What do you want on your tombstone? How about a sticker that says "Made in China"? Globalization has come to rest, literally, on the last thing you'll ever buy. A shiny, black granite tombstone from China can now cost at least 20% less, even with shipping, than comparable stones from other countries. Which is why imports are growing quickly.
In 1999, China exported 26,000 metric tons of worked granite to the United States at an average price of $740 per ton. Three years later, it exported 105,000 at $443 per ton; shipments were up another 20% through September of last year.
Chinese workers produce finished markers cheaper than unfinished black granite from Zimbabwe, says John Campbell, president of Dixie Granite in Elberton, Georgia. In the face of Chinese competition, Campbell says his sales of black granite have dropped 40% from 2001. Campbell grudgingly admits that China's granite manufacturing is top-notch.
Elberton is, incidentally, the self-proclaimed "granite capital of the world," supplying one-third of all gravestones produced in the United States—for now. Wanli Stone Group, which calls itself the largest granite monument manufacturer in China, set up Sinostone Inc. in Elberton in 1999 to distribute in the U.S.
Black granite is all the rage now, says Mike Baklarz, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Minnesota-based Cold Spring Granite. "When customers want a color," he says, "we need to provide it, or they're going to go somewhere else."
Not everyone agrees. John Hakola, president of 150-year-old Brooklyn Monument Company Century Memorials, is unimpressed with Chinese headstone quality. He tries to buy only U.S.-made monuments, for fear that "we're going to work ourselves out of the business."
A version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.