The fast-growing building and construction sector in Kenya has created a thriving market for tiles despite challenges.
Travel abroad, exposure to the internet and international media such as Indian, Nigerian and Western TV movies is helping push demand for tiles. In addition, there is a rising demand by expatriates and international tourists on world-class interior décor.
The building sub-sector, which is often associated with luxury, has now become crucial in the wall and floor spaces. As a result, tile sellers are opening up shops all over urban centres and the market is attracting attention from international investors.
The suppliers sell different types of tiles, some imported and others manufactured locally. Increasingly, imported tiles from China, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt are being thrust into the faces of homebuilders.
One of the foreign investors is Pergus Group, a top tiles supplier with its head office in Middle East where it has operated for over 20 years. Although the Kenyan branch is only two years old, local directors say the firm brings to Kenyan market huge investments, advanced technologies and international quality of tiles and other building materials.
According to the group’s Kijabe Street Branch manager, Abdolreza Shahrezaee, clients are moving away from ceramic to wood and glazed finishes. Some of its brands include wooden tiles and the glazed porcelain. “Ceramic tiles are cheaper than porcelain ones, but are not as durable,” he says.
With roots in Iran —a world-renowned destination for aesthetic building finishes—the firm has expanded to five branches in Nairobi. “The choice of tiles is influenced by factors such as the plate’s ease of maintenance, water resistance level and susceptibility to high or low temperatures,” says Abdolreza.
Despite booming sales for tiles thus far especially in the urban set-ups, challenges abound. All dealers on tiles are grappling with counterfeit brands.
Construction projects are also capital-intensive and failure to adhere to a budget may delay the project or lead to its discontinuation altogether. When projects stall, tile sales are curtailed or a developer delays payments.
And when compared to other interior finishes such as paints and furniture, the tile sector is not as emboldened because it is perceived to be elitist. The Pergus team says it is working on modalities to sensitise buyers on the importance of tiles in modern construction.
“Tiles are important components of building and after the foundation, these are probably the next important thing. Tiles have a unique character and they tend to flash out a construction’s format.
Besides, the tiles industry has created so many jobs because of the options available in the market,” says Abdolreza. There have been concerns in the market about lack of enough expertise on tile fitting, cutting and placement. Industry experts are warning that poorly placed tiles de-value buildings.
Pergus Group’s marketing manager Alireza Ardestani says they see some of these hiccups as opportunities for research and development. For instance, the firm has adopted a method of follow-through in projects, especially where their products are in use. “We are not only sellers and manufacturers, but we also offer consultancy and technical support,” he says.
Ardestani says based on their growing sales, the market in Kenya has a high potential in the construction sector. “The country is undergoing an interesting phase with targeted developments and everybody is asking for a piece of Kenya currently,” he says.
“We want to partner in the country’s ambition of affordable housing and development under the Vision 2030 blueprint,” says Ardestani, who is excited about venturing into other counties soon.