Personalization. It's key to the way that business is done today. Whenever they embark on any major purchases for the home, consumers are always thinking "personalization." This applies to flooring, furniture, the pool, the patio, the lighting, etc. The more expensive the home, the more personalization its owner is likely to require.

I am of the opinion that there are two major reasons why people choose ceramic tile floors over other flooring surfaces: it is the most durable of all floor coverings, and it is one of the only floor covering that can be personalized (to any significant degree).

So, how can tile floors be personalized? The options are limited only by the imagination. Off the top of my head, I can come up more than a dozen ways:

  • Various available textures can be mixed or matched for unique effects.
  • Listellos can be used to border or personalize any room.
  • Tile can be cut into one-quarter size and alternated in color to create custom borders.
  • Tile can be installed in an "area rug" configuration in any room.
  • Medallions can be strategically tied in with the interior architecture and design of the home.
  • Using modular sizes of tile, two- to 15-piece patterns can be created (see illustrations).
  • Tile provides the ability to change sizes as a means of delineating specific areas.
  • Tile can be set with a straight joint, brick joint, or in patterns such as herringbone, basket weave, angled, etc.
  • Tile provides the ability to change direction from straight set in one room, to a 45-degree angle in another as a way to help to define different areas of the home.
  • Any among a wide variety of grout colors can be used to help define a unique overall appearance.
  • Counters and walls can use tiles that match, complement or contrast those used on the floor.
  • Tile provides the ability to inset different tiles or natural stones.
  • Tiles can be custom fabricated for virtually any area through the use of waterjet cutting technology.

The best part about using tile is that you can personalize any floor at any price range. The cost to the customer ranges from minimal (as in the case of creating a border using field tile) to very expensive (waterjet-cut stone medallions). But whenever thought is put into the design process, the flooring retailer can help customers achieve something that they really want - a home that has been personalized to their individual tastes and preferences.

How do you sell a personalized tile installation? In two ways. First, the customer must be given an opportunity to visualize the finished product. And second, the customer must find it easy to buy the final product.

Visualizing the finished product. It's pretty difficult to sell a personalized installation just by verbally describing it to the customer. So how can you help the customer imagine that tile sample installed in their home?

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, you'll need "lifestyle" photos to show customers examples of personalized installations. Put together your own "dream book" using illustrations and photos from various shelter, trade and design publications. Visit model home sites to take photos, and ask manufacturers for slides, transparencies or prints.

Assemble display vignettes and mini-vignettes. Showroom vignettes are expensive to install and even more expensive to maintain. So it might be less troublesome to use mini-vignettes. These can be large grouted panels (as large as 3' x 5'), small hand-held grouted boards, "concept boards" that show various moldings and installation patterns, or even a small 1-foot-square "shelf" that displays the various trims available. Taking a little bit of time and effort to develop a creative mini-vignette is well worth the investment.

You also might consider using software that produces computer-generated floors featuring various layouts.

Making personalized tile designs easy to buy. In the tile business, custom tiles have always been available from small manufacturers. Most customers hesitate to buy custom-made products, but most will purchase personalized ones. What's the difference? "Custom" conjures the notion of designing from scratch, which represents a very limited market. "Personalized packages" make it easy for the purchaser to have something unique, without having to spend a lot of time and creativity to produce it.

For example, why have infinite price points on all the floor listellos (borders) you are showing? Why not group listellos in price groups - like A, B and C, etc. - and price them out by the lineal foot.

"Ma'am, your entryway will take 16 linear feet of listellos," you can tell the client. "Pick out any one of the listellos in our Group B package and, for $160, we can give you a personalized installation."

Another way to make personalization easy to buy is to assemble tile components as a package. Why not sell a typical tub surround in a kit? You don't have to physically package the tile in a kit, just do the estimating in advance so the customer can compare the different tiles as if they were in off-the-shelf kits.

For example, you can price out a typical tub surround using 4 1/4-inch tile (50 square feet of tile, 25 linear feet of trim, two corners and one soap dish), then price out three or more other upgraded tiles. Your customer can compare pricing immediately to get an idea how much each tile group will cost.

"Sir, this 4 1/4-inch tile will be $100," you can explain. "The next upgrade is priced at $185, and you can add 10 linear feet of any of the Group B lines for an additional $50."

This strategy will allow you to very simply create an upgraded sale AND a personalized installation. The end result offers a mutual benefit. The customer gets a personalized installation and the salesperson closes a larger, more profitable sale.

So, while it is true that tile has many practical physical attributes, don't overlook the customer's emotional responses to the material; integrate personalized designs into your selling process and make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy the tile and the concept.