A January marathon-sourcing field trip to India

15th January 2019

During January our Head of Global Supply, Glenn Bradley, embarked on another marathon-sourcing field trip to India. Hardscape have been supplying stone from India since 2005 and have a strong, established trading relationship with our partners there – however, in order to thrill and delight clients we must remain innovative to new materials and sources.

Since the foundation of Hardscape in 1994 we have passionately believed in being a brand family business that ‘wows’ and to be a client ‘Inspiration Station’. That takes investment and time because unlike other businesses we are not middle men passing money around the globe for products that are sourced or manufactured unethically. Every stone within our supply chain has been geologically approved at quarry source, rigidly (and lawfully) tested to the requirements of EN1341, the CPR and for the purpose of CE marking and is sourced via an authentically recognised business and human rights process that demonstrates ethical trade.

This is Glenn’s blog from the trip:

Day 1 – Preparation

Ready for the off at 0700 GMT I am conscious that the last time I covered the granite and sandstone region of India in one trip was in February 2011 with our former Operations Director Mark Bevan, who sadly passed away during 2013. I give a silent salutation to Mark as I think ahead to the long haul before my flights BHD-LHR-HYD – flying BA throughout. I usually base myself in Chennai or Banagalore when in the granite region of south India but on this trip Hyderabad will be base as I have a new process operation to inspect. Hyderabad is the capital of the Andhra Pradesh and was established in 1591 occupying a site along the banks of the Musi River. Its present population is 7.75 million.

Day 2 – Arrival and adjust!

I arrive India at 0535 ILT clearing immigration and the stares of armed men (the paramilitary police) that greet you at most Indian airports. I’m delighted that the hotel car is waiting and I enjoy the 50 minute journey into the City as the sun rises. Watching the street life and absorbing the smells I am minded of how wonderful an experience India always is, a humbling experience – in business and beyond it gives a demonstration of the good and bad of humanity and this journey of life. I check in to the Taj Krishna and get some well deserved sleep.

In the afternoon I am met by our dear colleague Naman and conveyed to his office where we discuss Black Granite both primary and secondary choice and go through the aesthetic and technical nuances between the two and using imagery we discuss which quarry bed delivers up what deposit of the commodity. Jet lag is never as bad going forward in time from GMT but it kicks in and during evening I hit the pillows to recuperate.

Day 3 – Down to business

I am picked up at 0800 and we move to factory one about a two hour drive out of the City. Enroute we stop at the ICD (Inland Container Depot) so I can secure an understanding of the railhead movements to both Nhava Sheeva Port and Chennai. From this region we prefer Nhava Sheeva (Mumbai) because there are two rail head movements daily and so if a loaded container misses one freight train, it can be hastily placed onto the next.

On reaching factory one I review samples panels of the Premium Black Commodity primary grade. For my comparison I’d pre-requested the Team to have a 4 sqm panel laid of Flamed texture against Flamed & Brushed texture so that I can understand and learn on the subtle nuances each texture delivers aesthetically with the Flamed & brushed offering a deep rich black tone.

Next up I review a 4 sqm sample panel of the secondary choice material which is an excellent value for money choice of black that carries flecks and colour variation in the strata but which overall remains a rich black. I also review a wonderful silver grey granite that is sourced from Tamil Nadu. I like it and so via WhatsApp video call discuss with Mathew our MD who is a geologist and we agree to get this new material tested for Water Absorption and Flexural Strength first so we can assess then if OK progress it’s entry to our supply chain.

Whilst at factory one I inspect some orders we have and perform an audit for ethical trade purposes checking the wages log, the PPE of the Masons, Fire extinguishers etc. After approval we move on to factory two. Factory two is an owned facility and eventually Factory one will move to this site which is being purpose-built to suit requirements. Presently it performs Architectural and Monumental Masonry production and I am here to qualify the calibration on the Bench Saws for the purpose of hard landscape materials production and pleased to report all was fine.

In walking through the site I become alarmed to see children and on investigation realise that the building contractor completing works on the new buildings is employing child labour. I register this non-conformance with Naman and discuss what he must do with his building supplier to assure no child labour comes near our supply chain. Collaboratively we utilise a local NGO that we have a history of working with and I’m pleased to state the Building Contractor was receptive and open to address our concerns which I will follow up on as corrective action.

In the evening an exquisite meal of Murgh Biriyani complemented with some Sula Sauvignon goes down a treat and I retire to bed exhausted after a long day in the tropical heat.

Day 4 – Dawn to Dust

I am collected from hotel at 0800 and we make the four hour journey to the Premium Black quarry. As the world passes me by I’m minded of my first trips to this incredible Nation and Country decades ago. Travelling through India helped shape my mind, anchor my identity, influenced my beliefs and made me partly who I am today. India matters to me.

I arrive at the quarry and I am gobsmacked. I was last here in 2007 (the quarry started extracting in 2004 for proper) and the scale of the block extraction operation is impressive. I’ve been China, India, Portugal, Spain, Zimbabwe, Angola searching our black granite and basalt yet I am staring at the largest deposit of black granite I have seen and my Stone-Guru head is melting on geological erotica.  Breathe in: This is Black Granite Nirvana, Breathe Out: I am the Stone-Buddha, Smile.

I identify the new beds for primary and secondary choice material and leave the quarry with a huge grin on my face. In the evening colleagues and I attend the Park Hyatt Hotel in Hyderabad where in the best tradition of being an Irishman in India I dine on Sushi and Sashimi!

Day 5 – Tick Tock to TukTuk

Travel day as I leave the southern granite region some INR13000 lighter because I bought a new G Shock Watch and fly the 4.5 hours to my Indian home from home Jaipur settling into the hotel late afternoon. In the evening I get an Auto (TukTuk) to the brilliant Bar Palladio where I dine on impressive Italian cuisine with a little Punjabi kick!

Day 6 – Inspections and consultations

Our dear friend and colleague Govind-ji collects me at 0900 and we make our way to the JV factory we have built at DuDu on the outskirts of Jaipur. I was last here with Mathew in February 2018 and I stand in wonderment at the progress the factory buildings and infrastructure investments have added to the site. Excited I inspect the new bench and secondary saws checking calibration before test driving the new Massey Ferguson tractor on site (used for moving block). I suddenly feel like a kid in a sweet shop!

I then inspect the tolerance to Granite and Sandstone our Masons have made and that will ultimately be supplied to projects in Blackpool, Liverpool, London, Belfast and ‘Derry.

Sitting down with our team I then conduct a formal Shura (consultation) where, if they have any concern, they can raise same with me. I know these Masons since 2005 and I hold them in high respect and esteem – they are the executive arm of what our business does and over the years huge trust has been built. I listen intently (I understand a fair bit of conversational Hindi and Urdu, certainly more than I can speak) and become aware that the team need new steel toe capped work boots but they don’t want the rubber type (water-boots) and so I make note for corrective action to supply suede steel toe cap or rigger boots these over the coming weeks. Enroute back I extend a courtesy visit to the owners of the Rustic Grey quarry to update them on developments.

Valuing the warmth of the dry sun in Jaipur (not humid like Hyderabad) I return to the hotel and again attend Bar Palladio for evening meal safely conveyed by the best Auto Driver in all of Jaipur Imran Kahn (not the film actor!).

Day 7 – A day in the office!

A long office day as I get stuck into matters on the accounts side of things and we sort out queries, debits, credits and streamline the software and human system in Jaipur to better coordinate our processes in Britain and Ireland.

I also change hotel from one end of the city to other so we are nearer for the quarry trips and smile as I check into the Jai Mahal which holds a place in my heart always as it was one of the houses my wife Jo and I stayed in on our honeymoon.

Day 8 – Romancing the stone

Pick up at 0600 we roll onto the Holcombe quarry source where a formal Shura has been arranged with the elders to the source.  The quarry is in the Bijolia region and I hit the quarry in the morning light capturing some amazing images that show the two-tone grey/beige/buff tones to this excellent material that we have been extracting and processing for decades. At the heart of our meeting we go over block availability and discuss the ‘beds’ reaching a volume that can be allocated exclusively for Hardscape use over the coming year.

Getting back to the 4×4 we drive to our JV factory. Here we process sandstone only and I inspect tolerance on Holcombe sandstone we are producing for projects in Belfast, Chester, Birmingham and Dublin. Post-inspection I have Chai (hot tea) with the teams as we catch up on what has been happening over the last year. I find out from Ajab and his crew and who has been married, died, born and I am touched as the team convey their authentic sympathy to me over the death of my mother and sister who passed away last year.

Tonight, under the stars, we sleep rough in the quarry fields and I give thanks for being blessed with all I have. I am in rural, primitive Rajasthan and I compare here with the granite fields of south India remembering I am on a sub-continent of nationalities.

Day 9 – Straight to the point

A basin wash and it is onwards to the Devgarh region and the Pencil Black quarries. Collectively together the five sources are impressive in scale but to get the tones we need for the Designers and Contractors we serve it is important to know what quarry specifically gives up the best tone of black to our need.

Negotiations to secure exclusive supply on the commodity we load up for the long journey back to DuDu factory and then Jaipur.

In the evening we dine in the authentic Indian cuisine restaurant at the Jai Mahal – Cinnamon – and I value the Rajasthani dish of Laal Maas. Govind-ji, his family and I and I am minded that Together Everyone Achieves More.

Day 10 – Sea but no saws today

I leave Jaipur for Delhi and as I take in typical street life I’m reminded, again, India celebrates the commonality of major differences: it is a land of belonging.

Arriving Delhi late afternoon I check into the Imperial Hotel, freshen up and meet one of our shipping agents to discuss equipment availability during the rice export peak season and agree a plan that will see our yards having containers available.

Day 11 – Markets and meditations

I head to Khan Market in Delhi for a little retail therapy. Its been an exhausting ten days. I go to Café Latitude and buy myself a bottle of Sula Vineyards Tropicale Brut. I stop, I pause, I reflect. I am in one of the oldest industries in the world, working for possibly the greatest company in natural stone supply for hard landscape in Britain and Ireland: Hardscape. We know our work. We do not lie and deceive regarding the source of materials. We assure all products are geologically and technically sound to the requirements of law. Against the requirements for positive and lawful Business and Human Rights: we do it correctly and trade ethically, we are not about paper Corporate Social Responsibility. I breathe and smile – I am a Stone-Buddha!

Day 12 – Homeward bound

The long haul commences from Delhi to London and the final journey back home to Belfast – What a journey! What an experience!

Thanks for reading this far!

Glenn Bradley

Head of Global Supply Chain (Hardscape).