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Tehran’s Ceramic Echo: Insights from Iran

Iran’s ceramics market has shown an upward trend in recent years. In Tehran, the capital of Iran, you can find construction material streets reminiscent of those in China six or seven years ago, selling various building materials such as tiles, sanitary ware, fireplaces, carpets, etc. The variety and designs of tiles are vast, ranging from 300×300 small floor tiles to 1600×3200 large stone plates.

Those selling these tiles are brand agents or OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) merchants, a similar scene in China. Let’s explore the development of Iran’s ceramics industry in this article.

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A Diverse Range with a Fondness for 600×1200 Tiles

The construction material streets in Tehran are located in bustling urban areas with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic. In various store displays, we observed familiar dimensions like 400×800(mm), 600×600(mm), and 600×1200(mm) – sizes that are best-sellers in China and also popular in the Iranian market.

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In addition, one can find tiles as small as 300×300(mm) designed for kitchens and bathrooms, elongated wood-patterned tiles, and many other sizes. According to sales representatives, the 600×1200(mm) size is the most sought-after, with prices ranging between $9-16 per square meter.

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Regarding design, marble, jade, sandstone, and cement patterns are common. As for finishes, one can find metallic glaze, mold-textured, granular-textured, and fine-carved surfaces. However, Iranians have a preference for glossy stone-patterned products.

Although only a few Iranian companies produce stone plates, many stores have started displaying them, with many showcasing beautiful designs. Apart from demonstrating the aesthetic of stone plates on walls and floors, some shops have turned them into sinks, dining tables, and other furniture pieces to exhibit their versatile applications.

Yet, imported tiles are almost non-existent. This is because Iran imposed high import tariffs on foreign ceramic products a few years ago, with some tiles facing up to a 55% tariff. 

We only spotted a limited amount of Turkish tiles in one store, priced at $25 per square meter for the 600×1200(mm) size. The store owner mentioned that these were imported five years ago and are now rare in Iran, hence their premium price.

From Branded to OEM Suppliers: Stores Showcasing Specialized Displays

Tehran’s construction-material streets primarily have two types of stores. 

The first kind is exclusive shops for factories or brands. These usually have a uniform design and signage, with more upscale decor and, in some cases, immersive displays.

The second type comprises general stores that source products from multiple manufacturers. These shops have a more comprehensive product range, organized by brand or product type, providing customers with more choices.

Among the brands we encountered, some are backed by their manufacturing capabilities. In contrast, others are OEM brands, produced at different factories. We noticed a particular brand that, by leveraging multiple OEM partnerships, has developed a comprehensive product line covering tiles, sanitary ware, and hardware. This brand has beautiful outlets in both Yazd and Tehran.

However, concentrated construction material streets like those in Tehran are rare throughout Iran. In other cities, brand outlets are typically more dispersed. Tehran’s dense clustering of such streets can be attributed to its population and urbanization. 

Being the capital of Iran and one of the largest cities in the Middle East, Tehran has a population exceeding ten million. This immense population drives significant consumer demand. Moreover, Tehran’s relentless urbanization – from road construction and bank establishments to skyscraper projects – has spurred the formation of these specialized streets.

In summary, Tehran’s building material market bears many similarities to what China had in the past, but from a broader perspective of the entire Iranian market, there are also distinct differences. Despite facing long-standing sanctions, financial restrictions, and currency devaluation, Iran’s market continues to evolve and progress. Businesses there are also seeking product and production line upgrades. 

Conclusion

Despite enduring long-term sanctions, Iran showcases commendable infrastructure due to its industrial foundation. This is evident in its roads, buildings, and transportation systems.

Ceramics, a pivotal construction material, has a profound history in Iran. According to Mr. Behnam from the Iranian Ceramics Association, the industrialized production of tiles in Iran dates back to the 1960s.

After decades of growth, Iran has emerged as one of the top five nations in tile production and exports. The country produces approximately 500 million square meters of tiles annually, constituting about 60% of exports.

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Development of Iran's Ceramic Supply Chain

Under the pressure of sanctions and supported by an enormous industrial scale, Iran has fostered its ceramic supply chain. Now, it boasts suppliers for spray towers, ball mills, kilns, packaging lines, and consumables like ball clay, inks, and glazing materials.

Despite possessing the related products, there needs to be a discernible gap between Iran and the leading nations in ceramics concerning technology and quality. To protect the domestic supply chain, the Iranian government mandates state-owned ceramic factories to procure a specific percentage (exceeding 60% for some products) of domestic equipment and consumable materials. This policy has enabled the Iranian ceramic supply chain to survive and thrive.

Diversity in Ceramic Products

Outside the scope of the policy, many Iranian ceramic manufacturers still prefer equipment and consumable materials from countries like Italy and China, especially when they offer superior quality, cost-efficiency, and commendable service.

Iran’s ceramic product range is vast, encompassing various sizes and designs. While red body tiles dominated in the past, there’s a noticeable shift towards white body tiles. Companies aim to tap into the European market with these, hoping for a hike in export prices.

Current Trends and Challenges

In recent years, the pace of growth in Iran’s ceramic industry has decelerated, leading to business sales pressures. With the competitiveness of conventional products waning, many Iranian ceramic enterprises are planning to venture into slab tile production. Iran may witness a surge in slab tile popularity in a year or two.

Iran, being a theocratic nation, has distinctive policies. Coupled with prolonged sanctions and significant currency fluctuations, doing business here does entail certain risks. However, as is often the case, opportunities often accompany risks. So, where does Iran’s opportunity lie?

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