The decision to focus on architects and designers | by Ilaria Vesentini
Twenty-seven years’ experience in selling ceramic tiles to architects and the general public; the largest showroom in Scandinavia and a range of high-end products; investments focused on developing the digital segment and large slabs: this is the past, present and future of Stockholm-based market-leading ceramic tile and bathroom furnishing distributor Kakelspecialisten AB, which won the Confindustria Ceramica Distributor Award at this year's Cersaie.
The company is headed by managing director Jay Lindgren, who has worked for 35 years in the Swedish tile business including 21 years with Kakelspecialisten.
Who are Kakelspecialisten today?
As our name says, we are the “tile specialists”. We are now part of the Saint Gobain group [the world’s largest ceramic and flooring distributor with 4,000 sales outlets across 68 countries, 180,000 employees and revenue of €42 billion, Editor], which acquired our company from the founding family in 2007. We have around fifty employees and annual sales of around €24 million, half of which is generated in the professional segment, almost 25% from architecture and interior design projects, and the rest in the end consumer market.
How has your company and the target market changed since 1992?
When Kakelspecialisten made its debut 27 years ago with the first store and warehouse near the Globe Arena in Stockholm, our customers were exclusively the general public. A couple of years later we began catering for a professional clientele. But the real turning point came in 2007 when we began working with star architects and large building projects. A year later, in 2008, we opened our second ceramic tile showroom, a 700 square metre space devoted exclusively to architects, projects and interior designers in the centre of Stockholm. Then in September 2011, we also moved our historic sales outlet because a new stadium was under construction close to the Globe Arena. We are now located in Stockholm’s Årsta neighbourhood where we have a 2,800 square metre showroom, the largest anywhere in Scandinavia. We display 130 different models of bathrooms and a full range of floor and wall tiles, mosaics and high-end solutions for interiors and exteriors.
What does “Made in Italy” mean for Kakelspecialisten?
80% of the products we sell are made in Italy, and out of around fifty brands we deal with, 38 are Italian. This says a lot about the role of “Made in Italy” for our business. We specialise in the high end of the market, a segment where no one can compete with the Italians in terms of new trends, new solutions and cutting-edge products.
Are Swedish customers willing to pay for this extra Italian quality and design in terms of price?
We have a reputation as the best ceramic tile supplier in terms of quality and service not just in Sweden but perhaps in the whole of Scandinavia. In our high-end market segment our prices are considered competitive. Our chosen strategy of working with architects and designers has enabled us to establish a position at the top of the market. This enables us to collaborate with all the largest ceramic tile producers while catering for a high-end private clientele.
What kind of appeal do large size slabs have for Swedish consumers?
Slabs are still a niche product and the market is in its infancy, but is growing very rapidly. Four years ago we introduced large slabs into our showroom for architects and a couple of years ago we also began offering them to homeowners. At present 80% are used for interior applications, but we expect growth to be driven largely by outdoor uses over the coming years.
You also have excellent online visibility. Is the digital channel now a valid alternative to a physical showroom?
We’re investing heavily in the digital channel but we don’t see it as an alternative to a brick-and-mortar store and don’t expect it to replace a physical presence in the future. It’s a complementary service, a way of supplementing our offerings and being closer to customers. Anyone who wants to build or modernise a home needs to see the products for themselves and get a first-hand idea of the architectural solutions that are available.
What prospects do you see for the Swedish market?
This year Kakelspecialisten will post further 9-10% growth in sales revenue despite the difficult market context. Per capita tile consumption in Sweden has dropped from 1.35 sq.m in 2007 to 1.05 sq.m today. The trend is flat, volumes are failing to pick up and the outlook for 2020 is far from bright.