The executives that answered TILE Magazine's call (from left): Rainer Blair, President and CEO, MAPEI Americas; Michael Blades, Product Manager, Cement Board, National Gypsum Co.; and Gianni Mattioli, Country Manager and CEO, Marazzi USA.

In an industry where ever-evolving designs have the ability to shape a community’s perception of a renovated or newly constructed structure, an increasing amount of scrutiny is being placed on architects and designers to specify performance-improving products. Project materials are also being analyzed, not only for LEED or ISO certification or environmental impact, but also for quality.

Increasingly, specifiers within the tile and stone industries are looking for cost-effective, life-improving, time-withstanding creations and applications that simultaneously increase the acceptance of ceramic and stone tiles, while elevating the status of the installation community.

TILE Magazinesought the experience and wisdom of leading industry executives, asking them for insight and ideas on keeping the tile and stone segment strong, raising awareness and increasing usage of ceramic and stone tiles, their outlook for 2008-2009, and any predominant trends.

Rainer Blair, President and CEO, MAPEI Americas

The tile and stone segment can be kept strong by focusing on applications that improve the quality of life. Pleasing design elements and a broad variety of offerings for all types of project budgets are necessary to continue the penetration of these hard surface applications.

As a whole, the industry should continue its focus on communicating the lasting beauty, great value and improved installation economics to the architectural and end-user communities.

Continuous training offerings for architects and contractors from an installation perspective need to continue.

As an industry, we need to maintain our course of focusing on quality and value. Trading down or “de-contenting” should be limited, as this will only lead to field failures and negative publicity for the entire segment. From an installation perspective, we should support trained and certified installers through continuing education and job leads.

It will take our economy some time to absorb the residential inventory glut. However, not all is doom and gloom. I expect that we will see a moderation of both the interest rates and the liquidity crisis in the next six months. With this moderation, we will see a steady recovery in consumer demand with its corresponding spillover effect in the construction segment of the economy.

The most important and positive trend in our industry is towards environmentally sustainable construction practices. Not only will we increasingly improve the energy balance of the structures we build, we will use more and more environmentally friendly materials and installation practices. Additionally, our industry will underline the need for first class safety practices on job sites.

Michael Blades, Product Manager, Cement Board, National Gypsum Co.

The tile and stone industry has been, and will continue to be, the most expensive of floor coverings when compared to carpet, resilient, and hardwood. It is also the most complex in the variety of products and methods available for installing those products. As a result, we must continue to do everything we can to maintain the long-term performance of tile and stone installations, thereby lowering the life cycle cost and elevating the reputation of tile and stone as a superior finish.

The various organizations that support our industry will need to continue aligning their efforts to ensure that we protect the high quality reputation that the tile and stone industry currently enjoys. Organizations such as the Tile Council of North America and the National Tile Contractors Association must continue to work with code and standards organizations such as ANSI, ASTM, and ICC, as well as other parts of the flooring industry, such as CTDA and WFCA, to promote product and installation standards. We will need to continue supporting organizations such as the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation as they provide training, safety, and product knowledge to those interested in becoming stronger members of our industry.

We see 2008 as a continuation of the slowdown in residential construction and a leveling off in the commercial market - 2009 should be better, predominately in the residential remodel market with some growth in the new construction market. Those who based their business on strong business practices will have used this time to regroup, refocus and should come out of the downturn with some real potential for future growth.

With the success of the tile industry over the past 10 years, there are a lot of new manufacturer’s, products, methods, etc. - we do not see a slowdown on this front.

Some of these products will allow us to do things with tile and stone that were not possible a few years ago. At the same time, not every new product will be the next great thing. We will need to be more careful and discerning than ever in evaluating and making use of these new products and methods.

This is a terrific industry with many intelligent, dedicated, and hardworking members and I appreciate every day that I am involved in it.

Gianni Mattioli, Country Manager & CEO, Marazzi USA

We as an industry need to continue stressing that ceramic is a product that does not deplete limited resources like oil for vinyl/carpet or natural wood for wood. The whole industry (manufacturers, distributors, installers) should join together and promote these qualities. It’s important to keep pushing the advantages of tile instead of price.

A big concern, especially in a soft market, is the total installed cost for the final consumer. Manufacturers invest heavily to lower the costs of production and, in turn, pass the savings on to the market, only to see installation costs rise. This forces manufacturers to lower prices, creating an image of inferior product; we should instead be emphasizing the performance, aesthetics and design characteristics of tile. As an industry there is the need to train, not only more, but with more proficiency, and educate them to better represent ceramic products.

We expect 2008 to be a transition year. A small rebound in the second half for the residential market, together with a cooling down of the commercial market that has been very strong for the last three years. In 2009, we should see a stronger pick-up residentially, but still far away from the performances in 2005-2006.

We also foresee rustic/stone imitation maintaining its strength. Larger sizes will continue to gain momentum. Rectified edges are becoming an important feature, facilitating the use of tile in areas previously reserved for natural stone. Further, the multifamily/condo business the more contemporary “Italian” look will gain market share.