Investing in innovation

Investing in innovation

May 2019

Following the recent demise of British Ceramic Tile, Johnson Tiles now stands alone as the UK’s only volume ceramic tile manufacturer.  TSJ’s Editor, Joe Simpson, sat down with Managing Director, Stephen Dixon, to discuss the UK tile market and Johnson Tiles’ pragmatic plans for the future.

Although most would assume that British Ceramic Tile’s recent slide into administration would have a significant impact on Johnson Tiles, Managing Director, Stephen Dixon, sees the situation differently.

“My overriding reaction is sadness.  I was very aware of the great efforts made by Tony Taylor and his team to turn the business around and achieve profitability.  But, to be frank, the business models of the two companies are so different that I do not think British Ceramic Tile’s demise will have much impact on us.  I would say that we would only be interested in between 10% and 20% of British Ceramic Tile’s supply contracts.  Our focus is very clear.  We concentrate on the non-consumer area, particularly social housing, and house building -where we supply Barratt Developments, David Wilson, Charles Church, Redrow, and many of the other leading players.  We are committed to focusing on this sector and the A&D community in general.  While contract sales have been ‘flat’ of late, they are not in negative territory, unlike the consumer sector.  So the fact that we are not heavily invested in the independent retail sector has been to our advantage.”

“I think we have to play to our strengths.  And these are matchless expertise in cost-effective manufacturing of small format tiles and, above all, excellent service.  I am firmly of the opinion that consistent quality and service are, at the end of the day, just as, if not more, important than product.  The levels of service consistently provided by Johnson Tiles’ 300-strong team is the true bedrock of our success.  And we have had a good year, generating profit in a very tough market, and making some strategic market gains.  So while no one here is kidding themselves that the market is, or will be, easy going forward, we are very confident in our strategy and core strengths.”

Dixon’s bullish assessment of the company was underlined recently when Johnson Tiles announced that it was investing £650,000 in two new inkjet machines for its factory in Stoke-on-Trent.  Johnson Tiles was one of the world’s earliest adopters of inkjet technology, back in around 2007 and 2009.  And, with this new generation of Durst/Torrecid technology, Johnson Tiles aims to offers market-ready small format designs, while also benefitting from being one of only two companies in the world with the ability to fire small format tiles in a jumbo kiln.  This means that it believes it can produce small format tiles more cost-effectively than any other manufacturer in Europe.

However, with a relatively modest production capacity of 5 million sq. metres, Johnson Tiles’ designs have to be differentiated to create and sustain demand.  Dixon is immensely proud of the company’s in-house design team, that has created and evolved a diverse portfolio that now reflects the bolder colours, innovative shapes, and strong patterns that are starting to characterise the world-wide tile market.

“We cannot afford to offer a ‘me-too’ portfolio and Richard Mann, Head of Product, and his team are quite exceptional in this regard.  I think Richard’s experience in product sourcing gives him a unique perspective.  I believe this goes some way to explain why our current product offer chimes in so well to the prevailing mood of design empowerment, with customers seeking a distinctly personal look.”

“Our portfolio allows customers to pursue a ‘base, better, best’ product progression, that can provide the best possible convergence between product requirements and the necessary price point for each individual project budget.”

“The Intro Collection is our entry level, with the Select Collection as the ‘better’ option, and the Absolute Collection as the ‘best single” option; while Minton Hollins fills the heritage and decorative niche.  It is a formula that customers both understand and appreciate.”

However, as the recent investment shows, Johnson Tiles is not resting on its laurels.  To support the design and manufacture of its ceramic wall tiles, the British firm – established in 1901 – has made the considerable investment to enhance its existing processes.  The new inkjet machines guarantee faster production, making Johnson Tiles able to produce a world-class small format product portfolio as efficiently as any other manufacturer globally.

When the investment was announced, Nigel Stannard, Commercial Director, stated: “As a British manufacturer that has stood the test of time for over 100 years, we continue to innovate for the future with our latest investment.  With more investment planned for 2020, Johnson Tiles is currently exploring all avenues in terms of different tile formats and structures: focusing first on small format for the housebuilder sector, with a view to extend its offering.”

“Being based in Stoke-on-Trent, the world’s ceramic heartland, we are located exactly at the centre of the UK.  Therefore, in addition to our high-quality product, when it comes to our warehousing and logistics capabilities, our facilities are second to none.”

“This has become particularly important in light of the UK’s impending ‘Brexit’. While some manufacturers have struggled with distribution, we are very much ‘open for business’; operating on a global scale with readily available stock held at our factory.  This ensures no change to our customers in the coming months.”

“Our heritage has afforded us a wealth of skill; our team is the best in the UK when it comes to tile manufacturing.  However, we’re not resting on our laurels.  We’re very much a future-facing company, continually pushing forward to enhance our product offering and tighten our operations.  And, as we approach Brexit, this is unchanged.”

Material Lab: A success story
“Across the Norcros Group we have a well established, successful track record of serving consumers, architects, designers, developers, retailers, and wholesalers,” explains Dixon.

“Our emphasis is on strong branding, contemporary designs, trusted quality, outstanding service, innovation, and breadth of range.  Norcros is a substantial group with consistent, high quality standards, and considerable resources, that operates through seven complementary and market-leading businesses with strong brands: Triton Showers, Merlyn, Vado, Croydex, Abode, and Norcros Adhesives, alongside Johnson Tiles.”

“Norcros is also a leading manufacturer of ceramic tiles and adhesives, and a leading retailer of these and associated products such as sanitaryware, under the Tile Africa, Johnson Tiles South Africa and TAL brands.”

“While we do not specifically develop products and system solutions as a group, all Norcros  companies enjoy the benefits of a continual exchange of market intelligence and a collaborative approach to business.  Johnson Tiles has carried this approach forward with Material Lab: our sector-defining showroom located a stone’s throw from London’s Oxford Street.”

Material Lab, which was set-up by the company in 2006, provides an inspirational space for the architecture and design community to explore products from Johnson Tiles, and a range of selected partners, alongside cutting-edge materials from the UK’s most promising emerging designers and makers.

“Material Lab has proved to be a really powerful platform for the brand, building on Johnson Tiles’ expertise in supplying ceramic solutions to a range of internationally-renowned projects, including the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London in 2014,” says Dixon.  “Johnson Tiles is not only the UK’s leading tile manufacturer, but has also earned its place as an iconic British manufacturing hallmark. 

Material Lab is a design resource studio and materials library that shows that, as a company, we listened and responded to what the architect and design community wanted. 

It's a place where inspiration and creativity go hand in hand, where you can immerse yourself in surface coverings of every kind, no matter what they're made from.”

“The collaborative approach of the Norcros group is clearly evident in Material Lab, which is supported by some of the biggest global surfacing brands, including Vado, Egger, Karndean Designflooring, modulyss, Dulux Trade, Tektura, and Flowcrete,” underlines Dixon.  “Today interior designers and architects know that they can see, touch, and explore the latest trends, tips, and tempting ideas - immerse themselves and experiment - at Material Lab.”

“Thanks to its dedicated in-house design team and UK-based production facilities, Johnson Tiles continues to deliver distinctive new products servicing both the contract and retail markets internationally, all of which is underpinned by award-winning quality and environmental systems.”

“We aim to offer the widest choice of ‘on trend’ products, backed up by industry-leading logistics and service.  I am certain that we are well positioned to keep abreast of the trend-led global tile market, adapting and evolving our portfolio to meet changing customer needs.”

“We are the UK’s leading importer of wall and floor tiles, giving customers a ‘one-stop shop’ for their tile needs, whether ceramic or porcelain.  Johnson Tiles is a well invested operation with a broad customer base and a growing presence in the commercial specification market.  We also have a well-established customer base within specialist tile distributors and major DIY chains.”

“Our products remain in high demand in both the contract and retail markets because of Johnson Tiles’ reputation not only for quality, but also for product design, creativity, and – particularly - service excellence.”

That is something of which we are extremely proud, and the whole team will strain every sinew to preserve our reputation and standards going forward.”
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