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WAITING FOR STABILITY

The beginning of this season is, undoubtedly, a temporary situation. Although the majority of important players updated their price lists at the beginning of the year, it sometimes happens that the difference in price of the same material reaches up to 30% because some wholesales or smaller trading companies are selling their materials from last year for old price.  

What does the wholesale natural stone market look like, what tendencies can we notice and, finally, what is the condition of companies operating in Poland? Like every year we asked a group of entrepreneurs these questions. Some of our interviewees admit that prices (not only of materials) settled so far in euro got higher (we predicted that in our article in the previous issue of Świat Kamienia). Some nervous moves can be expected from the companies which have so far bought stone in American currency and sold it in euro.    

raport 1It is good when the selling price is strongly connected to the up-to-date replacement value of the material, that is to the price you have to pay to fill the stock at the moment of selling – this rule surely limits speculations on the wholesale stone market. Does strengthening of dollar and lack of colours in India create a situation which gives a chance for quicker and much more dynamic development of suppliers? The opinions are divided here. Nearly all entrepreneurs say that first months of the year were better than post-Easter period which can be called stagnation.

Nearly a hundred of wholesales in Poland (including only those for which it is the main business activity) are dealing with selling stone in blocks, slabs and tiles. The biggest players own a few, sometimes several, retail outlets and most of them are located in the east of Poland. The natural stone offer in this segment is richer and richer and more and more interesting every year. Year by year there are more and more customers who are looking for building materials. For many wholesales, though, the most important customers are still those who want to buy slabs for making tombs. More and more companies are getting independent – they cut stone out of blocks for their own needs. The stone companies are mostly interested in the most popular and medium-priced stones.

– The wholesales' trading policy has also an influence on the situation on the market. If it comes to M+Q I don't mean prices, but our offer for our customers, long-term relations, a team of professionals who work in our branches – says Michał Nowak, whose company (M+Q) owns five wholesales. - We know how significant the Internet is today, that's why our new website is very important for us. It always shows the current situation in our stock. After logging in you can use our Natural Stone Search Engine – thanks to it you can see what a given material looks like. All you have to do is to search a stone in the search engine and then you can see an up-to-date photo of a slab and projects in which a given material was used.  

raport 2Of course, there is no silver bullet for successful marketing. Sometimes good price and interesting payment forms (merchant credits) are enough.  
– The natural stone wholesale market is still concentrated in bigger companies. Larger companies introduce new products and, consequently, set new trends on local markets. I think than consolidations are not possible, but elimination of weaker companies will surely happen, especially in the regions where the number of wholesales is currently too high – says Piotr Kowalski from Hermes GabroStone sp. z o.o.
The debuts of new players is always a good thing, because most of our interviewees agree that there are niches in our branch which need to be exploited. Some wholesales respond to it by specialising in luxury materials.

– You can't be the best at everything, so everyone who has something interesting to offer will find their place. Even a big player without a top three selling stone will not manage if granite is missing in his offer. Going into bankruptcy or closing the company because of other reasons is, in my opinion, a result of not adapting to the market reality – says Jacek Kiszkiel, whose wholesales are famous for three colours: Graniczna, Tołkowski, Impala CB.

Adapt or die – this is a good conclusion. More and more often customers need more time to buy stone. Accompanied by stonemasons they often want to see what is in the stock of the wholesale. It happens that months pass between the first visit in the wholesale and loading. In the meantime new materials come. But customer is the most important and we need to give him attention. Another thing is that, besides warehouse workers, the wholesale staff includes more and more sales representatives and advisors since it is highly recommended to present the customer with photos of the slabs the wholesales has in stock.
– I think that the human factor is one of the most important reasons for rising costs, or, maybe in other words, providing more and more professional services means that we need more people and equipment to do the same work or even less work than a few years ago – says Mariusz Bugaj from Stone World Sp. z o.o. wholesale in Tarczyn.

Scarce stone?

We asked, of course, stonemasons about it. After talking to them we can see that we just lack top quality stones. As a result, we are tempted to buy and cut blocks on our own.
– Slabs from India are more and more often cut to hide the fact that the stone was resined. Measuring blocks is irritating too. Tops are counted as standard dimensions in spite of the fact that it is a good practice to count a 15-centimetre excess (for blasting) and 5-centimetre (for the face)! Stone can't grow up, can it? This is weird especially if we compare photos from the last year with the ones from this year – reports a stonemason from Podlasie region.

raport 3The above mentioned refers this year not only to slabs. And what are wholesalers talking about? Who are they talking about and what are they complaining of?
– I usually talk with my “competitors” about money. A permanent lack of money caused by delayed payments for the material which has been already received by the customer. The biggest hit, if I can call it like this, in my company is a wider and wider range of onyxes, marbles as well as rare and more expensive granites. They are displayed in a nice way which attracts more and more people who come to us to see and sometimes to buy the latest materials – says Mariusz Bugaj.

– In my opinion one of the materials which “came back to life” is Bianco Carrara marble, both its cheaper types (“C” and “CD”) and the more expensive ones (GIOIA; STATUARIO, CALACATA). Its prices are rising all the time and, generally speaking, we are missing a beautiful material. Besides, the demand for Indian granites (for example Kashmir White, Kashmir Gold, Madura Gold, Ivory Fantasy) is increasing. The market or rather the trend set by furniture designers and architects made materials in light colours (for example beige ones such as Crema Marfil or Brecia Sardo) sell worse. They were replaced with the materials with sharper colours (that's why Bianco Carrara, Nero Marquinia, Verde Guatemala, etc. are popular again).

What will be the hit of 2015?

It is difficult to say now – especially when we take into account the temporary character of this season. Stone wholesales have, however, one thing in common. Materials may be in stock for as many as 10 years until it becomes a sellable material.

– That's why I am against selling healthy stones for half a price. Another thing is that without sufficient number of products to choose from, such a retail outlet may be interesting for nobody – stresses Jacek Kiszkiel. - Of course, we cannot go into extreme and have a full stock all the time, but the customer must have a possibility to choose a product he wants. I am also sure that stone from Polish deposits may turn out to be a hit. I truly believe in it, although the gray stone is too cheap now and, in my opinion, its price should be at least 15% higher. There is one problem, though. There will be always someone who will prove everyone that he will sell it for a lower price. We can't do anything with this. We just need to wait until it is gone.  

raport 4Others are more careful with forecasting demand for local materials. Can we improve the sale of something that is being sold very well? – they ask. All of them admit that Chinese stones will be getting more and more expensive. The prices of materials from Africa will go up by just 2%. And what about other materials?
– The deficit is visible in case of Indian materials such as Kashmir White, Kashmir Gold or Madura. The market abhors a vacuum. Therefore, some substitutes are available now. They are, for example, Colonial White, Antique White, Tunder White, New Kashmir White, Madurai, Astoria, Sunset Gold – informs Piotr Kowalski. – It is probable that the most important currency pair in the world will change its parities and for a moment may cost the same.  Goldman Sachs bank predicts that dollar and euro rates will be at the same level (with average value 4.16) in the second half of 2015, which, with current trends, seems to be possible. It is, however, just a forecast, and the reality may bring us completely different values of these currencies.

The demand for materials from China is not getting smaller, so, in spite of higher prices, import will be still profitable. The market is not ready now to replace Chinese materials with Spanish stone. Strengthening of dollar and deficit of colours in India is a situation which gives a chance for quicker and much more dynamic development of Spanish materials on our market.  
– In case of our 10 wholesales it is difficult to get surplus for any product. New materials, when they are introduced into the market, are not sale leaders, but their sale and popularity is going up with every quarter. The gray limestone from Romania – Transylvania – can be a good example here. High quality material will be sold even if its price is relatively higher compared to stones offered by the competition – says Piotr Kowalski.
The prices of materials in wholesales have been to a great extent updated by the current currency values. The question about demand and supply of stone from Ukraine is surely an interesting point of the discussion.

– I value Ukrainians because they could teach even Polish people to pay 100% of the invoice value before receipt. This is something. Stone, if it wants to leave Ukraine, it will. In case of stones from Ukraine the price does not matter. The demand is high enough and it is often so that prohibitive prices in Ukrainian quarries are not a problem. We are still importing Ukrainian stone to Poland – says Jacek Kiszkiel.

Looking for alternative “colours” for diminishing deposits from India gives a big change for a quicker and much more dynamic demand for cheaper materials.
– I hope (thinking about Italy) that I will be able to sell more cheap granites from Sardinia: Rosa Beta, Bianco Sardo, etc. Till now the difference in prices between Italian stones and Chinese granites was too big. Now it looks much better – adds Mariusz Bugaj.

Margin of stone wholesale

The margin of stone wholesale includes the cost of going to the quarry and the risk of choosing the wrong material (which sometimes means complaint costs); storage costs in sea ports as well as costs of warehouse transfers in Poland; costs of running retail outlets, stores and warehouses. Is it true that margins of intermediaries have been the lowest for many years? It is hard, of course, to look into wholesalers' pockets. We can hear, however, a lot of complaints saying that it is so.  
– Margins of intermediaries are really very low, but they are not caused directly by the increase of costs. Total costs, of course, have been increasing for years, but the main reason for the low margin is the competition, that is the number of players on the Polish market – emphasises Piotr Kowalski.

raport 5If a significant rise of the price of imported stone is expected this year, will this rise lead to a higher, satisfying profitability of intermediaries?
– We need to think for a moment which stone we would like to sell and which of them is supposed to be the number one – explains Jacek Kiszkiel. – If we want to keep the identical margin on all stones, we must take into account the fact that their sale will be at a medium level, but if we have a stone which is the most popular on the market, we can lower our margin a little bit and, consequently, sell a lot of them. Other stones can be treated in our stock or wholesale as complementary ones. Of course, we can also keep a minimum margin on every stone and sell big numbers. But for me it is like shooting yourself in the leg. As we can see, we must find the best way out and we must earn where we can do it. It all depends on the strategy of the company, the person who manages it and what is the season (winter or summer). These factors influence all that happens in the company. As we all know, in Poland we can find one stone in 10 different prices and the difference between the highest and the lowest price can be as much as 30% per square metre. In my opinion, the prices may change, but not much.

Conclusions

Natural stone market has become extremely demanding for wholesalers in the last few years. There are more stone wholesales as well as stone companies which offer slabs they cut out of blocks on their own. Some medium and large stone companies have become independent which means they are now dealing with both manufacturing and trading. This situation significantly affected the cooperation with wholesales.  
– Quality of the material is a priority now. It is even more important than it used to be. Wholesales, to satisfy the needs of the market, will offer more and more interesting high quality materials. Not only will natural stone be promoted but also quartz and ceramic composites as well as other innovative materials. Finally, customers and final investors will take advantage of the changes in the market – summarises Piotr Kowalski.

Another important thing is the fact that the new generation (people at the age of 25-35) is entering the world of stone companies. Thanks to their competences, they have no problems with cooperating with foreign suppliers. However, unfortunately, suppliers from Europe, China, India or the RSA prefer contacting larger stone companies directly and they are offering them to buy materials directly from the producer.

Rafał Dobrowolski

NEW GRANITE ON THE STONE MARKET

emmabodaAfter five years of research and long preparations the Swedish company Emmaboda Granit has presented a new material in its offer. The name of the stone is Bishop Black.

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STRZEGOM WILL USE GRANITE TO WELCOME ITS VISITORS

witaczeIn late April 2015 the mayor of Strzegom announced a competition entitled “The project for welcome signs in Strzegom county”.

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CAMBRIAN BLACK. FROM CANADA DIRECTLY TO EUROPE

cereserThe year 2015 is full of surprises and interesting novelties. Cambrian Black – a precious Canadian granite, was presented on the European stone market by CERESER company.

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PRESS CONFERENCE IN “CZATKOWICE” LIMESTONE PIT

czatkowiceA press conference on opening a new deposit took place on 14 May in “Czatkowice” limestone pit in Krzeszowice. The new investment has been the most important moment in the history of the pit for several years.

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