I recently returned from the Mid-Atlantic Hardscape Show in Atlantic City. The attendance was up from last year. In October I attended Hardscape North America in Louisville KY. In March the Northeast Hardscape Show will take place in Uncasville CT and is predicted to break records for attendance.
So, what does this all mean? I spoke to several contractors in Atlantic City and Louisville who said business was down 5-7% this year. In talking to sales reps I heard the same thing. But hey, that’s down a little from a crazy upward trajectory for the last 5 or 6 years so things still look good for next year.
From what I could see, there are two things happening in the industry.
Large concrete paver slabs and porcelain slabs are becoming wildly popular. The product is strong and durable for our environment and more and more manufacturers are offering lines of the product because homeowners and contractors are demanding it. There is a frenzy in the industry for paver manufacturers to team up with or purchase porcelain companies. I talked to Phil Graves, the National Sales Manager at Daltile and he said that he expects a doubling of growth in the general porcelain industry in the next 3-4 years. The industry stands at $130 million in annual sales. He says that there is a clear trend for more “indoor-quality” aesthetics for outdoor spaces. That means fancier outdoor kitchens with higher-end countertops and backsplashes, nicer veneer products and a general blurring of the line between the indoors and the outdoors. There will also be many more innovative products in the near future from this industry. The porcelain manufacturers are looking at hardscape installers to install all these products and they are ramping up their training.
Because slabs are becoming so popular the fear of injury to employees has greatly increased due to the increased size and weight being lifted by workers. The suction tool industry sees their tools flying off the shelves. A large suction tool lifting machine can be purchased for $23-25K. Whether it be an attachment on an excavator or stand-alone machine, these attachments not only reduce employee injury but can reduce crew size in a very tight labor market.
There is a new industry forming now of owning large suction equipment and renting out the equipment with an operator for the installation of slabs. Many will do this for a square foot or daily price. I have seen a good operator and one laborer (who never touches the slabs) install 2000sqft in 5 hours or less. Think about it. Pavers and slabs are getting larger and heavier. These tools save employee backs, knees, and fingers. Landscaping is laborious so anything we can do to reduce strain and injury needs to be seriously considered.
The winter months are a good time to evaluate your business and equipment needs for the upcoming season. The industry looks like it will be strong again in 2024. You may want to consider how the latest trend of porcelain slab and large concrete paver slab installations may play a part in your business.
— by Bill Gardocki, who is a past president of NHLA (1994 & 1995) and now a hardscape educator