Stone Column

Moving into natural stone

In this issue of Stone World, we chose an interesting case study for our monthly "Re-Emerging U.S. Stone Industry" series. Rock Solid, a company based in Virginia Beach, VA, expanded its operation from solid surfaces -- such as Dupont Corian -- to natural stone. And while the company's stoneworking equipment is very basic -- a bridge saw, a portable edging machine and various hand tools -- its expanded role presents an interesting debate for the stone industry. The company remains a fabricator and supplier of solid surfaces, but it has also entered the natural stone industry, and it is looking to increase its presence with more machinery in the near future.

And Rock Solid's expansion is not at all unique. With the increased popularity and affordability of natural stone, more and more companies are increasing -- or establishing -- their presence in the stone industry. Homeowners who walk into a Home Depot looking for a kitchen countertop are finding granite displays right next to the man-made materials.

While an optimist might say that man-made countertop materials are serving as a bridge to natural stone (although I haven't heard that said anywhere), there are obvious concerns. Are these new companies producing quality work? Should natural stone be merely considered a commodity item, on the shelf next to standard products such as Formica? How can companies produce granite countertops that are competitive with standard Home Depot prices?

While there are no set answers to these questions, there are important points to consider. Upon further examination, it is curious to note that the prices for granite countertops at outlets such as Home Depot are not necessarily cheaper than those quoted by individual shops. So granite is not presented as a commodity item; it is just being offered to a broader audience of consumers.

Regarding the issue of quality workmanship, there are many different sources for information and education on stone fabrication. For example, Regent Stone Products, which supplied the equipment to Rock Solid, has a hands-on fabrication school (featured on page 24), where fabricators can go to hone their craft.

And there are other educational opportunities at the many trade shows in the U.S. The Coverings exposition, which will take place next month in New Orleans, is offering stone fabrication seminars that cover topics such as shop layout as well as task-specific topics such as laminating stone surfaces (page 116). Later this year, MIA/StonExpo will also be a forum to learn about stoneworking.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of information in the stone industry. Many veteran firms are benefitting the industry as a whole by sharing this information with newer companies. And in the end, the companies that continually seek to educate themselves are the ones that will remain in the industry for years to come.

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