The USA Factor
The Stateside Boom in Quartz-Surface Manufacturing
Previous page: Trend Group production line, Sebring, Fla. Above: LG Hausys plant, Adairsville, Ga. (All photos courtesy of respective manufacturers.
Atlanta-based LG Hausys operates several production lines from its plant near Adairsville, Ga., adjacent to where the company also manufactures its Hi-Macs solid surface material. LG Hausys is part of Korean-based LG Corporation. Spectrum Quartz, a division of Cranbury, N.J.-based Hirsch Glass Corp., is working in partnership to produce medium- to high-end quartz slabs in conjunction with MS International from a new plant in Latta, S.C. RockSolid Granit/TREND Group is a Miami-based franchiser of home improvement systems, and manufacturer/supplier of materials for those systems. The company replaces countertops with natural stone or quartz surfaces known as etherium® by E-Stone and manufactured at its plant in Sebring, Fla. Caesarstone Ltd., entered the market in 1987 manufacturing quartz surfaces. The Israel-based company is publicly traded (NASDAQ:CSTE). Caesarstone North America is based in Charlotte, N.C., and manufactures slabs at a plant in Richmond Hill, Ga.
Caesarstone production facility, Richmond Hill, Ga.
Why build a U.S. plant instead of importing?
LG HAUSYS: Most of the Viatera quartz surfaces supplied globally are produced at the factory in Adairsville, Ga., with a limited number of colors being supplied through carefully selected outsource partners in multiple countries. Having a U.S. based plant allows for the design and sales team to better interact with customers directly where the material is designed, developed, and produced. This direct input is invaluable and essential to the creation of an on-trend and in-demand aesthetic for our customers. SPECTRUM: Before Cambria even started its investigation and depositions into tariffs, we had already started looking for a site for our U.S. factory. The tariff situation only accelerated our plans. We believe producing in the United States in the long run brings strategic advantages such as reduction in shipping times and freight costs; however, there are challenges in setting up a domestic manufacturing plant. TREND GROUP: Our plant opened back in 2006, so we’ve been here for quite a while, but also our product is unique; it’s only 6mm in depth. It’s very thin and very flexible and our production processes are unique to us, so it’s not a typical Breton-based manufacturing facility. The other thing is it allows our franchisees to meet the appropriate timelines, but they don’t have to carry a lot of inventory. CAESARSTONE: Building in our market allows us more flexibility with regard to development-to-market timing, and being response to our key market, as well as tapping into local talent.
Spectrum Quartz production line, Latta, S.C.
How did COVID-19 affect your 2020 production?
SPECTRUM: We are still working on setting up our production lines. The pandemic certainly contributed to delays. Parts, machinery and supplies have taken longer than normal to procure. Also, the safety of our employees is extremely important, so the pandemic has forced us to slow down and take the proper precautions. We are still doing some installation and testing processes, so we’re not in full production yet. Another way COVID-19 affected our production is on the training aspect – technicians and engineers who were supposed to be training our workforce were not able to travel to our facility. CAESARSTONE: Not at all. We did not have to shut down a single line in any of our plants, imports from our ISL facilities were as normal, and production stayed on track. LG HAUSYS: Similar to most production facilities around the world, LG Hausys implemented safety precautions and procedures for all employees and potential visitors to our manufacturing site to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition to adherence to all CDC guidelines, production shifts were scheduled on a rotating basis to further reduce employee exposure while continuing to meet the constant demand for supply of our Viatera quartz surfaces. TREND GROUP: Not at all. The good news from our viewpoint is that given the type of product we have, and the types of commercial, as well as residential, applications we do, our facility was seen as an essential service. The fact that early last year we partnered with Microban® [International Ltd.] also contributed to that.
LG Hausys production line, Adairsville, Ga.
How did COVID-19 affect your 2020 demand?
TREND GROUP: We have two sides to our business, but residential home renovation – the home-services industry – is the foundation of our franchise network. I think we all realize that the longer people have stayed confined the unhappier they became with where they were confined. They decided they wanted their homes to really be their castles. LG HAUSYS: During the early stage of the COVID-19 ramp-up in infections in April and May of this year, we saw a dip in demand as many of our customers were required to shut down or limit operations. As a supplier in the construction industry, our products, and therefore our operation, we deemed essential and so with proper precautions we were able to continue to supply market needs responsibly. Shortly after May, as business restrictions eased, we saw a quick return in demand, including increases due to delayed products, demand has continued to increase continually since May. CAESARSTONE: Demand remains strong across all channels, in particular in the residential remodeling and new building areas. SPECTRUM: Demand has been surprisingly resilient, and we believe part of that is because of the aesthetics of our colors. We have our own propriety technology and we’ve used that to develop a unique look that’s had strong demand from our customers. Consumers are seeking a realistic-looking natural-stone aesthetic and whoever can produce the best natural -stone look is going to win over customers.
TREND Group production line, Sebring, Fla.
What’s the biggest challenge/surprise you’ve faced in U.S. production?
CAESARSTONE: We have consistently been pleased with our production facility and our colleagues. That we have a local source for R&D and production to show customers and employees alike has been a great benefit to us. TREND Group: As I said, our plant opened in 2006, so like all manufacturing and construction most of the challenges lie in the beginning. Other than that, I would say there have been no surprises. The challenges in the last 15 years have been more about imports and less about production issues or regulations. SPECTRUM: Our biggest challenge is finding skilled labor. Hiring enough skilled workers and technicians to run the machinery and plant is an on-going issue. Another challenge we have faced is being able to replicate the production methods used by our first factory in the new plant. Often times the machinery is different and, although we have over a dozen U.S. utility patents, significant tweaking needs to be done to create the similar natural-stone aesthetic. LG HAUSYS: Producing a product that uses many raw materials from overseas requires careful planning to avoid supply chain disruptions such as port congestion, customs delays and shipping container shortages during periods of high demand, Operation and maintenance of Breton equipment from Italy also requires extensive training and collaboration to keep things running smoothly.
Caesarstone production facility, Richmond Hill, Ga.
Will the U.S. plant produce all the quartz surfaces you’ll offer in the U.S.? Why or why not?
LG HAUSYS: More than 90% of the Viatera quartz surface offering is produced in the U.S. A limited number of colors are supplied through carefully selected partners from multiple countries outside of the U.S. Outsourced colors are selected based on unique design attributes better-suited for partner manufacturing facilities. The U.S. plant operates three of the most-innovative Breton quartz production lines in the world with the most updated technology available including the addition of new robotic capabilities in Q1 2021. SPECTRUM: Our long-term plans may change, however at the moment we plan to source all of our quartz surfaces from the South Carolina plant. TREND GROUP: We have no interest in importing. The very uniqueness of our product is our raison d’etre. In fact, we’ll be increasing our production capabilities in the coming year. CAESARSTONE: The U.S. plant will continue to contribute to our overall global production demand. We have a robust assortment that cannot be produced by a single facility.