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Episode 38 – KBIS 2020 Recap – Industry Trends and the Quartz Quagmire

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In this episode, we will discuss the recent KBIS tradeshow and upcoming industry trends. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Julia Antennucci of CaraGreen.
JESSICA:  Hi, this is Jessica. 

JULIA: And this is Julia. 

JESSICA: And this is Build Green Live Green. Today we're going to be covering the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, KBIS 2020 which happened last week in Las Vegas. It's also coupled with the International Builders Show, so we had time before our presentation on Wednesday to walk the show floor on Tuesday and also in the afternoon on Wednesday as well and really kind of digest a lot of the trends that we're seeing in the industry and we wanted to take this opportunity in this podcast to bring those trends to you. A lot of what's been covered so far in media has been, you know this sink faucet, these industrial looking faucets or these types of tubs or this self-wiping, self-flushing, I-don’t-know-whatting toilet. There was a lot of that at the show. Smart appliances are huge and some of those overarching design trends, there's a lot of information already out there about those. But our approach to the KBIS show was to approach some of the manufacturers in our space, specifically surfacing, and ask them the really difficult questions about some of the issues that the industry is facing right now. And then also try to, you know, get an idea of some of the overarching trends as far as surfacing goes. What is the hot new surface, which products are starting to fade and how are the manufacturers adapting to the changes that are happening in the industry? So on Wednesday morning our talk was on kitchen trends, but the gist of it was the, your kitchen really conveys your personality and your countertop is the centerpiece of that kitchen. So that was one of the things that we noted at the show was, “how are people designing around that countertop and what types of materials are they using.” Because even if you're showing off appliances, you still have countertops in that space, and they have to be complimentary. So our talk went really well, and people were really engaged and really interested, and we brought up industry issues that nobody's talking about. They're very uncomfortable and nobody wants to talk about them. So we were just going to discuss here, you know, some of those topics and how some of the manufacturer's responded to them.

JULIA:  Right. So one thing you brought up in your talk that we saw a lot on the floor was talk of quartz and what's going on in the industry. And you know, as you mentioned we talked to a lot of manufacturers and we asked a lot of hard questions and we got some interesting answers.

JESSICA:  So quartz has been kind of the surface at KBIS for the last, I don't know, I would say probably five years. It has been the surface that has dominated. Companies like Cosentino, Cambria, Caesarstone and in the last few years several Chinese quartz manufacturers coming to market and also importers of Chinese quartz, companies like Daltile, that are typically known for tile, getting into the quartz space. So there was just, every booth was quartz, quartz, quartz. And this was the first year that you started to see that shift towards some of the porcelains and sintered stones. So what's driving that shift away from quartz are some of the topics that we asked people about at these booths.

JULIA:  So one of the big topics driving that shift is tariffs.  

JESSICA: Right. So that was an interesting discussion that we had with Cambria because they are the ones who initiated the legislation back in May of 2018 basically citing or claiming that China was dumping and subsidizing quartz imports. So they'd pursued countervailing duties and anti-dumping duties, which we've covered in some of the CaraGreen podcasts that you can find on our website. And those tariffs initially, you know they were assessed on top of the Trump tariffs, which were 10%, 25% and then these came in at 38% to 178% and at the end of the day, Chinese quartz imports were tariffed at 400% so the pricing went up, you know, if it was $1,000 it was now $5,000. So that was a substantial hit to the quartz industry, specifically the Chinese quartz and these manufacturers had to pivot and find other sources. And we talked to, you know, some of the big guys, the MSIs, the Petrosian’s, LG and Wilsonart even, you know, when we've asked them about, you know, their sourcing. And many of these manufacturers have had to shift to source from countries like India and Turkey, which were then also slapped with tariffs. So one of the most interesting sentiments at the end of the day when we were asking all these quartz companies about tariffs was their comment that I think three or four different companies said, the quartz tariffs were the best thing that ever happened to us. And what they were saying was they had found alternate suppliers that actually had higher quality material and it was working out in their benefit. They were also saying that Cambria had raised their pricing 30%, I'm not sure if it was that high or not, but that's what they were claiming. And therefore MSI and Spectrum quartz who are cooperating together at an automotive plant that was purchased down in South Carolina are planning on installing six different quartz lines in that facility. And they weren't clear on whether they were partners or collaborators, they had all different terminology, but you know, Spectrum is going to be made in the USA. So they decided to source locally. And when asked about price competitiveness, their sentiment was they were going to be about 15% cheaper than the leading quartz manufacturers, which was a pretty interesting aspect of this whole thing that you know, the tariffs were meant to protect domestic producers. And what's actually happening is the Chinese producers are coming over here and actually producing here in the US. So if the end game was jobs, I guess that may have been accomplished and you know, domestic manufacturing that certainly was accomplished. So we'll see how it goes. It's an interesting development having, you know, quartz manufacturing grow here in the US.

JULIA:  Another thing we noticed when we were walking in the floor where a lot of manufacturers included USA quartz, red, white, and blue quartz. And many of these manufacturers weren't actually producing their quartz in the United States.

JESSICA:  Yeah, I found it very ironic that when we were walking the floor after leaving our presentation, where we kind of jokingly said that there are a lot of quartz manufacturers out there that will call themselves Patriotstone or AmericaStone or Red White and Blue Quartz. And we actually found a supplier on the floor who said red, white and blue something. But again, it was these kind of false claims out there or this false representation that it's actually a USA product. So you have, you know, some Turkish manufacturer that had their name and they put USA after it and that they were kind of branding their quartz like it was a USA brand and it's not. So I think it's just, you know, again, it's a call to action I think for consumers who are looking to put quartz in their home or they want to put a surface in their home, do your homework and know where it's coming from and really what's in it. Because there's a lot of material out there that you know doesn't have a chain of custody and you don't know where it came from. And that can be pretty risky because if something goes wrong and you don't know where your material came from, you don't really have much of a remedy to fix it. So I think tariffs caused a really big shift in the quartz market. We always call it Whack-A-Mole and we've done several podcasts on the quartz market too, so there's more information on the tariffs, but another real negative thing in the quartz industry right now is silicosis. 

JULIA: Silicosis has been a difficult topic to talk about. It's been very uncomfortable, but it's everywhere now. You know, we saw it coming, we saw it in India, we saw it in Australia, but very recently a story came out on NPR. So you know the dangers of respirable silica and what it's doing to these miners and these fabricators, it's common knowledge now and it's reaching the consumer.

JESSICA:  Right. We covered this in another podcast too on caragreen.com but the silicosis is caused by respirable silica, which is an airborne dust that happens when you cut or polish quartz. And what you're supposed to do I,s you're supposed to do that in a wet environment, so it shouldn't be an issue. But a lot of fabrication facilities have engaged in dry cutting or people weren't wearing masks when they should've been, or they weren't adhering to OSHA guidelines. And this has been going on for decades. So the problem with silicosis is, it's become very prominent in Queensland, Australia right now, there are several cases there. I think there's 99 cases there with the youngest person diagnosed was in his early twenties and they are actually looking to ban engineered stone in Queensland. So they're specifically pointing to quartz as the cause of this. And this has caught on in the US and it is just the tip of the iceberg because if you worked in a fabrication facility, you may have got silicosis 20 years ago. Maybe your husband died from it, who knows? But they're calling it the next basically mesothelioma or asbestos. So it's a bad thing. And we had some very difficult conversations with the quartz manufacturers. A lot of them are quite defensive, but some of them were doing really great things. So I think as far as KBIS goes, I was really pleased with the response that we got from Silestone who's actually making an engineered material to replace quartz that has no quartz in it. It's made in the lab and it’s; I think they said it was based on minerals but would be no respirable silica. They had two examples of that in their booth and then also Diresco They have the bio UV quartz and they've been working for a while on creating or using a bio UV resin so their quartz can be used outside. It's a petroleum free resin. So you're starting to see the intersection of the resin and the quartz and these companies trying to create better and if they can, you know, work together, I think there can be a follow-on product to quartz that is safer for everyone involved. 

JULIA: So, yeah, it was really great to see companies like Silestone speaking very transparently about how they're going to tackle this problem head on rather than shying away from it. And it was exciting to see more and more manufacturers doing that. 

JESSICA: So as we said, there were some manufacturers that didn't want to talk about it and there were other companies like Silestone that really were talked expressly about how they were going to address it. The other interesting thing about the conversation with Silestone, Cosentino is the other part of Cosentinos business, which is Dekton, and that kind of leads me to the next big trend that we saw at KBIS, which was this shift away from quartz towards porcelain and sintered stone. And porcelain and sintered stone have been at KBIS for the last several years. You see these large format marble looking porcelain slabs, but you're starting to see more design come to those slabs. You're starting to see concretes. You're starting to see that brushed metal look. And what Cosentino was doing that was really interesting was they actually had two patterns that they had zoomed in on. One was a butterfly wing and the other one was an oyster shell and that became the pattern on the slab itself. That was the texture. So that is biomimicry, biophilic design. It's really incorporating those two concepts that we've covered in a couple of our podcasts, but it's really exciting to see some of these sintered stone and porcelain manufacturers kind of reach out beyond just your standard, “I look like granite, I look like stone,” and really get into some of these more biophilic or biomimetic textures and looks. Another interesting thing was the porcelain manufacturers were there as usual, but some of these other kind of multi-surface companies like Corian and Lotte, they had their own porcelain or sintered stone lines as well. So they're clearly private labeling these different brands. But what it shows me is a broader adoption of the category by some of the industry leaders. So Corian has their solid surface, they have their quartz, and now they've gotten into the porcelain space. So Lotte, same thing. They've got their solid surface, which is the Staron, and they've got the Radianz and now they're bringing on a sintered stone collection, which obviously was private labeled. I'm not sure who that is. Sapienstone was there, Dekton we mentioned, Neolith also as far as the porcelains go, you know all the big names were there. But people are, you know, you starting to see this private labeling happening too, which really is showing adoption of the category. So the shift away from quartz is certainly headed toward the porcelain and sintered stone direction. And we kind of saw that coming some time ago. You know Lapitec is the sintered stone and you know, we've been talking about them for a while. So it was really great to see that category really become defined as kind of the next big surfacing category. 

JULIA: Yeah, and you know with the proliferation of sintered stone and more design-minded sintered stone, in general we just saw a lot more color on the floor than normal. There's a lot of colorful sinks, colorful countertops. They had pops of color. 

JESSICA: Even porcelain. The Infinity Surfaces had that sodalite which is that vibrant, like a cobalt blue with white veining, their porcelain. I think that was probably my favorite porcelain that I saw on the floor was the sodalite by Infinity Surfaces. And as Julia said, we went to the, I think it was the Elkay booth and they had this mint cream I think was the new name of it, was their new sink to compliment some colors that they had last year. But we really started to see in all these kitchen installs, these kind of farmhouse sinks, vibrant farmhouse sinks. So color's coming back into the kitchen. So that's kind of exciting. For several years it was, you know, just gray and white and marbling and now you're starting to see these bright pops of color. 

JULIA: Pretty much every booth we went to and you asked a few, you're like, “I'm seeing less grays and I'm seeing less whites,” and people are leaning more toward earth tones. And even in quartz you're seeing more earth tones or colorful tones as well.

JESSICA: Yeah and you know, we're used to color, we're always used to color. We have Durat and we've been seeing people use these bright sinks for some time, but it's really nice to kind of see that coming back. Another thing I noticed was this detachable front of the farmhouse sink where it was customizable so you could kind of either choose a different texture or a different color. And that was kind of an interesting thing too. A lot of the sinks, you know, we're used to Durat solid surface sinks in bright colors, but some of these other sinks were made out of composites so they wouldn't seamlessly integrate like a Durat sink would. But they did a pretty good job doing the color matching on some of the surfaces and the brighter colors actually they would just contrast with a, you know, like a white or a darker top to really bring that color out. So we're excited to see color come back into, you know, kitchen and bath design. 

JULIA: Yeah, I think it was Karran. They had a colorful composite sinks. It was composite quartz and acrylic and they had six standard colors, but they had this beautiful display of all these different vibrant colors. And they did it to, you know, show their custom capabilities, which is something that's definitely on the rise. You know, people leaving their own design fingerprint and making projects their own. 

JESSICA: And the last thing I would really mention as far as design trends that kind of relate to surfacing was texture. And again Lapitec, you know, they have the seven textures and you know, we've seen that in their booth, but I saw such a wider adoption of textures in everything. So people really embracing this concept of you're engaging with your surfaces now and engaging with them doesn't just mean prepping on the, it means touching them. It's nice when they have a warm tactile feel. So you're starting to see a lot more texture come into these spaces, whether it's in the cabinetry, whether it's the front of the sink, whether it's the top itself, but you're seeing way less glossy finish and a lot more matte, satin, and even rougher textures like you get with the Lapitec. 

JULIA:  Yeah. And along with that we saw a lot of woods and metals as well, complimenting and accenting. So you know, you have a lot of these more tactile features in the kitchen than before. 

JESSICA: We've seen a lot of that metal wood intersection with PaperStone where a lot of people use it that way because it has that industrial look that really compliments that kind of metal hardware and stuff that works with it. So that was an interesting trend as well. So those are kind of the overarching trends that we noticed on the surfacing side. There's a lot of other stuff that you can find if you do your research about KBIS on the smart home and appliance side. We didn't really want to cover that here today. We kind of want to stay in our lane and cover surfacing, but it was a great show and we talked to some great people. We met some of the industry leaders and we're hoping to have them on our podcast here. So yeah, check out our podcast and our blog post on KBIS 2020, this is Jessica. 

JULIA: And this is Julia. 

JESSICA: This is Build Green Live Green.       

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