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Tile maker Royal Ceramics commenced trial production at its new sanitaryware unit with preparatory work on its third tile plant underway, claiming strong sales despite a partially suppressed construction market.

The subsidiary Rocell Bathware has invested LKR1.4 billion rupees in the new plant at Panagoda Industrial Park, south of Colombo. It will target the middle and upper end of the market, now served by imports.

"Trial production is now fine tuning the product," said Tharana Thoradeniya, chief executive of Rocell Bathware. ."We hope to launch our many designs and models into the market by late June or early July." Trials have been delayed as the company wanted to build up stocks before launching the new products through their network of 37 retail outlets and dealers.

Rocell Bathware will have an initial capacity of 250,000 pieces of sanitaryware and will be the sole local competitor against up-market imported brands from Europe and East Asia. The new Italian designed products are produced by the Italian made plant and machinery.

"This is the only local plant of this calibre catering to the middle and upper middle sections of the market." said Thoradeniya. The company aims to supply the demand for upmarket bathroom products with more sophisticated design and style rather than purely functional requirements.

"One of the advantages we have is that the customer can save on the shipping cost," added Thoradeniya. "sanitaryware is bulky and occupies a lot of container space. So shipping cost is significant in sanitaryware pricing."

Rocell’s third porcelain tile factory at Kiriwaththuduwa, Homagama starts commercial production in 2010. Thoradeniya added "We are into commercial buildings and the residential market; individual-owned residential housing and gated communities. So we have not been affected by the slow down in the apartment construction business which we did not supply and which imported most of their requirements under Board of Investment concessions."

Sales of tiles remain strong and Royal Ceramics posted its highest monthly turnover and profit in December 2007, he said and that even this month, sales are ok.