There’s no doubt that big box stores have upped their game on flooring, offering more stylish tile choices in contemporary colors and sometimes at what seems to be a price advantage over specialized flooring retailers. But is big box tile really the better deal for you? The best way to know the answer is to learn more about tile and the potential differences and then use your project’s budget and design needs to see how well the pluses and minuses balance out for you.
Tile Batch Numbers
When purchasing natural stone, it’s a given that Mother Nature will have included lots of natural imperfections and variations. When it comes to ceramic and porcelain tile, many assume the manufacturing process ensures continuity. This is true to a certain extent, but color is a variable that’s harder to control. For this reason, a flooring retailer will work with the tile distributor and manufacturer to ensure tile ordered for a project is from the same batch or dye-lot for consistent coloration. This same level of care is harder to achieve at a big box store. They won’t have the same direct access to help locating additional tile from that same batch number that a flooring retailer will have. One additional note on color – professional installers recognize and understand the challenges of color consistency and will blend boxes of tile during installation to offset slight color variations that can occur even within a single batch number.
Some manufacturers sell to both the big box stores and to flooring retailers. While it’s possible that in some cases they are the same tile, often the tile in a big box store is produced specifically for that large retailer and designed to meet a particular price point/sales margin/every-person design aesthetic. Their “special buy” sales may mean a manufacturer’s production run didn’t meet their quality control guidelines for sales to flooring retailers, but is still acceptable for general use. Differences in production and material quality are likely between big box tiles and those made for the specialized flooring market. Flooring retailers receive a manufacturer’s 1st quality goods.
Every item on a big box retailer’s shelf has to earn its space and only the most “popular” SKUs will get a spot. Originality, uniqueness and wide color choices are not hallmarks of buying through a big box store. What you see is usually what you get. In contrast, your local flooring retailer has a showroom dedicated to just flooring and access to much more than they can show on their floor.
Finding tile expertise at a big box store can be hit-or-miss and not necessarily comprehensive. Your tile salesperson should understand the differences between stone, porcelain, ceramic and specialty compositions. Slip resistance, wear and installation requirements of each project should also be considered before selecting tile. Your flooring retailer has this expertise or easy access to it.
Of the hundreds of tile manufacturer lines available to US consumers, most don’t sell to big box stores. Instead, they have developed long-term relationships with distributors who work with them to bring their tile lines to the market. We have exclusive relationships with a number of manufacturers and their tile lines are only available to our partner retailers within our distribution area. Now that you know more, you’re better prepared to make the right buying decision for your project!