Monthly Archives: October 2009

StonExpo 2009: Around the Aisles

LAS VEGAS – There won’t be an official press briefing to announce it, but one important piece of news came out of last week’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas for the industry: Hell is officially over.

That’s not an official declaration of good times; some difficult months remain, and the halcyon days (as the late Howard Cosell would proclaim) of a few years ago are long gone. But, as a whole, we’ve seen the worst.

It’s too early to predict a speedy recovery, but the mood on the show floor seemed to show some optimism from the rank-and-file of the trade. Fabricators and installers made the trek to Las Vegas with an eye to the future, and better days ahead.

The mood definitely improved from last year’s event, held in the midst of the economic meltdown. Back then, everyone gave each other credit for just showing up while looking over some empty aisles and booths.

This year, a smaller trade-show floor looked, well, busy. Attendees kept vendors busy and aisles weren’t full of exhibitors wandering to each other’s stands to kill time. That background drone of activity – the buzz, for old-time show troupers – may have been softer and quieter than in the go-go years, but it remained constant through most of the event.

Don’t break out the champagne yet. The paring-down of seminars and workshops indicated some diminished expectations, and manufacturers – in a reflection of the glut of used machinery on the market – showed fewer models on the show floor. And the presentation of new products remained much lower than previous years.

Some sectors will have a tough time moving into 2010; one stone quarrier noted it will be “the year of truth,” and it’s literally going to be a rocky time for materials suppliers. The appetite for stone will be lean as the United States works off a large surplus, and credit terms will remain tight for importers.

And yet I found a positive spirit among the attendees coming by the Stone Business booth. In plain terms, they noted that the past year sucked, but business seemed to be turning around. I also saw a fair share of people in allied trades – tile installers and monument builders, chiefly – finding enough work to actually expand their stone-fabrication efforts.

The biggest surprise for many of us at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas this year may be the sense of optimism; the folks from the field came in to tell us that they’ve seen the worst and plan to move ahead. The growth curve may be gentler, with some rough patches here and there, but they’ve survived and are ready for more.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.

Advertisements

Ciao Time

VERONA, Italy – With the worldwide economy still in a funk – with varying degrees of slumber, depending on the country – could the stone industry’s biggest event provide some action?

For new products, no.  For new sellers … now that’s an entirely different story.

Heading into the massive VeronaFiere complex at Marmomacc this year, I knew that finding something new would be tough. In a moribund year like this one, product introductions are often like brides giving birth during the honeymoon: somewhere along the line, timetables for production and promotion didn’t sync.

As a result, I found myself quizzed repeatedly by manufacturers about the U.S. economy, where I tried to put the best (but honest) face on what’s happening stateside. To keep the conversations from getting one-sided, and with few new products to ogle, I started asking about how these European vendors viewed the market.

The answers proved surprising. In the past, anyone distributing in the United States quickly identified their business partner across the pond. This time, the responses proved to be vaguer.

For years, relationships between European manufacturers and U.S. representatives often proved to be more rock-solid than the marriages of the principal partners. Europeans made very, very certain that they found U.S. distributors they could trust. On this side of the Atlantic, importer/distributors wanted quality goods and an exclusive right to sell them.

The stone-fabrication boom years of the mid-2000s offered a windfall. The annual Marmomacc show became a celebration between manufacturer and distributor in the wild go-go environment that included stupendous exhibitor booths, fashion shows and helicopter flights straight from the show.

In 2009, the helicopters – used mainly by stone exporters – were gone. And, apparently, so are some of those strong ties between manufacturers and distributors.

Hearing that someone would stick with the status quo proved rare in Verona this year. Some manufacturers noted partnerships with brand-new U.S. companies. Others said that they’d stick with their current American partner, but exclusivity would end. And others hoped to have new deals with new players finalized by the end of the year.

No doubt that some of this will boil over to StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas in Las Vegas next week, with plenty of insider chatter over a couple of drinks after the show. And, a lot of you out there may be thinking that’s all the new info’s worth.

Hardly. If you’ve developed a loyalty to any brand, pay attention to what you’re being sold in the future; you may need to change your own relationships with U.S. vendors to keep getting what you want.

Keep a close eye on industry news and advertising in the next few months. And don’t take anything for granted.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.