The art of successfully taking a quartz or solid surface material to market is a deftly crafted combination of logistics, marketing expertise, relationship building and gazing into a crystal ball.
But the real secret, said John Nguyen of Avonite Surfaces, is one of perspective. "At the end of the day it is the end-use application that will determine how we go to market," he explained. "Most customers don't really care about material flow; they only care about receiving a finished countertop in a timely manner with excellent product quality at a good price. It is up to us to optimize that value chain."
And for that, Avonite favors the traditional three-step distribution model common to the countertop industry. "We sell through distributors, who then resell to fabricators, who in turn sell to a wholesale customer or directly to the consumer," said Nguyen. "Or for commercial projects, the fabricator might sell through millwork houses. It is very typical distribution."
That said, Avonite won't hesitate to tweak the system in order to better satisfy the unique requirements of individual customers. It might mean, for example, providing material directly to a fabricator for a commercial project or supplying a limited color offering to a large production builder.
"We believe the traditional distribution model is critical to our future, but we have gone above and beyond that," Nguyen explained. "We have direct relationships with key builders and with key fabricators. Some involve the middle support of the distributors, and some don't. If we are rigid in the traditional distribution channel, I think we will miss out and ignore the evolution of the solid surface industry."
How might that evolution play out for the future? "There are already some large fabricators out there who would like to be dealing directly with the manufacturers themselves, and we have done that," he continued. "It all depends on the specific situation and what is best for the end-use customer."
Yet, Nguyen is careful to point out the critical role that distributors play in Avonite's route to market. "We want every single piece of Avonite to go through the distributor network," he said. "That allows distributors to create the critical mass needed to support small quantity orders. Fabricators don't do just production builder work; they have other stuff coming in as well. As the small jobs come in, our ability as a manufacturer to service the one or two sheet orders is greatly diminished, which means the fabricator would have to rely on local distribution to satisfy those needs. What we can do is have a direct relationship for full truckload quantities of a set product offering."
At the other end of the spectrum from the traditional independent countertop distributor is the stocking fabricator/distributor, who purchases materials in quantity from the manufacturer and fabricates countertops in-house. Typically, these stocking fabricators purchase containers of material with no minimum requirements for colors, sizes or accessories — just so long as the total order fills the container.
Cosentino USA successfully pioneered the container sales concept with the introduction of Silestone quartz surfacing in the 1990s. Participating fabricators are given near exclusivity in their market areas and further disseminate distribution of the product through their own networks of certified installers, who are typically fabricators of other materials such as granite, solid surface or laminate. Most of these stocking fabricator/distributors are independently owned and operated, although there do exist several Cosentino USA-owned shops, usually in key market areas.
The arrangement has worked well for the company, which has seen explosive growth of Silestone in North America. So well, in fact, that Silestone's route to market is essentially the same today as it was in the beginning.
"It has not changed from the original," explained Consentino USA president, Roberto Contreras. "We do now have some select distributors, called Master Distributors, who help support inventories now that we are expanding our product offering with Sensa [the company's treated granite product that carries a 15-year warranty against staining]. We don't sell to everybody, but there are certain master distributors that carry slabs to support our fabrication base. They supply fabricator distributors, but they also have the ability to sign authorized fabricators. The difference is the authorized fabricator does not carry stock, but will rely on the master distributor's stock, and that normally is a segmented effort."
Of note, however, the company does use traditional distribution channels for its Avanza line of quartz surfacing, which is mainly directed to kitchen dealers. "Targeting consumers with both Silestone and Avanza products allows us to offer the largest variety of colors at competitive pricing for a quartz product," Contreras said.