By A. Jeyaraj
The largest amount of limestone in Malaysia is found at Simpang Pulai in Kinta Valley and consists largely of calcite (calcium carbonate or dolomite). The colour is mainly white and even though it is tinged with a touch of grey, there is no effect on demand. Limestone is used in a wide range of industries such as to whiten paper, in paints and in many other products. Ipoh Echo surveyed a few of the companies making marble furniture and tiles.
Stiff Competition from Imports and Rising Costs Make Survival a Struggle
Most of the factories in Simpang Pulai process limestone and supply the raw ingredients to a number of industries. However a few factories make marble furniture and tiles using local marble.
Tan Chuen Lim, Production and Sales Manager of SR Marble Sdn Bhd, said that his company was one of the first ones to start business in the early eighties. Initially many factories were making furniture using local marble, but due to the drop in demand, only a few players are in the market now. For reasons of snobbery or aesthetics, local customers prefer products made from imported marble and granite. He said that Simpang Pulai is the only place in the country which makes furniture using local marble.
Here are a few of the main players still in the business of making marble furniture and tiles using local marble.
Sri Martek Marble Industries
Sri Martek Marble Industries is one of the early start-up companies and Manager Chee Chiau Yen said that theirs is the only company whose main product is furniture and one of the few marble furniture manufacturers still around. They have their own quarry and the factory in Keramat Pulai makes high quality marble furniture, tiles and other products. The furniture they make includes dining and garden sets, mock antique tables, TV cabinets, marble vases and other items. They make Book-Matching slabs where four pieces of rectangular marble are put together in a unique design. These can be attached to the wall or placed on the floor with sizes varying from 4ft to 8ft.
Chee said that they are well known in the marble market and have regular walk-in customers who come to buy their products. Additionally, they have a marketing company, SMT Stone Sdn Bhd which promotes their products in shopping malls in Ipoh. They have showrooms in Klebang, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. They also export to other countries such as Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Middle East and Australia.
SR Marble Sdn Bhd
SR Marble Sdn Bhd is another early start-up company and its factory is located at Mukim Sungai Raja. Tan, Production and Sales Manager, said that his is one of the companies still making furniture using local marble. His main customers are walk-in buyers and said that residents in Ipoh know that to buy marble products they must go to Simpang Pulai. One of their hot selling items is interestingly enough, a marble chapatti-making plate.
SR Marble does not have any showroom but has dealers in all the major towns in the country. Tan said that they do not export their products and occasionally find it difficult to fulfil local demand.
Kintaly Marble Sdn Bhd
Kintaly Marble Sdn Bhd has been in operation since 1995. Initially they were making furniture such as coffee tables, dining tables, stools and basin tops. However, owing to the diminishing demand, Edmund Y.M. Lee, Marketing Director, informed IE that nowadays they only make furniture to order. Currently they are focused on producing tiles for flooring, walls and toilets.
Karmarstone Sdn Bhd
Karmarstone Sdn Bhd makes unique garden sets, table tops and marble tiles. They also produce custom made furniture.
They have a factory in China through which they export their products to various countries.
Kuari Batu Emas Sdn Bhd
Kuari Batu Eman Sdn Bhd is a group of companies producing table tops, kitchen tops, dining tables, vanity tops, marble slabs and bookends. They have a showroom in Simpang Pulai.
Cleanliness of Factories
People have a perception that marble factories must be dusty; I was surprised to see that in all the factories I visited the floor was clean and tidy. The raw materials and finished products are properly stored and have proper access. There was virtually no dust and the floor was dry except the area where the blocks were sliced. Most of the jobs are done by automated machines. The factories are well maintained.
Future of Marble Industry
Chong Sook Kian, President, Perak Quarry Association said that the industry is having stiff competition from imported marble which is popular. The market is not expanding and costs are increasing. The future of the business depends on the policy of the State Government.
In terms of royalty, the money the quarry has to pay the state government for each metric ton of limestone extracted, which according to Chong, the current value is RM250 per metric ton; makes the cost of local marble high compared to imported marble whose quality is generally better. He makes the case for royalties to be reduced to compete with the price of imported marble. (According to a previous Ipoh Echo article, the government collects RM40 million per year.)
Chong added that the industry is surviving because the factories have been in operation for a long time. This is due to the fact that the cost of equipment have been mostly been paid up, capital expenditure is low and it is mostly operating cost. It would also be very helpful for the government to promote the industry by providing incentives for the manufacturers.
Chong informed that unlike the majority range of other stones which are more consistent and homogenous in nature, marble has variations in terms of colour, shading, veining and texture. Only when the big block of stone from the hills is sliced, the nature of the marble can be known. The price depends on the quality of the marble.
Just like pomelos and kacang putih, the marble industry is also unique to Ipoh where the factories are located in one area. Tourism Perak must promote this site as a tourist destination and provide publicity for the industry.