This year, Stone World celebrates its 35th anniversary. And while the magazine itself has evolved through the decades, the stone industry at large has also experienced change and growth, as well as some hardships over time. During this 35-year period, several trade associations have grown or transformed, while some new ones have also been established. The same can be said for industry exhibitions. Celebrating its 54th edition in September, Marmomac is a long-time institution and continues to annually draw stone industry professionals from around the world to Verona, Italy. The Vitoria Stone Fair, which in recent years partnered with Marmomac, recently held its 47th edition, and since launching in 2001, the Xiamen Stone Fair has exploded – continually increasing its exhibition space and attracting more visitors. Also on the trade show front, the Carrara Fair – also known as Marmotec – has held 32 editions. While it was thought to have held its final exhibition in 2016, last June the iconic stone fair was resurrected with a new format and moving forward will continue to run every other year. Also, Stone+tec in Nuremberg, Germany, at one time drew many U.S. visitors, as well as stone industry professionals worldwide. Although the show has shifted gears and targets a more regional audience, it will hold its 22nd edition in 2020.
There is so much history and significant moments that have occurred in the stone industry in the past 35 years. The following are only some of many highlights we would like to share.
The Start of Stone World
“Mike Lench, publisher, wanted to start a new magazine in the stone industry in 1984 because a private friend, Leon Zanger, told him there was an opening for a trade magazine in the building stone industry. Consequently, Mike sent me (because I traveled to Europe regularly) to 10 companies in Europe that could be investigated, and I closed my eyes and landed on the company Breton for a first approach. And I was in luck, because I was put through direct to Cavaliere Marcello Toncelli, the CEO of Breton, and I knew all was well when he said he would send his company car to pick me up from Marco Polo Airport.
The Launch of StonExpo
The first StonExpo was held from March 6 to 8, 1987 at the Georgia International Convention and Trade Center in Atlanta, GA. “Response to the show, in the form of exhibitor and attendee reservations, has proved to be much more than expected, indicating a long-felt need for a convention of this type,” read a sentence in the “StonExpo ’87 debut preview” that ran in Stone World’s February 1987 issue. The show was conceived by industry veteran Peter Edwards, who worked for GranQuartz Trading at the time. It remained an important event in the stone industry through the years, and in 2004, was sold to Hanley-Wood, who was later purchased by Informa, who currently owns the exhibition. In 2011, under the name StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas, the show was combined with Hanley-Wood’s successful flooring exhibition, Surfaces. Today it is part of The International Surface Event, which is held annually in Las Vegas.
“The Lenches were hugely influential in starting StonExpo, which was thought up by Peter Edwards who worked for me at the time. We were selling machinery for GranQuartz in North America. At that time, only tabletop exhibits were offered at the Marble Institute of America and Building Stone Institute conventions. The only other option was taking customers to the factories in Europe, which was an expense and took time. Peter and I wanted to arrange a show over here.
Peter de Kok
The Transition to Coverings
In April of 1997, the International Tile & Stone Exposition (ITSE) collaborated with the International Flooring Exposition (IFE) and the International Wall Coverings Exposition (IWCE) to form a single “mega-event” under the umbrella name of Coverings. The first edition of the restructured event was held from April 23 to 26, 1997 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. The international tile and stone exhibition was an immediate success, and it ran for nine straight years in Orlando. In April of 2007, it headed to the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, IL. Since that time it has alternated with several cities throughout the U.S., including Orlando in its rotation.
The Conception of the Natural Stone Council
The Natural Stone Council (NSC) was formed in 2003 to design and implement solutions to the challenge of creating a proactive stance to position natural stone as the premier product in its category of quality construction materials, at the time now and for the future. Made up of a diverse group of stone industry businesses and trade associations, the Council’s mission was set out to raise the level of awareness and education of natural stone in the North American market. By pooling resources in the Natural Stone Council, the stone industry collectively can make a difference in promoting its products to consumers and decision-makers in the design community.
In late 2004, the StonExpo Federation changed its name to the Natural Stone Alliance with the buy/sell agreement with Hanley-Wood Expositions. Its first action as a board was to grant $100,000 a year for three years to the Natural Stone Council. Duke Pointer was named administrative officer.
“Having been involved in the Natural Dimensional Stone Industry for 29 years and in the construction industry for 45, I’ve seen changes that in general have all been positive. Trust me, when some say they miss ‘the good ole days,’ they don’t mean it. Technology change is the fuel that keeps us young and keeps us challenged to do more with less. The natural stone industry has thrived with technology changes allowing for more efficient quarry and fabrication techniques using advanced machines and computer-aided tools while enabling safer, cleaner and more environmentally friendly methods to grow as well. Our growth within the industry, not just natural dimension stone, but construction in general, has fueled our awareness that we are stewards of not only the industry but the environment. Not one product nor one single sector of the construction industry can claim innocence, but they (whoever they are) can claim ignorance of our past responsibilities. The future is bright, natural dimension stone is being quarried in a more sustainable way, and excitement of new technology will be our fuel for decades and centuries to come. The new sustainability standard, ANSI/NSC 373, Sustainable Production of Natural Dimension Stone, will help to ensure we are responsible stewards.
The Establishment of the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance
In 2004, several fabricators were socializing and started talking about common issues they face. Soon after, they decided to align themselves and form the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance (SFA), an online website open to stone fabricators, which was designed to serve as a forum to share experiences, ideas and solutions. The group became officially incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2007. In 2010, the SFA held its first “MegaWorkshop” in St. Louis, MO, which it also put on for two consecutive years afterwards. While it stopped holding this large event, for years it has been holding several workshops throughout the country at member shops who offer to sponsor it. Additionally, in 2011, it started the “SFA Tour of Italy,” where a select group of members embark on a more than week-long journey visiting leading machinery and tooling manufacturers, as well as stone producers.
“Think of the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) as the world’s largest fabrication shop. Our ‘shop floor’ is composed of thousands of talented men and women, all in the trenches, getting dirty and collectively fabricating more stone than anyone else in the world.
The Artisan Group
With 35 members and growing, the Artisan Group originally started as the Granite Buyer’s Club in 2007 with a few top-tier fabricators that shared a collective enthusiasm of the outdoors. Since that time, it has evolved into the Artisan Group. The group has now grown to include 36 stone fabricators that exceed $500 million in yearly sales, and continues the tradition with an annual meeting, shop tour and fishing trip.
Artisan Group was the brainchild of the leadership at Architectural Granite & Marble (AG&M), now part of Architectural Surfaces Group (ASG). They recognized the value of the solid surface fabricator early on and knew that they could be the fastest growing segment in the exploding stone industry. The initial members included: Jon Lancto, Surface Products; Mike Job, Quality Surfaces; Don Hinkley, NBC Solid Surfaces; Evan Kruger, Solid Tops; and Chad Seiders, AG&M. The group now covers 50+ markets across the U.S. and Canada, averaging more than 20 years of experience across members. They were the first stone group in the world to achieve 100% Marble Institute of America (currently the Natural Stone Institute) Accreditation, and its members have held top offices in every stone industry association.
“Artisan Group wanted to initiate a grass roots program of quality countertop fabricators where our members own the brands we choose, choose the products that work in our areas and build equity in our own surfacing brands. The fabricators hearts are in this business because they have ownership and control the brands and marketing. We can bring the products that kitchen and bath shops, and consumers want to market based on desire and not on what we are dictated by manufacturers.
TexaStone Quarries Named First Certified Stone Producer
In 2014, TexaStone Quarries, which operates natural stone quarries and fabrication facilities in Garden City, TX, was the first company in the world to be named a certified stone producer that adheres to tough new sustainability standards developed by the Natural Stone Council.
Under the NSC’s certification program, called ANSI/NSC-373 Sustainable Production of Natural Dimension Stone, six quarries operated by the company were awarded Gold certification and its closely allied fabrication plant Silver certification after facility inspections by NSF International of Ann Arbor, MI, which also verified the firm’s voluminous paperwork application.
“Certification of TexaStone as a sustainable producer of natural dimension stone products is a major milestone for NSC’s nearly five-year program to develop sustainability standards that dovetail with natural stone’s inherent qualities of beauty, durability and variety,” said Duke Pointer, executive director of the Natural Stone Council, at the time of the certification. “We can now add certified sustainability to the world’s oldest building material. Brenda Edwards and the TexaStone team are to be congratulated for achieving this ‘first’ and we know the ability to use the NSC’s Gold and Silver certification seals in marketing will give her company a competitive advantage among those specifiers and users who thoroughly embrace the green movement and are looking for sustainability in the products they utilize in their projects.”
“It was a tough process, but the rewards for our diligence and dedication in exceeding the basic sustainability standards and becoming the first company ever certified to the standards is totally rewarding,” Edwards had said.
In 2012, several fabricators came together to establish the Rockheads Group USA, LLC (RGU), which was founded with the vision to bring a high level of business intelligence into its international network of fabricators; resulting in greater levels of consumer satisfaction, and subsequently, more profitability for its members. The group’s intention is to raise the industry bar — from better products and employees, to better processes.
Co-founders of RGU include Nick Began of Stoneworks in Cleveland, OH; Larry Crowley of Stoneworks-Cutting Edge in Florida; Jon Kaplan, who had been a partner with Began at Stoneworks; Paul Menninger of Capitol Granite in Virginia; and Eric Tryon, who was owner of Premier Surfaces at the time of RGU’s inception and is currently CEO of Clio Holdings, as well as the 2015 Stone World Fabricator of the Year.
“The Rockhead Group started in 2012 amongst five fabricators during a conference with a simple conversation about business challenges and needs. In the last few years, the group has grown to become a leading best-practice and financial benchmark incubator for the surfacing industry. Now, with over 75 members across the U.S. and Canada, the group strives to provide its members with continued education and knowledge that allows them to make decisions for their individual businesses. With the significant growth in our industry over the last 10 years in both size and variety, this group gives its members an opportunity to explore and evaluate new ways of doing business or even new materials, while still keeping their core business grounded and measured with the best industry metrics. Members get to hear from one another on their experiences and learn the steps they need to take when evaluating new practices or even perfecting some of their established processes. The main goal of the Rockheads for the future are to continue to grow the membership base and increase the engagement and resources regarding key topics such as rework, lean manufacturing, skilled labor, overhead expenses and more.
The first meeting of “Women in Stone”
The first gathering of the “Women in Stone” (WIS) group was held during Coverings 2014, which took place in Las Vegas, NV. The networking reception was sponsored by Polycor, while the overall initiative was also supported by Blick Industries, Hanley-Wood, OHM International, Rock of Ages, Polycor and TexaStone Quarries.
The purpose of the “Women in Stone” group is to retain and advance women who have chosen a career in the stone industry, as well as to recruit new women into the industry. The group aims to accomplish these goals by increasing the number of networking opportunities available to women, expanding on existing educational offerings and creating opportunities for women to serve on key industry committees.
“This is an exciting initiative that has lots of positive energy and momentum to become a resource for women to broaden their perspective (personal) through meaningful strategic connections at any level of their career, so they can reach their full potential and accelerate or enhance their career growth,” said Coldspring’s Kathy Spanier at the time.
MIA+BSI = The Natural Stone Institute
In 2015, the board of directors of both the Marble Institute of America and the Building Stone Institute unanimously voted to ask members to approve a two-year joint venture “MIA+BSI.” The Natural Stone Institute was formed in 2018 as a merger of the Marble Institute of America and the Building Stone Institute. The Building Stone Institute was formed in 1894 as the International Cut Stone Contractors and Quarrymen’s Association; the name was changed to the Building Stone Institute in 1955. Established in 1903 as the National Association of Marble Dealers, the Marble Institute of America officially formed in 1944, when the association merged with the National Association of Marble Producers. In 1962, the National Association of Marble Builders merged with MIA.
David Carnevale of Carnevale & Lohr served as the first president of the Natural Stone Institute. “I look forward to serving as first president of the Natural Stone Institute,” said Carnevale at the time. “I want to thank the many current and past industry leaders from BSI and MIA who had the foresight to see what was possible with a merger. The Natural Stone Institute is well positioned to further advance the combined association’s role as a technical and educational leader. We will continue to offer a wide array of opportunities for networking with both industry and design professionals.”
“Reflecting on this, I have to say that the BSI organization didn’t have a merger with the Marble Institute (MIA) on our radar. Certainly there were members in our organization who belonged to both associations who saw a real value in joining the two groups. But in the early years of my tenure as executive vice president of the BSI (2009-2017), it wasn’t something that I was researching or discussing with our Board. There have been attempts in the last two decades to join the two groups, and others, but for several reasons, the idea went nowhere. When Jim Hieb took over as the CEO/executive vice president of the MIA, he was open to ideas of collaboration with the BSI which was probably all that I envisioned ever happening between the two groups. That in itself was a big step forward. We had success with joint study tours and partnering for member happy hours at StonExpo, which reinforced the earlier notion that maybe we could combine the two groups. Those handfuls of joint members confidently felt if two executives could make this work – Jim and I could.
“Congrats on 35 years! During that time, we have seen tremendous technological advancements in equipment and tooling, and along the way Stone World has been publishing those stories for us to learn and grow together. I’ve witnessed collaboration between several stone associations and leading companies to create more safety training resources which ultimately resulted in the creation of an online learning portal (Natural Stone University - www.uofstone.org) hosting over 80 safety training courses. Collaboration helped create the Use Natural Stone campaign (www.usenaturalstone.org) and other joint efforts educate consumers and the design community about natural stone. Collaboration brought the Marble Institute of America and Building Stone Institute together to become the Natural Stone Institute. Collaboration is a constant reminder that together we can do so much more than we can individually. Again, thanks to Stone World for being our partner!”
Jim Hieb, CAE
The Use Natural Stone campaign
Three years ago, an idea surfaced among stone industry professionals to create a platform to promote the use and benefits of natural stone above all alternative building materials. The concept soon flourished into a well-driven campaign, which is now recognized worldwide.
While members of the Natural Stone Institute sparked the initiative, the Use Natural Stone program was launched by the stone industry association itself, and it was specifically designed to target homeowners, designers, architects, builders and remodelers. From the outset, the Use Natural Stone program included a new informational natural stone website, editorial development and targeted media campaigns. The website, www.usenaturalstone.org, was launched to serve as a comprehensive resource for sharing enlightening articles and inspirational photography about natural stone — along with a database to locate stone professionals.
Since its introduction in 2016, the Use Natural Stone campaign has gained momentum. It has been working feverishly to educate about what the stone industry is doing to ensure sustainability and best practices. As a means to accurately educate users and consumers about natural stone, the Natural Stone Institute is relying on its many years of industry expertise to address the issues and highlight the inherent benefits of natural stone, which includes granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, slate and onyx, among many others.
"As we look back at 35 years of stone industry history, it’s clear to me that we have been just a small part of something bigger.And while our history here at Stone World is impressive, we wouldn’t be here without an industry of professionals who care deeply about natural stone, and all its benefits.35 years ago, Mike and Stephanie Lench started Stone World magazine to support a supply chain process of stone usage, distribution, fabrication and installation. In covering this industry over the years, we see how natural stone has created not only an aesthetic world around us, but an industry of businesses and jobs that created its own market -- and rich relationships that will last forever. David A. Madonia
David A. Madonia