unique, timeless quality when assessing how affordable it can be, the company advises.

But be sure to let customers know colors can vary. “Stone naturally varies in color and other facial characteristics, so make sure you display the full range of the stone to your clients to avoid false expectation problems,” Pompo says.

Also remember that “not all stones are created equal,” as Pompo notes. “Stones with the same geological classification can have significantly different physical properties. The lower performing stones may not perform well depending on the application.”

Customers also should know they shouldn’t place hot items such as pots and pans on surfaces other than granite, and that acid-based foods such as citrus fruits or tomatoes can etch into the polish of more delicate stones like marble and onyx.

Whatever you tell your customers, working with quality and progressive stone importers is key to offering them the best, most reliable stone products possible, Pompo stresses.

“To make sure the products you sell will meet the respective ASTM stone standards and the Marble Institute of America’s recommendations, good importers will provide their customers with laboratory testing, clear data sheets, and applications and installation recommendations,” he says.

Pompo also suggests being selective about the installation product manufacturers and cleaner/sealer companies you work with to guarantee smooth sailing from tile selection to installation and beyond.

“You want to be able to recommend the best installation systems, to profit from selling installation products, and to minimize the risk of a tile failure,” Pompo says. “And be sure to align yourselves with cleaner and sealer companies so you can keep your clients coming back to your showroom to buy more maintenance products, not only to profit from those sales, but hopefully to have [those clients] or their friends buy more tile from you.”

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