Staying ahead in a rapidly changing industry | by Caroline Busch
Ciot has long been a leading North American distributor of Italian ceramic products – and now in their 69th year, they have the Confindustria Ceramica North American Distributor Award to prove it! Based in Montréal, Ciot is a third-generation, family-run business, and we spoke with VP of Marketing and Buyer Kristina Panzera about how they continue to stay relevant and ahead of the curve in this ever-changing industry.
Congratulations on receiving the 2019 North American Distributor Award! Tell us about your staff, and how their training and technical knowledge has helped contribute to Ciot's reputation as a high-caliber distributor of Italian ceramic products.
Thank you very much, we are very honoured for the recognition. We are very lucky because our staff is truly committed to their jobs and the company. They take what they do to heart and want to make sure they always have the right fit between customer needs and the products they recommend. We do internal training and present all incoming lines to our sales reps, and technical information for these products is always available to them. We also work closely with many great factories who are always ready and willing to have training sessions for our staff, and even visit customers with them.
How have you seen the Italian ceramic industry grow and change over the years? How have people's tastes changed?
It seems that with rapid growth in technology, the industry is changing every six months! There used to be only a small number of factories that could produce high quality materials in the past, but now with new machinery, factories that are willing to invest are in a position to produce high-performance products. In a way, I think it was easier in the past when factories introduced only one or two good lines a year; the product life cycle was much longer, making it more profitable for both manufacturers and distributors. Now, the market changes more rapidly and many new lines are introduced to the market every year. The investment to put a line out in the market is the same, but the shelf life of the different lines is much shorter.
With technological advances and the sophisticated details and nuances that can be achieved on tiles’ surfaces, I think customers have higher expectations and they have become more scrutinizing of products. Larger tiles are, of course, in high demand, and we have seen a large increase in use of polished materials. As a matter of fact, our sales of wall tiles have sharply decreased because customers use polished porcelain on their walls instead.
What are some new and innovative tile applications that you have noticed increasing in popularity with your clients?
We see customers mixing finishings and formats more than in the past. Outdoor use has also increased dramatically. Customers also love to create their own original space by having us make custom water jet patterns with their tiles.
Today, Italian products make up 95% of your ceramic sales. What draws you to the Italian tile sector?
Innovation, design and quality. We stand behind the products we sell and need to be confident that we are giving our customers the best that the industry has to offer. We know that Italian factories also stand behind their products and will be quick to react should a problem occur on a job of any size. We have a very large selection of ceramic tile, so if we want to complete our offering with new and interesting lines, we need to look at Italian producers since they are definitely the ones launching the trends in our industry. Not only is their product superior, but they are also leaders in marketing these products with the right images and support to help our customers understand the product better. Technical data is also very important when we are dealing with commercial projects; Italian products exceed industry standards, and the factories have all the certificates ready to prove it.
Ciot is a long-time industry leader in sales of Italian tile in North America. What plans do you have to continue growing the company's presence in that region?
I think first and foremost we need to continue to educate our staff and customers on the advantages of Italian products. Because of our Italian origins and the fact that we are also big stone distributors, we promote the superiority of Italian products and influence our customers by introducing them to la dolce vita, bridging the joys of Italian delicacies with those of the Italian product we offer. We are also increasing our presence through a growing sales staff, as well as a new store in Atlanta set to open this year.