The German natural stone industry in 2024

An interview with Bärbel Holländer, Editor in Chief of Naturstein

1. The German natural stone industry seems to have become smaller over the years, according to the impression one gets from the outside. But perhaps a more reasonable interpretation could be that it has developed into specialised niches. Would this be a correct way of looking at reality?

 Specialised companies have always existed. We distinguish between:

- Mixed businesses (tombstone, construction and restoration),

- Gravestone companies that buy and sell prefabricated gravestones

- Stone sculptors who produce and design their own and freelance sculptors

- Construction companies that produce stairs, terraces, decking and small façades

- Companies that master large projects such as large façades

- Companies that specialise in exclusive interior fittings

- Restoration companies


It is true that the industry is becoming smaller and this is due to the fact

- many companies, especially smaller ones, are unable to find apprentices, skilled labour and successors and are closing down

- that larger companies are taking over many smaller ones and running them as branches (purchasing is centralised)

- that orders in the gravestone sector are becoming fewer and smaller due to the changing culture of mourning and cemeteries

- that there are also fewer orders in construction after strong Corona years

- that the public sector has less money available regionally for restoration projects


2. In your opinion, what is the approximate size of the German stone industry?

In 2023, the German natural stone industry comprised 190 companies in the stone industry with around 9,000 employees, which extract around 1 million cubic metres of stone in around 240 quarries every year. The number of employees varies, as there are several hundred freelancers and subcontractors in addition to permanent employees.

In addition, the German natural stone industry comprised 4,500 stonemasonry businesses in 2023, including around 1,300 one-man operations. The rest employ between one and 50 people, with most companies employing no more than five people. Few stonemasonry companies have their own quarries.

In total, the German natural stone industry employed around 15,000 people in 2023.


3. How are stonemasons in Germany faring in view of the decline in construction activity in 2024 with an annual housing demand of 400,000 units but only around 250,000 units built?

 As already mentioned, the order situation in new construction is rather tight. The situation is better for building and renovating existing properties. There are many people over the age of 60 who invest in the renovation and age-appropriate remodelling of their houses and flats. However, they also have high expectations that not every company can fulfil.


4. What do you think distinguishes German stonemasons from those in other countries, given that the country is a high-cost economy?

 Germany is famous for its very good dual training system. You learn in companies, but are also trained by experts outside the company. Trainees in the stonemasonry trade and the natural stone industry also receive comprehensive training. There are very good technicians, restorers and designers. Salaries for journeymen are not high, although they are higher than five years ago. Overall, the industry offers good prospects for committed skilled workers. Unfortunately, however, the skilled trades are not in vogue in Germany. Many companies are unable to find trainees, let alone trained specialists, as these are needed in all sectors.


5. Which natural stones from abroad are currently in particular demand in Germany?

Still light grey and beige as well as dark to black stone types; most consumers are rather conservative here. There is more awareness of sustainable products. As a result, there is a greater demand for European stone types and stones from the region. Natural stone is an extremely sustainable material, as it does not have to be produced in the first place. However, transporting it halfway around the world has a negative impact on the ecological balance. Our German Natural Stone Association has already published several studies on this key topic (sustainability) in cooperation with the Federal Association of German Stonemasons.


6 How do you explain the strong presence of artificial materials in the German market, given that we live in an age where sustainability is an important criteria and everything natural seems to be in fashion?

 Quartz composites and large ceramics, which undoubtedly offer consumers certain advantages, are produced by large companies that (can) spend a lot of money on marketing. The natural stone industry does not have this kind of budget at its disposal. Moreover, it works with a non-man-made material. Individual types of stone rarely exist, and if they do, they are usually not exclusive for long. Marketing campaigns always fail in the end because companies that are in favour of advertising cannot live with the fact that their competitors do not participate, even though advertising in favour of natural stone helps everyone. The "zukunft.naturstein" campaign of the German Natural Stone Association is therefore very positive and exemplary. This also applies to the "Stein macht stolz" (Stone makes you proud) campaign initiated by the Federal Association of German Stonemasons.


7. In your opinion, for which applications will natural stone continue to be the preferred material in Germany in the future?

 Natural stone can do many things that other materials cannot. It ages gracefully. It can be used solidly. The surface can be customised. Every stone is a piece of the earth's history and a unique specimen.  Solid applications may be expensive, but as the history of mankind and culture shows, they are extremely sustainable. Solid natural stone is also a convincing choice for gardening and landscaping. But natural stone is also a material that guarantees its users the highest quality of living in the form of coverings and wall cladding, worktops and washbasins.


8. How do you think the German stone industry will develop in the future?

The concentration process is not yet complete. However, there are a number of good, young people at the start in many companies who do not hinder each other as competitors, maintain good co-operations, know how to serve the needs of consumers and understand their craft. They market themselves as manufacturers and continue to train themselves. Above all, they live their passion for natural stone and offer it convincingly. Natural stone is not a cheap product, even if it is nowhere near as expensive as many people think. In Germany, there is a relatively broad clientele who are happy to buy this material if they know about it.  With top knowledge, top quality, the best possible service and good public image, companies in all the above-mentioned fields of activity can be successful and go into the future.