Solid Footing for Solid Surfaces

by WOHe

The solid surface industry, swept along by product innovations,
cutting-edge designs and high demand, seems on very solid footing
indeed these days, as it undergoes a dramatic transformation from a
fledgling offshoot of the countertop market into a significant,
high-impact player in the kitchen and bath trade.
In order to maintain its solid footing, however, suppliers and
fabricators of solid surface materials are going to have to raise
their game to an even higher level in the years ahead.
That much was evident both on the surface and beneath the surface
last month at Solid Surface 2000 a Las Vegas-based trade show that
has become a major success story despite a track record that spans
a scant three years.

Solid Surface 2000, sponsored by the International Solid Surface
Fabricators Association (ISSFA), drew some 4,000 attendees and 120
exhibitors to the MGM Convention Center for three days in February
just two years after being launched in the hallway and ballroom of
a nearby hotel with little more than a wing and a prayer, plus the
backing of a small group of enthusiastic believers.
The meteoric success of Solid Surface 2000 is nothing short of a
reflection of the growth within the solid surface industry itself,
which has witnessed a literal explosion of products, suppliers,
applications and fabrication techniques in only the past few years.
Solid surfacing has also seen itself become the product of choice
in a growing number of kitchen and bath countertops, as well as
other applications.
Solid surfacing, to be sure, has many appealing attributes. It’s
beautiful, versatile, durable and lends itself to the use of many
creative design elements. It’s also renewable, repairable, and
carries a substantive installed warranty on material and labor.

With all these things going for it, the solid surface industry
seems to be facing a future that’s just as bright as its recent
past.

But that’s only if a lot of people who’ve gotten the product
this far don’t start dropping the ball.
The fact is, despite its success, the solid surface industry still
faces a number of serious challenges that industry leaders must
work hard to overcome.
For one thing, granite and other surfacing materials have exhibited
high-end market-share numbers that are growing at the expense of
solid surfacing which some suppliers have positioned as more of a
middle-market product. At the same time, product quality remains a
nagging issue to some specifiers, specifically when it pertains to
certain locally-made brands.

Lastly, a degree of confusion still lingers over the issue of
performance standards and definitions for solid surface
materials.

After years of functioning without any kind of guideline at all,
both ISSFA and the Intern-ational Cast Polymer Association (ICPA)
moved independently on the matter last year, with ISSFA unveiling
one standard and the ICPA announcing that it’s working to develop a
separate set of guidelines.

One year ago, K&BDN cited the need for the market to have
not two, but one, universal solid surface standard one that makes
the job of manufacturers, fabricators and specifiers easier, not
more difficult.
A year later, the situation remains essentially status quo.

Back to my earlier statement about the solid surface
distribution chain needing to raise the level of its game if the
product is to continue on solid ground.

Manufacturers, for one, need to do a better job of communicating
with distributors, fabricators and specifiers on the
characteristics, capabilities and limitations of each material.
Kitchen/ bath designers and fabricators, similarly, must step up
their efforts to communicate more effectively on such issues as
pricing, job specs, change orders and scheduling. At the same time,
ISSFA must follow through on its ambitious mandate to assist
fabricators in becoming more technically and managerially adept.
Lastly, ISSFA and the ICPA should put the best minds of both
organizations together and develop a single solid surface standard
that assures that the product category can grow just as
dramatically in the future as it has in the past.

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