In 1992, Book Stacks Unlimited launched the first e-commerce company on the newly formed modern internet. Fast forward three decades to an era of ubiquitous online shopping and join in my bewilderment at the near-categorical absence of countertop pricing online. Zuckerberg is building a metaverse, and we still can't find an accurate price for Silestone?
You’re reading this blog post, so I’ll assume that you’ve at least contemplated the idea of installing new countertops. And since 9 of 10 customers begin every purchase online, I further surmise that you already attempted to ascertain a rough idea of how much those countertops might cost.
How’d that go?
If you stumbled across CountertopSmart before reading this, your answer is “swimmingly,” but if not, I'll explain why it's taken so long to get to this point. To understand why pricing is hard to find, it's useful to understand the countertop industry...
The countertop industry is fragmented
Countertops are heavy, fragile, and extremely difficult to transport and handle. What’s more, they’re almost entirely custom. Because of it, the industry structure is dominated by local, independent businesses.
“Fragmented” industries like the countertop industry are typically slower to standardize around a set of practices and technologies than industries that have been “consolidated” by a few dominant companies. There just isn’t a player in the countertop industry that’s large enough to influence the direction of the industry as a whole. And while we cheer the success of small businesses and commiserate their failures, fragmented industries suffer from less reliable logistics and steeper variations in customer experience than industries with consolidation.
The product itself is why you can’t find pricing
Many industries in America are fragmented, but fragmentation alone isn’t why countertop pricing is difficult to find online. The restaurant industry and the furniture industry are examples of fragmented industries that don’t suffer from the same price transparency issues that consumers encounter when buying countertops.
The difference is in the product. It’s far easier to assign a price to a finished product such as a hamburger or a sofa than it is to a custom product like countertops which must account for a multitude of factors to determine cost. Asking the questions “what do quartz countertops cost?” or “what is the price of a granite countertop?” is kind of like asking the question “what do weddings cost?”.
You can find broad price ranges online (e.g. granite countertops cost $40-$60 /sf) or historical averages online (e.g. the average countertop costs $3000), but these answers should only serve to conceptualize a cost i.e., “my countertops will cost thousands, not hundreds.” Using these types of answers in planning a budget can cause project overruns and create expensive delays.
Fragmentation + opaque pricing = greater chance of overpaying
Industries that are dominated by small independent businesses have a greater deviation in consumer prices than industries where dominant competitors exist. As the saying goes, if you want to have a dog race, there has to be a rabbit. In consolidated industries, the dominant companies play the role of the “rabbit." Any competitor that wants to stay in business has to keep pace with pricing or at least provide enough differentiation to justify higher prices.
In fragmented industries, no single company can pull the industry towards lower prices. In fragmented industries that are price-opaque, companies don’t have to contend with an educated customer base as a check on pricing.
So what does this mean for countertop customers? Simply that it falls on you, the consumer to bear the full burden of due diligence. In today’s countertop industry, it’s up to the consumer to directly engage with the fabricators (or other retailers), get multiple quotes, and decide for themselves if the price they receive is competitive.
Unfortunately, engaging with countertop providers and collecting quotes can be a time-consuming process. Based on the data we’ve compiled, the average countertop customer receives quotes from ≈1.8 providers before transacting. That’s not enough quotes to protect against outlier pricing, and most customers likely overpay for countertops.
Countertop pricing isn't straightforward
Let’s say that one day you decide to leave your job and instead manufacture shoes. As part of your planning, you will want to understand your unit economics or the relation of costs and revenue on a single pair of shoes.
You’ll need to total your material costs for the various parts of the shoe; the insole, the outsole, the heel, the tongue, etc., and add in the costs to cut, assemble, ship, and warehouse, as well as the costs to sell a pair of your shoes (marketing, distribution, etc.).
The revenue you generate on selling a pair of shoes minus the costs you incurred to create and sell those shoes is your “contribution per unit." If you can sell enough shoes to cover your operating costs (employees, office space, etc.) and realize a profit on the other side, well then you’ve got yourself a business. Fire up the factory and start cranking out your shoes one pair after the next.
But of course, it’s not that simple.
For starters, shoes need to be made in different sizes. Women’s shoes typically come in 16 different sizes, and men’s shoes are typically produced in 20. You’ll need to repeat the above exercise 36 total times and determine your revenue contribution for each size (larger shoe sizes use more material, it may be more expensive to acquire female customers than males, etc.) It’s added complexity, but it’s manageable.
Now, what if you had to do it 100 more times or 1000 more times? What if the footwear industry was such that each pair of shoes produced had to be custom-made to the exact contours of a customer’s foot otherwise they wouldn’t fit. Each pair of shoes you create would have different costs and thus a different price.
This is what it’s like in the countertop industry and the reason why pricing is so difficult to find online. As a business, you can’t list prices without knowing the costs.
Take a look at this uncomprehensive list of variables that affect the price you’ll pay for countertops:
- The style of granite, quartz, etc. that is selected (there are thousands)
- The thickness of the countertop (2cm or 3cm)
- The countertop's finish (polished, matte, leathered, etc.)
- The total surface area
- The layout of your cabinetry (which determines the number of slabs the Fabricator has to order to complete the job)
- If the pattern of the countertop requires “book-matching”
- The likelihood that a fabricator can sell any leftover material from the slabs he/she orders
- If the removal of existing counters is required
- The type of countertop that needs to be removed
- The quantity and the type of sink cuts
- The desired edge profile
- The edge joinery if you need laminated edges or waterfall sides
- The linear feet of radial edging
- The corner profiles
- Any additional outlet cuts or holes
- Any support that may be required on extended overhangs
- The type and quantity of support
- The accessibility of the project space
- The contribution margin a fabricator needs to hit on a per-project basis to keep the doors open
That’s a lot of variables! Most countertop fabricators understand that listing even general price ranges can set unrealistic expectations and be detrimental to customers if used in budgeting exercises. It’s in the customer’s best interest for a countertop fabricator to formulate a project-specific quote. But, as discussed previously, this can be time-consuming for a customer.
What if there was a way to deliver customers the best of both worlds… project-specific pricing with the same ease and convenience as traditional e-commerce? How would this degree of price transparency affect a customer’s ability to make informed buying decisions, and what impact might it have on the countertop industry at large?
How price transparency helps customers and transforms industries
In economics, price transparency describes the ease with which consumers can obtain pricing and compare costs. As we’ve already discussed, the countertop industry doesn’t intentionally make it difficult for customers to get pricing. The custom nature of countertops creates difficulty.
Price transparency is an integral component of consumer education. In addition to reducing instances of price discrimination (charging different prices for the same product to maximize profit), price transparency is also credited with driving down the average amount that consumers pay for goods and services.
The rise of e-commerce in the late 1990s has transformed the way we shop, but one could argue that beyond convenience, it’s the vastly improved visibility into pricing that’s had the most disruptive effect. Expedia is credited with bringing down the average cost of airfare in the United States and comparison sites like The Zebra, and Nerd Wallet has measurably lowered consumer costs on auto and life insurance.
The logic is simple: in industries where customers have little visibility into pricing, retailers can command higher margins. The rise of online pricing visibility in the automotive industry has contributed to the increased affordability of cars and trucks over the past ten years. Since 2015 auto dealership operating margins have dropped a staggering 80%.
It’s time for a similar shift in the countertop industry.
CountertopSmart brings instant and transparent countertop pricing to customers
CountertopSmart is a website that allows customers to compare pricing on hundreds of the most popular countertop styles on the market. We deliver instant prices on granite, marble, quartzite, and soapstone countertops, as well as popular quartz and sintered stone countertops from leading brands like Silestone, Cambria, Caesarstone, and Q Quartz.
Most importantly, we deliver pricing that’s specific to your countertop project, and we do it instantly and from multiple providers to ensure competitive and accurate rates.
So how do we do it? We partner with every level of the countertop supply chain and use algorithms to account for the many variables contributing to countertop pricing. We then collect the relevant details from the countertop layouts that customers submit through our simple in-app drawing tool.
Once we generate the quotes, customers that choose to move forward and receive an officially measured final quote can simply schedule that appointment through our website. After the official numbers come in from the onsite measurement, customers receive a final and official quote, which customers can choose to accept or deny. Customers that decide not to move forward won't pay a thing. Our goal is speed, convenience, and transparency for our users.
Regardless of where you’re at in your project, whether you’re working on a kitchen or a small powder bathroom, whether you’re in our serviceable area or outside of it, or even if you have no intention of using our service to purchase your countertops, we encourage you to use our site to educate yourself on pricing. Be informed and confident in your countertop journey, and you'll make the right decision for your style and budget!