Are you in the retail floor covering sales business?
Have you thought about selling ceramic tile but were
hesitant? Customers visit your store to select finishing
materials for their home. Why let them escape to another
venue to select their ceramic products?
Perhaps the tile industry looks different to you if
you've been used to selling carpeting and sheet goods.
There are some reasons. The products you've been selling
have been likely made in the US by a handful of producers.
With ceramic tile there are thousands of producers all
over the world vying for your business. That's one reason
that you are attending Coverings.
There are many products on the market. All of them
are not suitable for all applications and a simple rating
system like the PAR rating for carpets is not practical.
Let me provide some guidance for you to consider about
I. Why should you sell ceramic tile?
Simply put, it is a hot product. Sales have increased
by double digits for four of the past five years. Total
market growth has been 75% in those years and is forecast
to continue at a strong rate for the next five years.
Tile has an inherently high profit margin. The value
of tile can be effectively marketed to the consumer
and you can escape the cost-cutting frenzy found in
other categories. Tile is very popular and has doubled
its share of the building products market in the past
II. Why is it popular?
Ceramic tile has many advantages. It is available in
a multitude of colors, shapes, sizes, textures, glosses,
and features. This variety lends itself to an unlimited
spectrum of design possibilities. Many tiles are now
available in "modular sizes" that is they
have grout joints that line up with various sized tiles.
It is also a great value. Ceramic tile has never been
cheaper since World War II without even adjusting for
Tile will last for a long time. Whenever I'm asked
about the product life I say: "Properly selected
and installed, tile will last as long as you want it,
or the structure it's attached to falls down."
Proof is there in the ancient ruins of Egypt, Pompeii,
and other places in the Middle East.
It goes anywhere. But here it is necessary to qualify
that statement. It can be used on floors, walls, countertops,
ceilings, pools, tubs, showers, outside walls, even
moving surfaces as found in motorhomes and boats can
be tiled. But the tile must be properly selected and
it must be properly installed. Substrate selection and
preparation are important.
Tile is easy to clean and this appeals to today's consumer
who is very busy after working all-day and running a
household. We recommend using only the mildest cleaning
products that are pH neutral to clean tile. With the
exception of porous, unglazed and unsealed tiles, cleaning
is simple. But usually when the TCNA gets calls about
difficulty in cleaning tiles, it is the grout that is
dirty. One important point to remember is that wet areas
such as showers and tubs must have tile installed in
a way that allows that water to drain from the system
and not be trapped behind the tile. Water can penetrate
into the smallest crevices such as the grout joints.
This moisture must have a way to escape or eventually
failure will occur in the tile work.
Tile protects the environment. Most tile factories
today are energy efficient. There is little or no waste
discharge through recycling techniques. Even scrap tiles
can be recycled into new production and technology is
being devolved to use scrap glass and municipal waste.
But more than this, tile is made from naturally occurring
minerals that are extremely abundant. There is no shortage
of clay in this world. And tile lasts a long time unlike
other materials that are ripped out every 7 years and
hauled to the landfill. Tile can last for centuries.
III. How should you sell tile?
Now that I have perhaps persuaded you to sell tile,
you will want to know how to sell tile. First of all,
the secret to most success in life is to learn as much
as you can about the subject. Read books and go to any
schools or seminars that you can. Attending sessions
at Coverings is a great way to jump-start your knowledge.
Show it effectively. This suggestion cannot be new
to anyone in the industry but it is very important.
Consumers need to visualize what can be done with tile.
There are so many choices and potential applications
that consumer selection of the product is complicated.
Make it as easy as you can for them to picture the product
in their home. Three-dimensional vignettes are the method
of choice. Small sample boards sitting in the corner
getting dusty are not effective. However you can devote
a lot of showroom space showing tile so the choices
to present must be carefully selected. Large-sized color
photographs of installations are a great adjunct to
the vignettes. Knowledgeable showroom personnel are
Make sure that you and your salespeople understand
the types of tile and installation products available
on the market and that proper selection of these materials
is made. A complete lesson on tile is not possible in
this session but don't sell wall tile for floors or
areas exposed to freezing. Use proper wear ratings for
areas exposed to traffic. A simple chart is attached
to this paper to use as a guide for consumer selection.
Make sure that adhesives and grouts are properly selected
for the type of tile, surface to receive the installation,
and expected use. Above all don't oversell the product.
This falls in the category of saying sure you can put
tile on oriented strand board over 24 inch on center
joists with 24 feet spans. Telling consumers to go ahead
and do it anyway regardless of the conditions will lead
to job failure, chargebacks, rework, and other nasty
things. We recommend that the installers read the instructions
and standards for the industry although it's not as
much fun as putting together all those children's toys
The industry standards will help to guide you towards
proper recommendations. Certain construction techniques
and building materials are either not compatible with
ceramic tile or require additional attention to detail.
Deflection of the substrate (the surface to which the
tile is bonded) must be less than L/360. This simple
statement means that any span or section of span must
not deflect with the expected static and dynamic loads
more then the length of the span (L) divided by 360.
Static loads are furniture, cabinets, appliances and
other normally not moving objects while dynamic loads
include people, dogs, flamenco dancers, moving objects,
There are three main categories of tile work failures
that we hear from the field. This is not a lesson in
tile installation per se but these big three are worth
mentioning. The first is the deflection mentioned above
and this is rectified by adding strength to the system
such as a second sheet of plywood. Second, is the lack
of coverage of adhesive. The standards require at least
80% of the tile in dry areas, on an average, be covered
by adhesive and bonded with no voids (air trapped beneath
the tile). In wet areas such as showers and tubs, the
requirement is for 95% coverage. You should note that
this is harder to do with larger tiles and has become
a greater problem recently. Tiles greater than 8X8 inches
need to have the trapped air released from underneath.
Third, there must be an allowance for movement. Using
soft joints (caulk) instead of hard grout in the required
places does this. These places include intersecting
planes (walls and floors for example), between dissimilar
materials (fiberglass, metal, wood floors, etc.), and
in large areas of tile (this varies with the potential
changes in the ambient temperature). Simply put, buildings
move and materials expand and contract with temperature,
moisture, wind load, and other factors and allowances
must be made for this movement.
IV. The Challenges
You need a source of supply. In our industry this is
typically an independent or factory-owned wholesale
distributor or importer. The vast array of tiles available
makes it very difficult for the retailer to stock many
styles. A nearby responsive distributor is there to
solve this problem. They will stock a multitude of items
and be at the ready to ship them to you rapidly.
As you get a feel of your market, it may be feasible
to stock certain tiles. However be prepared with tile
to have to supply trim shapes. There are thirteen trim
shapes defined in the industry standards for floor tile
alone. All may not be available in every type of tile,
but you can get an idea of the stocking units that may
be required. There are support products required to
properly sell tile including many types of adhesives,
grouts in all colors, membranes, leveling compounds,
tools, etc. Although this can create a need to build
inventory they are generally higher margin sales. Don't
force your customer to go down the street for some of
the items they need. They may not come back.
Most of your customers will not install their own tile
even if they select it and buy it. Then they will ask
you the big question: "Who can I get to install
this tile?" This maybe a tougher question than
you think. One answer to have your own staff of installers.
This has its own set of requirements and you will have
to decide what is best for you. Most stores rely on
independent installers or contractors. You need to build
relationships with those you can trust, those that use
proper methods and are reliable. As in other building
trades the number of people entering this field is inadequate
to support the industry growth and the attrition due
to aging, changing fields of work, etc. You may find
this to be a challenge. However we are finding that
many floor covering stores have had success by sending
their current installers to a school such as the industry
sponsored Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.
Now that you have been snowed with information, but
still want to gain confidence with the product, what
should you do? Use the help that has been available
for many years in our industry.
The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) has been publishing
their Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation for 39
years. This industry consensus publication shows the
tried and true details for tile installation. It does
not cover every situation and is not a do-it-yourself
instruction book. However we find that by following
the methods, the possibility of failures is reduced.
This does not mean that other methods will fail but
the person doing things their own way by designing their
own system is taking a big chance.
The TCNA also publishes the American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) standards for ceramic tile and for
the installation of tile. These are critical documents
for you to obtain, read, and use. Many architects rely
on these standards for their specifications. As always,
local practices and building codes prevail over these
The TCNA has been answering field questions for a number
of years. Each year we get thousands of calls about
tile, cleaning, installation, product testing, etc.
The worst calls are those where someone asks: "Can
I do this
?" When we say probably not, there
is a long pregnant pause. This is usually followed by;
"Well I already did it. What can I do to fix it."
It is better to plan first, read the instructions, follow
the industry guidelines, and then ask if you need to,
but before you set the tile. Tile tear-outs are very
costly because it is hard to get tile out without damaging
the substrate. The cost of a tear-out and replace is
much higher than two times the original job cost.
There are many industry organizations that will help
you. You need to join the appropriate ones. Most organizations
have training and communication programs that can help.
They provide industry news, statistics, and networking.
Running a business without joining an appropriate organization
is like flying an airplane without instruments. For
a small investment in time and money you can reap great
And last, but not least there is a major resource available
to you, the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. This
is an independent training resource that can provide
you and your people with all the knowledge that you
need. It offers classes both at its headquarters in
Clemson and at various sites around the country. It
teaches all phases of ceramic tile from the product
standards through the more complicated installation
Ceramic tile offers a great opportunity for you to
make more money. You need to make sure that you understand
it, how to sell it, and how to service your customers
before you jump in. And you need to market the product.
Show it, explain it, and sell it.