June 8/15, 2015; Volume 30/Number 1
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)
One of the biggest challenges flooring dealers face when showing ceramic tile and stone is how to create a space that allows their customers to visualize the look in their own homes.
And, where space is at a premium, the challenge is even greater.
That is not a problem for large-scale dealers like The Tile Shop, with multiple locations throughout the country (see story on page 28). The Tile Shop is known for its effective use of vignettes to merchandise floor and wall tile. These mock-ups of rooms—kitchens, baths and other spaces within a home, in dimensions of 4 x 6 feet and sometimes larger—are intended to pique the imagination of homeowners as they visualize how the various tile and stone combinations would look installed in their homes.
Dealers with smaller showrooms have to be a little more creative. For Riverside Carpet One in Columbus, Ind., building a 4- x 6-foot vignette would not be feasible, according to owner Duane Martin, based on the time commitment (at least two days to build one vignette) and space constraints. Instead he uses sample boards in traditional display racks that can be pulled out and placed on the floor. “We can lay out a grid and see how the samples play together; we can contrast grout lines and create a lot of combinations.”
Tile Expo, with two California locations, uses concept boards to merchandise its floor tiles. It has about 75 concept boards in its Anaheim showroom and slightly fewer in its Laguna Hills space.
“The biggest roadblock for people is when they can’t envision the product,” said Amanda Huffman, manager at Tile Expo. “Concept boards allow them to [imagine] floor tile in their homes. They can see how it is done rather than showing them one sample. We can show grouted boards, boards with accent pieces and other combinations.”
Huffman said education still plays a key role at the store level. In her experience, about half the prospective customers have done extensive prior research on tile, while others have little practical knowledge or are misinformed. “Some people still believe we’re in the Dark Ages and that ceramic is not good—that it will break or crack even though we have ceramic that is commercially rated and can be put anywhere in the home with no problem. We tell customers the only way it will crack or break is if it is installed incorrectly.”
Martin said his ceramic floor tile business has flourished in recent years because of the expertise of his installers. “There is more artistry and craftsmanship in a ceramic tile installation than in other flooring installations. A shower job for wall and floor can take up to two weeks. In ceramic your installers really have to care because they are dealing with different products and different thicknesses; you have niches in the wall that you have to trim or there are access pieces that might stick out. These guys have to be thinking ‘I want to make this job look as good as I can’ rather than wanting to get in and out. If you make a mistake on ceramic installation it can create big problems such as water damage.”
Installation is now more difficult as tile formats grow longer and wider. Large-format tile presents several challenges when used in floor installations. One concern is weight; heavy floor tile that settles into the mortar bed can cause lippage, a condition where one edge of a tile is higher than adjacent edges. The result is a finished surface that has an uneven appearance. In a worst case scenario, it is an uneven floor that causes a tripping hazard.
“When it comes to ceramic floor tile installation, having an expert craftsman is critical to your success,” Martin said.