Make countertops, not war
Going by the revenue figures cited by the few thousand stone fabricators who have participated in the Stone World Fabricator Market Survey (conducted annually by BNP Media over the past decade or so), I said that the granite countertop sector peaked around $1.6 billion back in the glory that was 2006. I also heard a similar number cited at the Building Stone Institute Convention that year, so I felt confident in this figure -- as confident as one can in an industry such as this.
So the night before Thanksgiving, I get an e-mail from the Forbes reporter with a link to his blog, which was curiously entitled: "Granite Countertop Craze Has Cost U.S. More Than First Gulf War."
In this blog, Fitch writes: "I'm all for nicer kitchens, but it seems fair to wonder if we've overindulged. Granite is supposed to last, like, forever. But does anybody really believe all that glossy stone will stay in our kitchens permanently? When will we tire of it? We're a fickle people, we are. Even our most costly investments can prove short-lived. We ended up returning to the Gulf for another war, after all."
The full blog can be found at: http://blogs.forbes.com/stephanefitch/2010/11/23/granite-countertop-craze-has-cost-u-s-more-than-gulf-war/
As I'm reading this blog, I'm thinking, "This is why I shouldn't talk to reporters. There is no end to the way that they (we?) can twist a story." But over the years, I have spoken with reporters from newspapers in more than a dozen major cities, and their reports are generally positive. Our goal here is to promote stone as a premium building material, so if taking a little post-work time to talk with Forbes will help, then why not? (Or at least that was my thinking.)
Anyhow, since we are talking about a blog here, Forbes gives readers a chance to offer comments on the piece. The first person who commented seemed to agree with Fitch's thesis, stating, "The point to be made for me about granite countertops is that they symbolize the mad consumption and are a metaphor for the housing-obsessed, cocooning yuppie cash-out refinancers who sucked the collective balance sheets of America dry."
Wow, the granite kitchen countertop as the symbol of American greed? Fitch called my estimate of the industry "conservative," but even if it was actually five times that amount (and believe me, it's not), we are a nation that spends $21 billion on ice cream each year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. So what is more practical, a $3,000 countertop that will last for decades, or a $4 pint of Ben & Jerry's that will last an hour? (Honestly, neither expenditure conjures images of Wall Street executives flaunting their eight-figure bonuses, but I guess that is my point here.)
Other commenters found the Gulf War/countertop correlation to be somewhat strange as well, with one stating, "Is there a customer service department where I can go to recover the time I spent reading your article? May I ask if your employer pays you well? And if so, are they hiring? I have an idea for a pressing piece of investigative journalism on potential uses for lint."
Getting away from this debate, another commenter estimated the American granite countertop consumption total to be as much as $6 billion per year, basing this figure on the U.S. import totals that we publish in Stone World and then considering the costs of importing, distribution, fabrication, installation. etc. However, since the granite import totals recorded by U.S. Customs cover a range of products other than slabs -- including tiles, architectural elements, tombstones, blocks, curbstones, etc. -- it is tough to use them as a basis for the size of the American countertop market.
Nevertheless, since a figure of $6 billion makes Americans seem even more gluttonous, the Forbes blog was adjusted to include this estimate in the text, and my original figure was then referred to as "very conservative."
Anyhow, my point to all this is that the countertop industry is very difficult to quantify in terms of overall dollars spent, and I would like to hear some insight from you, the industry members.
If you were asked to estimate the overall volume of the stone countertop industry in America, where would you place it? Assuming there are roughly 10,000 stone fabricators in the U.S., how much is the average revenue for each shop? I realize, of course, that there are quite a few one- and two-man shops out there, along with a share of megashops doing 40-plus kitchens per day, but where does the average lie?
Please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com with your thoughts.
Also in line with this discussion, Stone World will be releasing the results of its annual Fabricator Market Survey next month, and you will be able to read about them in our print and electronic editions. In the meantime, however, I would love to hear your comments (as long as you don't offer articles about the potential uses of lint.)