The past two-plus years have shown the strength of the tile industry as consumers flocked to the ceramic tile aisle for their home renovation needs in droves during the height of the pandemic. It’s no surprise as the ceramic category is the most visually dynamic and tried-and-tested flooring material available—in addition to being one of only two truly aspirational flooring categories in the industry. As the category continued to boom due to the pandemic, consumers looked to fill their homes with ceramic both indoors and outside. As a result, outdoor living has become a popular design choice for many homeowners purchasing new homes or renovating their existing spaces—and that demand appears to be growing stronger.
“Exterior projects are still on the rise because during their time at home, people rediscovered their home’s exterior spaces and the reinvigorated practice of enjoying time together outside,” Patrick Warren, vice president of residential sales, dealer and showrooms, Dal-Tile Corp., told FCNews. “The desire to create an outdoor sanctuary for relaxing or a space for socializing has not dimmed. In fact, many people now strive to recreate a beautiful outdoor space that rivals something they previously only experienced on vacation.”
Mara Villanueva-Heras, vice president of marketing at Emser Tile, agreed, noting, “With a continued appreciation for outdoor spaces, homeowners are using these areas to unwind,
spend quality time with family and friends and to simply enjoy nature in the comfort of their own backyards. Some homeowners are investing in elaborate covered outdoor kitchens and bar areas with large islands, grills, smokers, refrigerators and heaters that can essentially be used all year round. For those who cannot invest in a full-on transformation, paved patios, feature walls, firepits, outdoor fireplace surrounds and seating areas can provide sophistication and warmth, along with comfort and design to outdoor living areas at a fraction of the cost. Simply put, the outdoor living trend is only growing.”
Paulo Pereira, senior merchant for MSI, put it this way: “What better place to entertain family and friends than in your backyard? Everyone loves a swimming pool to cool down during the hot summer months or gathering around the fireplace [during the cooler months] or practicing their grilling skills using their [outdoor] BBQ grill and oven.”
When a booming new trend takes hold in the flooring industry, dealers are usually quick to pounce on the opportunity in an effort to offer the consumer what she wants. It’s no different when it comes to the growing “outdoor living” trend, which is a prime piece of the sales puzzle that flooring dealers should be taking full advantage of in 2022.
“Whether it is a pool deck, formal garden space or patio/porch, providing the floor—the canvas on which the rest of the space will be designed and built around—is greatly important,” explained Tim Hanno, national director of strategic accounts, DecoVita USA. “There is a big difference between a concrete floor that resembles your driveway and a calacatta marble paver that matches the floor of your kitchen or great room. Flooring retailers who embrace this new space with just a little flair for design open themselves up to a great opportunity for additional sales. And many of these spaces occupy significant square footage.”
Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing, Crossville, noted that consumers want a one-stop shop, and if they aren’t getting what they need in one location they will look elsewhere for the total sale. “Not offering solutions for exterior spaces could mean the loss of sale for interiors,” she explained. “Whether residential or commercial, we want spaces to flow. And if the interior and exterior aren’t thought about at the same time—and potentially even with the same tile in a different surface for each space— consumers will be unsatisfied.”
Some suppliers point to the fact that flooring dealers could be leaving money on the table by ignoring this portion of the market. “In many areas of the country, porcelain pavers are an added market segment that, so far, traditional tile dealers have not covered,” said Paolo Mularoni, president, Del Conca USA. “They are also an additional way to appeal to architects and designers who could match the interior and exterior design for a seamless transition. The sheer size of outdoor projects should draw any dealer to work with outdoor living.”
When it comes to working with the R&D community, Suzi Portugal, vice president of design and sourcing for Mosaic Companies, noted, “Designers and architects want solutions to include bringing the outdoors in. Many people are spending top dollar to create an open-air home—and using balconies, terraces and garden areas is the perfect way to increase sales. Many designers and architects want solutions to include bringing the outdoors in.”
Outdoor living trends
So, what exactly is trending in terms of style and performance within outdoor living? Turns out, it’s similar to what consumers are currently craving for inside the home as well. “Outdoor living in the form of wood decks, pools and front porches have been around for a very long time,” DecoVita’s Hanno said. “The trend now is to make those spaces feel like they are more an extension of the home and not just somewhere to pull up a chair and sit outside. People want a space where they can relax, play, entertain, do yoga or just bring the inside out.”
With respect to style, Emser’s Villanueva-Heras said, “Since many homeowners are looking to create their own outdoor oasis with a minimalist aesthetic, they are selecting warm, inviting neutrals and earthy hues for floors and wall tiles. Tile products that have natural, tactile qualities that resemble stacked stone, natural wood, concrete and brick are also popular choices. These looks can add visual interest while providing a perfect backdrop to the overall space.”
When it comes to performance, Dal-Tile’s Warren noted, “It is waterproof, stainproof, scratchproof, frost resistant and fire resistant. Add to this the advances that brands like Daltile offer in size, design, color, texture and slip resistance and tile becomes a very attractive material for the indoors, outdoors or flowing between the two.”
How dealers can succeed
It’s no secret that flooring dealers struggle, in general, with the tile category. And it’s not without warrant given the category demands high-end installation and high-end prices for a high-end product. But that doesn’t mean dealers won’t find success with the right strategy.
Focusing on education, suppliers agree, is the key to success. “First, they need to educate themselves on the benefits of using tiles on exterior applications,” said Doug Hayes, vice president of sales, Florida Tile. “Key benefits include resistance to the elements, durability, ease of maintenance and great aesthetics. They need to dedicate an area in their showroom to display appropriate exterior products and create an area on their website explaining the benefits and showing off various installations.”
For Dave Garman, director of sales, Tesoro, dealers should dedicate merchandising space and educate their staff. “Consumers often think of brick yards or stone yards when considering outdoor spaces. Train your staff to be comfortable introducing porcelain as a high-value, low-maintenance alternative.”
Villanueva-Heras added that it is important to offer a wide range of products specifically designed to be used outdoors. “Offering stone pavers, stacked stone, porcelain tiles that are outdoor and pool rated as well as the appropriate setting materials will allow [dealers] to provide the right products for the job. Flooring dealers should also understand the various specifications required for tile use outdoors so they are able to assist their customers to find the right solution—delivering durability to withstand the elements as well as the look their customer is trying to achieve.”