Around the Aisles

LAS VEGAS – There won’t be an official press briefing to announce it, but one important piece of news came out of last week’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas for the industry: Hell is officially over.

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Schwartzkopf
That’s not an official declaration of good times; some difficult months remain, and the halcyon days (as the late Howard Cosell would proclaim) of a few years ago are long gone. But, as a whole, we’ve seen the worst.

It’s too early to predict a speedy recovery, but the mood on the show floor seemed to show some optimism from the rank-and-file of the trade. Fabricators and installers made the trek to Las Vegas with an eye to the future, and better days ahead.

The mood definitely improved from last year’s event, held in the midst of the economic meltdown. Back then, everyone gave each other credit for just showing up while looking over some empty aisles and booths.

This year, a smaller trade-show floor looked, well, busy. Attendees kept vendors busy and aisles weren’t full of exhibitors wandering to each other’s stands to kill time. That background drone of activity – the buzz, for old-time show troupers – may have been softer and quieter than in the go-go years, but it remained constant through most of the event.

Don’t break out the champagne yet. The paring-down of seminars and workshops indicated some diminished expectations, and manufacturers – in a reflection of the glut of used machinery on the market – showed fewer models on the show floor. And the presentation of new products remained much lower than previous years.

Some sectors will have a tough time moving into 2010; one stone quarrier noted it will be “the year of truth,” and it’s literally going to be a rocky time for materials suppliers. The appetite for stone will be lean as the United States works off a large surplus, and credit terms will remain tight for importers.

And yet I found a positive spirit among the attendees coming by the Stone Business booth. In plain terms, they noted that the past year sucked, but business seemed to be turning around. I also saw a fair share of people in allied trades – tile installers and monument builders, chiefly – finding enough work to actually expand their stone-fabrication efforts.

The biggest surprise for many of us at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas this year may be the sense of optimism; the folks from the field came in to tell us that they’ve seen the worst and plan to move ahead. The growth curve may be gentler, with some rough patches here and there, but they’ve survived and are ready for more.

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