Surface Show Embraces New Direction in Las Vegas

This past March, thousands of surfacing industry professionals gathered in Las Vegas for the Surface Fabrication & Design Expo, which is the new name for what was formerly called the Solid Surface International Expo. The show’s name change represents the shift in emphasis at the show (and in the industry) from a narrow focus on solid surface materials to a broader emphasis that includes engineered stone products (also called quartz surfaces), natural stones and even exotic items such as glass sinks and glass countertop surfaces.

This was the ninth annual show held in Las Vegas, and this year’s event featured the best lineup of educational opportunities ever offered. Over 60 workshops covered a wide variety of topics in four tracks: Business Solutions, Sales & Marketing, Fabrication, and Clinics, which were hands-on presentations on the floor of the exhibit hall.

A THICKER APPROACH

The proliferation of brands of solid surface materials has certainly led to a more competitive marketplace for fabricators looking to purchase less-expensive, half-inch-thick sheet material. With so many players in the market, however, it is difficult for new entrants to differentiate themselves from the pack.

One company has decided to take a completely different approach to selling solid surface materials to fabricators – Eos Surfaces. Company founders Evan Kruger and Ken Trinder don’t bother to offer the industry’s common half-inch thick sheet. Instead, they are dedicated to a different and much simpler way of fabricating – with much thicker solid surface sheets. Eos measures a full 3 centimeters thick, which is just a little bit less than an inch and a quarter. Although

Eos promises improved product strength and performance, its main benefit is a dramatic reduction in fabrication and installation labor. The cost of the shop labor and seam adhesive needed to build up, trim and sand rough edges is eliminated. Because the countertops sit directly on top of the cabinets, it’s not necessary to apply wooden build-up strips to the cabinets. It’s also unnecessary to bond solid surface reinforcements under the seams, since the deck seam surface area is more than doubled, and the seams are, therefore, very durable.
Eos is an acrylic polyester blend, now available in 19 patterns. Eos can be fabricated dry using CNC equipment optimized for conventional solid surface production, or with equipment intended for stone fabrication, using wet cutting for better dust control.

The company has established a national distribution network, and does not plan to sell through home centers. This may prove appealing to traditional kitchen dealers and mid-sized fabricators beleaguered by giant competitors.

One possible criticism of Eos is that it is quite heavy. A 10-foot length of countertop fabricated of conventional half-inch-thick solid surface material weighs about 100 pounds. The same countertop fabricated with Eos weighs about 230 pounds. That may seem like a dramatic difference, but another comparison should also be made. A granite countertop the same size and thickness as Eos would weigh roughly 375 pounds. Although there is significant weight variation among different granites, all are much heavier than Eos. For more information about Eos, please visit www.eos-surfaces.com.

OTHER APPROACHES

Every shop manager worries that, someday, an OSHA inspector will drop by and discover something wrong and impose a hefty fine. To help ease fears, TechneTrain, Inc. has published its “Federal OSHA Compliance Manual for the Solid Surface Industry,” a book that teaches how to comply with the regulations applicable to our industry specifically. This manual is all wheat and no chaff, and is available in both printed and CD ROM versions.

The company also sells PowerPoint safety training modules that smooth the process of training employees as well as the documenting of that required training. Contact www.TechneTrainOnline.com for more information about these and other products.

Established industry players Wilsonart and DuPont are taking opposite approaches when it comes to responding to the challenge posed by granite. Wilsonart Solid Surface distributed flyers at the Surface Fabrication & Design Expo making the case that solid surface is superior to granite as a kitchen countertop material. I remember quite clearly when DuPont made the same argument. However, theoretical arguments are one thing, and market realities are another; no one can dispute the dramatic growth of granite in the upper-end kitchen countertop market in the past 15 years. Solid surface loyalists may not like it, but the market has embraced granite.

DuPont made a strategic decision at the beginning of the 21st century to broaden its countertop offerings rather than rely on Corian as its only such product in the marketplace. The company then introduced Zodiaq, an engineered stone or “quartz surface” product. Next came Simplicity, an economical solid surface material manufactured in China. Now, DuPont has introduced “Granite Certified by DuPont,” available in 15 colors, treated with a proprietary sealant and covered by a 10-year limited warranty. The warranty against staining is for just one year, though. Information is available at www.granite.dupont.com.

Suitable Solutions is a computer software company that offers a variety of programs of interest to countertop fabricators. Among them are suitableFABRICATOR, a suite of programs for fabricators, and Tractivity, a job-costing program. The firm’s latest offering is zEstimator, which is a sales presentation and estimating tool that will produce a range of estimates for a single job in a choice of a variety of countertop materials, such as solid surface, stone, laminate, tile, wood or stainless steel. This is a program intended to help salespeople close profitable sales more quickly. Visit www.suitable.com to find out more.

After nine years in Las Vegas, the Surface Fabrication & Design Expo will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year with a cross-country move to a new location – Orlando, FL. Expect plenty of new products and new faces. Plan now to attend from March 15-17, 2007, at the Orange County Convention Center. Visit www.sfdexpo.com for complete details as next year’s show approaches.

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