Retailers’ guide to tile & stone: Wood-look tile gives dealers a new path to success

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July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

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

The wood look for ceramic and porcelain tile has become one of the hottest trends in the flooring industry. With advancements in manufacturing processes, tile that resembles natural wood is being used in projects large and small.

The trend has enabled consumers to achieve the look of real hardwood in all areas of their homes. Initially, it gained significant traction for use in wet areas such as a kitchen, bathroom or pool house where consumers wanted the look of wood while minimizing the risk of water damage. Since then, the trend has grown to include all flooring applications in both residential and commercial, along with feature walls and backsplashes. The sizing of these programs, which are often seen as 6 x 24, 8 x 36 or longer, also provide maximum pattern flexibility.

“Wood-look tile started slow but has built momentum and is now a major part of what is sold in tile,” said Phil Koufidakis, owner of Baker Bros., with seven locations in the Phoenix area.

At Acadian Flooring America, with five locations in the New Orleans area, the wood-look tile business now represents 33% of all tile jobs, according to Tony Foret, manager. This is up from 15% a year ago. “The technology in the last year or so has gotten to the point where these wood-look tiles replicate the real thing.”

Following Hurricane Katrina, Foret said Louisiana residents are uber-conscious about flooding; consequently, the wood-look tile has hit a home run with Acadian customers. “We do a lot of big jobs with just wood-look tiles—1,500 square feet, 1,800 square feet. I just did one entire house, 2,400 square feet of tile porcelain with wood visuals. It is a look that is extremely popular.”

Foret said pulling a sample from a display rack is one way to merchandise wood-look tile; however, he recommends installing the wood visuals on the showroom floor in expansive sections, such as 6 x 6 feet, to allow consumers to visualize the look in their homes. “Once I did that the product started selling like hot cakes.”

Baker Bros. merchandises its wood tile planks within the tile section. “We try to keep all the tile together as a category,” Koufidakis said. “The customer who wants that look is not interested in an 18 x 18 square tile. We have also started to install these on our showroom floors.”

The beauty of wood-look planks in residential applications is far-reaching. Koufidakis said the wood look is used throughout the home, not in just one specific area. “In commercial applications, I have seen it used in bathrooms on the wall as well. The attraction is clearly the durability of the tile.”

About six months ago, State College Distributors, with three Southern California locations, moved its wood-look porcelain to the front of the store, adjacent to its hardwood section. “Often the customer walks past it and thinks it’s wood,” said George Solis, sales manager. “Their reaction is often, ‘Oh my God, I love this product.’ The rest is history.”

Unlike real wood, the porcelain wood-look tile can be used in wet areas, including kitchens and bathrooms. There are additional benefits, as well; porcelain tile is easier to clean and maintain than real wood, and because of sophisticated manufacturing techniques, these tiles are durable enough to last decades.

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