Stone World

Stone Column: Greetings from Brazil

March 10, 2004
This month, I am writing my column from a hotel room in Vitoria, Brazil, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in 90-degree heat in mid-February. There are two reasons for this. On one hand, I have been on the road so much lately that I am rarely in my office to write articles. But more importantly, I wanted to write a little about my experiences here while they are fresh in my mind.

To start off, the International Marble and Granite Fair taking place here has been a tremendous success. Although the show had drawn some international interest during its first 15 years, when it took place in the stoneworking center of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, Espirito Santo, Brazil, it is now centered in the major city of Vitoria. This move has made the show an international draw, and it is particularly attractive to the American market. Everywhere I turned at the show, I heard my native language being spoken by U.S. importers, who are here purchasing containers of granite slabs that have become staples of the kitchen countertop trade - Verde Butterfly, Ubatuba, Giallo Ornamental and so many others. Some of the Americans here are old friends, and others are names I have heard about for years and finally had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. And there are also many other North American importers and distributors (and fabricators) who I had not been familiar with, but who came to Brazil to do some serious business.

Why are so many people making the trip from North America to Brazil? As one friend told me at the exhibition hall, “If you are in New York, you are 10 hours from an entire supermarket of stone.” And a walk down the show floor proves this to be correct. Not only are we finding the traditional Brazilian materials, but we are also seeing new exotic stones, with colors and patterning unlike any materials in the market today.

In many ways, my experiences at this fair remind me of my first trip to the Verona Fair in Italy 10 years ago. There is an energy and an excitement here that helps to fuel business. Brazilians are passionate and energetic people, and this also translates to their stoneworking. The surrounding Vitoria region houses a broad range of stoneworking firms, and I was able to take advantage of this by visiting a few of these companies. The work they are doing is impressive. Although Brazilian firms have been using advanced European machinery for over a decade, they seem to be taking it to the next level now. I saw one firm that is producing finished “blanks,” for granite kitchen countertops. These pieces have completely finished edges - including laminated edges - and they are aimed specifically at the U.S. marketplace. Another firm has developed a state-of-the-art plant for polishing and resining granite slabs. This company, a major block trader based in Italy, has been one of the pioneers for European expansion into Brazil, and they also plan to export the bulk of their slab production to America.

So even while we are at a time when many industry members feel there are too many trade shows, the opportunities present in Brazil appear to be too good to pass up. As a result, the stone fair in Vitoria will become a regular addition to the calendar of many American stone suppliers.