Trends in the Natural Stones Business

Markus Interview

Joseph Sam, Editorial Advisor, ResponsibleMining.in Interviews Markus Balke of Balke & Partners on their participation at MarmoMac 2019 and his perspective on the trends in the Natural Stone business. Balke & Partners are a Global Advisory firm in the Natural Stone business with the focus on investment advisory, stone & product innovations, marketing & distribution strategy & implementation and company re-engineering. They have operations in Europe, Africa, the Americas and quiet recently in Asia.

Joe : Hi Markus your firm has been an active consulting firm in the Natural Stone industry globally – how do you see the natural stone business evolving in the next 5 years?

Markus: Globally it’s very hard to say. The Natural stone market is rapidly changing. Ceramic tiles, sintered stones and engineered stones are popular and well accepted by consumers as they look deceptively real. Excellent copies of natural stones for interior and exterior. The technical data is even better than that of the original natural stone.

Markus Balke of Balke & Markus Balke is the Managing Director of Europe Based Innovation, Investment & Marketing Advisory firm Balke & Partners. He is also the promoter of the Global Mining Exchange QuarryforSale.net where mines are listed for trading. Balke & Partners has become the leading advisory firm in the Natural Stone business with offices in the US & Canada, Europe and Asia. 

No hassle with decoration and stains as ceramic has almost no water absorption. Thickness available in 3mm to 10mm opens a wide field in architecture.

So what happens to the natural stone industry? Did they ignore the trend unlike the ceramic and engineered stone businesses? How is the natural stone industry reacting?

From our point of view stone industry must change rapidly and at least try to keep up with the other industries.Balke &Partners is investing in know-how and experts to develop thin stone technology to and industrial level and to defy ceramic industry.5mm slabs 2,5x 3,5m with a 1mm reinforcement carrier will be standard in the next 3 years. Thin is the new bold !

Also stone material combinations with carbon fibre and technical glasses, high tech fibres and high tech concrete are opening new horizons for architects and applications.

2. So do you see the global recession affecting this business?

Markus: We know many companies who are adapting quickly to the changing market scenario successfully. We feel companies producing main stream products will experience a very hard time and those working in niche markets will survive the recession.We’ve also seen how companies in this sector who quickly adapt to consumers demand in terms of short delivery times and customised products becoming successful.

Markus & Lukas (Balke &Parnters) at MarmoMac 2019

We feel companies producing main stream products will experience a very hard time and those working in niche markets will survive the recession.

Now what’s happening in Europe is significant- the gap between consumers with low income and high income is growing rapidly. Therefore customers with high income want special material and niche material. They don’t want G603 or G694 material anymore and insist on local high end material or stones from Europe and US.

Since we live in the times of Amazon and Co., consumers in the western world want their products immediately and without any delay and delivery time. For the stone industry which is used to a conventional way of working this is almost impossible but being catered to by the ceramics and engineered stone industry. 

3.  As resources getting scarcer & environment lobbyists pushing for a ban on mining do you foresee the shift from natural stone to more artificial substitutes.

Markus:Yes and No.Artificial material surely has advantages for customers in regard of maintenance and is possibly presented in articles with nice pictures and perfectly decorated situations which may not be as successful with natural stones. They have bettered the art of marketing and sales  but then that’s it as in the end this is artificial and can never beat what’s original.

4.   How influential by the way are architects in directing their client’s choices?

Markus: Depends on project and consumer category. For public projects I see a high & continued influence of the architect as material is part of her or his vision and creation.

For private projects architects are restricted as customers normally come with material ideas already to the architect andplan with selected material.

5. Don’t you think architects of the past generations preferred natural stone over the present breed of young architects who are more experimental?

Markus:Yes I think young architects are more open for new material which is a good trend. They like the idea of something new, but in delicate projects they always rely on traditional material.

The gap between consumers with low income and high income is growing rapidly. Therefore customers with high income want special material and niche material.

Most of them don’t want to risk their good reputation and just rely on proven and tested material.

6.  Is there a significant shift from the frequency of usage of marble for public projects to granite considering the latter is more durable & environmentally can bear more wear and tear?

Markus:That clearly depend on the application, project and country.Marble for instance would never be used for exterior in Nordic countries where to expect Frost and minutes degrees.Marble in exterior close to seaside also not recommended and infact the maintenance in the projects in the Middle East where white marble is in fad will be very high in the long run. For interior flooring in hotels surely considered but depending of frequency and traffic of those areas otherwise we see the increased use of granite as the choice of natural stone.

7.    What criteria should an architect or client use besides “color” to choose a specific natural stone for their project?

Markus:We always recommend to define the applications and the final use. The better the description the better we can recommend architect material that is suitable to avoid problems later.

8.   What is the natural stone industry doing to increase the offtake of natural stones over artificial or other alternatives?

Markus:From our perspective nothing much but Balke & Partners has been increasingly investing in stone innovations and know-how and experts to develop new stone products.

For instance thin stone technology to and industrial level and to defy ceramic industry.

5mm slabs in every natural stone 2.5x 3.5m with a 1mm reinforcement carrier will be standard in the next 3 years. Thin is the new bold !

Also stone material combinations with carbon fibre and technical glasses, high tech fibres and high tech concrete are opening new horizons for architects and applications.

9. Markus you also have a quarry exchange www.quarryforsale.net – do you see the mining business as a lucrative business option for the younger generation?

Markus: Yes there are big opportunities for the younger generation ! For those who love stone there are chances in every part of the world. Stones are requested not only for dimension stones but is essential as aggregates in concrete and asphalt industries for building roads, bridges, buildings, ports etc. Without crushed stones there is no construction !

And there is a shortage of aggregate and sand already in Africa, Europe and US.

10.  And finally Markus what are your expectations from Marmomac 2019?

Markus:I see a trend moving away from China. Marmomac was slow 10 years back but this year and last year sold out very early as more and more European producer decided to attend.   

In Europe there is a trend that Architect demand European material in public tendering as they are tired of problems they had with Chines material in the past.

(Long delivery times – claims – additional deliveries – delays in construction) but also low stone quality and fake material testing’s.)

As in thousands of quarries are closed already or will be in the future and government environmental requirements are in force, we expect price increases between 25-35% 

in the next years, which give hope for European productions to restart their productions.

Consumers like a good presentation of products as they see it in every industry. Professional photos and professional designed fair booth makes a difference and distinguish successful from unsuccessful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *