There was a record number of exhibitors at the Natural Stone Show, held in March in London's ExCeL exhibition center. The show, the sixth in the series held at intervals of two years, was 30% bigger than the 2002 event.

Altogether, there were nearly 300 exhibitors and associates from 30 countries, with special areas for the Italians, Turkish, Indians, Chinese and Jordanians. The U.K. exhibitors included the producers of some of the country's most famous stones, such as Portland, Purbeck and Bath.

The number of visitors who came to see them was 4,514, contributing to a total attendance of an audited 5,452 when exhibitors and guests are included.

In addition to suppliers of stone, exhibitors included major machinery and consumables companies as well as contractors and consultants, creating a healthy mix for the broad cross-section of the trade and its customers who visited the exhibition.

It was a mix appreciated by Marco di Giorgi from Antolini Luigi of Italy, one of the world's biggest stone suppliers. “There are tools, memorials and machinery as well as stone here, so there are many more visitors and much more business to be done.”

Isabella Marantonio of IGM of Italy, another major Italian stone supplier back at its second Natural Stone Show, said, “This time it is better. It is well organized and the area is better, with more hotels to choose from. There are also more visitors this time. We've seen a good number of architects, wholesalers and manufacturers -- these are the people we want to meet. We got business after the last show. We hope for the same again.”

The machinery suppliers were also enjoying success, reporting plenty of inquiries and sales. On the first day alone, Ebor, the U.K. agent for Italian manufacturers Breton and Commandulli, had taken an order for a Breton NC260 CNC miller-router and had sold the Commandulli D60 off the stand as well as taking an order for another.

To attract more visitors, a major conference was held in conjunction with the exhibition. This time the program was formalized into a three-day accredited event with more than 30 lectures.

Various new build sessions were led by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and conservation sessions were hosted by English Heritage, the agency responsible for heritage in the U.K. Stone Federation Great Britain, the stone industry's trade association, also headed two sessions of their “Stone in the City” presentations, one for new construction and one for restoration.

Exhibition manager Richard Bradbury was delighted with the results. “Several companies have already provisionally booked their space for the next Natural Stone Show,” he said, adding that ExCeL has already been reserved for the next Natural Stone Show from March 7 to 9, 2006. “The bookings for next time include two companies that did not exhibit this time but, following a visit, felt they had missed out and wanted to ensure they are there in 2006.”