Brief in counters... David Coster talks to Michael Cohen, MD of slab wholesaler Imperial Stone Group

Michael Cohen, MD of slab wholesaler Imperial Stone Group in Kensworth, Hertfordshire, talks to David Coster.

David Coster, the plain speaking Director of Advanced Stone & Masonry Supplies, which sells Stain Proof and Tenax sealers and glues, talks to Michael Cohen, MD of slab wholesaler Imperial Stone Group in Kensworth, Hertfordshire.

David: Quartz, ceramic/sintered or natural stone?

Michael: Natural stone, for me personally and as a business. It’s better to be in your own niche with something you enjoy than getting into a business where you’re going to sell volume. You can sell volume with anything. I’ve been in stone all my life. It’s something that makes me money and I happen to love it.

David: Straight off the CNC or hand finished?

Michael: It’s going to be a lot more accurate from a CNC. I suppose it’s down to the individual. If you’re running a factory and you’re making people work like that and it’s not good for them I suppose that’s not a good thing. But if it’s your own factory and you prefer to work like that and you do a good job then fair play.

David: On-site, physical templates or digital?

Michael: It’s going to have to go digital. I think it’s definitely the future. I think people running around with a truck full of Correx… those days are not going to last for ever.

Customers: love them or hate them?

It depends. In this business the person you think is going to be the most difficult usually ends up being the most sound and easy going. Then the person who comes in sweet as pie could be the person who ends up giving you headaches. It’s the same with my best mates. The people I argued with at first I ended up being best mates with.

Net zero in 2050. Do you have a plan in place?

Yes. For a start let’s get rid of quartz, no? UseNaturalStone hashtag.

Ethical sourcing (modern slavery): have you done anything to address this?

We buy directly from the quarry so we know exactly which gang saw factory the slab’s  going to; we know exactly who’s doing it. We don’t buy from places we don’t know. 100% we would always visit the quarry we buy from to see how they’re working. We know them personally. I’m sure nobody would want to buy stone that they don’t know where it’s coming from because they don’t know what’s in the container. I wouldn’t give someone in Turkey $40,000 if I didn’t know them, because what’s going to be inside the container when it arrives? In the first place, if you’re going to buy from them you go there so you know them. You work out their quality and their ethical policy.

Brexit: noticed any difference?

Export documents are a headache. The other day something that should have been here in four days took two weeks. I think they’re still just sorting out all of these import/export documents. Even the transport companies seem a bit lost. Luckily I’ve got good agents in the UK. I’ve been working with them a long time and they handle all my documents for me. They make my life a lot easier.

Covid 19: All over bar the second inoculation or on-going threat?

I don’t think we’re going to see the end of this until the end of 2023. I think there’s going to be interruptions until then.

The future: Better, worse, the same?

That’s a hard one. Nothing will ever be the same. The way information is shared, it makes independent traders’ lives a lot harder. The more information is shared, the people who really know the business are going to find life is harder for them. You can find marble on Alibaba now. I’ve had a lot of conversations with suppliers, even my grandfather knows, he’s from the stone business, these people are supplying slabs to people in my market. Fabricators are up in the air if any wholesaler ever gives prices to their customers. If we’re wholesaling and we’re buying they should be supporting us.

What’s the best product you see at the moment and what will be one or two years down the line.

Today’s trend has to be Calacatta Viola. Everything purple veined people are loving at the moment. And also Crystallo Brazil quartzite. For the future I can see classic Spanish stuff coming back: Crema Marfil. I can see mineral classic colours returning in the next few years. When I was working with my dad 10-15 years ago, everything we would sell was travertine, Crema Marfil, all the beiges. You couldn’t get rid of the Carrara marble. Then it went completely 180 degrees and nobody wanted travertine or Crema Marfil and everything was Statuario. In the marble business you’re limited to where you can go, so it will probably just flip round again.