What a difference a couple of years make. The last time we surveyed readers about their attitudes regarding the health of their businesses and the industry in general, we were in the middle of an economic downturn. That year (2002), demand for fabricated solid surface was perceived as soft, particularly with the popularity of stone products riding a wave of strong consumer demand. In fact, many solid surface fabricators had only just retooled their operations to offer stone in 2002, or were actively in the process of doing so.
Today's economy has improved, and so have industry players' attitudes about the future of their businesses. That may be due, in part, to the fact that many formerly solid surface-only fabricators now offer a full line of surfacing products, including stone, laminate, cultured marble or even glass. Even those who have resisted the pressure to diversify by branching out into competitive product offerings, have augmented their solid surface-only lines to include a number of different product brands.
That trend has even had its impact on our survey. Reflecting the importance of stone products on solid surface fabricators, we changed this year's canvas to include a section on quartz surfacing and natural stone. Overall, when compared to data gathered on solid surface in other surveys, it appears the attitude toward stone as a viable product offering is one of cautious optimism.
1. What is your feeling about the future of solid surface or stone for the coming years?
As was the case 100 years ago, the dawn of a new century in 2000 was cause for celebration and optimism, especially since we stood on the threshold of a new millennium. The euphoric feeling didn't last very long, however. Just two years later terrorism was on our doorstep, the economy was floundering and we found ourselves wondering where the all good times had gone.
Today, the economic outlook is brightening, a fact which is reflected in our poll. Indeed, solid surface fabricators are nearly as outright optimistic today about the future as they were four years ago (42 percent today, compared to 49 percent in 2000). In total, 75 percent of respondents view the prospects of solid surface favorably, or with optimism. Stone is also perceived as a product on the rise, with 85 percent of respondents saying their outlook is either favorable or optimistic for the future.
2. Which of the following do you think will have the greatest impact on solid surface and stone during the next five years?
"Competitive Products" tops the list again (solid surface, 57 percent; stone, 53 percent) as having the greatest impact on our industry. By way of comparison, in the year 2000 we were nearly as concerned about opening new markets for solid surface and consolidation within the industry (combined 37 percent) as we were with increased competition from other products (35 percent). In 2004, 37 percent still think consolidation and opening new markets for solid surface will have the greatest impact on our industry, as compared to 57 percent who worry about competition from other surfacing products. Stone fabricators also place emphasis (20 percent) on opening new markets as potentially impacting the industry.
3. For the coming year, what do you think will happen to the percentage of solid surface and stone you sell as part of your total product offering?