To the Editor

Slippery Rock Gazette

Knoxville, TN

When I first came to this country in the mid-sixties, our natural stone industry consisted of major building construction such as Cold Spring, North Carolina Granite, the monument industry in Barre, Vermont; Elberton, Georgia; Millbank, South Dakota; the slate, bluestone, limestone industries; and some landscaping/masonry, for total combined sales of perhaps $5 Billion. Now with the advent of granite/quartz kitchen countertops, industry-wide sales are closer to $20 Billion, or four times as much!

The countertop industry really started around 1990, whilst the other industry sectors go back perhaps to 1875, thus this sector is by far the youngest. At the beginning, most of the tops were produced by mom-and-pop businesses employing perhaps 5/6 people, more properly described as artisanal in nature. So the job was done with relatively simple tools and few, if any, companies could produce an ogee or rounded edge profile. Then came the first StonExpo in 1987 and the industry really developed, adding water-fed grinders, diamond sandpaper, Alpha resin pads, Ghines routers and track saws, as some examples. However, in time the machinery manufacturers started producing ever more sophisticated equipment such as CNC tooling, water jets, automatic edge polishers and the like; BUT, this equipment was very much more expensive than the manual machines of the past, and thus the fabricators had to become better organized and more sophisticated business managers capable of borrowing $250 thousand or more from banks to pay for the machines.  Suddenly, the industry went through a metamorphosis with engineers, MBAs and college-trained marketing people at the helm, and the industry really took off!

Fast forward ten years, and industry-wide consolidation is taking place not only in the kitchen countertop sector but also in major stone companies such as Rock of Ages, Swenson, Georgia Marble, now all under the umbrella of Polycor. However, in the countertop sector as the youngest player, consolidation is the most pronounced with industry-wide groups such as RockHeads, Artisan, SFA and others forming associations and alliances with a view to combining. This is a totally natural phenomenon as the countertop industry sells approx. $12.5 Billion annually:  put another way, 1,000 fabricators  with sales of $12.5 Million each would theoretically cover the entire market, so what is more natural than a consolidation process?

In the next ten years, who knows, but machinery and tools are becoming ever more sophisticated and productive, so labor input will drop, helping the consolidation process along.

There is one exception to the consolidation process in our industry which relates to its oldest sector, i.e. the monument industry. Although the death rate remains fairly constant at 9 deaths per thousand population, cremation has taken its toll, therefore there are actually fewer monuments installed now than years ago and dimensionally somewhat smaller, therefore by extension fewer monumental manufacturers than in the past.

Now, consolidation is not just happening with the fabricators but also with the suppliers to the industry: there is consolidation in the tooling supply business and machinery producers. In Germany, six stone machinery factories have become one, so this consolidation is happening internationally as well as domestically, and I don’t see this changing in the foreseeable future.


Peter de Kok

Atlanta, Georgia