Last month, I was invited to join the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance on a tour of Italy — visiting machinery and tool manufacturers as well as stone quarriers and suppliers. We hit the ground running and covered a tremendous area of Italy. In total, we drove 1,250 miles and made many stops along the way.

At each location, our hosts were more than welcoming, and they were excited to show us their facility. I spoke with many of the machine manufacturers, and overall, I received the same response when I asked how business was in the U.S. It seems that things are looking bright. I was told that sales have increased, and those that were planning to attend Coverings were optimistic that they would have positive results.

And the enthusiasm was felt on both sides. The fabricators that were part of our group were also very excited to have the opportunity to tour these plants and ask questions about the machinery and stone products. In particular, the machinery manufacturers were very responsive to the fabricators’ questions. They want to hear what they are saying, so that they can make machines that better serve the industry. With that said, even if you do not have the opportunity to visit the actual facility where the machines are being made, stop by a booth at a trade show or call the company’s U.S. representative. They want to hear from you. If something isn’t working right or there is something specific that you could use to make your fabrication process better, they want to work with you to come up with a solution. This is just one of many points I walked away with from the trip.

Looking beyond my visit to Italy, it seems spirits were high at two prominent international events, which were held during the first quarter of 2014. While I didn’t personally attend them, our publisher, Alex Bachrach, was at each exhibition to witness firsthand the buzz of activity.

The Vitória Stone Fair is held annually in Brazil, and this year’s edition marked the first since the rebranding of the show to Vitória Stone Fair/Marmomacc Latin America, and Alex believes it was one of the more successful exhibitions that they have had in many years. 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 — another positive sign that the economy is on the upswing here in the U.S. More on the stone exhibition can be read starting on page 36 of this issue of Stone World.

The other international event held this winter was the Xiamen Stone Fair in China. This was the first time Stone World attended the stone exhibition, and judging by the size and the success of the show, it looks like it will be one that we now visit annually.

Over the years, we have heard that the show has been growing, and this was indeed true. With approximately 2,000 exhibitors and a reported 142,498 attendees, the Xiamen Stone Fair was certainly an international event. Major buyers from the U.S. were in attendance as well as U.S. stone producers who sell blocks to China. “As China represents our largest export market for our granite blocks, it is important for us to attend this exhibition to meet and interact with our customers as well as to network with others within the stone industry,” said Bob Campo, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Rock of Ages, a large quarrier of granite in the U.S. A full review of the exhibition can be found on page 66.

Everything that I have mentioned illustrates that things are going in the right direction. As of press time, I was getting ready to attend Coverings, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. One of the machinery manufacturers that we visited in Italy showed us a machine that was set to be shipped to Las Vegas for the show. It had already been purchased. Hopefully this is just one of many pieces of stone fabrication equipment that will be sold during the show. We will provide a full report on the stone and tile exhibition when we get back. Look for it in an upcoming issue.