Tag Archives: StonExpo


Blame it on my mother, who spent her teens and early 20s in the Great Depression, and then managed a family of six on a blue-collar guy’s wages: I grew up well-schooled in the notions of value.

In other words, I can be cheap. Very cheap.

320_LVbreakfastSometimes, the price of every little thing gets too steep and reduces the value of the sum of the experience. That’s where the headline comes in, as it sums up my feeling about a place that’s becoming the U.S. stone-show capital: Las Vegas.

The sum quoted at the top bought breakfast for two at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand within the Luxor Hotel during StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas last month. And, for that, the serving tray groaned with:

• 2 bagels with a small serving of cream cheese;
• 2 small bottles of juice;
• 1 “regular” coffee.

The serving area – the upstairs food court – offered a dark corner of the pyramid, where at least we weren’t charged for the privilege of seating. (I suppose that the birds flying around the indoor area to snatch up any stray morsels could be considered entertainment thrown in for free.) Since this was self-service, we didn’t need to leave a tip, so we “got away” with a bagel, some juice and a bit of coffee for $8.50 each.

I’m not complaining because I’m cheap. I’m sounding off because this is indicative of why, when it comes to shows for the stone trade, Vegas is a place that’s worn out its usefulness.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exhibitions, Las Vegas is one of the most-convenient places for organization and production. Convention centers and hotel ballrooms can accommodate any size of event, with a nice hotel attached. Major companies specializing in decoration – the term for setting up the booths, carpets and services needed for a show – have major operations in Las Vegas.

As someone attending a show, however, Las Vegas doesn’t have a lot to offer, unless you revel in consuming overpriced food and drink and staying in hotels that are quickly becoming shopworn. Nearly every major U.S. metropolitan area has casino gambling – formerly an exclusive draw for Vegas –  within a two-hour drive. High-class entertainment is pretty much down to gilded gymnastics galas and attitude-driven magicians who easily make two Franklins disappear for an 85-minute show.

Yeah, I can hear the basic answer of, “It’s Vegas, baby! Suck it up!” So here’s the response: You paying your own ticket, buddy? Or is somebody else sucking up that expense account?

Las Vegas is a series of resorts-cum-biospheres, where the designs discourage walking out of them (unless you have a lot of time and like having cheap escort flyers shoved in your face) and you’re treated like a captive audience within the boundaries. Add in the incredibly bad traffic that discourages getting in a car, and you’re often stuck with that $16.98 breakfast – and other eating/lodging compromises – being your best option. That’s no value by any measurement.

There’s also the argument of location. Sure, it’s not too hard to find a flight to Las Vegas, but that’s also assuming that the masses of stone fabricators and installers out there have the time and the cash to hop a plane at least halfway across the country – and then ask them to do it again and again. Driving there is not an option, unless you happen to be working Phoenix or Los Angeles (a place where it’s difficult to get people to drive 40 miles for a show, let alone several hundred).

Frankly, many of the same arguments can be made for Orlando, Fla. With both places, the location adds absolutely nothing to the effectiveness of the event, as far as attendees are concerned. And the idea of doing the ol’ show-vacation combo is a tired-and-tattered fantasy of visitor bureaus and travel agents that needs a final retirement.

There’s a vast part of the country being underserved for a blue-collar (or, since a T-shirt is the garment of choice, no-collar) trade that would relish going to a place within a half-day’s drive where it’s feasible to take several folks from the shop, and the predominant customer service by hotels and restaurants isn’t attaching a vacuum cleaner to your wallet.

Take Collinsville, Ill., where the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) runs its Megaworkshop. It’s not glamorous; you don’t have celebrity-name steakhouses and go-go dancers working a runway between the blackjack tables. You do get a place where thousands of fabricators and installers live within 400 miles, with a major city 15 miles away and a bunch of lodging within walking distance.

And, a Jackson buys a heckuva breakfast for two, tip included.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

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

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Trade Shows 2010, Front-End & Loaded

It’s not too early to think about a U.S. stone-industry trade show this year – because they’ll soon be all done.

Owing to the delay of the next StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas until January 2011, the list of stone events for this year is down to three … and two of them will be over before Valentine’s Day.

Of the trio of 2010 shows, Surfaces rolls out in Las Vegas on Feb. 1. While the floor-centric event isn’t usually a large draw for stone shops, there may be some new interest because of fewer exhibit opportunities for the rest of the year.

Vendors may also keep close tabs on stone-industry attendance to prepare for 2011’s event. Since StonExpo and Surfaces will run concurrently in the same facility (Mandalay Bay) next year, exhibitors will be taking a look at possible crossover opportunities with the shows – and, conversely, be thinking if booths at two shows really would be better than one.

Surfaces is followed quickly – in the next week and in Las Vegas – by the International Countertop Expo, the first trade event from the reformulated International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA). Starting on Feb. 8, it’s a show that’s noted as inaugural, although it’s also gone through somewhat of a rebirth.

The ISFA – which had “Solid” before “Surface” in its name until late 2008 – used to run its own exhibition until the early 2000s, when it sold the show and its Solid Surface magazine to Cygnus Business Media. Despite the best efforts of some of its staff and a name change to Surface Fabrication, Cygnus’ corporate strategies drove both properties into the ground, with the show vanishing after its final appearance in Orlando, Fla., last March and the magazine ending publication last month.

With ICE, the event is back in the association’s hands, but there’s a difference; while a fair share of seminars and booth space are devoted to solid-surface materials, there’s an effort to include other hard countertop materials. That includes stone, and a number of stone-industry vendors are planting the flag – albeit with a smaller flag and pole, considering the intimate size of the show floor – to see what happens.

The same could be said for Coverings, which returns to its traditional Orlando base in late April after a disappointing event in Chicago last spring. Hitting the Windy City in the depths of the recession led to empty aisles and thousands of square feet of open space from no-show exhibitors, which makes Orlando 2010 an important test to see if Coverings can bounce back.

The event’s exhibitor list shows that many of the major stone players – machinery manufacturers and distributors included – plan to be there, although it’s nowhere as inclusive as, say, the Coverings of 2006. However, for everyone in the trade, it’s literally the last chance for this year; after Coverings closes on April 30, the next U.S. stone event is StonExpo in January 2011.

The front-end collision of shows will intensify in time and location next year. Surfaces and StonExpo will run literally side-by-side in January in Las Vegas, with ICE likely to occur in Sin City in the next month or so after that. Coverings then follows again in April … but in Los Angeles, putting all of 2011’s stone events not only west of the Mississippi River, but west of Arizona.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu by clicking the button marked, well, “Blogs.”

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Take That, You Sample!

The picture that accompanies this entry –no, not mine, the other one – looks a bit daffy, but the subject addresses something I’ve wondered about for a long time: UV degradation.


It's not scientific, but at least it's a test.

Admittedly, the effect of the sun’s ultraviolet – UV – rays on some sample chips isn’t a high concern of the industry today. On the science front, the radon question will generate more heat (atomic and otherwise), and there’s also the daunting task of just keeping the doors open and surviving the recession.


There’s just something about UV, though, that should keep us interested. UV rays generally leave humans and other life alone (as long as the ozone layer’s blanketing the earth), but it does the darndest things to man-made products. And, few of those results are good.

Automotive suppliers know all about UV, based on the Great Fake Wood Panel and Vinyl Top Fiasco of the late 1960s. Aficionados of that era may remember the station wagons with vinyl printed to look like wood (primarily Fords) and sedans with dimpled-feel vinyl roofs (usually General Motors). The vinyl on both looked pretty cheesy when new, but UV rays attacked the molecular structure of the material; patterns faded away, and then the vinyl lost structural integrity and flaked off.

UV still attacks cars today, and yours may be one of them. Ever notice how the inside of your windshield gets filmy at the bottom with stuff that even a Windshield Wonder® can’t take off with tap water? That’s residue from a chemical that’s used to soften the vinyl in your dashboard.

Over time, UV-laden sunshine attacks the vinyl and turns the chemical (in a process called plasticizer migration) into a gas, which then sticks on the inside of your windshield. (And you just thought it was gunk coming from the de-icer vents.)

So what’s the deal with stone and UV? Well, for one thing, nobody really talks much about how UV can affect something like quartz surfaces. That may change, as Pokarna Ltd. rolls out its Quantra quartz line with colors that include UV-resistant coating. Until now, though, it’s been a dark area.

The chips in the picture are some of Caesarstone’s 2009 new colors. After using these to illustrate a product review, I could’ve sent them off to the landfill, but I’m now conducting a very unscientific test on weathering of the material.

One half of each chip is left uncovered, while the other has a blanket of 3M Co.’s Scotchcal® reflective vinyl, which is tough stuff and extremely UV-resistant. (There’s also a undercovering of white duct tape as a final protection.)

I’ve set the chips on a shelf in the enclosed patio of my home, which is in the sunshine-and-UV-ray-rich territory of California’s Coachella Valley. They’re at 0° position – flat – and will get full exposure. Just to be fair, I’ve also set a couple of samples of Cambria’s new material on the shelf with the same preparation.

At the next StonExpo (whenever that turns out to be), I’ll strip off the vinyl and we’ll take a look at what some unadulterated sun really does to the material. You may be surprised at the result; I have a puck of Eos 3cm solid-surface that’s been in the patio for four years or so, and it’s still in one piece.

This isn’t to just pick on quartz surfaces, either. There are plenty of treatments being applied to natural-stone installations indoors and outdoors, and few are talking about UV-resistance there, either. Sunlight does have this nasty way of spilling into kitchens and onto countertops, too.

As I noted, this is purely unscientific, but it’s a test that relates far more to actual use than many of the green-based measurements and certifications now touted by manufacturers and suppliers.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

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

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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.

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.

Hasta Las Vegas, Baby

As I’m working through phone calls and emails these days, I’m getting one question a couple of times a day: See you at StonExpo in Las Vegas?

The answer is yes, and thanks for asking. And you?

As anyone who’s read my work through the years for Stone Business, I’m a believer in trade shows. I’ll argue about the location, or the time of year, or the length or whether there should be free coffee at the door, but I’ll make the case for having the events.

And, of course, you’ll find me there. For one thing, it’s part of my job. Given a choice of staying in the office or heading out for some convention hall somewhere in the world, I’d still opt for pinning on a badge and wandering the miles of carpeted aisles.

It’s no different with this year’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas (the rather long-winded but official handle) in Las Vegas on Oct. 21-24. The calendar’s marked and the room booked long ago, and my cat Denny has a reservation at a tony two-room suite at his veterinarian’s office.

This year’s event is admittedly a hard sell for a lot of people in the industry. The country may be climbing out of a recession, but times remain tough for most fabricators. It’s worse for sellers of large machines, as saws, edgers, CNCs and other pieces of equipment keep popping up weekly on auction Websites, signifying that yet another shop won’t make it to 2010.

I won’t lie to you, either; this year’s lineup of exhibitors is smaller than last year’s. Some familiar names aren’t going to be there, as vendors keep a tight hold on expenses. A couple of them are dead and gone, victims of the economic downturn. There’ll be a few new names, but no real surprises.

You’re certainly not expanding your shop, and it hasn’t been a stellar year on the bottom line. Why go?

For one thing, the travel odds are in your favor. It takes an hour or two of searching on the Internet, but cut-rate airfares are still available – Southwest Airlines makes sure of that – and Vegas hotels are still offering deals on general travel Websites and direct booking online.

More importantly, going to StonExpo this year is really to your benefit. The best business relationships with vendors aren’t struck in the high times, but when times are a bit rough both buyer and seller appreciate each other’s value. Maybe you won’t see as much Big Iron on the floor with huge machinery, but you’ll still see plenty of products you use regularly, and shopping for good prices and service will pay off tomorrow and next year.

There’s also the educational side of the show, where workshops and seminars address the need for new markets and business strategies. Every show likes to say that it’s offering courses relevant to your needs, but this year’s lineup reflects the state of the market to help you survive and grow. (I should also divulge that I served on the educational advisory committee for StonExpo this year, and there’s a lot of collective industry brainpower behind the 2009 schedule.)

StoneLive! also continues to grow with the free, on-the-floor exhibition coordinated by the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance. The SFA always offers on-the-mark ideas and tips that could easily save or gain you $5 a day in your shop’s operation. Add that up, and you’ve paid for the seminars, the travel and a bit of Vegas action of your choice. Anything else you gain is gravy.

There’s also the intangible return you get by being with thousands of other people just like you – fabricators, installers, restorers, business owners. It’s the best opportunity all year for a bit of give-and-take. Call it the study hall of the School of Hard Knocks, but learning from the experience of others – and offering some of your own – can result in some invaluable ideas.

You can get a lot out of a trade show, and this year’s StonExpo is a nice jackpot waiting to pay off. It’s there for you, but you have to do one thing to collect. You have to go.

See you in Las Vegas?

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.

Editor’s Blog: 17 October, Las Vegas

For an event where expectations were uncertain at best, the 2008 StonExpo Marmomacc Americas seems destined to get a passing grade.
Or, as one exhibitor said, “you get what you get, and you’re happy.”
While some exhibiting companies turned out to be no shows – including a Chinese eight-booth cluster right across from the Stone Business stand – most vendors showed up yesterday morning to see if anyone came in the door. A crowd of several hundred showed up at 10 a.m. yesterday and today, with a steady, if not huge, feed of attendee throughout the early afternoon hours.
Exhibitors aren’t picky about customers, as long as there’s cash involved in the deal. Most manufacturers noted that business this year is off by 30 percent to 40 percent; there’s no lack of people willing to buy, but bank financing and leasing isn’t available.
That’s making the movement of large machines on the floor a bit tough. However, it’s a boon to tooling sellers and others with smaller-scale goods. Attendees are willing to buy something, as long as they can afford it.
And, they’re finding deals. One guy came in a booth looking for a spindle adapter for a grinding wheel he’d just bought. He didn’t mind the $50 or so for the adapter; the grinding wheel retails for $2,000, but he got it for $600.
Slower economic times often lead to more tire-kicking at a show, but exhibitors by and large praised the quality of the attendees. “At least we’re seeing decision-makers,” said one vendor. “They’re not buying now, but they’ll buy later.”
One advantage this year is that StoneExpo Marmomacc Americas isn’t the only game running in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The Barrett-Jackson automotive-auction show is running at the same time, with huge crowds milling through the facility. While few of the motorheads are going to wander into the show – in fact, some StonExpo exhibitors and attendees are sliding in to see the auction – it gives the whole building a fairly busy look.
Next year, StoneExpo Marmomacc Americas moves back to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and also slides down another week in October. The schedule move should give more European exhibitors a chance to exhibit at the large Verona show, and also give those attending both shows a little more of a breather.
And, in 2009, it’ll be another year. Hopefully, a better one.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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 them, either.