Are You OPEN for Business?
 
June 6th, 2012

As an early adopter of social media for marketing, I’ve had a number of distributors ask me why I put time and money into social networks. At the most basic level, not having a social media presence is like opening a business and not putting a sign over your door. Many of your customers will still find you, but why make it difficult? For most of your customers—especially the Gen Xers and Millenials who are buying their first homes—their first impression of your business will be through a web search. Social media is the OPEN sign on your front door.

Here are a few insights from my experience with social media:

Start with one platform. At this point there are more social media platforms than people to use them: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Foursquare and the list goes on and on. Trying to have a legitimate presence on each of them overwhelms even the largest of companies, let alone small businesses. My advice would be to begin with Facebook, as it is the largest of the social networks. Facebook serves as a referral for businesses. When researching tile and stone, your potential customer will turn to your website and your Facebook page for an initial impression. Have any of their friends “liked” your page? What do your customers say on your wall? Do you have beautiful installation images in your photo galleries?

Set realistic expectations. In social media circles, it’s not uncommon to hear about campaigns that reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of potential customers. Is this really your goal? I hope not. Instead, set goals based on how many social media users you can convert to paying customers. You may only reach a few hundred people with your social media efforts, but if your campaigns result in ten new customers a month, that would certainly constitute success in my book.

Focus on your core constituency. One of the first revelations I had when tinkering with social media was to understand how my core constituency uses social media. Sure, a lot of 18 year-olds are lighting up Twitter with their constant tweeting, but they’re not buying my tile. Rather, it’s the forty-something, married mother-of-two updating her Facebook status with pictures from the family vacation. So where should I position my company on social media? Where my consumers are.

What should you say? Once you have your Facebook account set up, the next step is to start producing content for your page. But what kinds of things should you put on your Facebook page? The best content is to answer your customers’ questions. How will this tile look once it’s installed? (Create galleries of installation images.) What kind of adhesive should I use with glass tile? (Post a link to the installation instructions on your vendor’s website.) Can you recommend an installer? (Link to the CTEF page for certified installers or to the website of a trusted installation company).

Finally, set up automatic monitoring. Social media sites usually allow you to set up alert systems that will notify you daily or weekly of your results, including number of users, visits, comments, and clicks. By monitoring your social media accounts, you’ll be able to refine your content based on what works best and what flops. You’ll also be able to respond quickly to any negative comments.

If all of this sounds overwhelming, find the social media guru in your organization and let them take it on. Give them clear guidance and a couple of hours a week to devote to your business’ social media presence. They’ll make sure the OPEN sign is lit up.


Tile, Twitter and Facebook: Open for Business
 
May 29th, 2012

By William & Patti Feldman

If you haven’t launched your social media image, here’s an easy way to start.

Social media platforms – most notably Twitter and Facebook – are potent marketing tools for more and more businesses, small and large. They offer a direct way to boost your company’s image and sales among customers and provide an easy way for customers to express their needs, insights, and opinions about what you offer. If you are not yet taking advantage of both opportunities to show and grow your business, now is certainly a good time to make your social media debut.

It’s hard to say what percentage of business owners use Twitter and Facebook -published surveys vary wildly from one third or less of all businesses to two thirds or more. Whatever the true numbers today, they are likely to be higher tomorrow.

Twitter is a platform for sending followers short easily digestible messages to people you may not know, with interactions proceeding along the lines of a ‘public’ group conversation. The message can be complete “as is” or can include a link to your Facebook account, your company website, or to a photo-sharing social media site (such as Pinterest). You also have the ability to send private direct messages to any follower.

Facebook, the number one social marketing medium for business, is a platform for longer form, more detailed postings, including photos. You can also include links on any of your Facebook postings.

To maximize the benefits of social networking to develop positive awareness of your business and to drive traffic to your website, use both platforms because they have different strengths.

Tweets deliver fast facts and ask and answer short questions. Your tweets should, by and large, aim to educate, entertain, converse with or otherwise engage followers, all with the ultimate goals of keeping customers happy and converting new followers into customers. Tweets can carry links that move readers on to more detailed information on your website or on Facebook.

While you may take on these tasks yourself, keep in mind that they really should be daily tasks and do take some time each day or even a few times a day. You may want to assign someone in your office to handle social media or hire a service that provides attention to your Twitter and Facebook accounts throughout the day. Just make sure you know the passwords to log-in.

Getting started on Twitter is easier than getting started on Facebook. It is also easier to tend daily.

Twitter Basics

Your Twitter username should be your company name, if reasonably short, or a recognizable or easy-to-remember abbreviation of it.

Getting your first followers on Twitter should be fairly easy. Right from your Twitter account, you can search  – they can be people and businesses you already know who have email. On the left of the screen is “Who to follow,” which gives you the opportunity to “find friends” by searching your Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail & Messenger, and AOL contacts by a person’s full name or username and asking them to follow you. Once they do, you can follow them back. And so it goes. And grows.

You can also search for new followers by clicking on “Browse Categories” – currently about 25 – which include overall several hundred suggestions of public personalities and private businesses with whom you may want to interact. Once you get started with “following” and “followers,” you drill down and browse among their “following” and “followers,” and keep expanding your reach. In addition, as you use Twitter, it becomes “smart” and starts to “recognize” the type of follower you want and offers you a listing of possible people or companies to follow every time you log on.

Every Twitter account comes with space for a 160-character bio and an identifying thumbnail image (either a company logo, photo, or product shot – some dealers use a colorful geometric tile face). Use the bio to tell visitors who you are, what you sell or offer, and/or why they should follow you.

You can tweet anything that fits into 140 characters (spaces included) but it should be relevant, readable information without wasteful fluff. (Also consider occasionally retweeting wise words or interesting links from some of your followers.) Keep in mind that letters and numbers used to create links count in the overall character tally so you will want to use a free URL shortening service such as bitly.com or tinyurl.com. URL shorteners convert long addresses to shorter ones, leaving more for your message.

Opinion among social media gurus about how often to tweet a marketing message varies widely. Some experts suggest that one pointed sales pitch per every 4, 6 or 8 tweets is acceptable, but from what we’ve seen on Twitter many tile dealers ignore that unwritten rule entirely, making every other or even every tweet a sales pitch, a promotion, or other clear call to action.

Finding the fine line can be tricky. On the one hand, if a person is following many Twitter accounts, including yours, their incoming tweets will accrue so fast that unless you tweet frequently you may miss out on reaching them with any one marketing or sales tweet. But on the other hand, if you tweet marketing and sales messages too often, you risk annoying – and then losing – your followers.

Everyone agrees, however, that it is important to respond, quickly and politely, to any tweets that include questions or, especially, complaints with positive responses. Resolving complaints promptly and publicly is good business.

Incorporate hashtags (#s) which, used directly in front of a keyword becomes a search tool and helps your tweets on those topics show up in Twitter Search. For example, #tile #backsplash, #countertops and #ceramic increase the chances of someone you do not know who is searching for one of those terms with the hashtag in front of it to find you and view your tweet or tweets on the topic.

Facebook Basics

You will want to create a welcoming Facebook Page (your business’s public profile) where customers and others can interact with you and from which interested visitors can link directly to your company website. From your experience with customers in your stores and from customer service phone calls, you know what customers, in general, want to know. Facebook is an easy way to deliver that information.

After you create your Page, invite your employees, friends, and customers to visit and “Like” your Page (achieved simply by a click on the LIKE icon). A Facebook Page with at least 25 LIKEs also provides the account administrator with demographic information and statistics about traffic to the site. As soon as you have 25 LIKES, you shorten and customize your Facebook username.

When a visitor to your Facebook page clicks “like” the first time, that person in essence becomes a subscriber to your updates (unless or until he or she un-subscribes). By liking your site, that person endorses your company to all his or her Facebook friends, potentially growing your social media network in many directions.

Facebook is a great place to show off recent projects, introduce contests, offer special promotions or discounts, post photos of new or long term employees, and mention participation in local sports and community-based projects.

To help build your followers and fans, be sure to include your Twitter and Facebook Page URLs on all your marketing materials.

Some Ideas to Get Started on Both Platforms

Here are representative tweets and Facebook postings that tile dealers have posted recently, some with links:

  • ask your tiling questions here
  • what’s new
  • special discounts on products and services
  • “gone green? we offer eco-friendly products
  • photos of new van, truck, or staff outside place of business or at a community street fair
  • photos of store displays and in-store layouts
  • Check out this fabulous before and after bathroom remodel
  • pros and cons of DIY remodeling
  • Great selection, service, and professional planning at all our locations
  • “we’re hiring”…send resumes to: (list email)
  • what can we do to better serve your tiling needs?
  • Find showroom
  • Can’t decide what color to paint walls? Why not tile them instead?
  • Visit us at LOCATION for huge selection of tiles at great prices
  • Introduction of new member of design team
  • NAME announces new technical sales rep
  • NAME introduces new collection
  • Bathroom of the day
  • Bathroom with attitude
  • Backsplashes with pizzazz
  • DIY Tip of the Day
  • Who wouldn’t want to relax in the gorgeous bath? Our tile couldn’t have found a more elegant home
  • Special Today – 20% off entire online purchase for orders placed before 3pm -
  • Cyber Monday 20% off all mosaics today
  • June 23rd Sale -  celebrating 23 years of serving you – 20% off floor tiles

Other Twitter and Facebook topics could include: tiling design trends; tools to use for a bathroom/kitchen tiling job; how to determine how many tiles are needed to tile a proposed space; differences between wall and floor tiles; differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles; indoors versus outdoor tile; how to grout a tile floor; and how to clean heavily smudged tile.

More and more business postings on Twitter and Facebook also include links to Pinterest. Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) is a social photo sharing website – a visual bulletin board – that allows users to create and manage image collections. You can use it to “pin” images of your new, most popular, or trendiest tiles and finished installations, for both direct viewing on your Pinterest site and for sharing on Twitter and Facebook. (About 80% of Pinterest users are women, with home decor among the most popular subjects.) Visitors can “re-pin” images to their own collections or “like” photos. You can have separate boards for different subjects. By monitoring your own Pinterest account, you can see which “board” earns the most pins and the most “likes.”

Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are among the sites popular now – emphasis on now, as in today. More are certain to develop but in the meantime, these are good places to add to your traditional marketing mix.


LATICRETE Technical Design Manuals now Available as eBooks
 
May 21st, 2012

LATICRETE has developed a library of LATICRETE Technical Design Manuals which are now available as eBooks for the iPad from the online Apple iBook store, for the Kindle on the Amazon website… and, for the Nook® on the Barnes & Noble online Nook Book store, as well.  According to Henry B. Rothberg, LATICRETE Senior Vice President, Training, “It’s all about innovation. LATICRETE is committed to innovation with regards to tile and stone installation materials, methods and  technologies. Innovation in services and support for the design and construction communities. Progressive architects & designers, distributors and tile contractors continue to appreciate and take advantage of the rapid access of information via eBooks on tablet devices such as the iPad, Nook and Kindle.” The LATICRETE Technical Manuals currently available as eBooks include Animal Health and Wellness Facilities Technical Design Manual; Industrial Tile and Paver Applications Technical Design Manual; Mass Transit Ceramic Tile and Stone Technical Design Manual; Medical, Educational and Hospitality Facilities; Tiled Steam Room and Steam Shower Technical Design Manual and Tiled Swimming Pools, Fountains and Spas Technical Design Manual. All are available wirelessly to users’ tablets for just $.99 apiece, or for free viA www.laticrete.com/manuals. The process of downloading LATICRETE Technical Design Manuals is a quick and simple procedure, that takes even a neophyte eBook user only a few moments. “LATICRETE recognized and quickly addressed the potential of offering technical eBooks, and today we now provide a library of not only tile & stone installation technical design manuals but also, specifications, drawings and product catalogs,” continued Rothberg. “Clearly, Bill Gate’s prophecy of ‘Information At Your Fingertips’ has arrived!”

www.laticrete.com


Crossville Brings Large Format Tile Panels to the U.S. Market
 
May 21st, 2012

Crossville Inc. is launching “Laminam by Crossville,” a full line of lean profile, large format porcelain products. This important new offering comes through an exclusive distribution agreement with Italian manufacturer Laminam, a division of Systems Group. Under the agreement, Crossville is the sole source for Laminam’s innovative large unit porcelain panel products throughout the U.S. The distribution agreement is effective immediately, with product availability anticipated in early June. “This is a landmark agreement and another example of Crossville’s commitment to meeting the needs of the U.S. market,” states Crossville President John Smith. “We recognized the growing demand for very large format, thinner, so we searched the globe to source the best products that would appeal to the American aesthetic and match the Crossville quality standard.”

Laminam by Crossville products, each selected expressly for the U.S. market, are suited for interior wall installations and may be used on an array of surfaces. The initial offering of 3mm thick fiberglass reinforced porcelain panels will be available in over 50 items. As Smith explains, the extremely lean profile of these reinforced panels result in durability, versatility and unparalleled technical performance. “These products are game changers,” Smith continues. “The colors and styles of Laminam by Crossvile are right for the American market. These thin but extremely durable large panels are very simple to work with and install and will invite innovative field applications. Architects and interior designers should really have fun exercising their creativity in new and unique ways.”

LaminambyCrossville.com.


Walking the Show Floor at Coverings with Tile of Spain
 
May 11th, 2012

 

Tile of Spain, the international brand representing 200 ceramic tile manufacturers belonging to the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association (ASCER), offered a number of new introductions including:

  • TAU’s new S3 Technical Ceramic Wall, is a system where any technology can be seamlessly hidden behind a beautifully tiled wall. The Technical Ceramic Wall is a vertical extension of a removable floor behind which all wiring and fittings for domestic appliances, devices and electrical equipment is concealed.

 

  • APAVISA showcased Archconcept, a new indoor/outdoor ceramic collection that provides new volumes to vertical surfaces, including hexagons with volume in its core and square panels with raised and folded corners.  The tiles are created with stone, metal and cement finishes that have revolutionized traditional porcelain finishes.

 

  • APARICI introduced its Neutral series, available in eight colors featuring several different relief patterns, and its Jungle collection, tiles that imitate a mosaic of different types of wood.

 


The Right Angle on Sustainability: Green Squared by Jeffrey Steele – Part One
 
March 19th, 2012

Everyone knows tile is green. So why is the new Green Squared standard and certification program launching at Coverings so important to the industry? How did it come together, who took part in the development process, and what is likely to be its impact over time? TileDealer is excited to preview this new program and share some important basics with you.

Why it’s important

The tile industry has long recognized that its products are inherently sustainable, says Bill Griese, manager of standards development and green initiatives for the Anderson, SC-based Tile Council of North America (TCNA). Tile is selected in building and remodeling projects because it endures and is made from natural materials, which is “the very definition of green,” he asserts.

“But we wanted to take it to the next level, and continue to improve from a manufacturing standpoint, a material and resource standpoint, and an energy standpoint,” he adds. “We also wanted to look beyond the environment and focus on social issues. What it came down to is we are really an industry rooted in standards. That’s how we set expectations for ourselves. We have a long history of very good standards for both products and installation.”

There were other reasons for pursuing the establishment of a standard, says Tom Bruursema, sustainability director for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based NSF International, one of three certifying bodies for the standard. “This initiative around building materials and sustainability has been ongoing for a number of years,” he says. “Standards for flooring materials like carpet and resilient flooring have been around for some time, so it’s only natural for the tile industry to have its own standard . . . You often hear sustainability referred to as the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. These standards are comprehensive in that sense. They look at product and corporate initiatives as well.”

Dan Marvin, director of quality assurance and technical service at Florida Tile in Lexington, Ky., who served as the chairman of the Green Initiative Committee, worked closely with Griese to put together the standard and ensure stakeholders from architects, manufacturers and the green community would be represented. Creating a standard was essential to give tile a voice, he says.

“There were a number of single-attribute green accreditations, such as GreenGuard, but none that addressed manufacturing or corporate governance or some of the other big picture aspects,” Marvin reports.

The multi-attribute quality of Green Squared is also emphasized by Noah Chitty, the Crossville, Tenn.-based technical services director for StonePeak Ceramics. “The standard was important for the tile industry to undertake,” he says. “It’s clear green rating systems in the U.S. are going away from a single-attribute criterion and toward multi-attribute criteria. We’ve put together a pretty comprehensive standard for the industry that goes beyond just criteria of products, and also addresses corporate strategies and facility strategies.”

In addition, it’s important to understand that had the tile industry not created Green Squared, two things would have likely occurred, Chitty adds. One is that some certifying company would have written a standard for green tile, without seeking the input of the tile industry. Second, in the absence of a standard set forth by the tile industry, other industries that did have standards would look increasingly enticing to those involved in green building projects.

Asked if the standard and Green Squared certification will most impress architects and the U.S. Green Building Council, Atlanta-based U.S. Gypsum field marketing and technical services manager Steve Rausch responded in the negative. “Absolutely not,” says Rausch, who sat on the TCNA Green Initiative Committee. “You have stakeholders, people who need to understand how to interpret and validate products. You have consumers demanding that, home builders, remodelers, as well as the architectural community.”

Creating the standard

The first meetings concerning what would result in the standard’s creation and the Green Squared program were convened in 2008, and grew exceptionally intensive in 2011 as efforts were made to “get people to buy in,” says Marvin, who adds “Florida Tile is the first to go through the process.“

Industry representatives were assembled to discuss and define what it meant to be a green product, Griese adds. The result was the establishment of the standard, ANSI A138.1 American National Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles and Tile Installation Materials, covering not just tile, but everything in a tiling system. That includes mortars and grouts, liquids and paste goods, sheet goods like membranes and panel goods like backer boards, as well as tile. The consensus-based standard requires an evaluation of products in five performance categories: Product characteristics, manufacturing, corporate governance, innovation and end-of-life.

The standard was created by the ANSI ASCA 108 committee, comprised of representatives from manufacturers, designers, the green building community, architects, and distributors. “It was a consensus process that included all stakeholders, and was approved unanimously,” Griese says.

*To Be Continued in March/April TileDealer Issue


New Options on Green Squared and an Innovative Mortar That Sets in Hours
 
February 23rd, 2012

New Rapid-Setting Mortar from MAPEI

In response to ceramic contractors’ needs for time-saving products, MAPEI has introduced Ultraflex™ LFT Rapid mortar to its line of fast-setting tile and stone installation systems. This mortar sets quickly, allowing grouting in three to four hours. Ultraflex LFT Rapid has a high content of a unique dry polymer, resulting in excellent adhesion to the substrate and tile. Its nonsag medium-bed and thin-set mortar characteristics are ideal for installing large-format tile and stone on interior and exterior floors, walls and countertops. Ultraflex LFT Rapid directly answers the need for quick-turnaround on installation of larger-format tile residentially and commercially in a variety of environments. MAPEI began developing rapid-setting mortars and grouts more than 20 years ago with the introduction of Granirapid® mortar, a faster-setting version of its premium Kerabond/Keralastic™ mortar system for indoor and outdoor applications. Another rapid-setting product, Ultracontact™ RS mortar, allows installers to “drop and go” without back-buttering tiles, a huge time-saving asset for large projects such as shopping malls and airports. MAPEI chemists also developed Planiprep™ RS, a rapid-set patching compound for fast-track concrete repairs to substrates before installers begin setting the tile or stone. When it comes to grouting the joints, MAPEI provides Ultracolor® Plus rapid-setting sanded grout to finish the job quickly. “In terms of commercial renovation projects, the time savings from these rapid-setting products allow the owners to re-open the floors sooner to their customers, or maybe not close the spaces at all,” said Brian Pistulka, Business Development Manager for MAPEI’s Tile & Stone Installation Systems. “We see the need for speed as a key requirement for flooring contractors today, and MAPEI products play an important role in helping them get the job done on time and on budget.”
www.mapei.com

Sustainable Tiles and Installation Material Manufacturers Can Now Earn Green Squared Certification through NSF International

NSF International, an independent global organization that writes public health standards and certifies products for food, water and consumer goods, now offers Green Squared Certification for sustainable ceramic tiles, glass tiles and installation materials. NSF’s Sustainability division is a leading developer of sustainable standards and certification programs for building and furnishing products such as furniture, wallcoverings, and furnishing fabrics, carpets and flooring.

Developed by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Green Squared certification provides accurate, third-party verified information on the environmental impacts of certified tile products. Green Squared certification through NSF Sustainability helps manufacturers and suppliers of tiles and installation materials distinguish their products from competitors, earn preferred vendor status by environmentally-minded consumers and companies, and demonstrate compliance to state and federal purchasing requirements.

The NSF certification process includes a comprehensive documentation review and onsite facility audit to verify conformance to the standard upon which the Green Squared certification program is based, ANSI A138.1 American National Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles and Tile Installation Materials. This consensus-based standard requires an evaluation of products in five categories of performance: Product Characteristics, Manufacturing, Corporate Governance, Innovation, and End-of-Life.

“Green Squared provides a standard of excellence in sustainability for the entire industry as it covers not just tile products but also the materials required for their installation,” said Bill Griese, TCNA Standards Development and Green Initiative Manager. “We are pleased that the certification bodies we have participating in Green Squared are leaders in the realm of developing sustainability standards and certification programs for interior furnishing products, and these organizations have the expertise and industry experience necessary to provide high quality certifications under the Green Squared program.”
“Green Squared and NSF Sustainability certification programs are the most credible certifications available in the marketplace,” said NSF Sustainability Director Tom Bruursema. “Architects, designers and consumers can now easily identify products carrying the Green Squared and NSF Sustainability marks. NSF certified sustainable products such as furniture, carpets, flooring, wallcoverings, furnishing fabrics, and now tiles and tile installation materials, help companies and consumers meet their sustainability goals and demonstrate their commitment to the environment.”

Tiles covered by the Green Squared program may include mosaic, quarry, pressed floor, glazed wall, porcelain, specialty, cast glass, fused glass and low-temperature coated glass tiles. Installation materials may include mortar adhesives, mastic adhesives, reactive resin adhesives, grouts, tile backer units, crack isolation membranes, waterproofing membranes, water containment membranes and sound reduction membranes.
www.nsfsustainability.org


News from Florida Tile, LATICRETE, and Crossville, Inc.
 
February 15th, 2012

Florida Tile Sets Recycled Content Bar

All domestically produced Florida Tile porcelain products have been certified to contain at least 40% recycled content, thus setting a new standard in an industry eager for valid environmental initiatives. The certification was made by the independent Bureau Veritas, a third-party world leader in conformity assessment and certification services, established 1828 with the stated mission… “to seek out the truth and tell it without fear or favor.”

“This achievement is just the latest step in Florida Tile’s ongoing CARES (Creating A Responsible Environmental Strategy) program,” said company President Michael Franceschelli. “In early 2011 we contracted with Bureau Veritas which conducted a painstaking assessment of our claims and our processes. In September, we were awarded certification verifying that ALL of the porcelain product lines manufactured in our Lawrenceburg, KY factory incorporate AT LEAST 40% pre-consumer recycled content,” he added.

“The certification is not only a great achievement for Florida Tile but also an industry first,” according to Franceschelli. “Other US manufacturers have successfully achieved high recycled content with certain colors or among some series, but not across the board in porcelain and definitely not to this extent.”

How did Florida Tile do it? According to President Franceschelli, “We’ve been working at it for a long time, consistently incorporating increasing amounts of recycled content into our domestically produced tiles. Starting in 2007 with a major upgrade of our facility in Lawrenceburg, we created a system allowing us to recycle and re-use the byproducts of our manufacturing process, including water used in production, clay, unfired tile, dust and unfired ceramic tile. We built on that initiative by sourcing raw materials close to the manufacturing facility, including some with high levels of post-industrial recycled content. Then last year we went on line with a proprietary system which allowed us to regrind fired porcelain and to reintroduce it into the body of new tile.”

“We knew all along that our CARES initiative is the right thing to do, but with green washing so prevalent in every industry, including our flooring and interior coverings marketplaces, Florida Tile felt the need to prove its claims via independent validation for the sake of the industry and our own credibility,” Franceschelli added. “Now our customers, whether they be designers, architects, builders or the end customer, will have the satisfaction of knowing that their US-made product not only meets current GREENGUARD guidelines but in fact leads all brands with an across-the-board recycled content.” For more on sustainable attributes of Florida Tile products, visit floridatile.ecoscorecard.com or www.floridatile.com

Hydro Ban™ System includes Pre-Sloped Shower Pans, Pre-Formed Seats & Niches LATICRETE has brought to market Hydro Ban™ Pre-Sloped Shower Pans, Pre-Formed Seats and Pre-Formed Niches. These are components of the expanded Hydro Ban line of waterproofing products that allow for top quality, highly expedient shower installations. Constructed of lightweight high-density polystyrene, each component is equipped with a code-approved waterproof coating, which may be tiled over immediately upon installation. Hydro Ban Pre-Sloped Shower Pans eliminate the need for traditional “mud bed installations” and come equipped with a factory-installed drain assembly saving contractors valuable time during installation. Additionally, these drains can easily be modified on-site to adjust for any measurement variations. Lightweight, durable and code-approved, the LATICRETE Hydro Ban Shower System is backed by an available lifetime warranty providing both peace of mind and insurance of installation. “Waterproofing is becoming more and more of a focal issue within the tile installation process,” stated Sean Boyle, LATICRETE Marketing and Product Development Director. “We’ve successfully addressed that issue with LATICRETE Hydro Ban Waterproofing membrane. Now, we’re taking this process to the next level with our waterproof shower pans, seats and niches. The end-user no longer has to worry about water problems after his or her shower tile installation. Now, that same person can have a comfortable and beautiful spa-like shower complete with built-in seating and a recessed soap & shower niche.”
www.laticrete.com

Crossville introduces Origins glass mosaics and Structure Porcelain Stone ® tile Crossville® introduced Origins Glass™ mosaics, a new take on Old-World craftsmanship. Made of post-consumer recycled glass, Origins Glass requires a minimal amount of materials for production, yet its textured, swirled and iridized surfaces create great visual depth and give the appearance of hand-made glass. The line comprises 20 colors in five groupings: Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Universe – all inspired by nature. Designed by one of the industry’s most respected color forecasters, Barbara Schirmeister, ASID, DC, CAUS, the line has a clear, luminescent quality, which is extraordinary for recycled glass. “Specifiers and homeowners alike may mix, match and blend these hues to create colorful and dramatic installations, while knowing that they are using a product that is good for the planet,” says Schirmeister. Face-mounted on 12″x12″ sheets, Origins Glass mosaics are available in 1″ x 1″ and 2″ x 2″ sizes, as well as an offset mosaic featuring 1″ x 2″ tile. Also offered are 1″ x 1″ blends, as well as custom blends, which may be designed with Crossville’s Mosaic Blender Tool @ www.CrossvilleInc.com.

Inspired by concrete and refined stone, Crossville’s new Structure™ is a U.S.-made Porcelain Stone® tile that serves as the canvas upon which you can create your vision. Clean and fresh, this unpolished contemporary line provides an understated backdrop for bold, minimalist design statements. Designed for both commercial and residential installations, Structure contains a minimum of 20=percent pre-consumer recycled content and is manufactured by Crossville® using recycling processes that have been certified by Scientific Certification Systems.* Offered in five colorways – Gypsum, Sandstone, Shale, Timber and Basalt – and in rectified, large format and plank-shaped sizes: 24″ x 24″, 12″ x 24″, 6″ x 24″ and 6″ x 6″, Structure is part of Crossville’s Get Planked® program, whereby additional plank shapes may be cut with no minimum order and a short lead time. Coordinating trim is available as a 4″ x 24″ Single Bullnose and a 6″ x 12″ Cove Base. “Because Structure is Porcelain Stone® tile, it has unsurpassed durability, resists staining and scratching and will remain virtually maintenance free on interior floors, walls and countertops,” says Lindsey Ann Waldrep, Crossville’s vice president of marketing. “It will never need sealing or waxing; plus, Structure is also highly recommended for exterior walls and cladding.” Barbara Schirmeister, ASID, DC, CAUS, who is color and design consultant to Crossville, Inc., adds, “The subtle textural appearance of Structure represents an emerging design movement toward a new, more interesting minimalism.

Crossville’s offering of five pivotal neutrals were carefully developed by Crossville’s R&D team to harmonize with current interior palettes. These select hues will afford the architect and designer unlimited color solutions when used as a foil in creating both monolithic and contrasting schemes with soft or bright colorations.”
www.CrossvilleInc.com


“Preserving the Past – Protecting the Future” by Jeffrey Steele
 
January 30th, 2012

As a child growing up in Scotland, Sheila A. Menzies was entertained by the stunning floral tiles that surrounded her grandmother’s best room fireplace.

Across the Atlantic in Rochester, New York, Joseph A. Taylor was spending an early childhood in front of a Tiffany tile fireplace at his family’s home.

Inspired by the beauty of tile at very early ages, it was only natural that Menzies and Taylor would join forces to create the Tile Heritage Foundation in Healdsburg, California in 1987. The foundation has since come to be seen as the singular authority on art tile heritage in the United States.

In the One-on-One interview that follows, Taylor and Menzies trace the evolution of their foundation, share their philosophy  on the importance art tile preservation, divulge some  secrets of their research methodology, and share insights about the future  of their organization.

 

 TileDealer: Why is tile preservation important?

Taylor: It’s kind of fundamental, because the tiles that the Tile Heritage Foundation focuses upon are a decorative art form. They would fall into the same category as any other decorative art. When installations of decorative art are part of public places, they become an integral part of the cultural fabric. People identify with this decorative art form on the buildings in their own cities and towns. So in a sense, it’s very definitely part of the cultural fabric, and that’s definitely worth preserving.

Even the glazed tiles that became part of storefront decoration after World War II, with glossy black, maroon, and diagonal patterns or a combination of patterns and designs to attract attention to the store, fall into the decorative art category. They are commercial tiles, produced primarily for their function, but become decorative art because of the design of their installation.

Menzies: A great deal of literature has been dedicated to art pottery, and tiles are no different, but are considered something of a step-child. That’s why we began exploring the questions of what they are, where they come from, and who made them. That’s why we started the Tile Heritage Foundation.

 

TD:  How and when did you start the Tile Heritage Foundation?

Menzies: It was started in 1987 when we were returning from a winter trip.  Joe had thought it would be a great idea to write a book about tile history in California, then broadening the book to cover the history of tile across the nation.

It became a larger and larger project. So we agreed, let’s start a non-profit. Let’s ingather, based on who has knowledge.

Taylor: We have a whole slew of taped interviews from those early days.  Both Sheila and I interviewed many of the old-timers. I’d been involved with the McIntyre Tile Co. here in Healdsburg, and from my experience was increasingly aware of other companies making tiles. I also met other people who comprised the older generation. So even before the foundation started, I was interviewing people, and many people told me, ‘If there’s anything else I can do, please let me know.’ We felt we had established a base of interest for an organization. We stopped in a bookstore and purchased Anthony Mancuso’s book titled How to Start a Non-profit. Six months later, in July 1987, we got our status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization through the federal government and State of California.

 

TD: What skills did you bring from the start to the operation? 

Taylor:  I had worked at a tile company from 1973 to 1985, so I had tile in my blood. Twelve years got me oriented in the tile world, in charge of sales and marketing for what was basically a small company where we not only made our tiles by hand but also made all the machinery we used to make the tiles. My college degree was in English, and I taught in the Peace Corps, and I had taught remedial English at UCLA, and in order to get the message out for the Tile Heritage Foundation, we started with a quarterly newsletter, ‘Flash Point.’

Those skills came in handy. And my family is very artistic, I have two sisters who are professional artists. My mother was an artist, and my dad was active in nonprofit organizations. It was all right there.

Menzies: One of the things that’s always been very important is that Joe and I are kind of a meld. He is a detail person and I’m a big picture person. My background is in art, but not in ceramics. I have a lot of very practical skills, and also write very well. We were on the same page. I grew up in Scotland, surrounded by tiles. My whole focus was easily directed into another kind of artistic and creative outlet. The nuts and bolts of what we do, whether answering questions, researching, archiving or publishing, we have those abilities.

There’s a lot of crossover of skills, and we bring different attributes to the table.

 

TD: How do you identify tile worth preserving?

Taylor:  The installations we deal with aren’t always public. In fact, more than half the time, when we get an inquiry, it’s regarding a private home. Someone wants to identify the tiles on the fireplace. We will get a call in which someone describes their fireplace, and we say that’s like doing a root canal over the phone. You need a picture. Digital photography has made this whole arena so simple for us. Not a week goes by without us responding to someone wanting to know about the tile in their home. Compared to 25 years ago, we now have direct access to all kinds of books on historic tile, and many tile catalogs from manufacturing companies and tile studios operating during the last 150 years. So we have the resources to research what’s found in the home.

Out in the public arena, it’s a different story, because normally the Tile Heritage Foundation is contacted when an installation somewhere in the U.S. is being threatened with demolition. We’re called upon by concerned community members to identify and authenticate an installation in its setting. That’s where our knowledge and writing skills come in, because we’re writing to an architect, a school board, or a government agency to provide our opinion as to the historic importance of the installation. In the case of some installations we’ve been involved in saving, we’re not out there on the front lines. We’re just the information providers. It’s the community citizens who have gotten together and decided they have to find out what this is. When they find out from us that it has significance, they go to bat for these tile installations themselves.

For instance, there were architects who used decorative tiles in fireplaces installed in schools to provide an environment to teach kids how to read. This phenomenon was particularly seen in kindergartens built in the 1910s and ‘20s.

Menzies: Fireplace tiles in schools were used to help teach children how to read. Not only did the artwork on the tile often reflect a nursery rhyme, but the teacher would sit before the fireplace because it was a home-like environment.

Many county courthouses went up across this country in the 18th and 19th centuries where encaustic tiles were used on the floors. Encaustic or geometric tiles are colored clay tiles cut in shapes that make up larger designs. Instead of having a glaze on the top of them, the entire body of the tile was made up of one color of clay creating a very enduring product. However, after 100 years of wear, you do see an impact on that floor.

Many municipalities try to find out where that original tile was made and if it’s available for replacement purposes. That’s an important thing to document.   And that information makes a restoration more possible.

 

PT: What kind of research is involved?

Taylor: In many cases, the Tile Heritage Foundation, meaning either Sheila or myself, have been collaborators in writing tile books that are out there. Or we’ve provided our editorial skills.

What’s important here is that over these 25 years, one of the principal things that Tile Heritage has done is serve as a receptacle for information about the output of companies producing tile over the last 150 years. We estimate we have between 30,000 and 40,000 individual documents about the manufacture of specific tiles.

Menzies: Today, companies and studios sending us new material for the archives will provide sell sheets and other current advertising.  We also receive weblinks and digital images of current products and installations. We have over 35,000 images of tiles and installations that have now been digitized, many from slide originals taken by us. It’s a huge body of work available as a resource.

 

TD: Do you document what you’ve found? If so, how?

Taylor: If you walk into the Tile Heritage Library, which is open to the public by appointment, you find file cabinets and the file drawers are manila folders representing the materials we have on different companies. The files are alphabetized, from A to Z, on all companies producing tiles in the United States, from the middle of the 19th Century on. In addition to these files, we have information on contemporary tile makers organized in the same way. .

Menzies: The information represented in these physical resources will eventually be accessible via a digital card catalog system. Ultimately our files will be able to be researched that way on line. This is one of the priorities we anticipate getting under way soon. We’ve embarked on that with all of our photography, transforming it digitally and documenting the sources.

Currently our ephemeral materials are in physical files; they will remain that way but will be enhanced, kept alive for use with a finding aid or digital card catalog online at our website that would be used to find specific articles, for instance, on a specific tile.

 

TD: Do you have inquiries/requests from other preservationists?

Taylor:  Yes, both in terms of the public installations about which we are approached by people concerned about preserving those installations, and also by private individuals wanting the installations in their homes identified. Preservationists want information on installations in their own communities. They’re concerned about preserving what they have. But they first want to know if it’s worth expending time, energy and money to preserve.

We say no it’s not, or yes it is, and then back up our position with information. There are a handful of very skilled people around the country who are able to remove tiles without breaking them, when preserving the tile is required before a building in which the tile is installed is demolished.

 

Menzies: What shouldn’t be forgotten is the role of the tile dealer in all this.  Dealers will call us because someone has come to them and said ‘I have a really beautiful installation in my home built in the 1920s. I need to have my bathroom tile matched, because I need new piping behind the existing tile installation and part of it has to be removed.’  They don’t know what to do next.

Taylor: What we can do is simply steer the dealers to sources where old tiles are stockpiled for sale, and there are a number of these places around the U.S. We can also direct their attention to contemporary tile makers who are able to skillfully replicate historic art tile.

 

TD: How’ve you spread the word about the Tile Heritage Foundation?

Taylor: When the foundation first started, we published a newsletter called Flash Point was printed and mailed out quarterly for 15 years: it varied in length from 8 to 16 pages. In the early 1990s, we launched Tile Heritage: A Review of American Tile History. We still sell back issues of these magazines. Today, our comparable publication “E-News” is available online. Starting in 1991, we presented an annual tile symposium that we presented in different cities around the U.S., which were three- to five-day events. We had lectures on historic and contemporary tiles, tours of the city’s tile installations, tile-making workshops, and a sale of art tiles. We did this for 13 years, and it really got to the point where it was too much work, and the community that the events were designed to serve did not fully utilize them.

Menzies: As the web developed over the last 20 years, the way people connected with information changed dramatically. Fewer and fewer people wanted to gather in one place to take part in such symposiums.

Taylor: At Coverings, in the early days, art tiles were presented haphazardly on the convention floor. But the organizers have now highlighted art tile in the American area of Coverings. This is where people gravitate because of the art. It’s a marvelous aspect and really speaks very well of the support of the various tile organizations representing the United States at this international event. This annual convention has had a direct, positive effect on communications within the tile industry. Artists and others know they can go to Coverings, talk to other artists, and experience tile artistry firsthand.

Menzies: This is another place where dealers come into play. We have many dealers who are members of the Tile Heritage Foundation. One of the things they do that helps promote the foundation is display our attractive brochure or a sign that says they are a member of the foundation. They can assist in promoting what the foundation is about.

Tiles being made anywhere today are historic tomorrow. The dealers have catalogs and samples from multiple tile makers. In fact, dealers are archivists — they just don’t realize they are.

 

TD: Has the foundation developed as expected, or has it morphed a bit with time?

Menzies: The mission of Tile Heritage has not changed.

Our mission going forward has always been the same, preserving, protecting and documenting tiles and other ceramic surfacing materials. Technology has actually enhanced our ability to do that.

Taylor: Technology has greatly assisted communication. People throughout the U.S. have this organization, the Tile Heritage Foundation. They can contact us by sitting down at their computer or contacting us on their iPad.

 

Menzies: If people don’t know of a particular tile maker, we have a printed directory soon to be available as a PDF online, and we also have resources right on our website, the Member Tile Gallery, with thumbnails taking you to all these members‘ websites. It’s a super resource for dealers, architects and designers. See http://www.tileheritage.org.

 

TD: What are some of the interesting tile preservation projects you’ve been involved in?

Taylor: Within the last two years, we have been directly involved in saving two historic mantels in elementary schools, one in Royal Oak, Michigan, and the other in Cranford, New Jersey. Both fireplaces were adorned with Flint Faience tiles from the 1920s, both slated to go down with the buildings. In both cases we were contacted by community members, former alumni, who were concerned—desperate is a better term—that “their” tiles were going to be destroyed when their school buildings were demolished. We were able to supply the proper documentation authenticating the historic importance of the tiles and recommend a tile contractor with the expertise necessary to remove the tiles without damage. In Royal Oak the tiles were reinstalled in a new school; in Cranford the tiles are waiting for a new home.

Menzies: Similarly, when the old East High in Erie, Pennsylvania was on the block for demolition, a team recommended by Tile Heritage successfully removed the American Encaustic tile panels from twelve water fountains on the walls of the old school, and these were ultimately reinstalled as a permanent display in the corridors of the new East High School in Erie, not as water fountains but as decorative tile art.

TD: Do you sense tile preservation is gaining more support?

Menzies: In America, it used to be ‘tear it to the ground and ask questions later.’ Now there’s much more awareness and sensitivity.

In communities like Los Angeles, for example, you can’t destroy a building if it has an art element on it, and that may actually be true of buildings without art on them. You may not raze that building without special permits.

Taylor: I’m sure you’re familiar with the Antiques Road Show. Never is a show aired without a piece of pottery or an artistic tile being appraised, because people want to know what those art items are worth. It shows that people in the United States are becoming increasingly conscious of their art history.

It has to do with our age, not our personal age but the age of our country.  I think citizens of the United States are getting more and more into the idea that their country’s history is important, and that’s where the Tile Heritage Foundation becomes important to them, in assisting the validation of that history.

 

TD: Where do you see the Tile Heritage Foundation going next?

Taylor: In addition to the information we have talked about, we also have a collection of tiles donated to the foundation over the last 25 years. These are historic artifacts that date back 125 years. Our intention is to get these in a virtual museum-like setting.

Menzies: These tiles are already photographed; it’s a matter of setting up a portion of our website so those tile images are available. Tile Heritage is not a museum, but we will create one virtually. Getting the tiles in the collections in the public eye is an important thing. And that’s definitely in the works.

Taylor: It will feel like walking into a gallery with art tile on display.

 

TD: Any final thoughts?

Menzies: None of what we do would be possible without support, and it’s important that the TileDealer readership support Tile Heritage. For more information see http://www.tileheritage.org.

 

SOURCES:

Joseph Taylor, Sheila Menzies, co-founders

Tile Heritage Foundation, Healdsburg, CA

707-431-8453

foundation@tileheritage.org


In Search of Recovery by Jeffrey Steele
 
January 16th, 2012

 
With the dawning of a new year, it’s only natural for businesses to engage in reappraisal.  The last few years have been among the toughest on record for the tile industry, and that fact has many companies taking stock of the recent past, and looking ahead to what will hopefully be a brighter tomorrow.

With this in mind, TileDealer has brought together some of the industry’s brightest minds to give us a sense of where the industry is now, and where it may be going.  While none of them possess crystal balls, the wisdom they’ve gained through long industry experience makes them among the best prognosticators around.   In the pages that follow they assess the economic damage of the recent recession, lay out reasons for optimism and, importantly, consider  how dealers should position themselves for the near future.

The construction field has clearly been the most decimated segment of the entire economy, and that has had profound impact on the entire tile industry, says Al Bates, president and CEO of Boulder, Col.-based Profit Planning Group, a profitability research firm that also prepares CTDA’s Profit Analysis Report. .

“The people in the construction segment have had to work harder than anyone else to be successful,” Bates says, noting tile, like other construction-related industries, has seen revenues plunge 20 to 25 percent since 2008.

The tile industry has recovered slightly since 2010, he adds.  One of the reasons it has is that many tile industry companies no longer exist.  “That’s not a recovery in terms of an entire industry,” he says.  “But it’s a recovery in terms of those businesses who are still there trying to make a profit.”

Steve Rausch, Atlanta-based field marketing and technical services manager for Chicago-based U.S. Gypsum, agrees.  “We’ve flushed out a lot of people — manufacturers, distributors, dealers — who needed to be flushed out,” he opines.  “There were a lot of people who in better times found the business easy.  They made money, but didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t care.  There were manufacturers who expanded into areas where they didn‘t have any expertise, and they weren‘t legitimate, and now they’re gone.”

For Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University, the whole malaise can be traced back to the decade of overbuilding in the housing market that occurred prior to 2007.  “A lot of units we didn’t really need we’re still discovering.  And five years in, we’re dealing with it,” he says.

“There are estimates we have an additional three million vacant housing units, above and beyond typical rates.  We’re dealing with an industry overhang.”

The Great Recession has “obviously been pretty devastating for our industry, as the new housing market fell off the face of the earth,” adds Donato Pompo, president of San Diego-based Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, an international team of consultants performing forensic investigations, providing architectural specifications and quality control, marketing and training services.

“When people buy new homes or purchase used homes and do remodeling, they select ceramic, glass or stone tile for the project.  Lack of confidence and discretionary income has kept folks from spending.

“That’s had a huge impact on our industry.”

 

Signs of hope

Despite the drumbeat of negative news advanced by media, there are signs of improvement, Baker says.  The basic building blocks are household formations, he observes, adding that in the 1990s, 1.1 to 1.2 million households were being formed every year, and that number grew to more than 1.3 million a year in the first five years of the millennial decade.  For the past four years, household formations have averaged perhaps half a million annually, he adds.

But Baker believes that by the time 2011 has been fully tallied, it will be found the country added close to 1 million new households:  an encouraging rebound.

“We need to start eroding that excess inventory” of homes, he says.

“We need to work that off, and start seeing new housing units being built.”

Pompo also cites encouraging signs.  In third quarter 2011, housing permits nationwide increased by 6.5 percent, and existing home sales grew by 17.8 percent nationwide, he says, quoting statistics from Stuart Hirschhorn at Catalina Research.  It’s also been reported that floor covering store sales have increased as well.  They were down 7.9 percent in the first half of 2011, but increased 1.2 percent in the third quarter, again per Catalina Research.

What may be driving home sales increases, Pompo adds, is consumers’ belief that depreciation has finally left home prices at levels they can afford.  They also may be reacting to historically low mortgage rates and slightly rising employment levels.

Share of household delinquencies on mortgage payments fell to their lowest levels since the fourth quarter of 2008, Pompo says, again referring to Catalina Research numbers.  “So the question is how sustainable are these trends?” he observes.  “Catalina Research forecasts are that we may see stronger floor covering sales for 2012, but all bets are off for 2013.”

Mitch Dancik, chairman of the board of Cary, NC-based Dancik International, Inc., reports that while the tile and flooring markets are off 40 percent from their highs, the key story is that tile distributors and dealers managed this downturn more effectively than expected, and more effectively than in past downturns.  That could suggest they’re positioned to rebound well.

Rausch also sees signs of hope, but his indicators are far more anecdotal. “In the past month, I’ve flown into Toronto, Canada, and on final approach into the airport, I counted more than 50 cranes,” he says.

“That level goes back to 2006, when there was a lot of construction demand in that city.  The conditions today are different than they were back then.  Someone’s actually paying for the construction rather than financing it through a construction loan, which speaks to the confidence they have.”

When he was in Phoenix, a city with well-publicized economic woes, in November, Rausch saw notable levels of construction.  In conversations with folks in Atlanta and Miami, he has heard business is not setting records, but it’s better than it has been.  “People are saying I’ve got some extra money this year, and I’m going to remodel my kitchen and bathroom,” he says.  “The remodeling business is going to come back, but it will be different.  It’s not going to be six months same as cash, it’s going to be you have the money and you’ll spend it.”

Baker also seems to feel remodeling may ignite sales.  “[Remodeling is] much closer to its long-term trend than housing is,” he says.  “Tile tends to be in the discretionary category, and it could take a little longer for that to snap back.  But on the other hand, indications are the discretionary projects are seeing some signs of life.  Again, however, the comeback has been a slow one.”

Still, there are other observers who find it difficult to be upbeat at all.  Tom Carr, president of Pan-American Ceramics, a City of Industry, Cal.-based tile distributor, says the last year has been the same as the year before.  “And going forward, I don’t see a difference,” he adds.

“Everyone talks about the economy improving, but we heard that in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  Without the foreclosure situation being rectified, I’m not expecting the next 12 months to be different from the last.

“The only good news is it doesn’t appear to be getting worse.  But if our legislators have any way about it, they will make it worse.”

Particularly discouraging is the environment on his home turf in the Golden State, where unemployment rates stand at 12 percent, vis-à-vis 9 percent nationwide.  “The foreclosure situation is worse, where the rate of new home growth was greatest, in states like Arizona, Nevada and California,” Carr adds.  “Those states were more dependent than others on new home building.”
For his part, Bates says the only reason for optimism in the tile industry specifically is that homeowners have postponed remodeling for some time, and may have no choice but to remodel.  This phenomenon is clearly more evident on the upper end.  “But even at the lower end, when things have become so shopworn you can’t stand it any more, and tile is falling off walls, you remodel,”  he says.  “There’s some demand there that will be in evidence because people have to remodel.  But I see no optimism in the area of new housing starts.”

How should tile dealers be positioned?

Looking ahead, dealers and distributors will surely benefit from the fact that tile is positioned to be a preferred wall and floor covering among consumers, Dancik says.  “However, the tile industry will need to use technology more effectively in order to meet consumer expectations,” he adds.

“Tile distributors and dealers used yesterday’s technology effectively to survive this recession.  They must now embrace today’s technology to stay competitive.”

Without overall growth, tile dealers will be faced with the fact they can only grow their businesses by taking share from their competitors, Bates reports.

“This gets back to really just running the business better,” he adds.  “When things are really good, you don’t look at pricing and say, ’Did I get all I could have from that sale?’  You ignore those things and go with the flow.  And right now, you have to look at all those things really closely.  It’s running the business the way we should have all along.  When things are good, you don’t look at things with the precision you must at times like right now.”

It’s also the time to be consistent, Bates says.  If you are an upper-end dealer, you should be an upper-end dealer now as well as when times are good.  Moreover, dealers can’t cut back their presence in the market.  “When things get better, as they surely will, folks have to know who you are,” he says.  “If you maintain visibility now, you will have an advantage when things get better.”

Rausch agrees.  Tile dealers must offer value, not just low price.  “A lot of people have ducked their heads under their wings, and have tried to survive just by offering low prices, rather than the value the customer is seeking,” he says.

“I was at Total Solutions, and one of the major speakers spoke of tile as art.  Big boxes have been beating the tile dealer because no one is going to beat the big boxes on price.  But what the boxes can’t do is give you a custom tile job.

“They can’t give you any sort of artistic project.  For the most part, their installers are not qualified to go in and do custom layouts and installations.

“That’s where the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation and the CTDA work so well together.  They support each other on the craftsman and artistic end of the business, not just putting in tile.”

Rausch notes only a handful of dealers and distributors are creating blogs aimed at consumers.  There should be hundreds, he says.  “Century Tile in Chicago is out every week putting decorating ideas out to consumers.  D & B Tile in Miami is going to the architectural community for commercial work with some of those same kinds of ideas.  Neuse Tile Service in Raleigh is going to the consumers with the message of quality tile.  Welsh Tile in Grand Rapids, Mich. is doing the same thing, with a blog to commercial and residential markets.”

Baker notes that a couple of arenas within the remodeling sector are stronger than others.  One is the area of green retrofits, which tile dealers should leverage to the hilt, he says.  The other area showing even greater robustness is the rehabilitation of distressed properties.  In the nation’s tidal wave of distressed homes, there has been little incentive for occupants to remodel, until now.

“These homes have been in the same situation for years, where very little money has been reinvested in even basic maintenance,” Baker says.  “If a household purchases that home for 50 or 60 cents on the dollar, the buyers have to go in and do some improvement to areas of the home not maintained in years.

“That provides some opportunity.”

If any additional proof is needed, Baker says the average distressed home is absorbing $4,000 in improvements as it is prepared for sale, about 50 percent more than would be spent by the average homeowner on home improvements over the course of a year, according to figures from Fannie Mae.

For his part, Noah Chitty, the Crossville, Tenn.-based technical services director for Chicago-based Stonepeak Ceramics, says dealers and distributors must make themselves a resource to the end user.

“They need to be the place that offers the education, and has the training,” he asserts.  “If the dealer can be that resource, it heads off the thought of buying from the Internet or from someone who doesn’t really know tile.  I think tile is still something you need to touch and feel to understand the beauty and physical properties.  If you’re buying tile for a residential application, you may not need all the physical properties we build into commercial tile.  But it takes an educated distributor to explain the important differences between the two.”

Pompo agrees.  Dealers must focus on service, he argues, realizing a limited market exists for their products and the one way to grow their shares right now may be to differentiate themselves by providing heightened service.  “That’s always been their advantage over the big box stores,” he says.

Like Bates and Rausch, he argues tile dealers can’t cut their prices overall, because doing so will only make them busier, in turn leading them to compromise their levels of service or be forced to spend more money to keep the quality of service high.

One of the mathematical truths in marketing, he says, is that if a business decreases its prices by 10 percent and its costs remain the same, it has to increase sales volume by 43 percent just to break even.

One way to improve service is by investing in employee training, Pompo adds.  “We provide the CTDA . . . the online training courses for selling ceramic tile and for selling stone,” he says.  “These courses give employees more confidence and credibility, making them more effective salespeople.  Training provides a return on investment that never ends.”

Tile dealers also should make sure their showrooms are up to date and showcase both a good product representation and the features and benefits of the products.  Today’s consumer wants information, the kind provided in detailed features and benefits, Pompo says.

Because the hot button these days is sustainability, tile dealers should also demonstrate a commitment to that objective by featuring recycling containers in the showroom and aligning their business with green-oriented manufacturers that are certified in product sustainability.

Finally, Pompo says, they must ensure they have a presence on the Internet.  “Today’s consumer is so much more inclined to go to the Internet first,” Pompo says.  “Your website should be an extension of your showroom, and a reflection of who you are as a business.”

Above all, it makes good business sense to understand depressed times can’t last forever.  Rausch believes dealers must position themselves for a recovery, whenever it arrives.  “In the past year, USG has again spent money on new product innovation and development,” he says.  “We’ve been doing that consistently, and the reason we have is we want to be prepared for the growth and prosperity that’s coming.  The crystal ball gets cloudy as to whether it’s going to happen this year or next year, but our business is cyclical, and if you don’t invest now, in these times, you’re going to be left behind in the others.”

SOURCES:

Kermit Baker, director

Remodeling Futures Program, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Cambridge, MA

617-495-8879

 

Al Bates, president/CEO

Profit Planning Group, Boulder

303-444-6121

 

Tom Carr, president

Pan American Ceramics, City of Industry, CA

626-961-0051

 

Noah Chitty, Crossville-based technical services director

Stonepeak Ceramics, Chicago

931-210-7500

 

Mitch Dancik, chairman of the board,

Dancik International, Ltd., Cary, NC

919-379-3733

 

Donato Pompo, president and consultant

Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants, San Diego

619-669-2967

 

Steve Rausch, Atlanta-based field marketing and technical services manager

U.S. Gypsum, Chicago

404-281-2218

 

 

 

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