Europe feels power of China as firms vie for finishing contracts

While European firms traditionally lead the way when it comes to tiles and natural stone products, they are facing increased competition from the Chinese, who are fast making their presence felt within the sector. Construction Week outlines global strength in one of the biggest sectors in the region.

As more and more of the region�s hotel, residential and commercial projects enter the fit-out stage, the natural stone and ceramics sector is experiencing an unprecedented boom, with demand for quality products and innovative systems higher than ever.

This trend will be reflected at this year�s Big 5 show, which is set to showcase a vast array of natural stone, tile and sanitaryware products from the world�s leading manufacturers.

Once viewed purely in terms of functionality, today�s kitchens and bathrooms are undergoing somewhat of a revamp with designers incorporating the latest materials and technology.

The marble and ceramics industry, in particular, will be well represented at this year�s event, with large groups of exhibitors expected from the traditional European markets of Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.

Portugal, in particular, will once again be fielding a strong presence within the stone and ceramics sector – last year saw 26 Portuguese firms exhibit at the Big 5, with another big turnout expected this year.

Ceramics and natural stone is an important cornerstone of Portugal�s history and economy.

As the world�s tenth largest producer and exporter of marble, Portugal has a wealth of high-quality ornamental stone that also extends to limestone and granite – and its manufacturers are finding a ready home for their products here in the Gulf.

Portuguese companies such as Ezequiel Francisco Alves, Mármores da Granja, Margaça and Recer will be at the Big 5, exhibiting a range of products such as ceramic rooftiles, porcelain floor tiles, limestone and the famous Rosa Portugal (pink Portuguese marble).

The Germans, traditionally strong in the plant and engineering sectors, will also be muscling in on the tiling action with the likes of Gail Architektur Keramik offering a range of glazed and unglazed tiles, fittings and accessories for swimming pools and façades for buildings.

From its base in Giessen in western Germany, Gail produces tiles in over 50 colours, offering a wide range of possibilities for the design of wall and floor surfaces.

One of the biggest and most prestigious projects that Gail is associated with is the Olympics.

Starting with the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Gail has supplied its ceramic-formed parts and split tiles to eight Olympic Games.

Most recently its ceramics were used to clad the inside of swimming pools and pool surroundings for the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens.

Gail will also supply its swimming pool ceramics for two pools – a 50m swimming pool and one diving pool – at the Asian Games held in Qatar in December.

At this year�s Big 5, Gail will be showcasing new colours for its ‘Grip-Star plus� and ‘Mountain� tile collections, as well as an extended colour variety for the ‘Basic� and ‘Special-Form� collections.

Italy has a long tradition of supplying world-class stone, and always maintains a strong presence at the Big 5.

Companies such as Pietra Naturale, La Quercia Graniti and Internazionale Graniti will be showing off a wide spectrum of natural stone products.

Meanwhile Marmocheck will represent a group of 20 Spanish companies at the exhibition that produce marble, granite, limestone and sandstone from their own quarries.

While the Europeans traditionally lead the way when it comes to producing tiles and natural stone products for bathrooms and kitchens, they are facing increased competition from Chinese firms that are fast making their presence felt within the sector.

Chengdu Zaijian Decorating Materials claims to be the biggest mosaic supplier in the world and will be attending this year�s Big 5 yet again.

Based in China�s Sichuan province, Chengdu operates 12 mosaic factories specialising in various marble mosaic, luxury metal mosaic and different kinds of natural stone for all types of interior decorating.

Chengdu�s products are exported to more than 65 countries and have been used on a wide variety of projects across the world ranging from Disneyland in Tokyo, Japan; Donald Trump�s casino in Atlantic City, US; and the Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai.

Another strong presence at this year�s Big 5 will be local firm RAK Ceramics, which is fast establishing itself as one of the world�s largest tile and sanitary ware manufacturers in the industry.

Earlier this year the Ras Al Khaimah-based firm opened its tenth factory in the emirate, adding 35,000m2 daily production capacity of ceramic tiles to its output, making it the world�s largest single ceramic products plant.

According to Christopher Sunil, senior sales manager, RAK Ceramics, Dubai accounts for around 80% of the company�s market.

“Projects we�re supplying to include the Arabian Ranches, the Burj Dubai, the buildings coming up beside it and the towers being built by Nasa Multiplex for Emaar.

“Jumeirah Beach Residence is also another big project for us,� he adds.

“All the towers there are using solely RAK Ceramics tiles and sanitary ware.�

As well as the massive demand within the regional market for its ceramics products, Sunil says RAK Ceramics� export market is also looking healthy.

“We are exporting our products to 145 countries – our biggest markets are the US and the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany.�

"Sanitaryware and bathrooms is a growing sector within the Big 5 show, with this year�s event set to attract international names all keen to show off their latest products and innovations.

Industry leaders such as Franke, Geberit and Grohe will showcase some of the world�s most creative product designs.

German firm, Grohe, which has exhibited at every Big 5 since the show was first launched, depends on the show as a key element of its marketing strategy within the region.

“This year we will be looking to further enhance our market share through the launch of our latest products,� says Alexander Halabi, Gulf regional manager, Grohe.

“We have a number of exciting new products and are confident that these will have a positive impact in the Middle East market, which we expect to continue growing at a very fast pace for at least the next 10 years.

�The upsurge in construction activity across the region is good news for the ceramics and natural stone sector, as it aims to keep pace with high demand for quality products.

“Marble and stone in particular are being used for so many of the projects here – much more than in most parts of the world - and the Big 5 reflects that,� summarises Bernard Walsh, managing director, dmg world media Dubai.

The sanitaryware sector is likewise enjoying a boom as a growing number of projects from private villas through to hotels and shopping malls enter the finishing stages.

In a region characterised by high disposable incomes, manufacturers of top-of-the-range kitchen, bathroom and sanitaryware products are all finding a ready market for their goods.

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