After Marshalls' infamous tweet earlier this month, a chat with their Trade Marketing Manager, Liam Poole, at Chelsea last week revealed that he didn't understand why it had created such an outcry (see initial reactions in 50% of sandstone sold in the UK isn't fit for purpose, say Marshalls). "We went out and made sure that all our products met the Standard." Having found that all their paving exceeded the British Standard for external paving, Marshalls then began random testing of paving that's readily available on the market, to find that 50% did not meet this standard. It's worth noting that they did not find anyone trying to pass off sub-standard stone as being of British Standard.
Re-reading their tweet makes the reaction to it clearer:
Our lab testing found 50% of sandstone sold in the UK is not fit for purpose. Visit our team at #RHSChelsea Stand EA60 to find out more— Marshalls (@MarshallsGroup) May 14, 2015
Phil Voice said, "My issue with Marshalls is not that they are producing stone to a high standard. It was the flippant way that they tweeted initially and then tweeted that if anyone wanted to see their research data then they would have to come to Chelsea and meet them on the Marshalls' stand.
"I think Marhsalls have probably created an atmosphere where the suppliers of sub-British Standard stone may now be viewed as cowboys."
This feeling certainly seems to have stoked the reaction, as people have, said Liam, been wanting Marshalls to name and shame. “I think what we need to do is get across that it's not about naming and shaming. What we are trying to say is our product meets the British standard. Most fitters say they meet the British Standard in their work; you should expect the same of the materials."
Marshalls are aiming at a three-pronged approach: to the public, the supplier and installers (many of whom recommend products to their clients). “We're creating a list of three or four questions that installers can ask the merchant and the merchant can ask the supplier. It's all about getting the product you think you are getting."
What Marshall's original tweet doesn't cover, and appears to criticise, is the judicious choice of sub-standard stone. Phil added: “They're looking at this purely from the technical angle. Many landscapers and designers prefer stone that is soft and porous because it gives a garden a much more weathered and lived in feel. I'd even go further and say that many landscapers and designers will go out of their way to use second (or third) grade material - especially reclaimed - so as to achieve an aged look. Chipped and/or slightly blown can add to a garden's charm and appeal.”
The issue, it seems to be agreed, boils down to one main aim. ”Marshalls would have been better concentrating on educating clients on the different applications of stone and advising when it is important to lay a stone that meets with British Standard requirements,” said Phil.
"It's just an education piece,” said Liam. “We're trying to get the message out gently, not beat people over the head with it. We're just trying to say to people to be careful what you are buying. The consumer is so reliant on installer and on merchants. We're trying to say, 'Ask these questions.' Nobody we've come across is trying to mask the issue.”
So, inflammatory tweets (and obvious marketing) aside, it can be said that much of the singing is from the same hymn sheet: more information should be available to the public, so that they understand what they are buying and why. No householder is going to be pleased if an installer lays stone that begins to break up after a single winter, however much that paving is installed in good faith.
Surely ensuring that everyone understands which paving will perform best for what purpose has to be a good thing?