'Best yet' verdict as strong winds and weak pound fail to dampen enthusiasm for Natural Stone Show

In spite of galeforce winds that caused several high-sided lorries to fall on their sides and led to the closure of the QEII bridge on the M25 resulting in hours of delays, the biggest yet of London\'s Natural Stone Shows attracted more visitors than ever this month (March).

Attendance at the Show has yet to be ABC-audited, but raw figures at the entrance indicate attendance was nearly 10% up on the 2006 event at something approaching 5,500.

Last time, a 7% increase in sold space at ExCeL was squeezed into the same size hall, but the 8% growth this time meant an additional aisle had to be added - which, for those who were wondering, explains why there was an AA aisle this time. It pushed the Show up to nearly 10,000m2.

And certainly those exhibitors that NSS spoke to during the three days of the exhibition, both from the UK and overseas, seemed delighted by the high quality and good mix of trade, specifiers and developers who came to see them -†and buy from them.

In spite of a 10% fall in the value of sterling in the past six months translating into higher prices of imported stone and machinery in the UK, exhibitors were reporting plenty of customers for their goods.

With prices rising, the low cost Chinese stones might be expected to be a big attraction - and certainly there were plenty of Chinese exhibitors and plenty of people visiting them as the fear of buying from so far away diminishes with familiarity.

However, the Europeans are not defeated. Antonino Dettori and his son Francesco, who own the Italian company Milcomar that has a quarry in Sardinia producing Oroe stone, were exhibiting for the first time following a €72million investment in their business.

Francesco said: "Half-an-hour ago a big British importer came by and said he didn't want to talk to us because we would be too expensive. But he sat down and we made a deal." Another Italian exhibitor, Fratelli Poggi, said they had received nearly 200 enquiries.

Of course, if the price of imported stone is going up, British stone becomes more competitive, both at home and abroad. There were more British quarries exhibiting this time than ever and they reported a lot of interesting enquiries for some major projects as well as plenty of smaller ones.

Clinton Haigh from Realstone told NSS: "It's been the best Stone Show I have ever been to. I think this time we've had so many good quality people."

Realstone were showing the Generix fixing system with their stone. The system was also shown on specialist contractors Stoneguard\'s stand, with finishes including metal and wood as well as stone. And it was only one of the innovations at the show (see the previous issue of NSS and the photographic review of the exhibition that starts in this issue on page 18 for others).

Keith Rackham from Norfolk company H L Perfitt, who are selling a 'V' cut lettering machine shown on the Helios stand, was among those who praised Show Director Richard Bradbury for the organisation of the event. He said: "It's a good show, you know. There's a real buzz."

Richard Bradbury summed up: "The best part of the whole two year cycle for me is when people come over to me at the end and tell me how well they have done. That's what makes it all worth while. And it's what we will be aiming to achieve again at the next Show. ExCeL is already booked for 16-18 March 2010."