Stone Column

Building on last year’s growth

In last month’s issue of Stone World, we published the year-end U.S. stone import and export statistics, which are provided to us by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Every month, U.S. Customs does a thorough job of reporting the full spectrum of stone imports — from tiles and slabs to cut-to-size work. Generally speaking, these statistics are a good barometer of where we are collectively headed as an industry.

Most years, I use the column in that issue to talk about how these statistics look compared to the previous year — and frankly, I was looking to share a little good news with our readers as we head out of this recession. But when I got out my calculator and crunched the numbers, the growth really wasn’t what I was hoping for — just about 7% across the board.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised, because while many months during the first half of 2012 were showing growth of 10% (or even a bit more), stone imports during the second half of the year were relatively flat. The end result was single-digit growth. I know that the optimist might say, “Hey, at least it didn’t go down,” but after a prolonged recession, I am tired of hearing that.

Now it is May, and for the first four months of 2013, I have been hearing positive feedback across the board. It started at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas in Las Vegas, and a month later, it continued at the Vitória Stone Fair in Brazil. In fact, some of Brazil’s top suppliers were reporting major growth for the first part of 2013 — as much as 70% in one case.

Last month, I attended a gathering of the Artisan Group, a group of independent North American countertop professionals. Virtually everyone I spoke with at the event said that they have been enjoying sustained success in 2013, and most of them are making investments in their operations. Some of them told me that they were revamping their showroom. Others said they were taking delivery of a new machine. Yet another told me that they were doing so much equipment investment that the entire layout of their shop was about to change.

Shortly after attending the Artisan Group event, I attended a meeting of the Education Advisory Council for StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas. There, I spoke with everyone from fabricators to commercial cladding professionals to technology suppliers, and across the board, people were excitedly talking about growth in their business. And I mean significant growth; one person used the word “slammed.”

All of this tells me that these fabricators are not just seeing a positive week or month — they are seeing significant growth in their fabrication business, and they are confident that this growth will remain over the course of this year and beyond.

Going back to the U.S. stone import statistics, the hard figures so far for 2013 are greatly improved, with growth of just under 15% — more than double last year’s growth. Imports of marble — which includes limestone, according to U.S. Customs — have been more than 20% this year.

OK, four months down so far in 2013, and eight more to go. Let’s see that momentum continue!

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