Online : The Marble & Granite Centre Ltd

The Marble & Granite Centre has launched a new website, which, with its daily stockholding updates, gives customers a virtual stockyard of their own to show to clients. Take a look:

If you want to see what The Marble & Granite Centre has got in-stock, just go online. With 300 different kinds of stone in stock, the aim is to have one slab from each block pictured. At the moment, some of the materials are represented by a library picture of the stone, but as new slabs arrive they are being photographed and added to the database. They will stay there until those slabs are sold, so what you see online is what is in stock.

When you look at the picture, you can view the whole slab or zoom in to look at it in detail – and whether you are looking at the whole slab or a section of it, a scale on the photograph tells you the size of the area you are looking at.

The scale was something Stephen Pike, the owner of The Marble & Granite Centre Ltd (MGCL), insisted that his website developers include. Achieving it taxed their skills but without it Stephen felt the pictures were of limited use.

He would not launch the website until a scale that changes as you zoom in and out had been successfully achieved, even though it delayed the launch of the new site. The website technicians got there in the end.

The new website is just part of MGCL’s expansion in information technology. Jessica Danby has now also taken on the role of e-marketing through social media such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

Stephen says: “It’s the 21st century. People with smartphones look at Facebook before they look at their emails. I like Google+… the presentation is crisper.”

Jessica adds: “Google+ is slightly more business looking; more professional.”

Google+ is growing fast, and might eventually be used more widely than Facebook. That other fast growing platform, Pinterest, which architects and designers seem particularly fond of, is also used by MGCL, and posts there currently receive most views. “It’s an online mood board,” says Jessica. “We’re dealing with a very visual product,” adds Stephen.

For now, Facebook is still a major platform for MGCL and at the start of July its Facebook page had already been ‘liked’ by 101 people, which, according to Analytics, equates to having been seen 1,349 times.

Social media is a great marketing tool but does require a lot of time, with its insatiable desire for something new. And the essence of social media is that it should be a dialogue rather than a monologue, so if you post something you should monitor the response and react to it.

It is worth a look at The Marble & Granite Centre Facebook page to see the mixture of topics posted there. Yes, there are announcements about new stock arriving and MGCL’s alternatives to Kashmir White, which is not currently readily available. But there are also posts of more general interest – such as a fox pictured in the MGCL yard and an item about Lincoln Cathedral shared from the BBC. “It makes it human,” says Jessica.

In May, there were posts from Chelsea Flower Show and Rickmansworth Canal Festival, two events where MGCL provided sponsorship.

The virtually unlimited capacity of the internet to carry photographs and videos at practically zero marginal cost from the medium itself makes it an attractive proposition as a marketing tool for telling people about activities such as sponsorship.

Of course, those activities have a wider marketing potential as well, especially when they are as high profile as Chelsea Flower Show.

Sponsoring lettercutter Martin Cook’s garden at Chelsea this year (see the March issue of Natural Stone Specialist) put The Marble & Granite Centre in front of a huge audience at Chelsea itself and offered the potential for wider exposure from the media – Stephen and Martin Cook, for example, were interviewed on Three Counties Radio during the event.

Being at Chelsea was also a major morale booster for The Marble & Granite Centre. The wholesaler had someone at the show supporting Martin Cook’s Mindfulnesss Garden every day. Stephen Pike went on Members’ Day and was amazed at the level of interest in the stone. “I must have spoken to 1,000 people. Every day we had 12 hours of people saying nice things to us. We’re not used to that. It was marvellous.”

During the week there were 160,000 visitors to Chelsea. There was a lot of stone for them to see there (as reported in last month’s NSS and seen in many pictures and videos online, including MGCL’s social media sites). Seeing the stone had clearly raised visitors’ interest, judging by the enthusiasm for knowledge about it from those who spoke to MGCL.

Stephen is encouraged by the interest shown in stone by the end user. He does not sell to end users, but their choices of stone pulls demand through the supply chain. It is why he is happy to welcome end users to his premises for them to choose the stones they want for their homes and offices. On a typical day there will be between 10 and 20 clients, architects and designers and people from kitchen and bathroom studios visiting the Marble & Granite Centre, as well as all the processors who are the customers of MGCL.

In the offices is what Stephen calls the refectory, for use by customers and their clients who want to spend time discussing the stones they will be using. It is comfortable and welcoming.

MGCL wants the processors and kitchen and bathroom studios to use his website just as they use his premises – as a marketing tool of their own. He says the most active of his customers now have his website permanently open on their computers so they can trawl his stock and show pictures of the different materials to their clients.

Clearly MGCL wants the internet to increase its sales, both by gaining an extra share of the still active market in London and the South East and by expanding sales further afield – signs are encouraging about improvements in trade in other areas.

But one of the ways it sees of doing that is by promoting marble, granite and all natural stone in general. It wants to improve the level of awareness and understanding of the natural materials and has included information about stone and its extraction on its website to try to do that.

And it concentrates on doing that because MGCL has never had much of a passion for engineered quartz (although it does sell it). Stephen believes sales of quartz have now gone beyond their maximum and are on the decline as people become aware of the limitations of the material and its relatively high cost.

He says: “To some extent you have to reflect on how well engineered quartz has done and what the natural stone industry has done to combat that. Natural stone isn’t a brand and we’re not selling directly to the end user, so you have to think about the right way of using social media to market the product rather than sell it. We’re doing our little bit towards that.

“Our aim with the new website and social media is to put ourselves a step ahead of everyone else by responding to what our customers were asking for. We listened to them and they were telling us they wanted real time information.

“We use the word ‘partnership’ a lot in this company, both with our suppliers and our customers. These developments in our website and with social media, as with all our marketing, are all about the bigger partnership. The bottom line is about increasing sales of natural stone.”