OK, so “absolute zero” is actually a scientific term unrelated to the business world. These past few months, I often feel like it is the level of business in today’s stone industry - or perhaps the latest closing figure for the stock market (as in “The Dow closed today at absolute zero.”)
In the “Forum” section of this issue (page 106),
I had the unfortunate task of recapping the distressing events surrounding the
closure of Rock Tops, a Michigan
firm with multiple operations in several states. Although it is bad news to
hear of any event that leaves stoneworking professionals out of a job, the
closure of Rock Tops is at once a “worst case scenario” and a cautionary
Every year, Stone World’s parent company, BNP Media, conducts an in-depth survey among U.S. stone fabricators. This survey gauges their short-term and long-term market predictions and their capital outlay and purchasing plans for the future.
Last month, I made my annual trip to the
StonExpo trade show in Las Vegas,
NV. And while I don’t think that
trade shows provide a tell-all barometer on the state of a particular industry,
I was curious to gauge the feelings and concerns of those in attendance.
many stone industry professionals today, I find myself facing difficult
financial times for the first time in my career. Over the past 15-plus years,
my professional day-to-day life has grown in unison with the growth of the
stone industry, and this has been particularly evident in my robust travel
When I opened up my paper of choice, The New York Times, two weeks ago, I saw a headline in the Home Section entitled, “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop?” By now, we all probably know much of what happened as a result of this article. Subsequently, other major news outlets - including radio and network television - have picked up the story. On YouTube, videos appeared showing people holding a Geiger counter against a granite slab - dramatic scenes with jumping needles and lots of noise indicating that something is seriously awry. Stone distributors and fabricators started receiving way too many calls from concerned homeowners - some hysterical; some reasonable but worried.
With American stone industry companies fighting harder than ever before to turn a profit, we are seeing a number of approaches to offsetting the decline in sales these days. Some firms are lowering prices in an attempt to draw more business - although this seems rare among established stone fabricators. Other have changed their target client base, and they are aggressively going after new markets in an attempt to regain some lost business (i.e. remodeling work rather than new construction). Unfortunately, though, no matter what sales and marketing strategy is in place, the majority of U.S. stone fabrication shops will not do the same volume of business that they did a year ago (or even two years ago).
For those of you who don’t already know, the “scare tactics” regarding granite and radon are out there once again. Basically, it’s the same old re-run from years ago: “Are granite countertops killing innocent families? We don’t know, but we’re looking into it. In the meantime, why don’t you try this alternative material?”
Ever since the Vitória Stone Fair began taking place in the stoneworking region of Vitória, Brazil, in 2002, the show’s growth and energy has mirrored the explosive growth of Brazil’s stone industry. This past edition, however, took place at a time when the nation’s industry is facing its first real challenges since becoming a major player in the international stone industry. Because Brazil relies heavily on the U.S. as an importer of its finished stone products - particularly granite slabs - the downturn in the U.S. housing market has had a noticeable impact on the Brazilian stone industry.
For many stone industry purists, the stoneworking region of Carrara, Italy, is the heart of our industry. As the home of Carrara White marble - Michelangelo’s material of choice - it has a built-in history in stone. More importantly, it has been home to generations of stoneworking professionals who are passionate about stone and its place in architecture, art and culture. I’ve been traveling to this region for over 10 years, and every time I visit, I am reminded that this dedication to the artistry of stone remains alive and well today.