In 1993, when I first began working for Stone World, one of the first trade shows I attended was the Marble Institute of America Convention in Washington, DC. Still a bit wide-eyed, I walked around the exhibit hall taking it all in -- stone slabs from around the world, seemingly giant machines, sculpted pieces. It was all so new. And then I turned a corner and saw a familiar logo -- DuPont. It was odd to me to see such a well-known name among a sea of new and unique companies, so I went over to check it out. Turns out they were selling some plastic-looking product called Corian, and frankly, it didn't look all that much like stone to me. I wasn't sure what it was doing there.

Being new, I asked a few people about it, and the overwhelming response I got was outrage. People were appalled that a wing of this evil empire had trespassed into their venerable society. The stone industry was about individual craftsmanship and creativity, and it was being invaded by Corporate America. Moreover, the suits from DuPont were pitching a manufactured product at a convention for natural stone.

Ultimately, the folks from DuPont Corian were not welcomed to participate in subsequent Marble Institute of America Conventions, and when the event became a joint venture with StonExpo, this has remained the case. Quite honestly, I agree with this stance. It's hard enough to compete with DuPont's big advertising bucks and consumer networking. We don't need them pitching this kind of product at a stone trade show.

Then something very interesting happened. DuPont took over a plant for engineered quartz surfacing in Canada, and they began producing a product called Zodiaq. And while the debate rages whether this product -- and similar engineered quartz surfaces -- should be categorized with natural stone, they began hitting our marketplace, and suppliers of these products are now allowed to exhibit at StonExpo. The first reaction was, “Here we go again. Another competitor from the evil empire.”

I had a similar reaction at first, but upon reflection, I would say that DuPont's venture into quartz surfacing has actually helped the natural stone industry. Backed by DuPont's advertising and consumer branding, this product quickly entered the mainstream, and a new breed of consumers began considering high-quality countertop materials for their homes. Middle class homeowners were spending money on their kitchen counters, and once that happened, I think it helped open the door to natural stone as well. We all know that the stone industry has historically been lacking in its mass marketing to homeowners, but now we're seeing granite in Home Depots, Lowes and other retail outlets, and we're even hearing the words “granite countertops” in television and radio commercials. It's all part of a mindset that premium countertop materials are not only for the wealthy. And once that barrier had been broken, the inherent qualities of stone have made it an ever-increasing choice for consumers.

Looking at it from the industry's perspective, the introduction of DuPont Zodiaq has fueled the business by establishing new stone fabricators. During the preparation of this issue of Stone World, I visited with two companies that had long histories in the countertop trade, but only recently began fabricating natural stone. Both of these companies entered the sector primarily as Zodiaq fabricators, and now both firms report that natural stone comprises the bulk of the work in their stone shops. Without the introduction of DuPont Zodiaq, this might never have happened, and their regular customers (mostly kitchen and bath dealers) would be ordering manmade countertops for their clients instead of natural stone.

There are stories like this all around the country, and while some of these new entrants in the stone industry may be competing with other stoneworking shops, many of them are turning their established customers away from manmade products and towards natural stone. In the end, this will increase stone use per capita around the country.

So like I said earlier, “Thank you, DuPont.”