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, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.


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