April 20, 2022
(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) — KING Marble & Granite, a small shop in suburban Islamabad, is surrounded by piles of marble slabs, decorated in traditional Islamic calligraphy some intended for tombstones. Different types of marble and granite for sale are displayed inside.
The modest storefront belongs to three brothers supplying materials for the gated communities that have mushroomed in the region over the last decade. Marble is a popular flooring material for local home builders.Naveed Ali Shah, who owns the shop with his brothers Haider Ali Shah and Khizer Ali Shah, has been in the marble and granite business for two decades. The brothers are considering changes to their business due to economic conditions and the pandemic which forced them to shut down one location. During the early days of COVID-19, the business lost major revenue, according to Naveed.
“The number of customers in the business are still not as good as it was before COVID, but [we’re] managing to break even at this point,” he said.
“There’s a wait time to pick up the stock now as marble is extracted from mountains in the form of large stones and brought to the workshop sites called quarries,” Naveed added. He explained that in Pakistan, the Khyber Pakhtun Khwa (KPK), and Balochistan provinces have the largest reserves of marble mountains.
On the sites, the slabs are cut, trimmed, and furbished into different sizes most commonly into slabs, he continues. ”From those workshops, we pick up our stock of marble and granite,” Shah explained.“Granite, which also belongs to the same family as marble, is extracted from different kinds of stones but is regarded as better in quality and durability when compared to marble. Since granite is much more expensive than marble, its usage is limited for the construction of stairways, kitchen countertops, etc., and is very rarely used for flooring purposes,” he said.
“Marble and granite vary from cheap to expensive ranging from 60 to 400 Rupees per square foot [33 cents to $2.18],” his younger brother Khizer explained. “However, prices don’t necessarily translate into quality and durability. Some lower price materials are more durable than the expensive ones.”
“Marble and granite are fast getting replaced by ceramic and porcelain tiles which has brought our sales to a decline by 45%. However, we offer our clients the most economical marble which is commonly used for flooring in Pakistan—Badal Gray—which is low cost but very durable,” Shah said.
“We’ll have a better profit margin of 7-10% in the tiles business since it’s a low-risk business model. In a stock-based business, profit margins can even reach 18%,” said Khizer.“The number of commercial and homebuyers for marble and granite has gone considerably low due to increase in the marble price which makes it difficult to sell our stocks with profit margin,” said Naveed.
Inflation in Pakistan peaked at 10.74% in 2020 during COVID and sits around 8.5% in 2022, according to Statista, which has deteriorated the affordability factor of the home builders and contractors.
“Like other small enterprises, the Pakistani government failed to provide a relief package to the marble industry during COVID in the fixed sales tax scheme in the 2020-21 budget,” Naveed said. A fixed sales tax scheme for eligible builders and developers was introduced by the government during COVID to exempt them from taxes on the purchase of building materials, but the marble industry was not included in that scheme, according to the government site Invest Pakistan.Given the challenges, Khizer seemed inclined to replace the marble and granite business with ceramic and porcelain as demand for those materials continues to decline amid skyrocketing inflation rates in Pakistan.
“It’s next to impossible to get a buyer of marble and granite to walk in the shop these days as already it’s hard enough to find the buyer of ceramic and tiles in the market,” Khizer said.
As the afternoon fades, Naveed is taking a phone order for a headstone for a grave, made of marble. Even as the business changes some things remain the same.