Tile manufacturers are doing a marvelous job in terms of producing ceramic tiles, which look increasingly like a wide variety of competitive surface finishes. Tile makers have high hopes of capturing a substantial share of the market for those products, by emphasising the fact that tile which looks like stone, timber or concrete will last longer and cost less to maintain.

However, imitation is a two-way street. Manufacturers of vinyl, in particular, are very adept at making vinyl products that look like a variety of ceramic and natural stone materials.

And in spite of the fact that every unbiased study of the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) characteristics of competitive hard and resilient surface finishes places a number of ceramic tile products at the top of the tree, the fact remains that manufacturers and wholesalers of vinyl and timber are a long way ahead of the tile and stone industries, particularly in Australia, in relation to promotion of the sustainable attributes of their materials.

In fact, a significant number of hospitals, supermarket chains and other public buildings are specifying vinyl tile and sheet ahead of tile.

Oliver Huss of Ceramic Solutions, one of our leading supply and fix specialists, particularly in the commercial arena said, “A number of contracts that would have featured tile extensively, are being completed with alternative surface finishes.”

More worryingly, we face the prospect that more home owners will favour cheaper to buy, and install, resilient materials over ceramic tile. As a result, we may well witness a willingness by an even greater number of tile retailers to offer their clients a variety of alternative products. A number of leading retailers already sell carpet, laminate, timber, vinyl and natural stone, emulating a trend which commenced in Germany and the UK in the 1980s.

The market currently consists of three types of tile retailer:

  1. Independents that totally rely on tile wholesalers for product;
  2. Independents that supplement their product by importing small quantities of material, or by acting as a local distributor for an importer who is located interstate;
  3. Franchisees and members of buying groups.

Any of the above could decide to sell products other than tile, particularly those that are members of the first group, which still includes the majority of tile shops.

As the future unfolds and pressure mounts to differentiate their product offering, independent retailers will look for an edge.

Providing clients with a wider range of floor and wall finishes is one way to go. Suppliers of these alternative materials are finding that they can imitate tile and stone, in terms of general appearance.

Retailers contemplating change must decide whether the addition of alternative materials will increase turnover, or simply reduce tile sales by replacing one product with another.

Pictured: Hardwood timber mosaic tiles from Urban Edge Ceramic’s Renaza collection.