While ceramic sanitaryware claims only a portion of this market, it remains the second largest type of sanitaryware next to fiberglass. However, the market share of these two materials has shifted significantly over the past several years. Between 1995-1999, sales of fiberglass plumbing fixtures gained 4% in the overall plumbing fixtures market, while sales of vitreous china lost 4%. This trend is likely to continue as fiberglass remains the material of choice for most bathtubs, whirlpool baths and shower surrounds and receptors.
Like ceramic tile, the sanitaryware market depends to a great extent on the construction and remodeling markets. While sales of new homes have remained fairly robust since the beginning of this year, demand is expected to slow by fall. However, construction in the office, hospital and health sectors is expected to continue to remain strong in the near term. Additionally, bath remodeling jobs in the residential market also continue to rise, which may offset the lower anticipated construction spending in this sector.
“We regret that closing the Trenton facility is necessary,” said Laurie Breininger, vice president of plumbing products - Americas. “We’re consolidating our production to improve the efficient use of our facilities. We selected Trenton primarily because it is one of our oldest and smallest plants, operating at only half capacity. It is less costly to move the Trenton production to other plants.”
In a similar move, Briggs Industries closed its last U.S. ceramic sanitaryware manufacturing plant, located in Abingdon, Ill., in December 2000.
Not all U.S. companies are struggling, however. Kohler Co., a privately held company based in Kohler, Wis., reported that its sales are up in 2001 and that it has no intentions to consolidate any of its U.S. manufacturing operations. “We are, of course, concerned about the economy and are watching all the indicators that everyone else is, but we feel pretty optimistic about our opportunities going forward. We are expecting continued growth in both the short- and long-term,” said Mike Chandler, marketing manager – Sanitaryware Products.
Kohler believes that the key to continued success is product innovation. “If you’re truly providing unique products, and you’re doing things that are innovative with leading edge designs, you’re probably going to do better than your average competitor whether the market is up or down,” Chandler said. Within the past year, Kohler has introduced products such as its Comfort Height™ toilets, which are the height of an average chair and therefore more comfortable; 1.6-gallon-per-flush (gpf) toilets (mandated by the U.S. government for water conservation) that provide comparable performance to the old 3.5 gpf models; lavatories with interesting shapes and designs, such as the Camber™ lavatory that is built into a Camber table; console tables, which have become increasingly popular in the U.S. building/remodeling market; and a variety of new colors and shades.
“People really want to express themselves—particularly with the washing basin—in the design of their bathrooms. By providing a lot of different materials, designs and colors, we enable them to do that,” said Chandler.
Sanitec Corp., a bathroom products manufacturer headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, has also had a great deal of success in the European markets, with 2000 sales increasing almost 40% over 1999 levels. However, the company is not as optimistic about 2001 growth. Signs of a slowdown emerged toward the end of 2000, especially in Poland and Germany, and the stagnant market situation in those regions has continued through the first part of this year. With the acquisition of Twyford Bathrooms in January 2001 and goals to improve efficiency, the company is forecasting a 5% growth rate for this year. It’s overall objective is to become “a global leader in bathroom solutions.”
A new report from Materials Markets Consulting (MMC) indicates that the Asian markets are faring well, with an expected average annual growth rate of 8% in the overall Asian ceramic sanitaryware market. The current market is worth US$1.1 billion and is dominated by China (58%), Taiwan (11%) and India (10%).
Annual demand in Southern and Southeast Asia currently stands at about 80 million pieces. Demand is mostly met by local production, with only certain high-grade products being imported. As consumers in Asia become more sophisticated and attach more importance to quality and design, there is a potential for more imports of branded high quality European and U.S. products. China accounts for half of the demand for sanitaryware and is followed by India with 20% of the demand. By 2005, MMC forecasts that China will still account for 50% of the demand and India will represent 25%.
In India, less than 30% of the population has access to sanitation systems, and the housing shortage currently stands at over 40 million units. MMC predicts that fast growth will be experienced in all sectors of the sanitaryware market, and the market for high-grade products will double from 5 million to 10 million pieces.