Two years ago, in accordance with its increase in the amount of editorial coverage devoted to ceramic tile and natural stone, NFT initiated a market study to examine the impact that ceramic tile was having on the U.S. floor covering industry. The results showed ceramic tile ranking a surprising third in U.S. flooring sales, trailing only carpet/area rugs and vinyl floors, respectively.

To produce an accurate picture of ceramic tile industry in the United States for the new millennium, the market research division at Business News Publishing Co. selected 1,000 distributors, dealers and wholesalers on an Nth-name basis from the NFT subscriber list, as well as 339 members of the Ceramic Tile Distributors of America (an additional 84 names were both NFT subscribers and CTDA members), and sent a comprehensive survey for them to complete and return.

The survey was conducted in the 4th quarter of 2000. Of the 1,363 usable surveys mailed, the market research division logged a 14% rate of reply. Respondents were overwhelmingly tile distributors or floor covering dealers. More than 30% of those surveyed owned, or worked for, companies with 1999 gross annual sales of $20 million or more.

In 1999, 89% of survey respondents expected ceramic tile sales to increase during the next 18 months. In 2001, 83% expect the same, with 28% of those expecting to see sales increases of more than 20%. Only 4% of respondents expect to see a decrease in ceramic tile sales during the same period. Residential sales currently outstrip commercial sales nearly 3-to-1, according to those surveyed. Floor tile remains the leader in type of tile sold, accounting for 63% of all tile sales. Wall tile is second at 18%. When it comes to size of tile sold, the results are nearly as lopsided: 12" x 12" tiles are the best selling tiles for 52% of respondents, while 13" x 13" tiles took second place with 27%.

Tile lays claim to an international appeal and influence as perhaps no other floor covering can. Two-thirds of all tile sales are imported tile, according to respondents. Italy is responsible for a full 49% of all imported tile sold by those surveyed. Spain remains a strong second with 23%, while Mexico and Brazil are responsible for 13% and 5%, respectively, of all imports sold in the United States.

Porcelain has been quietly laying the groundwork to become a major influence in the U.S. tile market for some time, and many people are taking notice. Porcelain tile sales should increase 25% during the next 18 months, according to the 77% of respondents who believe the market will see an increase (only 1% of those surveyed expect porcelain tile sales to decrease).

One point of contention that has long plagued the floor covering industry is the effect of big-box home centers. There are those who believe the industry itself may someday collapse under the pricing pressures and volume discounts the home centers offer, while another segment sees little, if any, reason for concern. As far as the ceramic tile industry is concerned, NFT found that 50% of respondents believe that home centers have a neutral impact on their business; 17% actually believe the home center influence to be a positive one. However, 40% of survey respondents have a negative outlook on the influence of the home centers during the next 18 months.

The purpose behind the NFT Ceramic Tile Market Trends Study is to identify current and future trends in the ceramic industry. The 2001 study would seem to suggest that the continued growth and influence of ceramic tile in the United States is unquestionable. The only question that remains is: How big will it get?