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. It also asks them to look back on the previous year and give an overall snapshot of the change in business climate.

This survey was completed by more than 300 stone fabricating shops of all sizes and experience levels across the country (not a bad number considering the busy life of a fabrication shop owner/manager). Although the full report - including the spending plans of fabricators for 2009 - can be found on page 56 of this issue, I would like to touch on some key points of this survey here.

Predictions for the stone market in 2009

Grow - 22.6%   •   Decline - 40.0%   •   Stay the same - 37.4%

Quick Analysis: Perhaps surprisingly, 60% of people don’t expect their business to decline in 2009, although just a little more than one in five expect to see any growth next year. Another disappointing point: just about two-thirds of those predicting a decline said that it would be more than 11%.

Predictions for the stone market over the next 5 to 10 years

Grow - 75.8%   •   Decline - 9.5%   •   Stay the same - 14.7%

Quick Analysis: People still think this business is on the upswing in general. For the most part, fabricators cited the cyclical nature of the economy and the continued popularity of granite as reasons for long-term optimism.

How was business in 2008 compared to 2007?

Increased - 38.5%   •   Decreased - 43.1%   •   Stayed the same - 18.4%

Quick Analysis: A total of 56.9% of fabricators didn’t see a decline in 2008. Given all the horror stories I’ve heard, I would have thought this figure would be much worse. Now for the bad news. The real banking/credit industry collapses occurred during the second half of 2008, so many fabricators enjoyed their greatest success during the first six months of the year. Also, for fabricators who saw a decline, the hit was fairly sizeable (61.4% said the decline was 11% or greater).

Did the radon scare hurt your business in 2008?

Yes - 25.4%   •   No - 74.6%

Quick Analysis: On a personal note, I was extremely pleased to see these results.  It seems that the “BuildClean” backers wasted a lot of money trying to get everyone riled up on this issue, especially since the vast majority who said they were affected said that the decline was only between 1 and 5%.

Will the radon scare have a long-term effect on your business?

Yes - 12%   •   No - 88%

Quick Analysis: Again, it appears some folks wasted a lot of money on propaganda that was largely dismissed after a couple of months.

Other notes to consider:
  • Looking at the biggest factors in the business downturn: 43.7% said it was the decline in the housing market; 28.8% felt it was competition from low-end fabricators; and 24.6% said it was the banking/credit industry crisis. Just about no one felt it had to do with the devaluation of U.S. currency (2.6%) or the granite/radon scare (0.4%).
  • A total of 57% of fabricators said they will invest in equipment in 2009 (although 39.1% said the dollar figure they spend will decline).
  • The biggest cut fabricators are making is in the area of personnel (61.7%). They are trying to make personnel cuts through attrition whenever possible.
  • A total of 10% of fabricators are planning to invest in CNC technology in 2009, which is significant when you consider an average price of nearly $200,000 expected to be spent.
So there it is, from the backbone of our industry - the stone fabricators. The outlook is, at best, mixed. But it is not all gloom and doom, and some fabricators are planning to make some heavy investments this year. So maybe there will be a tomorrow after all.

Michael Reis,Editor/Associate Publisher