Look at just a small part of the evolution of modern day tile and stone use: Early man figured out how to turn mud into walls and bake squares—bricks—out in the sun for building housing and other structures. The Egyptians learned to cut various stones for housing, temples and pyramids.
Then look at the Roman era where perhaps the world’s greatest architectural structures, streets and flooring were built from cut stone slabs and mud tiles. They were even instrumental in inventing various types of bonding cement and grout fillers. During this time period achieving the engineering rank of stonemason was considered to be one of the greatest skilled crafts a person could achieve.
In later centuries, Spain and Italy began to perfect the firing of ceramic and porcelain quality tiles. Even American Indians and Mexicans preceded us with mud/clay (baked in the sun) tiles and bricks. Even today, we replicate natural and ceramic look Mexican pavers.
America Went Soft
But America is a relatively young country and our roots in today’s modern flooring are largely derived from the rug making to broadloom industries of England and other European countries. Our inventors took us from hand-knotted looms to man-powered mechanized looms to tufting carpet machines over the last two centuries.
These inventions led to softer wall-to-wall carpet becoming more available in the late 1950s and 1960s. At that time the people in charge of waxing the wood and linoleum floors in the home were thrilled to cover them over with soft wall-to-wall carpet. Often when I talk to a young couple moving into their first home, I hear them explain, “We pulled back the carpet and found these beautiful wood floors. Why would they do that?”
I then ask, “Was your house built in the 1940s or early ’50s?” They always say, “yes,” and I explain that urethane was not invented yet, and people were tired of waxing. In the 1960s and ’70s an average home being built had about 90% carpet and 10% vinyl/linoleum. But as the decades passed the luxury and functionality of hard surface began to take a higher percentage of a home’s flooring.
Today the percentages are still moving stronger toward hard surfaces. The statistics show soft surface (carpet and rugs) has just over 60% of the market and the rest split between the various other hard surfaces (hardwood, resilient, laminate and ceramic tile/porcelain/stone).
Believe when I say I still love carpet. After all, I’ve spent 30 years of my life being called, “The Carpet Man.” But as a retailer, I could not be happier about this shift, as with profits being much higher on hard surface sales, I’ll be glad to be called the “Tile Guy.”
As with carpet, I actually love selling all types of flooring, but of all the hard surfaces, I see tile as having the biggest upside, which at this point in my career surprises me. The first 15 years of my career I sold almost no tile. The stores I worked for simply didn’t sell it. They looked at it as what I call “a pain in the butt business.” They looked at tile as a product that took too much sales time for too little profit. Where you might spend an hour selling a 50-foot bathroom of tile flooring you could sell an entire home full of carpet in that 60 minutes.
Then the shipping’s a pain. It’s like shipping cement. Pieces get broken and it’s very costly. Plus new stores selling tile have to learn the product and installation methods. You then need to vet tile installers. Essentially, there are many excuses for a dealer to stay out of the tile business.
But here’s one good excuse to do it—and do it successfully: Of all hard surfaces sold in the U.S., tile covers over 20%. That’s a pretty big number to miss out on or send down the road to your competitor. About 15 years ago I started managing for a store that did a pretty good job of selling tile. I have to admit I was out of my comfort zone with the product. Fortunately for me, I write manuals about product knowledge. So I studied it and became pretty successful at selling and designing the product on both floors and walls.
For about 10 years I sold tile with an attitude that I still would rather use my time selling carpet. Then about five years ago the tile business just took off for my store and me. More customers were asking for high-end bathrooms, kitchens, and even other rooms of the house, such as the living room and even bedrooms. Major portions of the house, and that meant my average sale on tile was higher than a good, average full house of carpet sale.
In fact, just recently before sitting down to write this column, I spent about two hours working with a DIY remodeler who was tiling two large bathrooms, a kitchen and dining room (floors and walls) with some very high-end products. When we were done with the search, presentation, and help with calculations, the couple bought over $7,800 in cash-and-carry tile.
That was an unusual sale, but the fact is, we are entering an era that big tile installation jobs are more the norm and well worth the time and education needed to take your share of that market. Invest in samples, education (product and sales) and new installation methods now because we are becoming more like the rest of the world and really seeing the value of selling tile. Thanks for reading.
Based in Loveland, Colo., Kelly Kramer is an author, inventor and owner of Kelly’s Carpet Wagon. He is a 27-year veteran of the flooring industry, with 25 of those years as a retail sales advisor. To contact him with questions or to book him for public speaking engagements, call or email: (970) 622-0077 or firstname.lastname@example.org