The 27th edition of Unicera, the International Ceramic Bathroom and Kitchen Fair, was held at the Tüyap Fair and Convention Center in Istanbul, Turkey, from February 24 to 28, 2015. The annual exhibition, which is hosted by Tüyap, in association with the Turkish Ceramics Federation (TSF) and Trade Association for Sanitary and Building Supplies (TIMDER), is the second largest international fair in the industry and brings together a wide range of ceramics, bathroom and kitchen products, accessories, equipment and ceramic processing technologies.

This year, the fair attracted around 70,000 visitors from over 20 countries. It was also one of the largest editions ever — covering 11 halls and more than 1 million square feet of indoor exhibition space — with an impressive array of products, including a selection of tile collections.

“We have 310 participating companies this year, which is 10% higher than last year,” said Ahmet Tahsin Yamaner, president of the Turkish Ceramics Federation. “I think the future is bright for our industry.”

Yamaner went on to explain that the more they promote Unicera, the more he feels the Turkish ceramics industry will be closer to solving any problems they are currently facing. “We have very good role models — Italy and Spain — and our German counterparts,” he said. “We have a solid domestic market, but we have a lot of things to work on.”

The rise of exports

Currently, a significant amount of Turkish manufacturers are still exporting their products to the U.S. Companies such as Duratiles and Ege Seramik, who both exported more than 40% of their products to the U.S. last year, find that the U.S. market is attracted to more contemporary glazed porcelain tiles.

“Our Venus, Essence and Crown collections are the best-selling collections in the U.S., which all come in 13 x 13, 18 x 18 and 12 x 24 inches,” said Semih Susleyen, Sales Manager at Ege Seramik. “And we are planning to launch more than 10 new lines at Coverings, six of which are targeted for the U. S. market.”

Susleyen said Ege Seramik targets all areas of the U.S., but is most popular around highly populated areas. “[Our largest markets are] the Northeast, South and Southeast, which is one of the biggest markets for us,” he said. “We are big in Texas and California — and Canada, too.”

Duratiles, which founded its U.S.-based company, Duratiles America, Inc., five years ago to more easily communicate and appeal to its American customer base, works with customers all over the U.S., and has seen an increase in business over the last couple of years as a result. “For the last couple of years, we’ve seen a very big pick up,” said Murat Sençok, General Manager of Duratiles, noting that the U.S. economic downturn didn’t really affect the company. “It started at the end of 2013 and went all through 2014, so we cannot complain.”

Other larger Turkish manufacturers, such as Kale and Yurtbay Seramik, which are exporting between 1.5 to 2 million square meters through both the U.S. and Canada each year, are focusing a lot of their efforts on the U.S. market, since they’re doing so well internationally. “We have a distributor in Toronto, Canada, which is helping us distribute all through North America. And we also have another distributor in Florida,” said Barbaros Peker, Export Coordinator of Yurtbay Seramik. “We are also in Lowe’s and Home Depot through our distributors.”

View the Unicera 2015 Product Gallery in the slideshow above

Kale, which is the biggest ceramic tile company in Turkey, the third largest in Europe and the 12th largest in the world, is particularly focused on the U.S. market, with its eyes on both the East and West Coast, according to Ihsan Karagöz, Vice President - West Hemisphere of Kale. “In the U.S., we are predominantly focused on the East Coast. However, recently, with the booming construction market, we have started to expand our presence on the West Coast as well, especially California. It is getting very important nowadays, which is why we’re strengthening our muscles over there,” he said. “Also, the Midwest is pretty important for us. Recently, we supplied our tiles to Target’s headquarters. Their headquarters is in Minneapolis, and they saw our products from the Dot series. [A dot is] in their logo, so that’s why they liked it. They asked to buy it for their reception area of their headquarters. They also used big slabs of it — 1 x 3 meters — for the floors. That was a project for us last year. There’s [also] another big project coming up for us involving the Twins [MLB] baseball team.”

When it comes to developing products for the U.S., Kale is a seasoned veteran, knowing what its customers like and what current trends to follow. “The U.S. has a special taste — what we call the ‘slate’ type of products, which are the most popular type of products in the U.S.,” Karagöz explained. “Also, some traditional Victorian-style products are ideal products for the U.S., so that’s what we’re after. Although we have a very wide portfolio, when we go to the U.S., we develop products specifically for the U.S. only, so it is an important market and it is going to be growing in the future. The ‘States’ are probably going to be one of the biggest growing markets because the economy is not going good in Europe, the Middle East is unrested nowadays, and Russia is all upset after the big devaluation. It is for sure that the U.S. is going to be the focus market for the next year, which is why we’re actually coming to Coverings [this year].”

Metin Mutlu, Vice Chairman of Yüksel Seramik, shared Karagöz’ comments, explaining how the U.S. market has been steadily growing, which is something tile manufacturers should be prepared for. And although Yüksel Seramik was exporting 25% of its products before the U.S. financial crisis, with only less than 10% of its exports making it over to the U.S. last year, it’s still hopeful that it will pick up again within the next couple of years. “Everything is looking fabulous in 2015,” said Mutlu. “The last two years, we’ve been following everything in the States because we knew everything was going to come back and recover. In 2013 and 2014, the economy grew a bit. In 2014, it definitely grew more than the expectation. So the expectation for 2015 is better than 2014, which is why we are in the process of doing some different kinds of strategies in the U.S. We are going to be at Coverings in April — this [economic pick-up] is one of the reasons we wanted to join Coverings. Things look very good in the States for 2015.”

Trends

Mutlu also commented on this year’s popular looks. “Wood imitation is still very popular, and it seems like it will still be around for five or 10 more years — and so is the stone look,” he said. “Stone is becoming very popular — not only on the floor, but also on the wall.”

Alaeddin Ergen, Export Coordinator of Seranit Grup, which is planning to start exporting products to the U.S. this year, said their popular products are also stone-look tiles, as well as cement- and wood-look collections. “Neutral patterns and neutral designs [are popular],” he said. “We’re trying to mix them with different type of stone patterns to create more unique designs.”

Reyhan Önal, Area Manager of Kutahya Seramik, another well-known Turkish Ceramics-branded manufacturer that exports a small portion of its products mainly to Texas and California, agrees, and added that new large-format sizes are also becoming trendy. “Popular products are mainly the rustic-looking tiles, the natural stone-looking tiles and the wood-look tiles,” she said. “The 120- x 120-cm size is also popular, and we have made a new investment in large-format tiles that measure 120 x 240 cm.”