One – on – One… With Robert Briggs
 
January 1st, 2006

 

By Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

“ China will replace almost everyone else in both tile and stone.”

How hot is the market for Chinese tile? The only conceivable answer is “sizzling.” According to the latest import figures, dollars spent on Chinese tile imports skyrocketed 114.6 percent in the 12 months ending in September 2005. In actual units shipped, the percentage increase stood at a staggering 122.6 percent. The next nearest competitor? Mexico , with 27.4 percent.

For insight into this white-hot commodity, TileDealer invited an experienced importer in that marketplace, Robert Briggs, to sit down for a candid One-on-One. Briggs, the vice-president and general manager of Granite & Marble Resources in Chicago , has imported Chinese tile for more than a dozen years. In this illuminating interview, he explains the reasons for the rise of the Chinese market and describes how he goes about locating high-quality, reliable suppliers.

TileDealer: How long have you been selling Chinese tile? Briggs: We have been importers for about 28 or 29 years. And China started coming into the equation around 1992 to 1994. That was precipitated by the Chinese inviting the Italians to swap product for equipment. As the Italians were invited to sell stone machinery to the Chinese because they had lots of stone quarries, and the Italian machine makers knew that the Chinese had stone to quarry, it took a millisecond for the equipment makers to realize this was a good deal for them. The ceramic evolved out of it, because many of the ceramic companies also make stone equipment. What really put the Chinese in the marketplace was the Italian equipment, and with that they were making a bona fide product immediately.

When the Italians sell you equipment they also make Italian engineers available to you over a period of years, and that basically guarantees product worthiness. Of course, there was already a world demand for ceramic and natural stone. Over the years that has increased. The Chinese now can make huge, 2-by-4 and 3-by-3-foot ceramic tiles that they now clad buildings with. What’s happened is the Chinese are using their own higher-end product, originally made for the Italian and European markets, and are using it in their own applications in their own country.

Our specialty within the Chinese market is mosaics. We have the largest collection of high-end stone and glass mosaic products imported from China in America . In our case, we have taken the traditional process and reversed it, in that we send products from Italy , Spain , Indonesia , Egypt , Turkey and Israel to China to fabricate. We kind of do what the Italians used to do.

But instead of using Italy as a fulcrum for products from around the world, we use China to fabricate those products. We are currently doing the Ritz-Carlton condominium-hotel project here in Chicago , cladding bathrooms with marble originated in Italy , but cut to size in China . TileDealer: Is quality consistent? Does it measure up to the U.S.?

Briggs: The answer is that with China , you can go on a scale from one to ten. There are some ones and some tens. It depends on where their marketplace is. If their market is an emerging country in the Third World , most of the time China is selling lesser-quality goods than they would to NATO countries. Every once in a while, a buyer may feel they have a deal from China that’s too good to be true, and most of the time it is. China has some of the highest quality, and some that at best is mediocre quality. And it’s buyer beware.

A low price most of the time does not mean good quality. In my dealings with China , I go to the most expensive people. You not only must have a quality product, but you have to have continuity of product—product that you can get again and again.

That’s why it’s difficult to just decide to go to China and suddenly do business. It’s not easy. There are so many stories of people going there and getting hoodwinked. You really need to know who you’re dealing with, how long they’ve been in business, whether they have Italian, Chinese or Japanese machinery. There are probably 20 questions you need to answer.

TileDealer: How do you differentiate between Chinese tile in style, quality and price?

Briggs: You’ve got to start it by realizing installation and labor in the United States is very expensive. So whatever technical aspects of the tile, i.e. in square (if one side is 11-7/8 inches, all three other sides must be exactly the same), or in calibration of thickness (you can’t have 8 millimeters on one end of the tile and 10 millimeters on the other end, because it won’t be flat), make it easy to install are the aspects you want to pay attention to.

Beauty, color and texture are in the eyes of the beholder. These other aspects are black and white. And the more aesthetically astute buyers in the United States are more conscious or more aware of the aesthetic desires of their particular marketplace. So that buyer is buying black-and-white issues first, and secondly his awareness of the aesthetic expectations of his consumer, either a builder, a designer or the ultimate consumer. The black-and-white is inviolable; if you don’t have that, it’s garbage. You could spend all that time and money getting something—with the consumer waiting—then have to throw it out when you open it up because it’s garbage.

TileDealer: Is Chinese tile subject to any kind of absorption standard testing consistent with porcelain tile from the U.S. and Italy?

Briggs: Yes, for the higher quality companies. That’s because if you don’t meet these standards, the product should not be sold in America . I’m sure they’re selling products in Paraguay or Colombia that haven’t been tested. We in America have very strict standards regarding absorption. I don’t know of any respected importer who would not be aware of that, because there’d be a failure and they’d be asking for a lawsuit at some point.

TileDealer: How much do various regions of the U.S. import?

Briggs: Chinese tile is more popular on the West Coast, simply because it’s closer to China . And you have Chinese-Americans and Chinese expatriates who have opened up businesses from Seattle to San Diego , and are marketing Chinese products because they have easier access to it than I would. They speak Mandarin and Cantonese, and they have relatives in China who can inspect for them.

In the ceramic business years ago, many of the importers in the U.S. were Italians, because they spoke Italian and they had relatives or friends back home who could inspect for them. The Chinese are simply following that example.

That’s a product of the melting pot that is America . First they bring themselves and their money here, and secondly, they realize there’s a market in America for the indigenous products of their homeland. And that’s been played out for centuries in this country.

TileDealer: How will rising fuel costs impact delivery costs?

Briggs: The U.S. is the number one consumer of energy, but I think China is now number two or three, and someday will be the largest. They’re still in what I call the Gold Rush capitalist stage. The cost of fuel has increased in China over the last year, and that has precipitated a very small increase in the cost of Chinese products. But the cost of energy is a world barometer. And as the cost of fuel increases in China , it won’t affect their products any more than it will other countries’. The real story regarding cost of tile is not energy, but labor. China is coming out of an agrarian society in the 21st Century, whereas others did it in the 19th or 20th Centuries.

I know from talking to my friends in China that labor is asking for higher wages. Workers are asking for more. So the real impact in China is what will happen to their labor market. Currently they’re paying labor like Indonesia or Vietnam is paying, when in fact their economy is 20 times the size. How long can you pay the wages of nations that are pipsqueaks in comparison? I don’t think they can do it very long. The cost of ceramic, though, is heavily machine driven, so it will probably rise less than those products that are heavily labor driven.

TileDealer: Do you ever get tile from China that is broken or damaged in shipping? Do the shippers make good on it?

Briggs: In my case, almost never. That’s because I have been there as an importer of Chinese tile for a long time. In the case of a tile importer who’s more of a newcomer to China , it’s going to happen more frequently. Then it’s a test of that relationship, like the first blowup you have with your wife. The importer must know he’s receiving a saleable product, and if he doesn’t receive a saleable product, he’s heading for a very quick divorce. No importer can sustain his business without being able to deliver reasonable customer expectations. As for making good on broken tile, I’ve heard it both ways. That’s why it’s always buyer beware. Check out the supplier, find out who he has sold to and go visit his factory. That’s what I do.

TileDealer: How about the timing of Chinese tile getting through customs?

Briggs: There are problems getting almost anything we purchase through customs. I have problems with Turkey, Israel , Indonesia , Pakistan and China . We live in a time now where unfortunately the professional importer in America has to deal with the political reality in our country. It impacts my business and my customers, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

TileDealer: What’s the future of Chinese tile in this country?

Briggs: If you’re in the tile business, you have to realize that eventually, just as the car replaced the horse, China will replace almost everyone else in both tile and stone. If you’re going to be competitive in the year of 2006 and beyond, it’s imperative that you develop relationships with people like myself who are already there, or make a very intensive investment in time and money over years to develop that relationship yourself.


Sales & Management: Leverage Your Participation In A Show House
 
January 1st, 2006

 

by Jeffrey Steele

January-February 2006

Show your stuff! By participating in a show house, you get your name and your products in front of the public.

Every tile dealer, whether in a big city or smaller market, profits from increased publicity. Among the best ways to gain additional publicity is by participating in show houses.

Two types of show homes offer dealers opportunity for favorable public exposure, says Ola Lessard, spokeswoman for Keene, NH-based Trikeenan Tileworks. Trikeenan, a 15-year-old artisan tile maker that aggressively pursues opportunities for regional and national publicity, has benefitted from having its tile displayed in a variety of show home settings.

The first option is to team with a builder or developer of high-end single-family or condominium residences to have your tile incorporated into a model home. The other is to take part in a show house created as a means of raising funds for charitable organizations in your area.

To pursue the model home approach, contact builders in your area directly. Inquire whether they build this type of show home to promote their developments, and ask to meet with them to show them tile that might fit their home decor design palette, Lessard says.

“Builders also often contract out the design services to an interior designer,” she adds. “That’s another great entree. What’s great about interior designers is that many of them may already be coming into your showroom. So one thing we recommend is that you, as a tile dealer, talk to designers—particularly repeat customers—about the things they’re doing in the community. And just ask them: What are you up to? Are you involved in show houses?”

Trikeenan has discovered some interior designers aren’t fully aware of all the applications for tile. So if you meet designers working on show houses, encourage them to think beyond the obvious applications, like a backsplash or shower surround, Lessard urges. In short, suggest they consider tile as a possible component across their design palettes. Open a conversation about upcoming projects, and plant a seed for uses of tile of which they may not be aware.

How about a tile fireplace? Tile for an entryway floor? Tile in outside landscaping? “Excite them about all the possibilities and directions in which tile can go,” Lessard says.

Sweeten the Deal

As a dealer, you may be able to further encourage an interior designer’s use of your tile by offering an incentive. Designers working on show houses often approach Trikeenan directly or through one of the company’s dealers about the possibility of using its tile in the house.

It greatly benefits Trikeenan to have its tile chosen for that show house. And because it does, the company often donates product or offers a significant discount off its regular prices.

“The dealer can say, ‘Let me talk with my manufacturer and see if I can offer you a discount or even a donation of product, to assure it’s displayed in this very public forum,’” Lessard says. “It behooves us as a manufacturer to be the one supplying the tile for the backsplash, the foyer, the fireplace or bathroom. We want show house visitors to see our tile.”

This is where tile dealers can gain a tremendous advantage, she adds. Not only are they helping facilitate the show home’s creation, but they are also working to cement a relationship with the designer. The next time the designer has a similar project, he or she is likely to come back to the same dealer and ask, ‘Can you help us with this one too?’”

Trikeenan likes several things to happen when it donates tile to a show house, Lessard says. First, if there are ads generated by the show house, Trikeenan wants to be in them. Second, if the dealer is running in-store promotions about the show house, Trikeenan appreciates its name in those promos. Third, if the room featuring the tile is professionally photographed, Trikeenan seeks rights to use the photos for its own advertising or editorial outreach efforts.

These photos are prized, Lessard says. “It’s really hard to get into people’s homes and get great photos of the tile on display in their living room or kitchen,” she observes. “But when there is a show home, we know the tile is being used in a very beautiful manner. And if someone is going to come in and shoot that tile, that for a manufacturer is like gold. You know it will be done in an exquisite manner. I can’t think of any manufacturer who wouldn’t want that.”

The dealer can also gain from those photos. Lessard urges dealers participating in show houses that have been professionally photographed to also seek rights to the photos. Those photos can be used for their own in-store display efforts during the period the show house is open, and after it closes.

Show Homes That Raise Funds

As mentioned at the outset, show homes created as fundraisers serve up another rich opportunity for tile dealers. In these instances, the homes are generally privately or publicly-owned historic or vintage houses, or simply homes people of the community want to tour. In many cases, interior designers are enlisted to participate by designing the rooms. A small admission price is charged, and funds raised benefit a charitable cause.

One such show house from which Trikeenan gained enormous publicity was a fundraiser in an historic property in the Boston Naval Yard, to benefit the Boston Junior League. Among the designers to work on the house was Kathy Marshall, a Boston-area interior designer, and owner of her own design firm, KMarshallDesign.com.

She and another designer were invited to design the kitchen. They gutted the existing kitchen, installed new appliances, and chose Trikeenan tile for the backsplash. “The project came out beautifully, and it got a lot of press on its own,” Lessard recalls.

“And when Kathy Marshall entered the kitchen in the Luxury Living Award competition, it was selected as a finalist. She has also submitted it to several magazines.

“So whenever this kitchen appears, people are seeing Trikeenan tile.”

Dealers should actively seek such fundraising show house opportunities, Lessard believes. They might approach a fundraising organization in their community and suggest a show house, or link up with a charitable group that already stages an annual show house fundraiser. Offer not only discounted or donated tile, but expertise in using the tile in new and interesting ways.

“It goes back to talking with your designers, asking them about projects they have coming up, and planting the seed you would like to be involved,” Lessard reports. “And sometimes one project will lead to lots of opportunities for exposure.”

Leverage Your Investment

Once you are participating in show houses, make sure you capitalize on the exposure to the maximum extent possible. First, make sure you gain rights to any professional photography shot within the house. Next, send out press releases announcing your association with the project. The releases should go to the local media, especially the design section of your local newspaper, and any state design publication that may exist. Follow up your news releases with phone calls to editors to suggest angles on stories about how the tile is being used in the home.

And don’t neglect promotional opportunities within your own showroom, Lessard urges. Let every customer who enters your store know you’re part of this beautiful show house. If the show house is for a fundraising organization, promote that organization’s cause. If it’s a builder show house, install an in-showroom display demonstrating how the tile is used in the house.

Not only give designers and other customers ideas, but make clear that you are a source of tile expertise, both willing and able to work with them to show how to create the same look.

“The message is, get involved in these projects, but don’t stop there,” Lessard says. “Leverage that exposure into profits for your dealership.”


The Ceramic Marketplace Now
 
January 1st, 2006

 

January-February 2006

In case there was ever any doubt, ceramic tile has established its place in the American marketplace. No matter what statistics you look at, tile usage continues to grow.

Average growth in tile consumption over the last four quarters has been 12.85-percent greater than the preceding four quarters. Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America, points out that “assuming this trend continues, total consumption [domestic and imported] for 2005 would be 3,553,347,000 square feet.”

The most recent figures (from September 2005) from the U.S. International Trade Commission indicate that ceramic tile imports climbed 10.9 percent to 1,802.73 million square feet compared to the same period in 2004. In dollars, this represents a 14.6-percent increase to $1,263 million. During the first half of 2005, sales of domestic production were 2.6-percent lower than 2004. Assuming that this trend continues, Astrachan estimates that total sales of domestically produced tile in 2005 would be 677,500 square feet, a slight drop from 2004. However, looking at domestic shipments only, the first two quarters of 2005 totaled 347,553 square feet. Annualizing that number would bring the total domestic shipments to 695,106 square feet. This is comparable to 2004.

What’s driving the imports? The decrease in the Euro compared to last year and the increase in low cost foreign imports both contribute to these numbers. Astrachan is quick to point out that the tile market remains strong.

Jim Dougherty, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Crossville, Inc., also believes that the marketplace is assuming more diverse representation geographically. He points out that the influence of imports is shifting away from Italy and Spain and to Brazil , Mexico and Turkey . Recent trade figures illustrate this trend. Although Italian imports are up 6.1-percent in terms of actual dollars, the number of units in the same time period is down slightly, -4.6-percent. The handsome increases posted by Brazil , up 33.3-percent in dollars, Mexico , up 30.2-percent, and Turkey , up 20.0-percent point to their growing influence in the marketplace.

Perhaps one of the most startling statistics, however, is that the value of Chinese imports has bounced up a whopping 114.6-percent and the number of square feet has climbed comparably, up 122.6-percent. Although many distributors will point out that those huge increases represent a comparison to far fewer units than other imports, the increases reflect a trend that’s impossible to ignore.

Where the installations are

Residential installation—including both new construction at 42-percent and remodeling at 28-percent—represent the largest segment of ceramic tile use. The National Association of Homebuilders estimated that new home construction in 2005 was valued at $250 billion and remodeling added another $235 billion. At this rate, remodeling growth is expected to outpace construction in the next ten years.

Although many experts expect residential real estate—which has been very hot virtually everywhere in the country—to cool in 2006, even a cooling market could be robust. Crossville’s Dougherty points out that although some analysts now look at housing as flat, it is flat “at an historically high rate.”

Right now new commercial construction and commercial remodeling only account for 17-percent and 12-percent, respectively, of the 2005 ceramic tile installations. Many industry leaders believe this represents a remarkable growth opportunity for the ceramic marketplace to penetrate commercial construction. The Associated General Contractors of America ’s (AGC) chief economist Ken Simonson has noted that he expects private, nonresidential, health care and lodging construction to improve in 2006. Crossville’s Dougherty says he sees signs of an improvement in the commercial marketplace.

The trend goes beyond the growth in housing numbers to a less tangible but equally strong design trend. Ceramic tile has established itself not only as a staple of the new home industry, but of the remodeling industry as well. Builders and remodelers know that tile is increasingly affordable. What was once deemed appropriate for high end construction is now also very popular in mid-range housing. Some of the previous objections to tile—for example, that it is cold underfoot—have been overcome by recent developments like affordable, dependable undertile heating systems. The increasing popularity and availability of porcelain, which is harder than other types of ceramic tile and therefore offers a more durable product for certain installations, also plays into this.

So, the marketplace is there. What’s it going to cost you to stock and sell ceramic tile? What’s driving prices?

It’s no secret that the cost of doing business—of being in business—is climbing dramatically with the rise in oil and natural gas prices. It begins with the manufacturing processes and works throughout the supply chain.

Energy costs play a significant role in tile manufacturing, and, according to Crossville’s Dougherty, “they are impacting us immediately and significantly.” As Tom Graham of Florida Tile Industries, Inc., points out, a Decatherm—a measure of natural gas equal to 1,000 cubic feet—rose from $7 in June to $15 in October. And that’s just one example. They have done everything, says Graham, to lower energy consumption. The bottom line for both companies and many others has been an across-the-board price increase.

These resource costs impact manufacturing beyond tile. Many of the mastics and related products are manufactured using petrochemical components. Those costs are climbing just as much as gas.

Ralph Marra of Classic Ceramic Tiles, Inc. says increasing costs eventually find their way into his costs. “We establish a list price with each product,” he says. When costs fluctuate the company can apply an appropriate factor and its software will automatically adjust prices.

Gail Schovan of Turner Distributing says she has been advised of flat increases of as much as 10% on various building materials she stocks and sells. Turner is implementing a 3-percent increase across the board. It is, Schovan says, “a happy medium that should cover for awhile but may have to go up again later.” Turner’s dilemma is how to differentiate between materials that came in before the prices went up and those that came later. Gas prices have already dropped somewhat, but she points out, the price increases she’s getting from her suppliers are applied to materials that may or may not coincide with the fuel costs. “There is no consistency.”

If you are a dealer or distributor making deliveries, it’s costing you more to do that. If you are accepting deliveries—locally, domestically, or internationally—that leg of the distribution chain is also getting increasingly expensive.

Marra says he typically has four trucks on the street every day making deliveries. “Years ago, everyone offered free delivery,” he said. What eventually started as a flat $5 delivery charge is now up to $25 and he expects it will go to $30 or $35 per delivery on or about January first. Everyone handles the rising energy costs differently. Some of his competitors are up to a $45 delivery charge for any size order, others are imposing a fuel surcharge based on weight.

But will prices dent the marketplace? Not if you follow the sales trends noted earlier.

In fact, the manufacturers TileDealer talked to expect consumption to grow 6-10-percent in 2006. Dougherty is looking for 8-10-percent growth. He points out that the country is still building and selling record numbers of homes each month, the commercial marketplace seems poised for growth, and energy price increases are not unique to ceramic tile—they are impacting all industries.

Graham is equally enthusiastic, predicting a 6-8-percent increase in demand. “The market is pretty strong,” he said. “I’m pretty bullish on the future…I’m not too worried about that.”


Leadership Letter
 
November 1st, 2005

Important Links to the Rest of the Industry

November-December 2005

Although I have some time left “in office,” this is my last Leadership Letter. I have enjoyed this opportunity to “talk” with you in each issue of TileDealer, and I hope you have benefited in some way from the information I have been able to share.

CTDA offers all of us a number of important links to the rest of the industry.

First and foremost is the Management Conference this month.

There is simply no other industry event so perfectly tailored to meet our unique needs. The educational opportunities are designed to meet the needs of CTDA members and reflect the topics that are most important to us right now. The Distributor’s Forum is our own version of do-it-yourself problem solving. I always come away from it with great ideas for meeting new challenges. Guest speakers are there to educate and motivate.

The Management Conference is also an opportunity to tend to the business of CTDA. All CTDA committees and the Board of Directors will meet face to face. The Board will review the 2006 budget in detail and set the programs for the coming year. Their leadership—which is essentially your leadership—helps keep the association on track.

The Management Conference is also the best time for all of us to do our own industry networking. Most of us look forward to it as a time to see old friends, make new ones, welcome new members and to say a personal thank you to all of our sponsors. I think the Management Conference is also the time to re-energize ourselves for 2006.

Beyond our immediate membership, of course, CTDA links us to the rest of the industry in important leadership roles—and gives us a step up on the competition—with our support of Coverings and the publication of TileDealer.

Access to industry education is becoming an increasingly valuable benefit of your CTDA membership. Many of you regularly leverage the knowledge of Tile Training in a Box and the Color Shade Variation Program to help provide in-house training for your employees. This year CTDA introduced a self-guided, online component that teaches the Basics of Ceramic Tile and Sales Techniques.

I would like to think that this has been a fruitful year for CTDA—the publication of the Tile Blue Book, the additions on stone due soon to Tile Training in a Box, the educational seminar presented in August, and regular communications to members.

None of this would have been possible without the help of so many dedicated members and volunteers, professionals who have taken time from their demanding business lives to attend committee meetings, participate in conference calls and share their energy and expertise in so many ways. You truly are the heart and soul of CTDA. Together you make CTDA a remarkable team effort.

Finally, my sincere thanks to all of you—and especially to a dedicated Board of Directors and a hard working professional staff in the CTDA offices—for your support and trust in me.


From the Editor’s Desk: Between hurricanes and holidays
 
November 1st, 2005

by Janet Arden, Editor

November-December 2005

One of the challenges of magazine publishing is that you will not read what we are writing for several weeks. The printer and the post office each get to step in and do their part in helping us get TileDealer to your doorstep. That has posed one dilemma and some interesting opportunities for this issue.

Our dilemma is that it seems almost impossible to communicate with anyone this season without first commenting on the impact of the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast. All of us at TileDealer hope—as we prepare this issue for you—that you, your family and your business have safely weathered the storms.

Opportunity #1 is that this is also the season when we refine and finalize our editorial calendar for 2006. Part trend-watching, part brainstorming, editorial planning gives us a chance to look forward to what we think you want to read about and what we think we all need to know more about in the months ahead. TileDealer’s 2006 editorial calendar calls for close-ups of products—glass tile, porcelain, accents, and more—as well as design trends like mosaics and exterior installations. Look for a special kitchen and bath issue as well as close-ups of imports from Italy, Spain and Turkey. We’ll also continue to follow the growing role of stone in the marketplace.

Because this business is about much more than just the products, TileDealer will take a close look at some industry issues like mold, green building and imports. We’ll also offer continuing coverage of some important business topics like software, installation, upselling and showroom display.

Opportunity #2 is that the new year—which will be just weeks away as you read this—opens the door to a whole new round of industry shows, starting with Surfaces in January and then moving ahead to Cevisama in February, Revestir in March, and Coverings in April. Each of these showcases, and all of those that follow later in the year, are sure to introduce new products and new topics for coverage in TileDealer.

Opportunity #3 is really yours. Your input is always welcome and encouraged. Are there additional topics you want to see in the months ahead? I would love to hear from you. Email me at editor@tiledealer.com.

Finally, this issue marks our second birthday. We launched TileDealer with the November/December issue in 2003. We’ve grown in more ways than one with more advertisers, more contributors and always more information to share with you.

Thank you for your support over these last two years. We can’t wait to see what’s ahead!


Innovations
 
November 1st, 2005

 

November-December 2005

StonePeak Introduces New Line of Glazed Tiles

StonePeak Ceramics, Inc. introduced its latest line at an exclusive distributor event in Chicago. The texture and glaze of the company’s Café, CastleRock, and Slate glazed tile lines complement the four lines of unglazed porcelain ceramic tiles unveiled at Coverings in May. “Each StonePeak Ceramic series integrates Italian style with American sensibility,” said Barrie Dekker, Vice President of Strategic Sales for StonePeak Ceramics. The Café series is available in four colors, including Cream, Black Coffee, Green Tea and Cocoa, and two modulating sizes, 12″ x 12″ and 18″ x 18″. Stairtread and Bull Nose complementary trims and decorative accents are also included. The tiles are suitable for residential and light commercial uses. The Slate series emulates natural slate in color and feel. Slate tiles are available in Sand, Earth, Everglades, Lava and Clay, and four sizes, from 6″ x 6″ to 18″ x 18″. A range of complementary trims, accents and borders are also available, including Stairtread, Bull Nose, Cove Base, Out Corner and In Corner. Slate tiles are best suited for residential and light commercial uses. CastleRock was inspired by natural Travertine. CastleRock is impervious to staining and consistent in size with straight edges and uniform coloration. The series is available in Armor, White Cliff, and Cobblestone and in sizes, from 6″ x 6″ to 18″ x 18″, along with a complimentary trim package, including counter rail and quarter round. CastleRock tiles are ideal for all residential applications, including counters and back-splashes, as well as light commercial uses. (312-222-9126)

THE RAYCHEM® QUICKNET™ FLOOR WARMING SYSTEM

Tyco Thermal Controls announces the release of the Raychem QuickNet electrical floor warming system. The electric floor warming unit is installed directly under ceramic tile or natural stone, providing ideal comfort in tiled areas that would otherwise feel cold when walked on with bare feet. The QuickNet system includes a mat that has a heating cable woven into an adhesive-backed fiberglass mesh. Its low 3/16 inch (3 mm) profile makes it ideal for renovation or new construction and rolls out easily, adhering to the floor. It can be cut to accommodate any shape room with ease, without the need for anchoring devices, glue, staples or clips. The mats are pre-terminated for use at 120 and 240 volts and are available in various lengths. The thermostat helps ensure user safety by including built-in GFCI protection. (www.raychemquicknet.com)

EXPRESSIONS COLLECTION

The Expressions Collection from Imagine Tile, Inc. creates a continuing series of designs that are on the cutting edge of today’s color, style and texture trends. “Expressions marries the latest thinking of leading industry designers with our unique manufacturing process in which we use state-of-the-art digital imaging combined with the age old art of ceramics to create distinctly casual tile with a warm, natural handcrafted feel,” said Christian McAuley, Imagine Tile’s President. “Canyon,” the collection’s first pattern inspired by the canyon walls of the southwest, is from designer Roche Fitzgerald. “Canyon” is available in 16″ x 16″ and 8″ x 8″ configurations. Tiles meet or exceed all ANSI requirements, are ADA compliant and warranted for manufacturer’s defects for five years. Using ceramic glazes composed of micro-fine materals and ores combined with flux to make them behave as printing inks, the image is printed and “transferred” to the surface of a ceramic substrate which is then fired at extremely high temperatures. (800-680-TILE)

THREE NEW SERIES

Monarch Ceramic Tile introduces three new tile series: Armonia, Beton and Le Dune. The Armonia series has a gentled limestone look inspired by the Mediterranean pavers found in piazzas, courtyards and marketplaces. The glazed porcelain tile is available in Pietra Almond, Pietra Gold, Pietra Green and Pietra Noce. These natural earthtone colors bring the appeal of irregular depressions and pickets of calcification in both large scale and modular sizes as well as mosaic options. The series blends with a wide range of decorative styles—vintage to eclectic—dependent on other design elements incorporated into a setting. The Rombo Mix Mosaic is composed of diamond-shaped pieces from all four colors in the series that are mesh-mounted to facilitate simple installation. Can be used as-is or cut into strips to create a unique listelli strip. Beton’s color body porcelain captures the strength and utilitarianism of industrial concrete that was the forerunner of this striking series that doesn’t stain, effloresce or need sealing or special maintenance. The body coloration also aids in disguising any impact chips that may occur in busy installations. Like concrete, the color is speckled on the surface, adding visual interest to floors and walls. ADA compliant, lightly distressed surface. The series comes in Beton Blanc, Beton Bleu, Beton Gris, Beton Marron and Beton Noir and in two tile sizes (20″ x 20″ and 13″ x 13″). The Le Dune series reflects the muted tonal gradations and intricate veining found in limestone. The technological advances in porcelain yield more consistency of color and texture in natural earthtone shades: Dune Beige, Dune Bianco, Dune Grigio, Dune Marfil and Dune Noce. The large format (20″ x 20″) minimizes grout joints. Allergen free, hygienic and easily maintained, it’s ideal for modern residential and commercial consumers who are design savvy and seek high quality materials and workmanship. (800-BUY-TILE)

OCEANSIDE GLASSTILE’S FACETS UNVEILS NEW PATTERNS

Oceanside Glasstile’s Facets™ is a collection of detailed borders and field tile patterns featuring gem-like custom-made miniature glass tiles in a choice of 38 colors from the Tessera line. Facets hand-cut mosaics (½” x ½” and ½” x 1″) combined with Oceanside Glasstile’s mosaic field tiles (1″ x 1″, 1″ x 2″ and 2″ x 2″) create complex patterns and patterns within patterns. Facets borders provide design flexibility allowing the tile to mesh with a variety of interior design styles. The borders come in six symmetrical repeating design patterns and sizes vary, with the average running 3″ x 12″. Many can be cut into small decorative or narrow linear accents. Three Facets field patterns feature mini accent pieces that contrast with 1″ x 1″, 1″ x 2″ and 2″ x 2″ mosaic tiles, creating the illusion of texture, depth and movement within the pattern. Facets is a green building material, using silica sand and over 1,000 tons of recycled bottle glass. (www.glasstile.com)

THE FASHION OF GLASS TILES

Diamond Tech Glass Tiles’ new Dimensions Series gives edgy angles and rich finishes of glass with its 14 translucent hues. The 8 mm thick series comes in four sizes allowing for the tiles to be arranged in endless patterns. Ideal for interior and exterior installations, the series is impervious to liquids, and resistant to fading, staining and discoloration. (www.dtglasstiles.com)

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE WITH

PORCELAIN TILE

Mediterranea’s “Safari” line of glazed porcelain tile uses a unique blend of natural stone and animal print coloring that is perfect for both floor and wall installation. The exotic line is available in hues of Kenya (beige), Zimbabwe (noce), Madagascar (gold), Tanzania (blue), Kilimanjaro (terracotta) and Serengeti (bronze). The line combines Turkish ceramic tile tradition with innate style, offering a natural, striking look for commercial and residential installations. “Safari” comes in field tile sizes of 13″ x 13″ and 18″ x 18″. Printed bullnoses are available in a 3″ x 13″ size and 2″ x 2″ mesh-mounted mosaics are offered on 13″ x 13″ sheets. Meets ADA guidelines for slip resistance. (www.architecturalimports.com)

STYLE AND FASHION COLLECTION

Argentina’s Ilva S.A.’s Paesina Collection of glazed porcelain tile gives contemporary flooring for residential and light commercial environments a clean, modish look. Paesina hues include: Quarzo, Platinum, Sabbia, Notte and Bosco. All colors are available in field tile sizes of 18″ x 18″, 14″ x 14″ and 7″ x 7″, as well as in 1.6″ x 14″ mosaic listellos mesh-mounted on 14″ x 14″ sheets. Decorative accents are offered in Paesina shades as 3.2″ x 14″ and 2″ x 14″ listellos. The collection also includes a full line of specialty pieces. (661-942-2545)

ARCADIA TILES

VitrA Tiles USA introduces its VitrA Arcadia tiles. The tiles are available in black, beige and light and dark gray and in 12″ x 24″ and 18″ x 18″ tiles. Arcadia, ideal for commercial and residential use, has a porcelain body, which makes them resistant to abrasion, chemicals and frost and has a lower water absorption rate of less than .5%. The floor tiles can be used in exterior and interior applications. Arcadia is available with matte and semi-matte surfaces and rectified/non-rectified options. (770-904-6173)

TILE WITH SELF-EXPRESSION

Steuler Fliesen’s “Freestyle” series puts design creation in the hands of the customer. It is more of a tile program than a tile collection. “Freestyle” allows the customer the choice of their favorite images or objects to incorporate in the tile’s overall look and design. Includes a white body ceramic 8″ x 8″ size wall tile with one or four holes with an integrated winding. Chrome buttons are available to insert into the holes. Tiles in a glossy and matte finish are also available with raised texture. The chrome brushed buttons act as a latch for form-retaining silicon rights that crisscross the tiles from button to button, holding the decoration in place. Decorative pieces are also available with the series. “With different décor elements from our series or from one’s personal collection, it’s easy to recreate a new wall style for any room,” said Paul Heldens, Managing Director of Steuler Fliesen. (207-828-8050)

NEW VICTORIAN TILE DECORATIVES

Meredith Collection has added decoratives with a traditional appeal to its Iron Gate Victorian era design tiles. New neo-classic decoratives include a Sunburst design, Palm Dot, Necklace, Egg and Dart, Palm Border and Swag Border. The designs add classic character to the line, allowing for even more options in new, traditional and renovation installations. (www.meredithtile.com)


Industry Insights
 
November 1st, 2005

November-December 2005

Alfonso Panzani elected president of Assopiastrelle

The Assembly of Assopiastrelle has elected Alfonso Panzani, President of Assopiastrelle for a two-year term 2005-2006. Panzani is president of the Italian ceramic manufacturer, Settecento Valtresinaro. His background with Assopiastrelle began in 1986, when he was elected a Board Member. He was most recently President of the Energy Commission of the Association; President of Gas Intensive, the consortium for the acquisition of methane gas among Italian energy-intensive sectors; and a member of the Administrative Boards of Cer-Energia and Cofim. From 1995-1997, he was President of the Assopiastrelle Commission for Promotional Activity and Tradeshows and a member of the council of CFI, the Confindustria organization that brings together associations that run tradeshows. He succeeds Sergio Sassi, who has been president for two consecutive terms, and due to bylaws, was no longer eligible for the presidency.

Master Tile announces new CEO

Master Tile announced the appointment of Bobby Glennon as Chief Executive Officer. Glennon’s leadership will drive Master Tile’s national expansion in the ceramic tile and stone distribution business. The company recently completed acquisitions that expanded the company’s geographic presence in its existing regions and added new territories in New Jersey, Georgia and Arizona. These additions significantly increase the company’s reach beyond its historic roots in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and California. “Bobby is exactly the right leader for Master Tile. His extensive distribution background and vision for the floor covering industry complements our commitment to lead the ceramic and stone distribution segment,” said Hazem Farra, Chairman of Master Tile, who has served as interim CEO since November, 2004.

Delta relocates

Delta Diamond Tools, Inc., a leading tooling supply company to marble and granite fabricators in North America, has relocated to a newer, larger facility in Southfield, MI. This move has been part of the continued growth of the company, according to Delta Diamond Tools’ President Phil Mularoni. The new facility will increase Delta Diamond’s current space, allowing for the expansion of both its sales staff and inventory. Commenting on the move, Mularoni said, “We consider our new facility to be a critical part of our growth plans and therefore we are pleased to have achieved this milestone. The new facility will allow us to process and expedite sales and better service our customers.”

Staff additions at Alpha

Alpha Professional Tools® is pleased to announce the additions of Shawn Gilreath and Suzanne Wolf to the company’s sales team. Gilreath will be responsible for the Northwest Territory, which consists of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Wolf will be responsible for the New England Territory, which consists of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Eastern New York State and Quebec, Canada. Both come to Alpha will many years of experience in related fields.

First comprehensive shop and consumer safety video programs in Spanish

Aqua Mix, Inc., and the Marble Institute of America (MIA) are teaming up to offer the natural stone industry the first comprehensive shop and consumer safety video programs in Spanish. Introduced at StonExpo, the two-part training CD is a Spanish version of the Basics of Stone Shop Safety video that was introduced by MIA late in 2004. The first segment is a comprehensive overview of fabrication shop safety—from slab handling to working with hazardous materials. The second segment focuses on protecting consumers who visit stone shops and showrooms. The latter was trigged by the tragic death of a six-year old Florida boy and injuries his parents sustained when wooden A-frames loaded with stone collapsed while they were in the display area. E.Rick Baldini, president of Aqua Mix, Inc., a major supplier to the natural stone industry, said the company funded the Spanish versions for three reasons. “We clearly recognize the growing importance of the Hispanic community in the stone fabrication industry,” he said. “We recognize and support the great work that MIA is doing to help the stone industry. Aqua Mix’s mission statement includes the role of being a responsible corporate citizen and the Spanish-language safety video is a perfect fit.”

Villane joins Bostik Group

The Bostik Flooring Group has appointed Dennis M. Villane—a former customer—as the territory manager for Hydroment® and DURABOND® ceramic products in central California. Villane brings with him 10 years of flooring industry sales and customer service experience. He has served as a sales representative for Hydroment distributor Dal-Tile Corp. in Fresno, California, and as a customer service representative in Fresno for Hydroment distributor Bedrosian. Villane reports directly to Rick Tredwell, Bostik Flooring’s Western Sales Manager.

Marmo teams with MIA for seminars

Jim Callaghan, vice president of sales at Marmo Machinery USA, will speak at a series of educational seminars of the Marble Institute of America (MIA) that his company is sponsoring. Called the MIA Natural Stone Continuing Education Program, the seminars train architects, interior designers, general and residential contractors and stone industry employees. They are taught on a local or regional basis by members of MIA who cover such topics as an introduction to natural stone, natural stone selection criteria, and how natural stone goes from the quarry to the residential countertop or commercial project.

Marmo is sponsoring the institute’s regional one-day seminars for one year, which began in April 2005, and will run through March 2006. They are being held in five cities that include Phoenix, AZ, Austin, TX, Boston, MA, St. Cloud, MN, and Seattle, WA.

“I am very pleased and excited to be involved in this worthwhile program,” said Callaghan. “Education is key to becoming competitive and successful in the North American stone industry, especially with the backdrop of worldwide competition.”

COVERINGS MOVING TO CHICAGO FOR ALTERNATE YEARS

Coverings, the largest and most comprehensive annual marketplace for tile and stone and the preferred forum for hard surface education, will be staged alternately between Orlando and Chicago, beginning with the April 2007 show. Announcement of the added venue at Chicago’s McCormack Place Convention Center was made by the show’s Board of Directors, which includes representatives from the five sponsoring organizations: Assopiastrelle (Association of Italian Ceramic Tile and Refactories Manufacturers), ASCER (Spain’s Ceramic Tile Manufacturers Association), TCNA (Tile Council of North America), CTDA (Ceramic Tile Distributors Association) and, NTCA (National Tile Contractors Association).

In commenting on the decision, Tamara Christian, president, National Trade Productions (NTP), show management for Coverings, said, “We’re very excited about this opportunity. Being in Chicago for alternate years will expand the audience for our exhibitors’ products and enhance the entire market for Coverings. The close proximity of major markets and the specifiers in those markets will be of great value to Coverings exhibitors. At the same time, the diverse nature of the expected attendees will create a meaningful total show experience and, together with the many cultural and entertainment offerings, will make their attendance at the show a profitable and rewarding experience.”

Chicago is home to a vital community of design and construction professionals. It’s also a convenient hub for national and international transportation, as close to being the “center” of the country as any American city. “This is exciting news,” said Christina Michael, principal of CSM Design Studio, Gurnee, IL. “Our business is high-end residential and hospitality and because of the sheer variety of exhibitors, no other trade show is as important to us as Coverings. It is essential for us to attend, though not always easy making the trip down to Orlando each year, so this change to Chicago is fantastic.”

Bohdan Gernaga, of Chicago-based Tymedesign, said, “I know so many of my peers who have had to put traveling to trade shows on the back burner because of the expense. The decision to add Chicago is so smart. I think Coverings in Chicago will attract even more attendance from nearby and further west. I’m all for it!”

Coverings 2006, April 4-7, will return to Orlando, where this year’s attendance hit a record high of more than 32,000. “In 2005, Coverings had a phenomenal show,” said Christian. “ Orlando has proven to be the appropriate location for us, and, now as we head to Chicago in alternate years, we’re confident that its growth will be fueled further.” Coverings 2007 is scheduled for April 17-20.


Installer Update: Meeting Wall Installation Challanges
 
November 1st, 2005

Mortars, mastics offer technologically advanced solutions

By Tom Plaskota
TEC® brands

November-December 2005

Installing wall tile, whether ceramic, porcelain or natural stone, can be challenging. But, recent advancements in setting material technology are helping to make installation easier and improving installer efficiency.

Keeping up with the latest in products, while remembering important application fundamentals, will help you produce consistently successful—and profitable—wall tile installations.

Wall installation challenges

Installers face a variety of challenges with wall tile. Here are some common areas of concern:

• Gravity is the primary challenge. The weight of some tiles can cause sagging or slippage during installation.

• Having a plumb substrate is critical. The maximum variation for ceramic tile installation, as prescribed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI A108), is ¼-inch in 10 feet and 1/16-inch in 1 foot. For natural stone tile, the Dimension Stone Design Manual, Version 6 requires a maximum variation of 1/8-inch in 10 feet. “Lippage”—a condition where one edge of a tile is higher than adjacent edges—can occur if these tolerances aren’t met. Wall installation lippage can be an aesthetic concern.

• Secure bonding is key to the success of a wall installation. The failure of a heavy tile to adhere to a wall can be a safety issue.

Solutions from mortars and mastics

Mortars and mastics are the main types of wall tile installation materials. Each has specific characteristics that must be considered when selecting an ideal solution.

Latex-modified thinset mortars offer excellent adhesion and water resistance. This makes them a good choice for exterior installations or tiles that are exposed to moisture. These mortars traditionally require the use of bracing or temporary holding devices to prevent the tile from sagging or slipping during installation. Holding devices are effective, but can make installation a slow-going process.

Special non-sag thinset mortars are often used to install heavy wall tile without the use of bracing. Some non-sag mortars require a latex additive, particularly when used in installations that are subject to wet or freezing conditions. The mortar’s non-sag benefit also contributes to a thick, gummy nature that can be difficult to trowel.

A new advanced mortar type, called performance mortar, addresses installation issues related to non-sag and other thinset mortars. These products provide a quick “grab” of tile weighing up to 6 lbs. per square foot, thus eliminating the need for bracing. Some performance mortars are formulated with hollow, ceramic microspheres that produce a ball-bearing effect resulting in minimal trowel resistance and less tile-setter fatigue. Performance mortars also require no additives or extra mixing time and may be used with waterproofing membranes.

Mastics are another common setting material, particularly for indoor, residential applications. They require no mixing, provide quick grab and minimal waste, which makes them an easy-to-use solution.

Because mastics depend on evaporation to cure and achieve maximum adhesion, they cannot be installed over waterproofing membranes. Additionally, mastics that have been installed can lose adhesion if they get wet, which makes them unsuitable for exterior applications. Depending on the tile size, mastics may typically require a cure time of 24 hours or longer before grouting.

Until recently, mastics have been well suited for smaller tile sizes. But, slip resistance has greatly increased with the latest formulations. Some of these improved mastics are capable of bonding large format tile that weighs up to 7 lbs. per square foot.

Getting a plumb wall before installation

Patching compounds are recommended for correcting small, uneven wall areas. Use of patching products from the same manufacturer as the rest of the installation system will ensure compatibility. If a larger correction is needed, the wall can be “mudded” with metal lath covered by a scratch coat and a brown coat to give it a new flat, level surface.

In addition, a 6-foot level or a 10-foot straight edge is a valuable tool to measure possible variation in the wall substrate.

Regardless of the type of correction, it is very difficult to correct out-of-plumb walls with mortar or mastic. Corrections must be made before tile installation begins.

Bonding

Ceramic tile requires a minimum of 80 percent coverage of the setting material to achieve an adequate bond. The coverage rate increases to 95 percent for ceramic tile used in exterior or shower installations. For natural stone, 100 percent coverage is recommended by the industry.

Back buttering each piece of tile is a long-standing installation practice. While usually effective at attaining 100 percent coverage, it is time consuming and requires extra mortar.

The new performance mortars use a special combination of very fine particles—or nanostructure—and micropheres. This formulation makes it possible to achieve excellent coverage without applying additional material and with the right synergy of the particles creating stronger bonds with the cement.

Regardless of the bonding material being used, the best way to promote contact with the substrate is to spread the material with the flat side of the trowel. Then, the material should be combed straight with the notched side to attain maximum coverage. The tiles should then be pressed and moved perpendicular to the trowel marks. It is always a good idea to periodically remove a tile to verify coverage.

Finding help

If you need help, manufacturers of installation products are a ready source of information. They are the first and best resource for installation techniques used with proprietary products.

For more general information concerning installation specifications, look into these resources:

• The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) issues the Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation. TCNA also publishes the ANSI American National Standard Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile. More information about TCNA publications is available at www.tileusa.com.

• The Dimension Stone Design Manual, published by the Marble Institute of America (MIA), is a valuable reference for anyone who installs natural stone. The MIA Web site (www.marble-institute.com) also includes white papers and other helpful resources.

Tom Plaskota is technical support manager for Specialty Construction Brands, the manufacturer of TEC brands. He has more than 25 years of experience with construction methods, testing and materials. One of the most respected and trusted names in the industry, TEC is a leading brand of installation and care and maintenance systems for premium tile and natural stone flooring.


CTDA Trade Mission to Turkey
 
November 1st, 2005

November-December 2005 Members have been invited on a unique business and travel opportunity to Istanbul, Turkey

The Turkish Ceramic Association has invited CTDA members to join them on a trade mission to Istanbul, Turkey, on June 12-16, 2006, to learn more about Turkey’s ceramic tile industry. The trip includes round trip flight from Chicago or New York to Istanbul, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and entertainment each day, hotel accommodations for 4 nights, and travel agency services. All CTDA distributors and manufacturers of ancillary products for the industry are eligible to participate.

The Turkish Ceramic Association will attend the 2005 CTDA Management Conference November 10-13 in Rancho Mirage, Cailfornia, and will be available to answer questions and register members for the trip. You may also contact the CTDA office, (630) 545-9415 for additional information.

Turkey

Turkey is a land of diversity where East meets West. Civilizations that molded history were born here in Anatolia. From the Hitites to the Romans, from the Byzantines to the Selchuks, from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic; eras and cultures create a colorful mosaic on this land. Surrounded by three seas and uniting three continents, Turkey today holds a unique and strategic geographical position.

Today Turkey is the youngest nation in Europe. Nearly a quarter of the population is younger than 14 years of age. The Turkish Republic is based on a secular democratic, pluralist and parliamentary system. It’s a leading country in the region with its large, open, prosperous economy and sustainable growth.

The dynamo of Turkey

Istanbul is a world capital with a tradition of 3,000 years that served as the capital of three empires: East Rome, Byzantine and Ottoman over a period of 15 centuries. Istanbul is the global city of harmony, embracing different religions, ethnic groups and languages. Today, Istanbul is a world metropolis with about 15 million inhabitants, honoring and preserving the legacy of its past while looking forward to a modern future.

The only city in the world linking two continents, Istanbul is situated on either side of the Bosporus Straits, Istanbul presents a stunning spectacle of East becoming West, Asia becoming Europe.

Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and the pillar of national and regional economy. It’s the center of industry, commerce and finance; the capital of culture, arts, tourism and entertainment. Istanbul’s economical, cultural and social leadership plays a very important role throughout the region.


One – on – One… With Barrie Dekker
 
November 1st, 2005

 

By Jeffrey Steele

November-December 2005

“Our goals are simple—To win in the marketplace”

As vice-president of strategic sales for newly launched, Chicago-based StonePeak Ceramics, Barrie Dekker brings to her position a wealth of experience. Representing the fourth generation of her family to work in the ceramic business, she has personally been involved in the ceramic industry for 25 years. Dekker spent her initial years in the industry on the wholesale distribution side, and later joined Graniti Fiandre and eventually Crossville Ceramics.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with TileDealer, Dekker discussed a myriad of topics, including the product focus of StonePeak Ceramics, the reasons the company was launched when and where it was, and the ceramic tile market trends that are likely to impact the company and its competitors in the years ahead.

TileDealer: What inspired StonePeak’s founders to launch the company?

Dekker: There are many factors that helped convince us to launch our business in the U.S. The current market factors are excellent, and demand for ceramic tile has increased and is expected to continue growing. Manufacturing in the U.S. provides us an advantage in getting product to the market quickly. We can ship one box, one truck or even ten trucks the day of the order. If the shipments were coming from Italy, the delivery time would be at least six to eight weeks, in addition to transportation costs.

Because Stonepeak Ceramics is an American company, we design tiles with American tastes in mind. Our whole approach to business is in keeping with the American way.

TileDealer: Can you describe the product line?

Dekker: Our initial product introduction is comprised of seven collections, all of which are porcelain. Four series are unglazed, or through-body tiles, and three series are glazed. We will continue to add a number of collections on an ongoing basis. The unglazed product lines include a general porcelain series called New Basics, as well as a Terrazzo series, a Limestone series and a Marble series. Sizes range from 6-by-6 inches to 24-by-24 inches. The glazed series is our newest introduction. We have one collection called Café, which has an urban look. We’re offering a slate series that resembles a warm, natural slate and is available in five colors. The third collection is CastleRock, which has a natural old travertine look.

TileDealer: What are the best sellers? The most innovative products?

Dekker: Because we are new, having launched our company at Coverings in May, it’s difficult to predict which lines will be the best sellers. We anticipate interest in all of our product lines, particularly our through-body Limestone and Marble. We also expect significant interest in our glazed collections, given the fact that the glazed market is much larger than the unglazed market today.

As for innovation, we have a production process for our unglazed products that we refer to internally as our “ Technology Tower.” The equipment allows us to randomly control powder placement, resulting in unique tiles that do not repeat in pattern. We are constantly tweaking and updating our manufacturing processes to ensure our products are one of a kind. We are the only manufacturer in the United States offering this advanced technology today.

TileDealer: How well has StonePeak been received in the marketplace?

Dekker: It’s been terrific, even better than we anticipated. The market is very ripe for both the products we have to offer and the services we provide. We are approaching the market in a truly American way: friendly and easy to do business with.

We’re hearing approval from many different segments, especially from our independent network of distributors. Their response has been outstanding. They’re eager to partner with domestic manufacturers; they love what they see from our product offering; and they’re excited about the programs we’re putting in place.

TileDealer: What’s been the response from potential competitors?

Dekker: We do not have a strong hold on our competitors’ response, as we have been focused mainly on the response of our distributors, which has been overwhelming. Our distributor partners are enthusiastic about our product lines and have shared positive feedback on our marketing programs and materials, logistics programs, ongoing product research and development and customer service enhancements.

TileDealer: How many distributors have you acquired?

Dekker: We’re currently working with approximately 30 distributors. We’re close to having a comprehensive network of distributors that covers every territory in the U.S. Our distribution network is focused on serving North America. That’s our priority.

TileDealer: Are you aiming at the same high end of the market as Crossville?

Dekker: We are targeting both the residential and commercial markets with middle to high-end tiles. This portion of the market is growing and fits with our expertise in designing and producing higher-end porcelain ceramic tiles.

TileDealer: How big is that market?

Dekker: Right now, domestic shipments within the U.S. are in the neighborhood of 700 million square feet per year. The total market includes more than 3 billion square feet per year, with imports accounting for about 80 percent.

TileDealer: What appealed to StonePeak about the sites of its manufacturing facility and executive headquarters?

Dekker: There are a number of reasons it made sense to locate our manufacturing in Tennessee. The main reason is the close proximity to many of the raw materials we use in our tiles. We use all kinds of clays and raw materials from a variety of states around the Southeast. Also, there’s a great work ethic in the area, providing us with a strong and dedicated workforce. Because tile is so heavy to transport, being located near the majority of the U.S. population and the geographic center of the continental U.S. is key.

With our corporate headquarters in Chicago, we are in the heart of a well-known architectural and design community in the country. And when we think of bringing clients in to meet with us, Chicago is a very easy place to get to.

TileDealer: Can you undercut imports in price?

Dekker: The market conditions are in favor of manufacturing here in the States. The exchange rate between the Euro and dollar has made it very expensive to purchase in Europe. We are cost-efficient and competitive for those reasons, coupled with the fact that our state-of-the-art factory includes an extremely efficient production process. We are not focused on competing with suppliers coming in from Brazil, China, Turkey and Thailand.

TileDealer: What trends are impacting the market?

Dekker: In terms of product, natural looks are “in” right now. Stone in particular is a hot commodity. Large units are gaining in popularity and usage, and we have the ability to make tiles as large as 24-by-24 inches. We’re getting away from the more rugged and rustic looks. Although those tiles are still popular, we’re seeing a trend more toward straight edges.

Glass and metals, which we will be adding as accents to complement our lines, are still a strong influence. Natural wood is the newest trend. While we don’t currently offer any wood-looking porcelain tile, we may in the future. We will continue to respond to the market and offer new introductions on a regular basis.

Market trends are also influencing our business. Due to the rise in income and low mortgage rates, we’re seeing people buying homes, as well as refinancing and remodeling existing homes. There is more attention paid to permanent surfaces like ceramic tile these days, and the consumer is much more educated about the advantages of porcelain tile in particular. They’re willing to make upgrades more readily today than we’ve seen in the past. There are also a lot of second home buyers purchasing ceramic tile that we haven’t seen in previous years.

In general, the interest in tile is growing, and with that we’re seeing new applications. People are taking tile out of the bathroom and into more living spaces within their homes. Even in cold climates, people are starting to use more tile on floors, where historically they’ve used carpet or vinyl. There are many more exterior applications available today as well. People are paving their patios, they’re building outside fireplaces, paving outside sidewalks, gardens or stoops, and swimming pool surrounds.

Several factors are influencing people’s decisions to bring tile outside. For one, setting materials, or the allied products, have become a lot more sophisticated, allowing for better installations. This gives people comfort in using tile in places they otherwise would not have. And customers have been more receptive to using hard surfaces and recognizing the value of that. Ceramic tiles increase the value of homes, are extremely durable and easy to care for, and are beautiful.

TileDealer: What’s ahead for StonePeak and ceramic tile in general?

Dekker: Interest in porcelain is growing significantly. Our goals are simple—to win in the marketplace by providing superior products, rapid customer service and responsiveness, easily accessible inventory, timely shipment of orders, and competitive pricing.

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