While walking through the bustling exhibit hall at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV, during The International Surface Event (TISE), it was evident business is picking up for members of the tile industry. Momentum continued throughout the three-day exhibition, which was held from January 18 to 20, 2017. Busy booths, crowded aisles and long lines at the concession stands were all positive signs that good things are in store for the coming year.

TISE comprises Surfaces, StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas and TileExpo — making it North America’s largest floorcovering, stone and tile industry event. The exhibition, which joined buyers and sellers from around the globe, featured approximately 700 exhibiting companies and a display of more than 1,000 products.

The show provided an opportunity for attendees and exhibitors alike to view the latest advances in technology, as well as network with industry members. The TILE staff had many conversations with exhibitors about new product launches and watched as live demonstrations on the show floor drew crowds of people. Additionally, we attended several informative seminars that were part of the IGNITE educational program, which included more than 55 sessions featuring the hottest topics and industry experts.

Optimistic outlook for industry

Although TISE takes place a couple of months before Coverings, the country’s largest tile and stone show, this West Coast event has continued to grow, proving its importance as the first comprehensive industry event of the year.

“This is a big show for us every year,” said Don Mariutto, vice president of marketing for Mediterranea. “It really sets the tone for us going into Coverings.”

Mediterranea, who has seen great success with its new large-format porcelain line, Quantum Stone, is currently focusing on furthering customer education, which should be on every checklist for companies that manufacture the trendy extra-large products.

“It’s what the industry has to do as a whole,” explained Mariutto. “Homeowners and designers fall in love with what it is, but then it has to translate on the fabrication level.”

For Del Conca, which has also been introducing more large-format collections and sizes, TISE is more of an informal preview to “start the season.” “It’s a chance to meet our distributors,” said Paolo Mularoni, president of Del Conca USA. “Also, here, we’re on the West Coast, and not all distributors come to Orlando (to attend Coverings) because it’s quite far.”

Though the company has slated official product launches for Coverings, Mularoni gave TILE an exclusive look at its new large-format tile collection, Pandora. “We started with an intermediate size (32 x 72 inches) because we feel our distributors can handle it as a regular tile; it’s still palletized,” he said. “It’s something they’re already used to handling, just larger. It’s not a completely different thing that you have to handle with care.

“The tiles are 10 mm thick, so they’re more suitable for floors,” Mularoni went on to say. “We thought it was a good comprise between the 6 and 12 mm thicknesses; it’s not too heavy, but resistant to foot traffic.”

Senior brand marketing manager at Daltile, Kim Albrecht, also expressed the hype behind large-format porcelain slabs. “It’s one of the hottest trends right now,” she explained. “We’re previewing the panoramic porcelain surfaces, which launch officially in April, but we wanted customers to be able to see it and stand next to it.”

Current trends

While larger-format tiles are seemingly taking over the tile market, manufacturers also expressed the trending looks, which just keep evolving over time. “Wood and stone looks are still the most popular,” said Mularoni.

Micah Hand, brand marketing manager at Marazzi USA, echoed Mularoni’s comments. “I think people just want that natural look and that’s what you’re getting with the wood and stone looks,” he explained. “The current neutrals [when it comes to colors] right now are grays and the whites. Beige is kind of coming back again as well.”

“We launched a few woods over the last couple of years and have added a rustic look this year,” said Christy Lee, brand marketing manager at American Olean. “We’re taking different shades of gray and layering them [in our new collections]. We also used different textures to add depth.”

Albrecht, who is also seeing more visual interest in textures, believes fabric-inspired looks are the next biggest trend. “Wood-look tile is not new; what’s new is that it’s continuing to rise in sales and consumers are demanding more choices,” she said. “First, it was very rustic looks. They still love that look, but now want something that’s a little more in between. They don’t want it perfectly defined; they want less of the abrasion marks and less of the variation.

“In regard to color, gray is the new neutral,” Albrecht added. “The gray is changing; it’s getting a little bit warmer. It’s not that cold, concrete block gray. Beige is also around, but it’s not as yellow as it used to be.”

While TISE is more of an informal introduction for some companies, for others, it’s the first chance to unveil their most exciting offerings of 2017. Crossville, Inc., which told a “story” throughout its booth with five different sections, introduced three new tile collections. “You know I like to tell a good story and all of it relates back to the campaign we launched back in January, revolving around a creative solutions platform and beauty is a problem solved,” said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president of marketing for Crossville. “You can make a lot of things pretty, but if it’s not functional, it doesn’t matter. We help designers create beautifully functional spaces; one of our key points is, ‘What’s beauty? It’s beyond pretty.’”

Mapei, which unveiled 15 new colors for its grout sealer UltraCare, is also developing products according to current trends. “We’re trying to capture mood and personality with our products,” said David Mowery, Mapei’s TSIS business manager of color products and UltraCare. “We have 40 colors in our new palette for UltraCare, and 10 of those 15 colors we added were specifically chosen for wood-look tiles.”

As the years pass and professionals become busier, Mowery is seeing a move toward quicker, easy-to-apply products that incorporate high technology. “The market really has changed a lot,” he said. “It’s not just your traditional cement grouts anymore; high-performance or ready-to-use (RTU) technology is prevalent. Now, 70% of the market is comprised of high-performance and RTU grouts, while only 30% is cement grouts.”

Attractive show features

There were also many draws for attendees on the exhibition floor during TISE 2017, including the Social Learning Lab, which provided the ideal area to catch brief education sessions, led by the experts, on the ever-evolving world of social media. Visitors were able to experiment with blogs, interact with fellow attendees and tweet or post directly from the show floor. Additional show highlights were the Trends Hub and Tool Alley.

Moreover, TISE included the “Best of Event” and the “Best of Product” Awards. This year’s TileExpo winners went to H.B. Fuller Construction Prod for “Best Innovation” for its TEC Liquidam EZ, Rubi Tools USA Inc. in the “Best Technology” category for its Rubiscraper and Daltile in “Style & Design” for its Multitude collection.

The 2018 edition of TISE is slated for January 30 to February 1, with the education program beginning on January 29.