Episode 28 – What’s next for sintered stone? Lapitec Lab Days recap

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In this episode, we will talk about a recent gathering of sintered stone professionals and what's next for the category. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Alyssa Holland of CaraGreen.

JESSICA: Hi this is Jessica. 

ALYSSA: And this is Alyssa.

JESSICA: We're here with Build Green Live Green, the CaraGreen podcast. To listen to earlier episodes, you can check them out at www.caragreen.com/podcast. 

ALYSSA: So, Jessica, this episode I want to, kind of, ask you some questions about a recent event that you attended. One of our products that we carry Lapitec, they held a distributor meeting. They kind of gathered up a bunch of their distributors to talk about trends that they're seeing in the sintered stone market as well as some upcoming changes that they're making. Do you want to give kind of a recap of what that event was, why you attended, and then maybe you can get into some details?

JESSICA: Sure. So the event was called Lapitec Lab Days and they actually had a series of events across the world. The most recent being the one in the US and we were really excited because it was our first opportunity to reconnect with some of the other distributors, not even reconnect, to connect with some of the other distributors and really establish that solid base of Lapitec distributors and all get on the same page about the brand, the direction, the leadership and really strategize about ways that we can grow the whole Lapitec and the whole sintered stone category collectively as a group.

ALYSSA: So when you mentioned the other distributors, do they operate a lot like us? Do they sell a wide range of healthy building materials or are they more focused on natural stone or are they more connected to fabricators? What are some of the differences? 

JESSICA: Sure. So CaraGreen, obviously we've talked about this in prior podcasts, we're very unique in that we tend to have a focus on marketing to architects and designers and we focus on healthy building materials. So Lapitec is a great fit for both of those things. But as far as distribution capability, other companies, other distributors that Lapitec has have much stronger distribution capabilities though I think that as a group we all can complement each other with how we go to market. So you get big companies like Opus Stone, ABC Stone and some really established companies like Tutto Marmo and IRG on the west coast. So meeting some of those people, there were people that companies from Canada, Minneapolis all over the whole network of Lapitec distributors. One thing I have noticed with the Lapitec distributors is, usually what I’ve always seen with distribution and fabrication is that a lot of companies that have worked with stone transition to quartz and then they transition to sintered stone. Some of the more successful companies that I’ve seen have almost skipped the quartz part of the business. So they will work with stone and then they didn't really get into quartz, they see it as kind of plastic-y and fake. But they are adopting sintered stone. So the reason I think that sintered stone is going to be even more successful than I had initially thought was because you're seeing this transition from the stone people are embracing sintered stone as the next version of stone and the quartz people are embracing sintered stone as an upgrade to quartz. So a natural progression there and the companies that have gone strictly from stone to sintered stone, they understand that Lapitec specifically can be worked in the field like a natural stone. They get it and it makes it a really easy transition for them. They're using the same tools out in the field and they really understand the care that you use with natural stone. And it's not commoditized, you know, they're kind of working with the same customers. So their transition from natural stone to Lapitec is an easy one and that goes not just for countertops and flooring where Lapitec’s a great fit, but they've already been using stone for that. So Lapitec, having the cladding systems is something that quartz could never do. So these stone companies that have been doing interior and exterior, it's very easy to bring in Lapitec and use it as an upgrade to stone. You know, it's an improvement on stone as much as it's an improvement on quartz. So the consumer may want natural stone with all of its variation and so on, or they may want Lapitec. So it's a really interesting dynamic to watch and I think it's something that we should, as CaraGreen, elaborate on some of our blog posts and some of our newsletters.

ALYSSA: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. So speaking of other things that we can kind of elaborate on, what did you learn while you were up there specifically about Lapitec?

JESSICA: Sure. So Lapitec, you know, it was engineered from the outset to be a superior product in many ways. And you know you typically think about that in terms of performance. But one of the things that I learned, and I really appreciate, is that they were thinking about the silica content in the material when they designed it. So they deliberately designed it to have very low silica content, and this was about 20 years ago. So they had the foresight to see that silica was dangerous to the people that are mining it, to the people that are cutting it, fabricating it. So they want to create a product that has as low silica content as possible and in some of their products, it's zero silica content. But if you read any of these articles today about these fabricators, then you know these quartz people in the quartz industry that are getting miners lung and dying from breathing in, you know, silica dust. They've done everything they can to mitigate the amount of respirable silica dust in these materials. So they use 100% natural minerals, no binders. So unlike quartz which uses these petroleum-based binders, Lapitec has designed this product that uses technology to create that bond inside the slab. So these Lapitec slabs, these sintered stones slabs, are just minerals fused together into these gigantic slabs that are 132” long and 59” wide and they're either 1cm, 2cm, 3cm thick and they can also be cut to size as titles. So they've created a lot of versatility and the cut to size programs are great for like an exterior cladding or something like that because you are minimizing waste. At their factory, they designed these materials in these programs so you're not wasting all of this material if you really don't need to. They really really work hand-in-hand with their customers to make sure that everything is optimized- optimized for worker health, optimized for environmental health. So it's really a unique product in that it's had that much foresight. A lot of the other companies that are in this category are kind of ad hoc trying to get in the game within the last four to five years.

ALYSSA: One thing I like specifically about Lapitec is that ability to pick your size for the cut the size program and really fit that to how you need it. But also pick a variety of colors and textures. So your wall can be the same color as your floor, but a different texture- so your wall can be kind of glossy and then the floor can be a slightly rougher texture, so you don't fall or anything and it just looks seamless and beautiful. 

JESSICA: Right. And I should also mention there's actually a couple very newsworthy things that happened related to Lapitec.  So they have an architectural division that has really got their act together and their continuing education courses, which we give some of, and their trainings on the material are really shaping up in a really nice way. I think they are definitely some of the highest quality that you're going to find on the market as far as the marketing deliverables that they provide. They've recently launched a tower floor display, which is really uniquely designed as well, so that's something we're excited to get out there. They're rebranding. So they came to market I think almost from the mindset of someone in the stone business where you're presenting yourself as this, you know, Italian brand. And I think they've realized that for the US market and for the market in general, they need a refresh and to really put themselves out there for what they are. Which is an incredibly healthy, highest performing building material out there and they're very clear about that. They're not a brand, they're not a product, they're a material. So this is a material that was engineered to provide a solution to problems we don't even know we have yet. So that's really where I think Lapitec is going is to be a solution to the surfacing market.

ALYSSA: Awesome. Can you speak anything about where you guys were? So I think you mentioned it was in New York.

JESSICA: Yeah, we were in Hicksville, Hicksville, New York. Hicksville is in Long Island. It's actually where ABC Stone is, and I will tell you that's the second time I’ve been at ABC Stone. But these guys do some of that high-end stone products that just are absolutely mind-blowing. And it's so nicely complemented by the Lapitec line. So just walking through their warehouse you see these exotic beautiful stones, you see Lapitec and they have this really amazing Lapitec display down there. But these guys are top of the line when it comes to stone and now sintered stone. They have done and have relationships with some of these most amazing sculptors in the industry and just some of the materials they have on display in their showroom, you wouldn't believe that someone could actually do that with stone and these are the kind of people that, you know, are going to push Lapitec to the next level. I mean we've already started to see them doing it. So we love all the guys there and, you know, we're really excited to watch what they do. But they were a great host and, you know, they really put on a good show, as did Lapitec. 

ALYSSA: Did you learn any updates on sintered stone in general, are there any new players? Does it compare to any new porcelains out there?

JESSICA: Sure. So you know the sintered stone, porcelain line has always been one often fought over and one that people in general have not been happy with, my personal stance on it. But I think there's two things, right- you've got Lapitec which was designed as a solution starting 20 years ago, you've got porcelain tiles that are trying to scale up to look like big slabs. So you've got these two different technologies. Porcelain has been around for a really long time. It's minerals with a glaze on top or, you know, a printed pattern on top. So that's not changing, they are really limited by their inherent technology. So some of the brands of porcelain, you know, they're going to have to sell on, you know, the fact that they're gauged porcelain and it's going to be hard for them to compete with a product that's been 20 years in the engineering process to get here today. But what I have heard is that there are many brands over in China calling themselves “sintered stones.” So that is a little disconcerting because, you know, it's a category that is really different than porcelain. And so the name “sintered stone” is getting confusing, because the “sintered” means heated. So anyone who kiln fires a ceramic, a porcelain, or Lapitec which is a mineral matrix, they can call themselves sintered stone. Again going back to the fact that Lapitec’s a material, the way it's manufactured is a process that compacts that matrix in such a way it is not the same as a porcelain, which is merely fired. So you know there's a lot of, there's some pretty good articles that have been written on these different process technologies and companies are modifying their technologies to get higher performance. But at the end of the day, you're just starting to see a lot of entrants from China. And there's actually tariffs that are in play for September that are going after large format tiles. One of these tile associations filed a complaint with the Commerce Department Trade Commission and they're going to rule in September on whether these large format Chinese porcelain slabs get tariff. So you know that drama continues, but you know, at the end of the day, you're going to end up with your top three and then everybody else. And you know the theory is, and the likelihood is, that Lapitec will be in that top three. 

ALYSSA: Awesome. Sounds like you guys learned a lot there. 

JESSICA: Yeah. There was one big reveal, right? We all went down into the ABC warehouse and they had all these slabs with sheets over them and we got to see all the new colors and they're going to be launching those at Cersaie in September, I believe. So new colors coming soon, we're super excited about them. There's limitations that people have assumed of Lapitec which they're kind of breaking through those barriers and they continue to innovate, and I expect they will keep that up. Their rebranding is awesome. It really just takes all the input and feedback from their customers and they've really listened, and they are ready to take on the US market and we're excited to be there with them. 

ALYSSA: Awesome. I'm excited to see those changes. 

JESSICA: So any of the Lapitec information, for any of our listeners, is at www.caragreen.com, the brand's link, and go to Lapitec. We've got all the information there and any samples or anything you need, let us know. We have certified fabricators all over the US and we can hook you up with Lapitec. It really is the next thing in surfacing. Whether it's flooring, cladding, countertops, Lapitec is the material that's going to change the surfacing space. 

ALYSSA: Perfect. Thanks Jessica. 

JESSICA: No problem. This is Build Green Live Green. This is Jessica. 

ALYSSA: And this is Alyssa. 

JESSICA: You can hear more of our podcast episodes at www.caragreen.com/podcast.