By Megan Salzano-Birch—The ceramic category can be a difficult nut to crack for the dealer community, but it’s one that should be embraced as the ongoing potential for record-breaking sales continues into 2022. From inherent benefits like durability and water resistance, to advantages in adding resale value to a home and the most varied application opportunities of any category, ceramic can truly support any dealer’s growth aspirations, proponents say.
“Simply put, consumers have a strong desire for tile,” Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of marketing, Emser Tile, told FCNews† “The durable and water-resistant nature of tile combined with its beauty and longevity makes it ideal for many applications and surfaces. New technologies are stretching the boundaries of design and attributes that make it more desirable in residential and commercial—both interior and exterior applications.”
Amber Leigh Martinson, senior director of marketing, Dal-Tile, pointed to the important fact that there are two places in the home where consumers will always spend money renovating: the kitchen and the bathroom. “In addition to that long-standing premise, residential renovation is especially hot right now,” she added. “A retailer would be remiss to pass up this potential business. Also, tile purchasing and installation is not a process that the typical homeowner has ever been through before, so consumers are looking for an expert to guide them through the process.”
How much tile is enough
When it comes to onboarding ceramic or even successfully selling your store’s current ceramic program, the question of product selection is key. How many tile lines are enough and which materials should those collections consist of? Suppliers say ceramic takes commitment and perseverance—and plenty of lines to choose from.
“Selling to the customers interested in shopping for ceramic tile is not an area where you can simply ‘dip your toes in the water’ with just a few vendor displays,” explained Manny Llerena, team leader, MSI. “You probably need to devote a minimum of 750 square feet of floor space and, more realistically, provide 1,200 square feet and up. These ceramic tile shopping spaces would need to display in the neighborhood of 500-plus floor, wall and decorative options for the shopper.”
Dal-Tile’s Martinson agreed, noting consumers want several product lines from which to make their selection. However, she added that consumers don’t do well if they feel overwhelmed by the number of choices or if the choices are not set up in an easy-to-shop configuration. “They key is to build a tile program with several of the ‘right’ brands,” she explained. “Brands that not only offer quality products that are on-trend but also wrap these products in a comprehensive merchandising program.”
The ceramic category is fixed; while having an idea of how many lines are suitable to carry, the question should also be raised about the type of ceramic that should be offered. “Dealers should make sure they are able to offer indoor- and outdoor-rated floor, wall, decorative and mosaic tiles in a variety of materials (stone, ceramic and porcelain) and sizes, including large-format and even large, thin porcelain slabs Emser’s Villanueva-Heras explained. “Depending on the region and local tastes, they should consider a range of aesthetic preferences that will meet the needs of their customer base.”
Once a dealer has found the right ceramic collections to offer, the strategy shifts toward merchandising. Suppliers say both in-store and online merchandising are key in this category. In store, vignettes and flooring installations are a safe bet. In the virtual realm, digital tools such as visualizers are often essential to the sale.
“You are likely to sell what you show, so choose something that is not only eye-catching but also likely to have a wide appeal,” Emser’s Villanueva-Heras noted. “If a dealer can feature a wide number of installed items, you can begin to highlight various materials and aesthetic styles to broaden the showcase.”
Dal-Tile’s Martinson added that shoppers are visual by nature, and if the vignette is attractive, it helps foster their comfort level during the shopping process. “However, well-done is the key,” she explained. “Only feature a vignette in your store if you have the resources to really make it attractive. Otherwise, you may want to rely on nice room scene photography provided by the brand to serve as your visuals.”
Doug Hayes, vice president of sales, Florida Tile, agreed, noting the extreme importance of constantly updated vignettes and floors. “Update often—even if the material installed is not discontinued, you should update on a regular basis,” he said. “Make certain to remove discontinued items immediately. Vignettes should highlight unique products and patterns, which is especially true with collections that boast high shade variations.”
MSI’s Llerena agreed but noted that vignettes and installations are the most expensive route, which can be cost prohibitive for some dealers and can lead to stagnant displays. “What I would suggest for today’s ceramic tile shopping areas is the use of graphics scattered in with your grouted board panels or on end caps,” he explained. “These are much less expensive and easily updated. You can also mix in some trend panels or actual grouted products. The trend boards can be up to 4 feet wide x 6 feet tall, which allows the consumer to see actual installations and matching decorative products with field tile but is less costly than a vignette, takes up less room and can be switched out periodically to keep your visual assortment up to date.”
When it comes to the digital side of things, suppliers say it’s important to deploy a variety of tools. “Utilize TV and monitors to showcase installations (room scenes) and unique product information,” Florida Tile’s Hayes said. “Utilize social media and direct e-blast campaigns to target audiences (builders, designers, etc.).”
Dal-Tile Martinson agreed, noting, “Today’s retailers need to be present on social media and also very savvy using digital communications. They need to be very nimble and timely in their responses via text or email to a customer. In addition, the retailer should have a multi-pronged digital effort. They should have well-developed targeted digital messages and social media posts.”
For MSI, the two keys here are to have a robust website that customers can browse for your ceramic offering and partnering with a supplier like MSI who can help you with all your digital needs, Llerena said. MSI offers two unique digital tools: Its brand-new Image Portal and its Multi-Surface Visualizer.
Emser’s Villanueva-Heras added that it’s all about the in-store/online balance. “Tile can benefit from photos, videos and online visualizers to help a consumer identify the right option for the project. The ability to ship, deliver or in some way offer a sample can be key to satisfaction. Shopping online combined with a sample can make for a smooth transaction, and digital tools can be a great resource to help narrow the choices and make an in-store experience better and more productive.”