Peter Becker, editor in chief of Stone-Ideas.com, asks what is in store for the next twelve months and what should the branch be delivering
The past decade has brought significant changes to all markets serving the stone branch. From façades to flooring, from kitchen countertops to bathroom vanities, new materials have cropped up making life more difficult for quarries. We point toward engineered stone, quartz-composite materials, and over-sized ceramics.
In theory, these markets are much more customer-focused than they ever were: customers, who could choose among the material available in the past, now have the full gamut at their fingertips and can order custom-made material to suit their whim. The same is true for the price classes of natural stone where engineered stone and copies of the real McCoy circulate freely.
Thus far, the stone branch has reacted to marketing efforts by the competition only with a sense of unease.
But now it must face the threat head on and undertake marketing steps of its own.
The US-Natural Stone Institute acted in 2016 already with its campaign „Use Natural Stone”.
But for the rest of the world outside the USA: what to do if funds are scarce?
Simple: develop ideas that fit the needs of small and medium enterprises (SME). Note that there is no stone „industry“ as such in a position to launch a campaign.
This could be seen in France a decade ago. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, e.g.: Belgium or Switzerland, both of which have undertaken marketing campaigns. But they are, as mentioned, exceptions.
For the rest, product design could be a suitable marketing tool. Products for household use or furniture with stone elements.
With ideas like these, stone manufacturers can present their wares at architectural and design trade fairs and propagate the use of stone.
Objects of this type make stone acceptable as a household material and increase visibility – and once the potential customer notices stone in a positive surrounding, he has already bought it.
Some enterprises, e.g.: Lundhs of Norway, are leading with a positive example – these and many more ideas can be found in our section „Markets – Selling Stone“.
Note: we are not propagating spectacular design objects as Italy’s stone branch presents at fairs. These are suitable only for the „Made in Italy“-label. Other countries must develop their own profile.
Functionality must be the guiding principle.
Another aspect of marketing natural stone is to tie it in with emotions. Man-made material conveys no emotion. Stone and wood or clay are laden with emotion and heritage.
Representatives of the stone industry know this but used the fact too sparingly.
The same holds true for ecological strength of natural stone. Here, too, a glance at the competition is worthwhile.
In general it is safe to say that once again this year the global trend will be toward sustainability. This means that (in the western world), more and more people are willing to spend extra money on the green footprint and on keeping CO2 emissions low, e.g., by quarrying locally.
Other themes which will engage our attention in 2019 are:
Measures taken by the US-President vs. imports from China. We had reported on the status already. It remains to be seen how and where Chinese importers will seek and find new markets.
Brexit, scheduled for March 29th, 2019, will rear its true face in the long term. If the value of the British Pound weakens still further, shipments of stone and machinery to the UK will become too expensive.
(28.01.2019, USA: 28.01.2019)