When I was back at my desk after the holidays, one of the first calls I received was from a fabricator that I've gotten to truly know and respect over the years. After wishing him a Happy New Year, he replied, "2014 is looking to be a promising year." This is not a guy who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses; he is a realist who has been very candid about how tough the last few years have been. 

So when he says something like that, I take it as a very positive sign.

This conversation also backs up the results of our annual Stone World Fabricator Market Forcast, which polls thousands of fabricators across the country. We've been doing this study for 20 years, and up until six or seven years ago, the results were simply a confirmation of what everyone already knew: The stone industry is exploding with growth. By 2008, however, this survey was providing a gauge of just how bad things had become. We were able to pinpoint exactly how much business declined for fabricators, and how they were making cuts just to try and survive in this trade.

I sincerely hated writing those articles. Now, over the last couple of years, these surveys began showing a more positive picture for the American stone fabrication industry, and the 2014 edition has been the most positive in a long time -- painting a portrait of optimism not seen since before the recession. The full Stone World Fabricator Market Forecast can be found in the "How-To" section of this eNewsletter, and I highly suggest reading it to see where we're headed as an industry, but here are some highlights.

  • More than two-thirds of fabricators (68%) saw their business grow during 2013. A year earlier, this figure was just over half of respondents (53%). Another 21% said that sales held steady in 2013, and only 11% reported a decline. One year ago, 18% of fabricators said that business had declined for the year.
  • Looking ahead to 2014, a total of 74% of fabricators said they expected sales revenue to increase. Another 22% said that it would stay the same, and only 2% are predicting business to decline in 2014. Of the fabricators who expect growth this year, the majority are expecting significant gains. A total of 41% are calling for increases between 11% and 20%, and another 22% are expecting growth of more than 20%.
  • Fabricators expressed even greater confidence over the next five to 10 years. The vast majority of fabricators (83%) predicted that the market for stone will increase over this time, with another 13% stating that it would remain stable. Only 4% predicted a decline.
  • Once again, those calling for an increase over the long term feel that growth will be noteworthy. A total of 32% of respondents are calling for increases between 11% and 20%, and another 26% are expecting growth of more than 20%.
  • Looking at planned investments for 2014, almost two-thirds of fabricators (65%) said they would be spending on equipment this year -- a notable increase from last year's figure of 51%, and it appears that some large-scale investments will be taking place.
  • Fabricators also said that they are planning investments in marketing (42%), personnel (34%), showrooms (30%) and stock (24%), along with improvements to their fabricating facilities (23%). 
  • For fabricators purchasing equipment, investments for 2014 run the entire gamut from hand tools (53%) to polishing machines (24%), digital/electronic templating systems (15%), bridge saws (12%) and waterjet technology (11%). 
  • On the most expensive end of the machinery spectrum, more than one in five fabricators polled (22%) said they would be investing in CNC stoneworking centers in 2014, and the mean spending planned for this technology came to $185,750. So that's the 2014 Fabricator Market Forecast in a nutshell. If you're a fabricator, this should be a year of opportunity and growth. If you supply to this sector, be aggressive, because shops are looking to invest.