Over the past few months, my travels to international trade shows have given me the opportunity to sit down with some of the world’s major stone producers to gauge the current market conditions. Not surprisingly, many of these suppliers are based in Brazil. And for the first time in awhile, their mood is upbeat.
At the Vitória Stone Fair in February (reviewed on page 68 of this issue), the suppliers I spoke with were practically unanimous in their assessment that market conditions for the stone industry had improved. “We are doing better,” said Heliene Zucchi of Zucchi Granite. “We had some very good pre-visits [before the show]. We feel people are more interested in new materials.” The show floor itself was crowded, and there were plenty of new products on display. As I passed by the various trade show booths, it was clear that many of the attendees were not simply there to browse and exhibitors were not just showing materials and socializing. They were sitting down with their calculators and negotiating deals.
The positive energy continued in April at Coverings, where dozens of Brazilian stone suppliers were arranged in a national pavilion, as well as other individual booths. I spoke with the majority of these suppliers, and once again, they reported that business had improved significantly for the first quarter of 2010. Getting into specifics, many of them said that a number of North American slab distributors are finally re-stocking their inventory, and they are once again placing large-scale orders of containers.
Going beyond the conversations I had with stone suppliers, the recorded statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce also reveal a positive trend for Brazilian stone exports. In the government agency’s recent monthly report (covering activity for February 2010), exports of Brazilian granite to the U.S. jumped 30% to a total value of $14.73 million as compared to the same period a year earlier. And while that figure is by no means outstanding compared to the export totals of four years ago, it is a quantifiable sign that business is indeed improving for Brazilian stone producers.
As business continues to improve, the Brazilian stone industry will - as usual - be introducing a broad range of materials to the marketplace, complementing its supply of “bread and butter” materials that are already popular among today’s consumers. Major Brazilian suppliers are continually exploring for new stone products, and they are doing so with an eye on the U.S. market. Our review of the Vitória Stone Fair includes an illustrated showcase of just some of the new materials that are being produced, and they are already being exported to major U.S. distributors.
Moreover, this issue’s “Report from Brazil” highlights the advanced stoneworking capabilities of two major produces (pages 76 and 90). In addition to tirelessly searching for new materials among Brazil’s vast resources of natural stone - particularly exotics - these firms have invested in equipment and developed production methods that allow them to process some of the more delicate stones that appeal to high-end consumers. Understanding these processes will help stone distributors and fabricators become better informed on the materials they are selling, and the more information that is available, the better off the industry is as a whole.
I will be returning to Brazil next month to check out some of the quarry sites for exotic stone materials, and you will get the chance to read about these sites in future print and online editions of Stone World.