Shown is the Commercial/Hospitality winner, RMW Architecture & Interiors, in the Ceramic Tiles of Italy Design Competition, sponsored by Confindustria Ceramica, the Association of Italian Ceramics and the Italian Trade Commission.

Project: Brocade Communications

Tile Manufacturer: Caesar Ceramica

Contractor: DeAnza Tile and Reputable Tile

Distributor: SpecCeramics, Inc.

As a salesperson or manager, how would you like to add significant sales and profit to your bottom line this year?  I’m talking about package sales, but specifically, learning how to sell ceramic tile to complement your existing menu of carpet, resilient, and other hard surface products.

Learning how, where, when, and what to sell in ceramic tile requires some effort, study and training. Take full advantage of the educational opportunities from Crossville, Daltile, Florida Tile, Ceramic Tiles of Italy, Tile of Spain and other highly regarded brands to learn tile basics and what is appropriate from a design, function, and performance standpoint.

Don’t make the mistake of specifying a wall tile for a flooring application or using the wrong setting materials, as you’ll wish you had spent a few hours studying the 2011 TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation.

Start out small. Grow the size of your jobs over time to that 50,000 sq. ft. job for your local mall retrofit. First off, those types of projects require an installation team that is focused on production, are fraught with peril when it comes to floor substrate condition and overall working conditions, and can offer very little profit potential.

The ideal beginning job is an add-on to a larger job. For example, let’s say you are specifying a carpet replacement job for an activity room, and notice that the existing resilient tile in a corridor leading to the exterior building entrance is in bad shape. The client has asked for your opinion on a replacement product, stating, “Maintenance has always been a headache and the area is slick when wet, and no matter what we do, it just doesn’t look good. I want some other product – upscale in design, colorful, and easy to maintain.”

Rather than suggest another resilient product or a liquid-applied floor, consider an 8” or 18” ceramic tile in one of the new upscale color introductions that will brighten an otherwise drab area. Be sure and specify a complementary color to other finishes and a type and color of grout consistent with the expected traffic.  In other words, don’t choose a bright, white grout if you’re going to have a lot of traffic from uncovered, outside areas. The grout lines will always look dirty and not show the tile to its best advantage.

Specify a tile with an imbedded grit or embossed surface texture so as to promote slip resistance, but not so much that it will be impossible to use a wet, damp, or dry mop. You certainly don’t want to have a sea of fuzz floating around the floor, leaving a grayish cast.

With ceramic and stone installations, a big key to success is thorough floor prep, specifying the right setting materials, and having qualified, certified tile installers. Some ceramic or quarry tile floors are much more forgiving of a high MVER and will be just one more reason to specify ceramic.

Make sure you also follow through with the right accessory products such as transition and edge strips or guards. Metal, rubber or vinyl trims are available in straight and curved and flexible forms to complete the tile installation or abut another flooring product. With a little study, though, you will demonstrate your ceramic prowess and professional qualifications by picking just the right ones.  

Do not make the mistake of leaving off the metal edge strips, which encase the ceramic tile and provide much needed protection against edge breakage. Most edge strips are designed to be embedded into the setting material, and then the ceramic tile installer will position the ceramic into the setting material and against the edge. This method provides more structural protection and is generally more stable than one installed after the fact.

I have found selling ceramic is more complicated that many other flooring products, especially for commercial applications. Partner with your ceramic supplier to learn their product range and the best application for each style. The right supplier will make it easy to pick just the right style, or even a good, better, best selection for your potential project.

The supplier’s interest is getting the project by partnering with you; they have no interest in suggesting a marginal product or one that may not perform up to its full potential. Give them a chance, and they’ll make you look like a hero. There is no substitute for knowing the classes of products and where each are designed to be used. I believe there is a ceramic tile and setting method for just about any commercial application.

Be sure to discuss all job requirements with your ceramic tile and installation product vendor. This includes complete site information, your client’s requirements understanding the substrate onto which you will be doing the installation, the expected and intended traffic, and the product performance expectations.  

In my history of commercial sales, I was forced into learning about ceramic by a client who insisted that, “Since you want to sell me 9,900 yards of carpet, how about handling the ceramic part of the project, too?” The ceramic portion involved a small area (16 sq. ft.) in front of each doorway (about 200 doorways in the job).

With my inexperience at the time, I saw handling the ceramic portion of the entire job as an irritant rather than an opportunity. I did everything possible to avoid handling the ceramic because I didn’t want to involve another crew and the hassle of shipping and site supervision. To no avail my client said, “I want one contractor to handle the flooring; do you want the job or not?” That got my attention, and so I went to my local tile showroom, met with a staff designer, and got a crash course on the type of ceramic that would be appropriate, what accessory items and setting materials to use, and how to figure the project.

With that information, I was able to put together design boards, sample accessory items, suggest the type of installation and provide a detailed scope of work. I used a higher markup for all of the extra effort and when the job was complete, it turned out to be one of my most profitable jobs that year! That taught me a lesson and should be instructive for you.

Some clients will select ceramic because it promises to be low maintenance.  However, one needs to remind clients that “low maintenance does not mean no maintenance or shortcuts.” In one memorable commercial application, a client had experienced several slip and fall accidents in a corridor leading from a production area to an office setting. So, he specified an 8” ceramic tile with a surface grit that would enhance slip resistance.

At first, all went well; however, in lieu of the weekly machine-scrubbing to remove the residue of oil and grease being tracked from the production room, they began to substitute wet mopping, which turned into damp mopping. While the floor still appeared to be clean, and actually had a soft, attractive patina, the oil and grease residue had overwhelmed the slip resistant particles on the tile and became a slip hazard.  

The next thing the flooring contractor heard was, “The ceramic tile you sold me is no good; all of those ‘slip resistant particles have worn away’ and the tile is defective.”  After an inspection and thorough cleaning, the grease and oil residue buildup was removed and the client admitted that “the tile seems as good as new, so I guess we will have to change our cleaning procedures.”

The ability to sell commercial ceramic tile successfully and profitably boils down to your willingness to expend the effort to become an expert. Quality suppliers can keep you out of trouble if you’ll let them. I’d encourage you to focus on one or two ceramic lines that fit your business segments and spend the time to watch a top-notch ceramic crew install a job.

I promise you, you’ll be amazed at what they have to do to turn out a first-rate job. Also be sure to attend an upcoming seminar or ceramic tile product launch. Selling ceramic has the potential to be a high-profit add-on to your regular business. It can make your 2011, if you are willing to spend the time.