Composites Manufacturing talked to three manufacturers who have experienced modest growth in their business. Southern Cultured Marble, Custom Marble Products and Formatop have seen increases ranging from 10 to 25 percent over the past two months.
So what’s accounting for this growth? According to Mark Buehner, president of South Dakota-based Formatop, part of it may be psychology. “For too long, the news was too negative, and the way people feel has a strong influence on their purchasing habits,” he says. Buehner hopes the positive news galvanizes spending.
However, these companies still can’t fully shake the reality of their situation. “I tend to disregard percentages and focus on real numbers,” says Scott Bishop, vice president of South Carolina-based Southern Cultured Marble, Inc. “I think in this case, the percentage aspect is slightly misleading. It’s a percentage of a much smaller number, so the real growth isn’t as large as it would have been a few years ago.”
Todd Loebel, owner of Wisconsin-based Custom Marble Products, agrees, saying local homebuilders in the area who were once building 70 to 80 homes per year now struggle to build about 15. “I view percentages with a grain of salt. Ten percent growth sounds good, until you realize that because it comes from the lower number, you’re looking at essentially one extra home per year. That’s good, but not anywhere close to what the typical levels would be,” he says.
Even with the modest increase in new housing over the previous year, Bishop says the cost factor will continue to inhibit cultured marble. “The houses themselves are worth less, and feature less-expensive materials to match,” he says. “Unfortunately for us, the price of the raw materials hasn’t dropped. In fact, they’ve only increased, so we’re still at their mercy.”
Though the housing levels continue to be a fraction of what they were even a few years ago, these men say the industry will continue to focus on innovations and developments to make the recent growth even larger. “The industry has to look at the aesthetics of the product. For example, color trends change much faster than what they used to, so companies must always be thinking about what they can do to make things newer,” says Buehner.