Exhibitions: Marmomacc, Verona

There is the tantalizing promise of some innovations for the UK stone processing market following this year’s Italian Marmomacc in Verona.

Several of the UK companies that sell machinery, tools and consumables in the UK reported having seen products at the exhibition that they hope to be able to introduce to the UK once the formalities of representing the makers have been taken care of.

For the machinery companies, Marmomacc reinforced the benefits of taking part in exhibitions. As Darren Bill, a Director of Roccia, the UK agent for GMM and Brembana (among others), said: "We sold six GMMs off the stand. It’s almost back to the good old days."

This year’s Marmomacc (24-27 September) attracted more than 1,500 exhibitors from 58 countries and official trade delegations from 45 countries.

Although the connection seems to have been missed by many of those who attended the show from the UK, Marmomacc was this year held in conjunction with another exhibition, Abitare il Tempo, a furniture fair. There were 80 companies exhibiting at Abitare il Tempo in an area in the main entrance building of the exhibition ground.

Whether it was a big attraction for people from other countries is hard to say, but the organisers report the combined event attracted more than 65,000 visitors this year (15% more than Marmomacc attracted on its own last year) with 35,000 of them (about 4,000 more than last time) coming from 145 countries other than Italy.

The growth was also no doubt due to some extent to the growth being seen in the Italian stone sector this year. Italian exports of marble and granite grew by 3.7% in the first half of this year, according to the country’s official figures, while exports of machinery and tools increased by 7%. The sector provides some good news for a nation that is suffering from the effects of austerity.

Flavio Marabelli, Honorary President with responsibility for Institutional Relations at Confindustria Marmomacchine, said: “The positive signals in half-year statistics indicating significant growth in exports for materials and technologies alike were also reflected in the trend at this edition of Marmomacc.”

The largest contingent of visitors this year came from India, followed (in order) by Germany, Turkey, Spain, France, China, the USA, Brazil, Russia and Egypt. The organisers say there was also a ‘significant attendance’ from the United Kingdom, among other countries.

“This is a very positive result for the companies producing natural stone products, furniture and furnishing – all examples of excellence ‘Made in Italy’,” said Giovanni Mantovani, CEO of Veronafiere.

Apart from the British machinery, tools and equipment companies supporting their principals in Verona, there were three British stone producers exhibiting – Burlington, Albion and Forest of Dean Stone Firms.

Burlington was back for the fourth year running, while Albion and Forest of Dean, which were sharing a stand again, were there for the second consecutive year.

Albion and F-o-D decided to contract the building of their stand to an Italian company and ended up losing stone samples and literature they had expected to be handing out during the event, as well as Albion’s rather nice Portland Roach table.

What happened to it all remains a mystery. Michael Poultney, the Managing Director of Albion Stone, was philosophical about it. “We can only assume we have the best stone in the world as somebody chose to take ours,” he told NSS.

Albion’s Chinese agent was on the stand and Albion did receive some enquiries from Chinese visitors, as well as from Koreans, Taiwanese, Australians and Americans, as well as from visitors from all over Europe.

Albion remains committed to exporting its stone, not least because it has 14,000m3 of it in stock that it would prefer to have out in the built environment somewhere in the world. It will be furthering its territorial ambitions with a stand at China’s Xiamen stone show 6-9 March next year. It will be its first time exhibiting at Xiamen, although it has visited before.

Michael Poultney: “I think if you market the stone in the right way there’s a potential demand in a lot of export markets for a high quality British stone.

“There’s nothing on its own about the stone that’s particularly important to buyers but the whole collection of advantages build up into a strong message: The environmental performance [Albion has BES 6001]; fair size blocks; one of the most tested stones in the world; London being built of it. We’re trying to give people a picture of something safe – a lot of people think it’s reassuringly expensive.”

Albion and Forest of Dean had decided to exhibit at Marmomacc for a second time this year to demonstrate their commitment to exporting. Paul Blake from F-o-D says there were people who visited the stand last year returning again this year and still showing an interest in the stone.

“We had some good enquiries,” says Paul, although he and Albion felt where they were in the exhibition, although it was in the same position as last year, did not this year get the footfall that there had been last time.

Nevertheless, Paul says: “If one or two of the enquiries come through, this show has the potential of being better than last year. People see you in Verona and start to take you seriously.”

For Burlington, exports already form a significant part of its business, particularly in the Middle East, America and parts of Europe.

Nick Williams, Burlington’s Marketing Director, says

50-60% of the company’s architectural stone is exported and about 10% of its roofing. “We’ve grown 40% in the past five years,” Nick told NSS, “and a significant part of that is exports.”

In the 1960s and ’70s Burlington pioneered exports of British stone but the markets evaporated over the years as demand for stone grew in the UK. In 2008-09 Burlington decided to revisit some of its export markets.

“We saw Verona as part of making our presence known,” says Nick. “Verona is to stone what Cannes is to film. We had more than 30 different nationalities visit us on our stand this time. People now recognise that we go to Marmomacc and seek us out. Going to Verona helps establish our credentials in these markets.”

As sales have increased Burlington has expanded its export team from one to three. They have won major projects that include: $1million worth of external cladding for Durham County Court House in North Carolina; flooring and some paving for the new King Abdul financial district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Burlington has been sending stone for the past two years and where a lot more has yet to be delivered; Brandy Cragg flooring and 2,000m2 of Kirkby cladding for the new Benelux headquarters of Vestas, the wind turbine company, in Arnhem, Netherlands. There are plenty more (and there is more from Nick Williams about Burlington from page 34).

Burlington stone will also be on show at an exhibition in Russia this autumn and earlier in the year exhibited at the American Society of Landscape Architects’ show alongside Marshalls. It is now considering exhibiting in China, although Nick says: “It feels like quite a big nut to crack. We do a fair bit of business in Hong Kong, but not on mainland China.”