“Marble is art from nature,” says Gaurav Aggarwal, chief managing director at Stonex India. He waxes eloquent about how the ivory stone, which comes out of the earth with subtle patterns and striking veining, is imbued with timeless grace and synonymous with luxury. That’s why the Stonex facility in the marble hub of Kishangarh, Rajasthan, looks more of an art gallery than a factory. Everything is about aesthetics here with the journey of the metamorphic rock from quarry to a polished slab of elegance lovingly told during a walk-through of the facility. “We wanted to change the perception of marble from a commodity to an experience — that’s why we invested in the best of art and best of machines here,” he says.

Ambitions in Marble - An interview with Gaurav Aggarwal, co-founder and MD of Stonex India

Designed by Dinesh Panwar of UrbanScape, the Stonex facility, spread across 10 acres, stands out from all the other factories here for its architecture — it looks more like a luxury resort. As you enter the gates, you are met with sculptures and pieces of art in marble on the verdant lawns. Move into the large warehouse style building with its quaint slanted roofs fitted with solar panels (the eco-friendly design keeps the blazing heat away) and you are met with a sea of polished marble slabs, displayed beautifully. Dazzling uncut marble rocks are displayed on pedestals around which is a water body and fountains. There are marble benches strewn here and there, and exquisite artefacts made from the stone.

Building blocks

But our walk-through begins outdoors from the area where giant blocks of marble  (weighing nearly 25 tonnes) in various hues stand under the sun, and we learn these have been sourced from quarries in Italy, Brazil, Portugal, Turkey and elsewhere. We are treated to a discourse on how it has taken billions of years for these metamorphic rocks to be formed due to sedimentation, and how there are 1,200 plus varieties of the stone, on which nature’s artwork is evident. Here, at Stonex, there are over 500 types.

Stonex marble cutting

Stonex marble cutting

Next we move into the cutting area where the blocks are cut by machines that have blades encrusted with diamonds. Significantly all the cutting is done under a waterfall which keeps dust at bay. Once the stone is cut into a slab comes a step unique to Stonex — epoxy resin liquid is poured into the stone through a vacuum process to reinforce it and remove imperfections. Stonex, we learn, is the only marble processing facility to use the Stone Reinforcement System (SRS) technology — this is an eight step process that protects the structural quality and integrity of the marble.

Moving into an indoor area we are shown the rest of the steps which involve robotic machines lifting the slabs and placing them on a conveyor belt wherein more epoxy resin is brushed on to the marble, and several quality checks done before the final polishing, when a gleaming stone emerges. Everything is automated.

From here we move into the art gallery-like display area – a veritable white wonderland, a hall where Gulzar’s poetic ode to the stone resonates over speakers, and you can catch your reflection in the exquisitely polished marble.

Stonex is a relatively young player, founded in 2001 by Aggarwal, his brother Saurav and cousin Vikas, all in their 20s then, with a loan from Aggarwal’s father, who was in the timber trade. “We got ₹9 lakh from our father — ₹5 lakh from his savings and ₹4 lakh which he borrowed ,” says Aggarwal.

Gaurav Aggarwal, Co-Founder and MD, Stonex India

Gaurav Aggarwal, Co-Founder and MD, Stonex India

Initially they retailed marble from a small outlet in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden. But from the beginning, they were clear they wanted to disrupt the sector, focussing on branding and experience to differentiate from the largely unorganised players. “The fact that we were outsiders in an industry dominated by conservative business families from Rajasthan helped,” says Aggarwal, describing how they invested in a lot of consumer research and also visited European marble hubs to understand how global players operated.

The big breakthrough came when they got orders from new 5-star hotels in Delhi just before the Commonwealth games. Although initially, hotels were big clients for Stonex, it now targets the home segment and HNIs mostly, and says growth potential is huge. “The marble market in India is worth ₹25,000 crore and is growing at 18 to 20 per cent CAGR. In the next four years, it will be ₹50,000 crore. The growth is not restricted to metros but also coming from tier 2 and 3 cities which have an abundance of luxury consumers,” says Aggarwal. He outlines how Stonex which now is doing ₹500 crore of turnover is targeting ₹1,000 crore by 2026-27.

To meet these targets, capacity expansion is planned. Stonex has acquired another 10 acres of land in Kishangarh and plans to develop that soon. All expansions will be through debts and internal accruals and according to Gaurav, the loan taken for the construction of the factory has been paid off.

Exports today constitute 4-5 per cent of turnover but the plan is to push it upto 12-15 per cent. “We want to reverse the story of manufacturing — get raw materials from abroad and export polished finished products from India,” he says. The audacious dream is to make Stonex a globally renowned luxury brand name that caters to the Cartier and Gucci consumer.

Stonex Facility

Stonex Facility

Emotions to the fore

For the next phase of growth, a lot of investment in branding and storytelling is being put in. For instance, the company has hired Singapore-based Wasabe and noted brand experience consultant Darren Watson to create compelling stories around Stonex. “The idea is to convert every SKU into a sensory delight and emotion,” says Gaurav. “Our processing and product is already top class — but we have to improve a lot in consumer experience and that’s where Wasabe will come in,” he says. A high-end experience centre in Delhi‘s Peeragarhi  is also being set up.

To lift the aura of its marbles, Stonex has created two new businesses — one, called Couture by Stonex, will produce lifestyle products from marble; the other, called Icons, will bring artists from all over the world and encourage them to create aesthetic artworks using the stone, which will be displayed at galleries. “Both will be launched in the next financial year,” says Aggarwal.

Stonex has been savvy enough to realise early that branding is going to be the big differentiator in this segment. But others are travelling that path too. As you drive through Makrana road, you can’t miss billboards of rival firms featuring Bollywood celeb endorsers. But the difference could be in the investment that Stonex is making in the entire consumer experience journey.

(This writer visited Kishangarh at the invitation of Stonex.)