Letters to the Slippery Rock

Peter de Kok

Dear Rich,

This letter refers to your editorial in the April issue of SRG announcing your (possible) withdrawal from StonExpo. Having participated in quite a few shows in my career, I can understand what you are addressing, but nevertheless feel that perhaps a little history may be of interest to you and your readers.

In the ’70s there were no trade shows in North America. Europe had an annual show in Sant’ Ambrogio, Italy, with at most 30-40 exhibitors, and in later years, a bi-annual stone show in Nuremberg, Germany. Thus, if any stone company in North America wished to see new machinery, tools or equipment, they HAD to go to Europe: no choice.

The stone-working machinery in those days was extremely primitive compared to today. No diamond block saws, no fixed-abrasive polishers, no diamond-blade joint saws, no CNCs, no waterjets. Sawing was done using silicon carbide wire saws, and polishing was done with 4 ft. diameter cast iron wheels, using loose silicon carbide as the abrasive medium: at best, very messy and unpleasant.

By 1986, there were approximately 10 different trade associations (e.g., MIA, BSI, MBNA, ILI, EGA, BGA, ASI, AMA, NGBQ and CGA), several of whom sought funding from equipment suppliers by offering them a table-top display and later booth displays (which did not allow capital equipment). The exceptions were the MBNA/AMA shows where machinery displays were sometimes permitted.

Peter Edwards, at the MBNA Show in 1986, complained about the lack of accommodation for machinery displays to Pennie Sable, then Manager of the AMA. Pennie invited him to appear the following morning at the AMA Board meeting to make a proposal. Jim Stengel, President of the AMA, said that if Peter would organize it, then he could use the AMA office and the help of Pennie Sable to make it happen. I agreed to allow Peter to proceed, funded his efforts when required, and worked with him through the process.

So StonExpo was born. Peter set up a Board such that seats were available for each individual
association, with an equal or greater number of board seats offered to leading industry suppliers (GranQuartz, Park Industries, Diamant Boart, etc.). 

To ensure advertising support, seats were also offered to the two existing trade magazines (Stone World and Dimensional Stone). 

All associations joined immediately, except for BSI, so the show was off and running with about 19 Board members.

Now, back to the point of your article. What did we accomplish with this structure, where the suppliers were the principal force?

Exhibition halls and locations were selected for low cost. 

StonExpo, circa 2000, was a small community of vendors,  suppliers and attendees.

StonExpo, circa 2000, was a small community of vendors, suppliers and attendees.

The first StonExpo was at the Atlanta Convention Center (at the airport), which was not only free of labor unions, but also was subsidized by the State of Georgia.
Furthermore, StonExpo was intended as a traveling show to make it easier for local stone companies to attend. Drayage and installation companies were selected by bid, and the StonExpo board thus ensured lowest cost. 

As the stone trade magazines were directors, StonExpo had lots of heavy advertising at little or no charge as the activity also helped to sell their magazines. The associations offered reduced rates for StonExpo. 

In essence, therefore, the original StonExpo concept was a show run BY the industry, FOR the industry, which changed after it was sold to Hanley Woods in 2004. The sale to Hanley Woods was driven partially by financial reasons and the recognition that the show had grown so big that we needed full-time professional management.

StonExpo was an immediate success and took off strongly as there was a clear demand for what it offered. The granite kitchen countertop industry started around the same time, and here was a venue for people who were totally new to the industry to find machinery and equipment to produce these tops. This countertop industry has expanded in the last years to over $10 billion in sales and is unquestionably the single largest sector of our industry.

In the 1970s – 1980s the industry itself was a fraction of the size it is today, with combined sales of perhaps $5 billion and an employee count of perhaps 50-60,000. Contrast that with today. A thriving industry with sales in excess of $15 billion, a total employee count in excess of 100,000, and fully automated machines producing countertops, building material and monuments. That’s called progress.

Would all of this have been possible without StonExpo? I don’t know, but I submit that without it, the industry would not have expanded as quickly or effectively as it did. This last year saw the potential combination of the BSI and the MIA, thus strengthening the industry: would this have happened without StonExpo? I very much doubt it.

So now, before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, I believe this little bit of history is important to you and to your customer base, very few of whom were in business in 1987.

Best wishes,

Peter T. de Kok