(Written in October, 1999)
by Jim Heaphy
As I was beginning to write this column, I learned with great interest that Cygnus Publishing, the company that owns Kitchen & Bath Design News, has acquired SolidSurface magazine. SolidSurface began publication in 1995 and shortly thereafter, was instrumental in organizing the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association. This news, which is undoubtedly positive for the companies involved as well as for the entire solid surface industry, brought back a flood of memories to me.
My involvement with solid surface fabrication began early in 1984, when I became General Manager of Western Plastics in San Francisco, an established fabrication shop that produced both plastic laminate and solid surface countertops. At that time, DuPont Corian, offering two solid colors and one pattern, was the only solid surface material on the market. The phrase "solid surface" as a generic description had not yet been coined. To me, though, the potential of this product was clear and exciting. I never felt that degree of enthusiasm for plastic laminates.
Shortly thereafter, I began attending meetings of the Decorative Laminate Products Association (DLPA), a trade group whose core membership consisted of plastic laminate countertop fabricators. Many of those companies were entering solid surface fabrication in those years, and inevitably, the topic of a trade association to address the specialized needs of those fabricators arose. I remember debates about whether "solid surface" or "solid surfacing" was the best generic description for the products we work with. The consensus at that time was that the industry was not yet mature or robust enough to support its own trade association, so a group of DLPA members decided to establish a sub-section of DLPA called the Solid Surface Materials Section. Leading figures in the formation of that pioneering group included Ron Biloff of Lincoln Laminating in Lincoln, Nebraska and DLPA Director Barbara Boden. I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the Solid Surface Materials Section with Ron Biloff in 1988, and as chairman in 1989 and 1990. DLPA's Solid Surface Materials Section conducted the first generic training sessions for solid surface fabricators, comparing and contrasting joint adhesive systems and the fabrication procedures recommended by the four national manufacturers active in the market at that time.
In those years, a predecessor of Cygnus Publications called KBC Publications, which at that time owned this magazine as well as Cabinet Manufacturing & Fabricating, began sponsoring regional trade shows around the country for the kitchen cabinet and countertop industry. I was invited to speak about and demonstrate solid surface countertop fabrication techniques at many of these events, and established friendships with members of the editorial staff such as Alan Richman and Eliot Sefrin. Eliot is, of course, now publisher of the Cygnus Shelter Group, consisting of five magazines. As a result of my participation in those conferences, I was asked to write this column on countertop fabrication, which first appeared exactly ten years ago.
Unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for the concept underlying the Solid Surface Materials Section, and it lasted only a few years. It was particularly difficult to persuade newer companies that specialized in solid surface fabrication to join what was thought of as a laminate industry trade association. Eventually, the DLPA merged with another trade group and lost its unique identity. I am proud, though, that I have been able to continue this column throughout the 90's, offering you my views and recommendations on a wide variety of topics of interest to solid surface fabricators.
Four years ago, SolidSurface magazine began, and I observed its growth and development from the outside as an attentive subscriber. That magazine served as the catalyst for the formation of the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association which now has over 800 members companies in every state in the US and 16 countries around the world. For the past two years, they have sponsored very successful trade shows in Las Vegas, and Solid Surface 2000 will be held there at the MGM Grand next February 10 through 12. I must admit that I feel a little wistful seeing the enormous success in the late 90's of a concept that I and others struggled with scant success to create in the late 80's. Perhaps we were just ahead of our time back then. But I am delighted that SolidSurface is now part of the Cygnus family of publications.
It seems that a dominant theme in the solid surface industry as we wrap up the 20th century is mergers and acquisitions. This spring, the Formica Corporation purchased Fountainhead from International Paper. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I operate, the largest local fabricator, Duracite, recently purchased another large Bay Area fabricator, BYGG Inc., and an established fabricator in Fresno, CA, Mark One Countertops. Similar buy-outs are happening in other major markets throughout the country. DuPont Korea, a wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont, has purchased Hyosung Corporation's Stonex solid surface business in South Korea, and is now converting its factory to production of Corian.
Personalities within the industry come and go from this position to that, in a never-ending game of musical chairs. Yesterday's competitor may be tomorrow's co-worker. Yesterday's supplier may be tomorrow's customer.
As we enter the third millenium, it is clearer than ever that the only constant is change. Although I try, I am not much better than anyone else in predicting change - I just know that it is coming and do my best to prepare for it.
It gives me great pleasure, though, as this magazine's long time columnist on solid surface fabrication, to welcome SolidSurface magazine to the Cygnus Shelter Group.