Jasim Uddin Haroon
The country's ceramic tiles sector, whose monthly production has reached a sizeable level of 40 million square-feet, is now facing a demand slump due to squeeze in the housing sector.
The tiles industry, coupled with phenomenal growth in the country's real estate sector, witnessed a boom until 2011.
The ceramic tiles sector grew at a rate of 12-15 per cent consistently until 2011, and eventually narrowed down the demand-supply gap of the construction material.
"The demand for tiles has declined, as the housing sector has been facing a business slump," Mir Nasir Hossain, managing director of Mir Ceramics, one of the largest tiles producing companies of the country, told the FE.
Mr Nasir, a former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), also said the boom in the sector may resume after the revival of the housing sector.
"We're not frustrated. But, for the time being, the volume of our stock is rising due to poor sales."
Many new manufacturers have entered into the market, assuming further growth of the sector, he added.
A K M Ziaul Islam, general manager of Akij Ceramics, a new player in the sector, said 25-35 per cent of the entire tiles consumption is still met through import, mainly from China.
"These imported tiles are of premier quality, and local manufactures don't produce that quality." Echoing the views of Mr Nasir, he said now the main customers of the tiles - homogenous and ceramic varieties - are of individual level, who purchase the products for upgradation of their bathrooms or floors.
More than 10 big local and joint venture companies are now manufacturing tiles and controlling the market, with R A K Ceramics as the market leader. Their main product segments include wall tiles, floor tiles and porcelain tiles. They produce homogeneous tiles, floor tiles and wall tiles of different shapes and sizes.
However, there is a shortage of raw materials for the ceramic units in Bangladesh. Most of the local manufacturers are using imported raw materials for producing shining tiles.
The total investments in the sector during the last five years amount to around Tk 10 billion with the largest came from Akij Ceramics, which has built a state-of-the-art factory on 44 acres of land at a cost of Tk 2.46 billion.
Abu Hassan Talukder, deputy general manager of Akij Ceramics, told the FE that only a few companies of the sector are applying professional marketing strategies to promote their sales.
"We believe that the demand of tiles will surge further, as it still remains much below the peak," he added.
Analysts said the sector has high potential, considering the per capita consumption of ceramic tiles in Bangladesh.
"I think that currently it is at 0.20 square metres per person comparing to over 2.0 square metres per person in the countries like China, Brazil and Malaysia," said Dr Md Fakhrul Islam, professor and head of the newly-launched Department of Glass and Ceramics Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
He said the sector needs more qualified and skilled personnel to diversify products and help it grow further.
Glass is also a ceramic product, and there is a huge scope for manufacturing white glass in the country, he added.