At some point, at every trade event I attend – and Coverings 2012 this April 17-20 won’t be any different – I’m going to ask myself: What am I doing here?
It’s a legitimate question, given that nobody’s description of Eden includes a hall teeming with thousands of strangers, a day’s walk on concrete floors and the inevitable daily collapse in a room that looks vaguely familiar to one that’s 2,000 miles away. And most of us at a trade show have, at some point, that same moment.
After a moment, it’s time to shake it off. It’s time to get back in the game which, for me, is about stone. It’s also about Stone Update – I’ll get back to that shortly – but there’s this curious streak about dimensional stone, and the people involved with it – that’s kept with me for a full decade’s worth of Coverings and plenty of other events along the way.
Some of that curiosity involves, at present, the notion that stone’s a dead soldier in today’s economy. More than one person in the trade has reached into the Big Bag of Canards to tell me that, ‘Well, you know, stone’s really only at 10 percent of what it was. It’s not coming back.’
Part of my hunt at this year’s Coverings is to find out just where that ’10 percent’ factoid popped up, because it’s not true. If you look on the show floor, you’ll see plenty of stone vendors who’ll say they’ve seen better days, but times aren’t as dark as others might claim.
Last year’s import numbers bear this out, with a declared value of $2 billion for slabs and stone tile arriving at U.S. ports-of-entry. (Depending on who you talk to, foreign shipments make up 80 percent to 90 percent of the total U.S. dimensional-stone market, making that import data important.) It’s certainly below the apogee of $3.3 billion of import value seen in 2007, but above the bottoming-out of $1.7 billion in 2009.
It’s more than a webpage and The EDGE, a twice-monthly e-newsletter (with free subscriptions here, however. Stone Update also offers set of daily e-newspapers (like this one) tapping into the Twitter timelines of vendors, distributors, fabricators and others for a direct look at what people are saying in the trade.
Of course, there’s the ubiquitous Facebook page, along with the Honed & Dry blog that includes ‘The WEEK,’ a Monday-morning summary of the previous seven days in the stone industry. Of course, there’s Twitter, and @StoneUpdate will include from-the-floor reporting on Coverings from me during the show next month. You’ll be able to follow along from wherever you are (including the show floor) to find out what’s new or newsworthy or unusual. Register for the show if you haven’t done so already.
Above all, I’ll remain curious. It’s the what in being there.
Emerson Schwartzkopf is editor/publisher of Stone Update, an online news service for the stone and hard-surfaces industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.