In Vitória, Brazil, this year, Stone World attended the annual stone industry gathering in one of the most important stone-producing countries in the world. The 2014 edition, the 12th overall in Vitória, was the first since the rebranding of the show to Vitória Stone Fair/Marmomacc Latin America, and it was probably one of the more successful events that they have had there in many years.

For the last two years, the Vitória Stone Fair was an early indicator of the stone industry’s fortunes, given the fact that it fell so early in the year. In 2012, when the show was the first positive one they had since the recent economic downturn, we all got excited (at least we at Stone World did), only to have a few good months yield to another less-than-stellar year. The positive results of the 2013 exhibition ended up being a true harbinger of the growth year our industry generally experienced (finally) in 2013. With this year’s show, I think everyone feels comfortable that the worst is behind us and the solid business conducted at the Vitória Stone Fair/Marmomacc Latin America is good evidence of an industry back on the upswing.

This year’s exhibition was attended by just over 25,000 visitors from 60 different countries, with attendees from the U.S. outnumbering all other individual countries. This figure represents a 4% increase over last year, according to show organizers. As a continent, though, North America wasn’t so dominant, finishing behind Europe, South America and Asia, as a source of visitors. The fair was held on approximately 344,000 square feet of space, and it included 420 exhibitors overall (including 120 international from 17 countries, especially China, Turkey and Italy).

While the boom years of our industry and all of the shows that took place during that period may never be replicated, the mood at the 2014 event was overwhelmingly positive. Josy Marafiotti, Marketing Manager of Grupo Andrade, a quarrier and fabricator of Brazilian granites, said “We are doing well and have not felt the wild changes that the overall economy experienced because we always worked with materials we either controlled or knew we could sell. But it’s also good that people can pay their bills now, so the overall business can grow again. We are investing in the quarries and the factory for our future. You have to.” Grupo Andrade has invested almost 2 million euros in new equipment, including a complete automatic resin line from Simec and a slab scanner to ensure quality control and to control color variation. The company also installed two diamond wire saws with 82 wires each, also from Simec.

Many exhibitors I spoke with felt the show was a good one and that the quality of the visitors was very high. It is true that some of the importers come before the fair to visit the factories, but many still see the value of seeing so many suppliers and so many materials in one place. MS International Senior Vice President, Sanjay Sanghvi, summarized the fair by saying, “The annual Vitória Stone Fair is an extremely productive and efficient way for our sourcing team to meet with the vast majority of our suppliers and to see the full diversity of natural stone products available across Brazil at one single location. We have attended the Vitória Stone Fair every year for over a decade, and many of our new colors and new suppliers are identified at the fair each year. We were pleased with the show this year.”

Paul Cocciardi of Marble and Granite, an importer/distributor in New England, stated, “The Vitória Stone Fair was active and refreshing this year, as I had not attended the past couple of years. It was good to see so many vendors at one location — that was very efficient. I also took one of our employees there for the first time, and he was impressed at the scope of the show and amount of material and machinery displayed. There were new stones we have never seen before.”

Overall, it was obvious there was energy on the show floor. “In general, the mood at the show was good because business is much better this year,” said Michel Wingler, Export Manager of Marbrasa, adding that Marbrasa is investing in new quarries, adding new colors and expanding its warehouse to enable the company to have more material available when the customers need it. And despite new sales markets in China and Taiwan, the U.S. is still their main market, especially with new products like marble — with sales possibly tripling from last year. Another supplier, Santo Antonio, also invested heavily in its quarrying operation, specifically Romanix, a new quarry in Espirito Santo that the company promoted at the fair.

The focus on investments in quarries and marketing colors they can control was a definite theme among producers at this year’s show. Other suppliers that focus on their own materials are Gramil and Magban, both of whom showed materials from their own quarries or quarries they control. Gonsalo Machado, Commercial Director of Magban, confirmed that they “don’t want to be dependent on the basic stones. You cannot survive trying to do that, so we develop quarries, and we are always looking for new colors.” Gramil showcased its popular Perla Venata, while another supplier, Mameri Rochas, offered its new material, Stormy Night. The Vitoria Stone Co. introduced two new materials, Bianco Antico and Ganashe — both granites that are suited for the U.S. market. Bramagran had slabs of Speratus and Snowfall, among others. In its case, Snowfall is not a new quarry, but rather an existing one that Bramagran is investing in to increase capacity.

I will admit, there weren’t exclusively upbeat impressions. Some, like Filippo Emanuel, CEO of Tenax USA and Tenax do Brasil, which introduced product lines specifically for the Brazilian market, indicated that the show was good, although not like the peak years. Overall, though, the general view was positive. Gustavo Probst, of Decolores, said this about the buyers coming to Brazil: “We have seen that most of our customers already visit us a couple of weeks before the show, when these customers take the time to visit our factory and select some materials. But in the week of the show, we get the chance to meet some new customers from overseas and also the domestic market. We also meet our peers and friendly competitors, and we share some information about all aspects of our business.”

Edinete Santiago of Guidoni added, “The fair this year was very good. Quality clients came each day, and we felt it was even better than last year.” Guidoni introduced several brand new colors that they control.

If buyers skipped the show, they missed many new color introductions, especially with all of the new exotics coming on the market each year. Felipe Dutra, Account Executive at Thor Granitos, said they like being at the show to see their customers and make sure they give them all the attention and service they deserve. Joao Petrelli, Sales Manager at Thor, added, “We are concentrating on the exotics and the materials we control, our own quarries, especially.” Still, many importers and buyers prefer to come during the fair, get the pulse of the business and see the excitement at the show.

Antolini Luigi, which always has one of the more exciting booths at any show, changed its stand up this year, still with beautiful women, but highlighting its exotic stones a little more. Levantina is another company focusing more on the materials which they either own or control, such as Lennon, one of their strongest materials for its Brazilian operations.

In addition, many exhibitors were looking to capitalize on the strong domestic market in Brazil, driven by the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games. Two digital templating system manufacturers, Laser Products and Prodim, were there talking to local fabricators.

This year was the first time that Marmomacc brought its successful and popular architectural study tour to Brazil, and it was a well-organized, educational and fun event for the architects who attended. Architects visited a quarry owned and operated by Marbrasa, and they had the opportunity to see a range of fabrication capabilities at factories including Vitória Stone Co., Antolini do Brasil, Brasigran, and Zanet do Brasil. I attended a dinner sponsored by the Vitória Stone Co. (after a factory tour) at possibly the finest restaurant in Vitória, Soeta. The architects are definitely well taken care of. This study tour is modeled after the successful program that has been offered in Italy for 15 years, and which Stone World has sponsored since its inception. A full report on this tour is also published in this issue.

The 2015 edition of the Vitória Stone Fair/Marmomacc Latin America will be held earlier than recent years, February 6 through 9.