WHAT'S IN A NAME? BIG BRAND OR BASIC BUY?

What’s in a name? Are the big quartz brands worth it? Big Brand or Basic Buy?

Big Quartz Brands
So, you are thinking about quartz worktops for your kitchen. You may have thought long and hard about the differences between granite and quartz, or you may have arrived at quartz because you know the look you want.
But now you have decided on quartz, the decision-making process seems even harder. You feel you are surrounded by options, with manufacturers producing any number of remarkably similar materials. And the prices vary so much – just why is that?
Some of it is down to different “ingredients” in the quartz worktop mix. But you are also looking at the mystical modern reality of brand. Some quartz brands are pricier than others. Why? And what do you get for your money?

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There is a battle on for your money

Make no mistake, kitchens and kitchen worktops are very big business indeed. Many granite and quartz worktop fabricators work out of relatively small premises, often with a tiny, granite-dust-heavy office and no showroom. Don’t let that obscure the fact that the product they fit in your home comes from massive production plants with a fully international trade. The big brands have huge factories – often multiple factories in several countries – but even names you’ve never heard of may have production facilities the size of a small town.
Where there is big investment in a factory, there is going to be big investment in getting the product to you, the consumer. Hence the battle.
The big fear for the established brands is the commoditisation of quartz for worktops. That means that, for some colour and pattern types (grey granular, black sparkly, white marbled and the rest) the generic products from the little-known names will be seen as no different from the products of the great brands, and price alone will sort out what sells. So the battle for the brands is, in part, about keeping a jump ahead, establishing the unique selling point of your brand, and letting the “me too” factories play catch up.

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Just one small part of Cosentino’s factory complex in Southern Spain. Silestone, Dekton, Eco and Sensa are all Cosentino brands.

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You know Silestone – but probably haven’t heard of Quantra. Here is their plant in Southern India.

So what does a big brand of quartz worktops give you for your money?

The name itself
You may notice that the big quartz brands try to avoid describing their product as “quartz”. They want you to ask for Silestone or Caesarstone by name. And lots of people do – those brands, and others, really are known.
In the short term, that gives you the kick of having the brand. BMW or Jag in the drive, Superdry (or Barbour) on your back, Silestone in the kitchen. And even if you aren’t a brand-conscious person but think you may sell your property in the short to medium term, potential buyers may be more brand-conscious than you. A big name brings added-value to your kitchen and to your whole property. Bear in mind: the kitchen is the single most important room in your home for establishing quality and investment.
But is the Brand name in itself the whole deal? What more is there in quartz worktop branding? What’s in a name?

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Cambria display at last year’s KBB Show

Design Flare
The big quartz brands are the innovators. Many of the ‘names’ were in at the very start of developing quartz for kitchen worktops. There is some rivalry on this point: Silestone and Caesarstone both claim to be the first. But whatever the truth in that, they were innovators then and they still are. All of the big leaps forward in kitchen worktop technology over the last 25 years have come from a handful of brands. All of the significant explorations of new ‘looks’ have come from them, and as a particular ‘look’ proves popular, they are the companies who will be first to perfect it.
We have often noticed how the “second-generation” companies seem to be playing catch-up. Their designs are pleasant enough, but they don’t quite hit the spot in the way the big brands do.
This doesn’t only apply to looks, of course. Special surface textures, anti-bacterial and easy-cleaning finishes may be less visible but very significant steps forward in quartz worktop development. You will often get the latest and best with a big brand. (Though from time to time a product is launched that just isn’t ready… such is the pressure to innovate that sometimes even the big boys jump the gun and sell a turkey. Amusing – unless you end up with that turkey in your kitchen.)

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Naomi in front of a slab of Caesarstone Excava at a show last year. Still unnamed, and top secret, we had to see it in a backroom, and were not allowed to publish the real photo until months later. It’s all very Secret Squirrel in the quartz R&D labs, you know!

Quality and Guarantee 
Down in the generic, commodity end of things, where price is the only consideration, there is massive pressure to get raw material costs as low as possible. Some factories are in locations and climates with serious humidity control issues. In others, quality control leaves much to be desired.
We have seen all kinds of problems with quartz worktops over the years. Bent slabs, irregular slabs, slabs from the same batch which don’t actually match, pits, red spots, white spots, pools of resin, irregular surface finishes – you name it. Those problems are far more rarely seen in big brand quartz. (Never say never, though!)
At another level you see a difference too. Some time ago, we ran tests on all of our white quartz materials. It was striking how the ease of getting a pretty nasty tea stain off the surface correlated pretty much exactly with branding… with the classic, well-tried, tested and perfected Silestone Blanco Stellar doing best, and a generic pure white being the most difficult.
By and large, you do get what you pay for. And the big brands give the longest guarantees. On the flip side, though, no company is ever completely immune to problems, and many of the cheaper, non-branded suppliers are actually very consistent. It is worth getting good, independent advice.

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Cassie tests tea-staining on white quartz and Dekton on National Tea Day 2017

Back-up and customer service 
When quartz is a commodity, it ceases to be linked to a brand, it becomes all about price – and ‘let the buyer beware’. When you buy from a big name, you have a link with the people who made your worktop stone, and with their pride in their product and their desire to protect and preserve the good name of the company.
If something goes wrong with your worktop, we will be on your doorstep pretty fast to check things out. But if you have bought a big brand, you are also far more likely to see a representative of the quartz manufacturer too. I have done this myself – meeting a representative of Caesarstone at a customer’s home, so as to discuss an issue face to face. Resolution was swift and completely to the customer’s satisfaction. That is the customer service you would expect from a brand.
I have to say that it doesn’t always work quite as neatly as that. You can imagine that occasionally there is some tension between us, as fabricator, and the manufacturer. This occurs far more with some big names than others. Feel free to ask me!

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It’s all about relationship. Although Radianz may not sound such a big brand in the UK, as Samsung you knew them well! Radianz is imported into the UK by Gerald Culliford of Kingston. As with all Culliford’s does, the product is excellent, consistently good, and on the rare occasions when there has been any kind of issue, their rep, Matt, has been instantaneous and totally friendly in customer service. That is what you are paying for!

The Quartz Brands Battle in the kitchen studios and worktop fabricators

The big quartz brands are not just fighting to keep out the generic, commoditising makes, of course. They are all struggling for market share between themselves. They have big marketing budgets, and are ready to use every kind of carrot and stick. Kitchen studios and showrooms are offered the best discounts if they will agree to become exclusive retailers of a particular brand. In principle, that means that ‘exclusive’ kitchen companies may be able to offer you particularly good prices on their one brand.
On the other hand, signing up to only one brand binds a retailer in terms of choice on offer. When customers arrive who have already fallen in love with a product from another brand, an exclusively-committed showroom may be left unable to sell. Certainly, for worktop fabricators like ourselves, exclusivity can be a poisoned chalice, and few of us go down that road. We want to be able to offer our customers the widest choice possible, and to give good, honest advice, unbiased by a prior commitment to sell for any one company.

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Classic Quartz Statuario Venato in Reigate – a very high quality and beautiful alternative big-vein marble-look quartz, and more cost-effective than some of the big brands

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Sensa Black Beauty granite in the HKS kitchen showroom, Haywards Heath. Sensa is a natural stone brand from Cosentino, who also manufacture the Silestone (quartz) and Dekton (sintered/ceramic) brands

Just how ‘no holds barred’ the competition can be between major brands was brought home to me through a conversation a year or so back. Chatting to a rep from a ‘sintered particle’ company, he told me that he had left his job with one of the big quartz brands after being instructed to “go through the drawers at our exclusive kitchen studios and remove all the samples you find from other manufacturers.” A requirement for that kind of behaviour was more than he could stomach, and he left.

Healthy competition between brands is good for the consumer, but when it teeters over into heavy-handed tactics the public tends to lose out because advice being given ceases to be objective and generally fair. If all your eggs are in one brand basket, and you feel threatened if you say anything positive about another maker, you will not give even-handed information.

Summing up: 

Work out what is important for you, and then buy with confidence from an independent retailer

The lessons in all of this can be summed up:

  1. There are advantages to buying a big quartz brand. Are those positives enough to justify the price? That is for you, the customer, to decide.
  2. Second or third division quartz brands can represent great value. Good quality products at a lower price are worth checking out, at the very least.
  3. It is really worth buying from a kitchen studio or fabricator who is not tied to one brand. They will be able to give honest and unbiased information about a wide range of products.
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A nice sink run in BQS Blanco Massa

We are Affordable Granite, the leading installer of granite and quartz worktops in Surrey, Sussex and across the South East. We stock and sell quartz from all the biggest quartz brands, and can advise on a wide range of materials. We have a warm relationship with many manufacturers, and are exclusively tied to none. For genuinely independent advice and honest assessment of materials, as well as for quartz kitchen worktop quotations,  please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01293 863992 or by email on sales@affordablegranite.co.uk. Or you can use our quotation or contact forms.

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