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MAJOR PLAYERS IN THE MARKET LOOK ABROAD: ITALIAN CERAMIC TILE PRODUCERS LEAD THE WORLD
A business can internationalize by restricting itself to seeking out commercial channels abroad, or it can do so by becoming a player in world production. Italy’s makers of ceramic tiles have embarked resolutely on the second path. This is not a new phenomenon: Modena and Reggio Emilia, the historic capitals of tile manufacture, first began putting down roots abroad in the early 1980s. At a time when markets outside Europe seemed distant and unappealing, ceramics manufacturers in Italy had already transplanted entire branches of their companies into such unknown territories as Russia, the USA and Africa.
The way in which the global economy has evolved in the last twenty years leads one to conclude that their choice of operating field was a truly “prophetic” reading of the market. The financial collapse of 2009, descending without warning, has been left behind thanks to the well-developed international network built up over the years by the Italian producers. Quite unexpectedly, both the joint venture companies working in the field of extraction and the showrooms that the Italian ceramics industry have established around the world have balanced out the effects of a loss of production, which has mainly upset the internal markets. Nowadays, the picture of a nationally-based market has become a thing of the past: it is exports that drive the whole sector and take up the main quota of Italian production, up 4.9% in 2010.
Franco Manfredini, president of Confindustria ceramica explained the situation: “The Italian ceramic tile industry, thanks to an export quota equivalent to 70% of production, is amongst the very top sectors in Italy in relation to overseas turnover. Thanks to the support given by the developed nations in Europe and North Africa, in many of which Italian-made ceramics constitute the market leader, we have been able to promote appreciation of these important materials for living.” The growth in sales, again with reference to 2010, amounts to +2.7% in relation to overseas commerce, contrasting with an internal loss of 3.5%.
The provisional figures for 2011 indicate a rise: production should touch +3.6% and sales a healthy +2.7%, almost all of it destined for overseas. The substantial increase in turnover is as always due to net exports, rising from 4.5 in 2009 to an estimated 4.7 million Euros last year. Few hints of the crisis remain, while the international role of the sector is on the rise almost everywhere. These are the increases in sales forecast for 2011 in the main foreign export markets: Western Europe (+1.4%), Central-Eastern Europe (+5.5%), the Balkan states (+0.8%), the NAFTA states (+2.1%), North Africa and the Middle East (+5.9%), the Far East (+2.9%), Latin America (+3.2%), and the Gulf States (+5.2%).
Establishing one’s business in foreign countries and diversifying one’s production base does not necessarily imply a loss of identity. Italian tile producers are determined to maintain a local tradition which has always been synonymous with high quality. The process put in train to obtain the European Union “made in” denomination answers to this precise requirement. This certification will soon figure on all Italian production, beginning with leading products such as the well-known “grès porcellanato”. The certification dossier has been on the table since 2005, and the green disc is soon to be awarded by the community authorities. As Manfredi explains: “Today, the challenge is to manage the export markets as best as possible, starting from those within the union with whom we are working for the introduction of an obligatory marking to show the origin of materials for all ceramic tiles bought from extra-community countries”. Thus, the Italian tile producers demonstrate how they are active players in the search for quality, confirming a leadership that has made this ceramics industry one of the stars of the national economy.