The magazine, along with the industry, has undergone many changes since founder Tony Stock launched the first edition.
In this feature, Tony Stock tells the story of how Tile Today began and the current challenges facing the tiling industry. Peter Carter, president, Australian Tile Council (ATC) also provides a perspective from a professional body that was established to help its members who are part of the industry.
In his own words, Tony said, “I was involved in the tile industry in a variety of roles including contracting, estimating, sales and imports, both in the UK and Australia for around 20 years. One of my roles included visiting sites where tiling failures occurred and writing reports. Basically, I gained wide experience with leading tile companies which prepared me for my attempt to publish a magazine. I also sold print advertising and wrote articles for the Toorak Times (a local newspaper, now a website).
“When we arrived in Melbourne in 1989, I discovered that unlike the USA and most countries in Europe, the industry did not produce a magazine dedicated to tiling. I contacted Max Sutton at the ATC at the time and he said the council did not have the time or resources to tackle the task, but he would welcome the emergence of an industry-based magazine. He supplied me with some industry contacts and I quickly created a media kit, which I faxed to prospects after an initial phone call. Between April and August 1989, I sold approximately 20 pages of advertising, before I even started to think about specific content. Luckily it all came together with help from people like Ron Green (Tile Power) and other industry figures.
“The industry constantly evolves, largely driven by technological advances made by tile manufacturers and producers of related machinery who work closely together, particularly those based in Italy and Spain.
“One of the biggest changes that has taken place over the years is the constant increase in the overall dimensions of tile. Back in 1993, a 300 x 300mm tile was considered large. Today, many new residential projects feature tiles which are double that size.
“The most radical development relates to slim products which vary in thickness from 3mm to 7mm, and are produced in regular formats and large 3000 x 1500mm slim panels. We also have slim 12mm thickness products for benchtops. When you factor in developments in ink-jet printing processes, manufacturers now have the capacity to produce practically any design on the surface of a tile, large or small.
“The biggest challenge facing the industry lies in promotion of the environmental benefits associated with use of the product. Manufacturers of competitive products are very active in that area.”
According to Peter, the basis of the ATC has not really changed much over the last 25 years. He explains, “Our focus has, and continues to be, the representative body of the tile industry.
“Our main role has been to protect the industry out of which we all make a living. Most of this work is done behind the scenes and the ATC website outlines many of the things achieved over the years.
“In more recent times, the focus has been more on becoming the industry technical reference point. The release of the Tiles and Tiling Guide is a good example of that. Together with our new website, the Tiles and Tiling Guide opens up an exciting new era and market position for the ATC.
“What hasn’t changed is the dedication and sacrifice of the people that volunteer to do the work for the ATC on behalf of the members.”
Peter believes the biggest change in the last 25 years in the tile industry is the change in tile manufacturing technology and the rate that it changes. He said, “The advancement in tile manufacturing machinery has continued to increase the production output and efficiency of tile production leading to the cost of tile declining over a large part of the last decade.
“Coupled with that is the continuing increase in the range of product and designs available. The most obvious example of that is the increase in size of product available. Twenty-five years ago, a 600 x 600mm tile was considered a very large tile. These days, you can buy tile panel in 3200x 1600mm and even larger.
“The application and use of tile have also expanded to include wall coverings, external cladding and bench tops. This has led to an increase in the size of market.”
The emergence of China as a key player in the tile market, has also had a significant impact on the tile industry. “Twenty-five years ago, Italian product was the most imported tile in Australia and product from China didn’t exist. Today Chinese product represents 66% of all tile imported into Australia,” he said.
The emergence of cheaper Chinese product has led to a proliferation of tile merchants across the country resulting in a drop in margin from those achieved 25 years ago, according to Peter.
Digital printing technology on tile has been another major influence. “That technology has advanced so far now that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between real timber and timber tiles and real marble and marble porcelain,” said Peter. “What has not changed is that Italians still clearly lead in the development of new design in tile.”