Aaron J. Crowley

Stone Industry Consultant

Check out the picture.  

No, not the out-dated picture of the author, the picture with the $35/sf price tag on the granite display.

The picture isn’t Photoshopped. It’s not a display for pre-fab counters. And it’s not outside a discount-flooring store. 

It’s a Custom Slab Granite Counter display at my local Home Depot here in Oregon. I was amused enough to shoot a quick picture of it and shrugged it off as a “temporary” lost leader promotion that couldn’t last.  

But yesterday, a longtime contractor client brought a set of drawings in for a little kitchen project on a rental property and said, “Quote it with anything that gets it installed for $40/sf.”  His tone was so casual and so matter-of-fact, that I honestly had no response.

Perhaps that price point isn’t temporary after all.

From my conversations with fabricators and suppliers around the country, I know these price points are par for the course in many regions and my point here is not to bemoan the fact that the granite counter business is increasingly competitive.

Part of my goal here is to point out the reality that the position granite slab counters had in the marketplace has changed, probably forever. It is no longer an exclusive luxury item for the affluent, it’s now another surface going into entry-level rentals. According to a recent Yahoo Homes article, granite doesn’t even make it to the “Top 10 Hottest Kitchen Counters” list. (Soapstone was 5th and Quartz 10th).

My larger goal is to offer an exciting bit of hope and optimism to counter what has become a rather dull, subsistence business climate!

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne is written for business leaders in mature industries like the granite slab counter business, where the product is produced by so many as to become utterly commonplace and readily available to the masses.

Its basic premise is this:

New competitors increase the supply of a particular product and price wars ensue.   Profit margins are squeezed and differentiating becomes increasingly difficult. The companies that choose to continue in this dynamic are doing business in “Red Oceans.” Red Oceans are red from the blood of a thousand price cuts and bleeding red ink from companies who trade value for lower pricing and seek to gain market share by “beating” the competition.

Blue Oceans, on the other hand, are brand new markets (or customer groups) for the same product where the opportunity to deliver value for a profit exists.

The case studies in the book are fascinating, inspiring, and applicable. Take Cirque du Soleil for example. The circus business was in decline and so were sales and profits due to animal rights concerns, sky-high acrobatic talent and animal transport expenses, and the fact that children would rather play Nintendo than go see Barnum and Baily.

Cirque du Soleil found wild success in a declining industry by eliminating the animals and targeting a segment of the population that would have never thought of attending a traditional circus. They in effect created a Blue Ocean for themselves by creating a 21st century circus experience for the affluent where their costs were lower and could charge 2-3 times the admission rates!

If the residential granite counter business isn’t a Red Ocean, I don’t know what is. But I do know this, for the companies that decide to leave the low cost per square foot blood bath for bluer oceans, successes like Cirque du Soleil may just be waiting to be had!

Aaron Crowley is a stone shop owner, author, speaker, and consultant to mid size stone companies. Contact him at