Affordable Granite & Marble is being sold as Mark Holmes quits the stone industry after 36 years

Julie Holmes with some of the Affordable Granite & Marble team on part of the company’s four acre site in Derbyshire.

Innovative worktop wholesaler and processor Affordable Granite & Marble in Derbyshire is being sold.

The company was established by Mark Holmes after the sale of his family business, Stancliffe, to Marshalls in 2001. Prior to this sale Mark had purchased the site where Affordable Granite & Marble, also known as AGM, is now based.

Stancliffe was formed by Mark’s Father, David Holmes, in 1982 and some years later Mark took on  the position of Production Director. By the time it was sold to Marshalls it had taken over Cumbria Stone in the early nineties and the Scottish Locharbriggs Sandstone company a few years later.

It produced Salterwath, Plumpton Red Lazonby, Red St Bees, Stanton Moor, Hall Dale, Only House and Locharbriggs sandstones, and Orton Scar and Derbyshire limestones, as well as the stone from Stancliffe quarry from which the company took its name.

Three of David’s children, including Mark, continued to work for Stancliffe after the sale, Mark leaving after 12 months to develop the site he had purchased. He gained planning permission to put up two buildings to add to the one already there. He decided to use one of the units to set up a small granite and marble workshop providing kitchen worktops, flooring and masonry. The Company soon expanded into all of the units and Mark gained planning permission for a further 900m2 unit for holding stock.

What moved him from the architectural side of stone into worktops was installing one in his own home.

As he told NSS: “I went to Pisani to buy a slab of granite. It cost £400. I could see the margins in kitchens and thought I would have a go at that myself. I thought it would be an easy number.

“Of course, it’s not, but when we started we were £2,500 cheaper on a kitchen and I was making a healthy profit on that.”

He had already carried out some research into importing from India and China and found his suppliers through a process of trial and error. He  says when he first went to China they seemed to consider him a way of disposing of their waste.

“The first four or five containers I got I almost had to throw it all away. Eventually we found suppliers who would give us the right quality.”

He initially gained an advantage by having his slabs cut into worktop widths starting at 600mm and going up to 1200mm for islands before shipping, reducing waste from processing in the UK by about 25%. The worksurfaces were polished on the top and edges by his suppliers before being shipped.

As well as cutting the cost of shipping, it also improved productivity in the UK. AGM was able to complete four kitchens in the time it took to make one from a normal slab of granite.

Asked by NSS why more people did not buy worktops that way, Mark put it down to conservatism. “English business gets stuck in a rut – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Although the cut and polished countertops were not right for every job, they were fine for about 90% of them.

Affordable Granite & Marble has always supplied kitchen showrooms and contractors for commercial projects as well as having its own showroom at its works near Matlock in Derbyshire, from where it supplies local customers who buy direct from AGM.

One thing it is not short of is space, sitting on a site of just over four acres, which enables it to hold plenty of stock for a prompt response to customers.

When Mark started he just had a Terzago bridge saw and a Thibaut T108. He has since added edge polishers, two Intermac CNC work stations, CNC saws, the latest dust extraction work booths. And he has multiple overhead cranes in all the buildings for handling..

In the early days, most in demand was black granite. These days 80% of the company’s sales come from quartz. AGM has its own range of quartz that it sells under the name of Emperor Stone. It is also just introducing an engineered onyx, ideal for using with back-lighting. AGM is currently working on obtaining exclusive import rights to the range in the UK.

Having established the business, Mark has tended to leave it to others to run, including Julie, who was AGM’s Resource & Development Manager when Mark married her. She is now Assistant MD and spends more time at AGM than Mark does.

Mark has various other interests. He also has a twin brother and a sister who live in New Zealand. Mark and Julie already have a house there and Mark says that after 36 years in the stone industry in the UK he and Julie now want to spend more time with his family in New Zealand, which is why they want to sell the business.

Having put so much effort into developing the company and staff, some of whom have worked with them for more than 30 years, Mark is keen to find a buyer with the drive and motivation to take the company forward and who will continue to provide employment locally.