The fashion of wall tile: Easy to see, sell

Home Inside FCNews The fashion of wall tile: Easy to see, sell

April 27/May 4, 2015; Volume 29/Number 2

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Flooring retailers who sell ceramic wall tile are having fun these days and making a nice profit margin to boot. Wall tile may be a niche business, but it’s demonstrability and varied sizes, textures and colors are resonating with consumers.

Christina Johnson, director of outside sales for Johnson Carpet One in Tulsa, Okla., said wall tile is a fashion product that should be positioned as an upper-end offering.

“Customers come into the showroom and [we tell them] that just because they saw it in a glossy magazine doesn’t mean they can’t have it,” Johnson said. “Once you break it down per square foot, ceramic wall tile does not cost that much more than wallpaper or certain paints.”

Retailers merchandise wall tile in several different ways. CAP Carpet in Wichita, Kan., sets up big screen TVs on four design tables and uses Floor Project as an in-room visualizer. This method is particularly successful when customers bring photos of the insides of their homes. The pictures can be uploaded into Floor Project showing the customer’s interior. “We can create a room in her home right in the store,” said Tony Greco, vice president of strategic sourcing, CAP Carpet. “In March, for example, 328 customer photos were uploaded. When we take a customer photo and upload it, the closing rate doubles, and the ticket is much larger. Getting that customer engaged with the RSA is what we are doing.”

Grigsby’s Carpets and Tile in Tulsa, Okla., shows wall tile in 3 x 4-foot vignettes that resemble miniature shower mockups. “Wall tile is still new to us and we’re still getting used to it, at least the bigger sizes,” said David Stover, vice president at Grigsby’s.

For many years, subway tiles in 3 x 6 formats were the most popular wall tiles. They are still popular, but similar to floor tiles, wall tiles are getting bigger and multi-dimensional, with larger and more intricate designs and formats showing up. “Bigger tiles are the rage; bigger has grown in all categories,” Greco said.

At his ProSource store, Greco does not have a wall tile display because he simply doesn’t have to. “We are selling fashion first; we are selling looks. It is so much easier to display today with the 12 x 24, 18 x 36 dimensions and different styles. Consumers are very receptive.”

Margins that deliver

Wall tile offers excellent upsell opportunities for dealers thanks to the visual nature of the product, the ability to easily display its looks and the larger sample sizes.

Johnson said customers are willing to pay a premium price for a specific design. She has been able to upsell customers on expensive and handmade looks as well as glass mosaic wall tile. “I have not had anyone balk at the price. We’ve been able to upsell customers and make some really good margins. With some of the new stuff on the market today it makes it easier to mix and match, and in doing so that can bump up margins. If customers have a perceived value of the product being expensive [even if it may not be] we can take some margin on it. You have to be willing to take [extra] margin when you can get it.”

Unique application

Wall tile, which is usually less expensive than floor tile, is generally smoother and slicker than floor tiles, especially when wet. Often, floor tiles will be textured in order to make them safer to walk on and more slip-resistant. Wall tiles may also have an uneven finish, which would make them inappropriate for use on the floor.

Ceramic tiles are not made specifically for floors or walls. Instead, they are classified according to their strength and durability. While any tile can be used as a wall tile, only certain grades of ceramic tile should be used for flooring, and the grade depends on the type and amount of use the floor receives.


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