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What does natural stone wholesale market look like? What tendencies can we observe there? And, finally, what is the condition of the companies operating in Poland? Like every year, we asked those questions to the group of entrepreneurs. Their answers made us suppose that further process of concentration of companies under famous brands will continue.

raport 1In Poland there are nearly a hundred companies which deal with wholesale trade of stone in blocks, slabs and plates. Biggest players own a few, sometimes several, points of sale. Granit-Color is an exception here. This company has a network of 30 partner wholesale stores situated mainly in the south and east of Poland. Profitability of companies which deal with wholesale trade of natural stone is often related to high risk which results from the seasonality of demand. High season starts in April and finishes in October. Then the number of construction works is the highest. Did mild winter make the season start earlier than usual? Opinions are divided.  

- This season started early because the winter was short and mild, which resulted in a positive atmosphere on the market. The condition of the construction market is getting better – we can see it by new tenders and projects. We, wholesalers, believe that 2014 will be a successful year. Any conclusion? It should be better that it was a year ago – estimates Jarek Świadek, the managing director of Hermes Gabrostone Sp. z o.o., which owns 10 wholesale stores.
- Stone is no longer a luxury product. It became common and, what is the most important for us, it stopped getting cheaper! The philosophy of our company is still the same – we deal with delivering semi-finished products and finished elements. The scale and permanent growth of slab import proves that profitability of sawing of imported blocks is getting lower. There are, however, some exceptions, for example import of blocks from Scandinavia, but HGS is not going to change its profile, anyway.

The situation with granite wholesale market looks a little bit different. Granite is a material which is most common in funeral projects.
- In granite blocks branch good weather has not led to particularly high sales volumes in first months of this year – says Tomek Staniszewski, the director of the Polish branch of INBRA, which specialises in importing granite blocks from India to Brazil.
- Compared to the same period in 2013, we can observe similar sales figures. We can see certain stagnation and a moderate demand for imported raw materials. At the same time we can notice some changes in the structure of granite block import as regards the country of origin. It is mainly about the growing role of India at the expense of, for example, Scandinavia.
For sure much more wholesalers are adding tiles to their offers. A small-sized thin material is more and more popular, especially among private investors.  
- During the last year we can see stabilisation on the wholesale market of natural stone, but I'm predicting a growing tendency in the coming years. My forecast is based on many factors, such as growing demand for natural stone in commercial- and business-related investments, demand for stone among private investors, decreasing number of investments as regards new wholesalers – predicts Michał Nowak, General Director of M + Q Polska, which owns two warehouses in Szczecin and one in Jaroszów.


raport 2If we speak about the demand, we need to say that the most important factor of rising prices of stone is rising labour costs in developing markets, from which the largest amount of imported material comes from. Surprisingly enough, this season we can observe a much bigger demand for premium class materials. The growth of the prices of cheapest stones made the final client (investor) get more and more interested in products of a higher quality. We should be happy about it. Higher quality means a much higher price and higher margin for a wholesaler. There are also ideas which include diversification of activities, and we can also see that global players are merging with each other (vide Brachot which took over Mundial). What can we expect in the near future?

- The branch is changing incredibly. We can see that big players on the market are getting even bigger and the weakest are getting weaker – says Michał Furmanek from FURMANEK TRADING, which, apart from the natural stone wholesale store in Daleszyce, for some months has been an owner of a wholesale store in Czosnów near Warsaw.

- The condition of wholesale stores is affected by the way they are managed. Professionally managed companies are developing. Those who got used to managing a company in a traditional way are losing. Although it sounds weird, competition is good not only for customers, but also for wholesalers. Price (that is cost) war is the most stupid thing you can have. It weakens both the market and us. I think that solidarity and cooperation can help to improve the situation. It may include, for example, exchanging information about insolvent customers or supporting each other with stocks from other wholesale stores. The number of ideas is unlimited. Besides, it is better to have competitors you have known for years than some new ones whose moves you cannot predict.

As always in case of wholesale, freezing money and currency exchange rates are the most risky. It is better for companies which carry out foreign transactions both in export and import of stone, because then the exchange fluctuation risk is compensated to some extent.
- The fact that Polish currency keeps strengthening gives some hope for lower prices. The most popular material on the market right now is black granite, but only of the highest quality. Its price keeps growing. The demand clearly exceeds the supply, also in a global sense, not only in Poland – adds Tomek Staniszewski.


raport 3Świat Kamienia readers will be surely interested in fluctuations of prices of specific materials. Stone import includes many complicated processes: finding a proper stone, placing an order, transfer of money and finding the right transport. Many people are happy about further price growth of stones from China, because then European materials are becoming more cost-competitive. There is still a shortage of stone from India. Limited supply is, of course, an effect of closing many pits there.

- Stones which are no longer available (for a year and more) are golden tones from India:   
Kashmir, Madura, Colonial. We managed very well in this situation by introducing substitutes. Ghibli Gold or Imperial Gold, for instance, have equally beautiful tones – says Michał Furmanek.
- As regards China, there are some problems with some quite popular colours such as JG-603 and G-623. There are some problems, but, luckily, we have stocks full of scarce kinds of stone and so far we have not decided to raise prices, though it may change, too, if demand exceeds supply. One thing is certain: we are not going to fight a price war. We want to win customers by means of higher quality of materials and, thus, no party is disappointed. It is obvious that it is better for all when a stone is of a high quality than when it is one pound cheaper.   Generally speaking, prices of stones are stable and some slight movements up are caused by rising freight costs. The most popular ones, obviously, as regards the amount, are stones from China. Another problem, however, starts to appear: poor production stability on this market.
- G664, that is the Bronze Royal from China keeps its price from the previous year and thanks to this it gains popularity, because the deposit is not small. In my opinion, this is a temporary boom. Why? China stopped being a cheap manufacturer as it used to be. The phrase “cheap like Chinese” is no longer true – says Jarek Świadek.

- Financial burdens imposed on Chinese manufacturers make the price of stone not the same as … the price of concrete. I don't think we will be able to find any bargains this season. The main manufacturers from Asia and Africa are affected by costs. Price? The market is used to low prices. 20% up would make the price a sluice-gate one. Generally speaking, all the main import destinations are getting more expensive. This situation will be, most possibly, favourable for European manufacturers (for example, Spanish ones).
Stones from Africa are not getting cheaper, either.
- This season stone from Zimbabwe is more expensive – says Jerzy Sadowski from Tiera Naturalstones wholesale store in Poznań.


raport 4Transport of blocks has become more profitable than import of semi-finished products in the last years. We can see this trend in the whole world. What does that trend look like and which (other) destination can be good for the growing interest in natural stone?
- There will be always demand for blocks, but right now they are a little bit behind slabs. If we want to reverse this trend, we must get high quality products. Our experience as regards slabs shows that the quality of imported slabs is often very low, and all the disadvantages are hidden by means of litres of coloured resins. Low price is not enough to be successful on the Polish market – reveals Tomek Staniszewski.
We asked our entrepreneurs, like every year, to enumerate ways how to boost competitiveness of wholesale stores. What should stonemasons, architects and investors know? On the market we can observe the development of tools which help to get to know the current offer. The latest IT tools, such as a good website, a newsletter, social media, give us a lending hand here.

- We are relying mostly on face-to-face contacts. We employ a lot of sales representatives and thanks to them effectively reach our customers with the information about availability of goods and special prices. We do not publish everything in the Internet, because the information disappears then in a way. Despite the fact that our customers are used to contact us by phone, we are thinking about changing our website. It doesn't matter how effective the Internet is, stone must be touched, felt and … you must give a high five when signing an order. There is a group of companies on the market which offer “fancy” products, but the confrontation shows something completely different – says Jarek Świadek. Profitability of the company includes, of course, many more factors: commercial policy, diversified offer and, most of all, a team of professional workers.  

raport 6- As a result of unifying our image, M+Q will be a flagship brand under which Stone Connection and M+Q will soon appear. Of course, this unification will be seen on the new website, in customer service and in social media – says Michał Nowak.
And what is the influence of technological innovation of ceramic branch on natural stone market? The technologies of putting a colouring agent on a plate lead to the situation that, when looking at the pictures showing modern imitations of natural stone, we can mistake them for creations of nature. These products, which have a very attractive price, can be found mostly in building materials stores.

- Ceramics can imitate everything today. Stone has no chance when competing against ceramics, because there are no studies which could support stone. We are losing because money spent on the promotion of ceramics is incomparably bigger. Stone lobbying is also poor. Our weakness can be seen as early as at school education level. WONASA wants to change it. Therefore, they started an initiative of promoting stone among students of architecture. The students will have a chance to win a ticket to a chosen place on the earth! – reveals Jarek Świadek.


raport 5Can we offer an equally innovative material? Some time ago we were writing about an ultra-thin stone (sandwich plates or “stone in rolls”, for example). Building stone (lighter claddings) or decorative one – many think this is a very promising material. The demand today, however, is symbolic.
- I am sceptical to everything which is announced as “innovative, because it is an ultra-thin stone”. This is not the first technology that was supposed to be a bestseller, but it wasn’t. We decided to observe the branch carefully. We are financially prepared for investing in new products, but we must be sure that this investment will be successful – says Michał Furmanek.

Beating the competition by means of sensible marketing communication will be, for sure, a reasonable direction of development. There are reasons to make ultra-thin stone effectively compete not only against ceramics.
- In spite of high price of producing such a thin stone, it is a very attractive product which can be applied especially in construction industry – confirms Michał Nowak.
Many other companies are following the same path today.
We are going to have a collection of ultra-thin panels (2-3-layer plates made of various types of stone). We must be aware, however, of the fact that the demand for such revolutionary materials is very limited. The amounts are so small that I wouldn’t even call it a part of a wholesale store offer – says Jarek Świadek.
Finally, materials derived from natural stone. What do you think about sintered quartz? There is a survey on our website. Most answers say that we don’t know much about new materials. Do we have such materials in wholesale stores?
- Levantina Polska quickly reacted to the needs of the market and introduced substitutes for unavailable materials, widening, at the same time, their colour range – informs Sławomir Stawowczyk, the director of Levantina Polska, which owns wholesale stores in Warsaw and Gdansk.

- We are one of the two main players on the market of innovative materials. TECHLAM is one of them. It is known as sintered quartz. This is a material which is unbeatable and, thanks to its qualities, is often better than natural stone.  
To sum up, the market is full of natural stone wholesale stores. A wholesale store is always close to the customer and stone is always available. The awareness and demand for stone is still growing, but we are still far behind the ceramic industry, which perfectly reached architects and designers.

Rafał Dobrowolski


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