Marazzi’s Stone Bath Mosaic

The good news for those working in the tile and stone segment is that even in the face of a challenging environment, there are clear signs that the category is strong and poised for increased sales in the near future. The 242 retailers participating in our exclusive survey confirm that the wide assortment of tile and stone products remains a core element of their merchandise mix and an area they frequently pitch to their customers.

StonePeak Ceramics’ Ville Collection

The not-so-good-news is that their optimism is waning somewhat. Two years ago nearly three out of four dealers/installers  said they expected to see increased tile and stone sales in the coming year, while 25% said it would be flat and 3% expected a dip. For our most recent study, 53% forecast an uptick while 30% said there would be no change and 16% predicted a decline in ceramic tile sales. The finding means the percentage of respondents who are predicting a dip in sales has risen significantly in recent years while the portion of dealers/installers who describe tile and stone as “very important” to their operation slipped from 42% two years ago to 36%.      

Ilva S.A.’s Patch Series

Also, the category holds a unique place for dealers. Perhaps more so than any other area of flooring, the tile and stone segment enables retailers to sell products that go beyond the floor. Survey participants indicated that about 44% of the tile they sell is intended for walls, back splashes, decorative trims or countertops. Last year, the survey placed the figure at 35% of category sales.

Champion’s Aplite Stone.

Other changes in the category involve shifts in the types of products favored by end users and installers. For example, while those participating in our survey last year said they expected stone to be the most popular style of ceramic tile, this year they anticipate that porcelain tile will claim the top spot in the category. In 2007, 31% of respondents said they expected stone to be No. 1 while 20% said it would be porcelain. This year, 37% said porcelain while 14% said stone.

As for color, the popularity of earth tones seems to be surging while beige colored tile is falling out of favor. All told, 41% of respondents identified earth tones as the most popular color (up from 20% last year) while 6% said the color of choice would be beige (down from 20% last year).

Large format tiles-particularly the 18” by 18” variety -have surged in popularity in recent years. While the study in 2007 found that the standard 12” by 12” format accounted for more than half the flooring tile sold, the more recent survey saw that figure fall to 37%. At the same time, the 18” by 18” tiles, which accounted for 14% of sales a year ago, now generate about 22% of the category’s sales at retail. While the trend is not as pronounced in wall tile, 12” by 12” tiles are clearly a growth area, doubling from 8% of the volume a year ago to 16% today. The No. 1 choice for wall tile remains the well established 6” by 6” format.

Another modest change in the category involves origin. A year ago the market for ceramic tile was evenly split between domestic and imported product. The most recent study indicates that product from outside the U.S. has gained a slight majority and now accounts for 53% of sales. 

Retailers told us more than half of the tile they sell is used for residential replacement projects while 25% goes to new construction projects. The contract/commercial sector accounts for 16% of sales while Main Street commercial amounts to 4% of tile sales. 

Other findings of the survey were these:

• Grout problems are become less of an issue. In the previous survey 21% noted that grout was a concern. Only 8% said so this year.  However, 10% of responsdents indicate grout cleaning is still a concern for their customers.

• Glass tile, which has a unique set of installation issues, was also identified as a growth area in the tile category. Nearly 70% of those surveyed said they expect it to increase.

• Stone products remain an area dominated by imports. Dealers told us they account for 69% of their total stone sales.

• In terms of installation, there is a trend among dealers to hire their own employees rather than farm the work out. A year ago 18% of those polled said they exclusively used their own crews while 62% said they rely on independent contractors. Now, 26% use their own staff and 43% go with contractors.

• Whether they use their own people or rely on an outside contractor, 89% of the dealers in our survey said they specify all products used on the job including grout and mortar.

• Asked how many distributors or suppliers they use for each category, dealers said they tend to have fewer suppliers for stone than tile. In tile more than 50% of those polled said they have between three and six distributors or suppliers. In stone, 65% of the respondents said they called on no more than four sources.

To place orders, more dealers are logging on

While Web orders still rank a distant third among methods for procuring product from a distributor or other source, dealers may be finally warming up to the technology. The percentage of survey participants who said they contact their suppliers using email or some type of direct B2B system jumped from 23% a year ago to 40% in the most recent poll.

Even so, ordering product by phone remains the No. 1 choice, identified by 82% of those in the poll (down from 89% two years ago). Faxing an order, meanwhile, is a method now used by 53% of retailers, down slightly from 55% in 2006. It is also worth noting that at a time when the popularity of Internet ordering is increasing, a much more personal method is also gaining. Those who said they travel to a distributor/retailer location to obtain product more than doubled from 11% in 2006 to 24% this year. Meanwhile, the percentage of those ordering from a visiting sales rep held firm at about 30% of those in the survey.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a snap shot of a new comprehensive study examining the retail market for ceramic tile and stone, including porcelain and glass tile. The conclusions are based on the opinions, preferences and purchasing behavior of U.S. flooring retailers/installers and have been compiled from an in-depth study conducted in July and August of this year by Clear Seas Research, a division of BNP Media which is also the parent company of National Floor Trends.

The study targeted U.S. flooring retailers/dealers who are also active, qualified subscribers ofNational Floor Trends (NFT)magazine and its sister publicationTILE.A total of 242 survey questionnaires were completed by respondents.

This in-depth research study provides up-to-date information on the retail market of ceramic tile/stone sales, brand awareness/preference and color/style trends. The full and complete report is available for purchase from Clear Seas Research. For information about ordering or to find out more about Clear Seas Research services, please contact Sarah Turner at