Stone Column

We all need education

April 2, 2012
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Earlier today, I visited a stone fabrication shop in my home state of New Jersey, and to me, the owner was the prototype of today’s progressive stone fabricator. He was a relatively young guy who started in the business as a laborer and worked his way up the ladder. Starting his own shop with hand tools, he gradually expanded over the years, and he now operates a 100% digital shop — from templating to slab layout to cutting and polishing. The shop was a model of efficiency, and perhaps even more important, it was busy, with job carts of high-end fabrication work neatly lined up and ready to go.

In speaking with this gentleman, one of the topics that came up was education, and he was eager to attend some of the sessions at the Coverings event later this month (a sampling of these sessions can be found on page 54 of this issue). In particular, he was looking forward to attending some of the sales and marketing sessions, which made a lot of sense to me. After seeing his level of expertise, this is not necessarily a guy who needs to learn how to do a sink cut-out, but he wants to know how to improve the “business” side of his operation. As he said to me, “It’s not raining jobs like it was in 2005,” which is why he is wisely looking for an edge.

To be honest, I used to think that the sales and marketing seminars being offered to the stone trade were a little hokey, and they weren’t really what the “typical” stone fabricator is looking for. Maybe that was the case when it was raining jobs, but today, I can say that I have completely changed my opinion on these sessions.

As someone who helps put together the education program for StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas and our own Marble Institute of America/Stone World Industry Education series, I can say that these sales and management sessions are being met with rave reviews by attendees, who realize the need for this level of education.

Having said that, I was very surprised to see the results of one of our latest industry polls at www.stoneworld.com.

In it, we asked the question: “How much education is necessary in today’s stone industry?” Based on over 100 responses that we had received as of press time, today’s fabrication shops find themselves to be far too busy to participate in educational programs.

The poll offered four possible answers:

• This industry is always changing. I think shop managers and employees should attend as many educational sessions as they realistically can.

• If you get out to one or two education sessions a year, that should bring you up to speed.

• There’s always a need for education, but there aren’t any worthy educational opportunities out there.

• Our shop is too busy for me or my employees to be attending education sessions.

 

As of this writing, the vast majority of respondents (84%) went with the final answer — that they simply don’t have time for anyone to be attending education sessions. Only 7% went with the first answer, and another 9% felt that one or two sessions would do the trick. Thankfully, only one respondent said there aren’t good education opportunities out there, and I am asking here that this individual give me a call so I can point him in the right direction.

This industry is continually evolving — not only in the technology and processes out there, but also in terms of simply running a successful shop. For many shop owners and managers, this is the first downturn that they have faced, and they are facing challenges in running a business that they have never faced before. I can tell you first-hand that many of the education programs out there address this very issue.

I should note that part of my surprise to the poll comes from the high level of interest I saw at the StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas education series in Las Vegas in January. In particular, the two open “Fabricator Forums” saw the greatest participation they’ve had in several years, and while both of these forums had a specific area of interest — one for fabrication and one for countertop installation — they both saw a great deal of inquiries that dealt with how to run a stone fabrication business. This underscores the need for more specific education in this field.

If you can’t make it to Coverings this month — and even if you can — I urge you to learn more about the Marble Institute of America/Stone World Industry Education series at www.stoneindustryeducation.com. We are hitting cities across North America, and hopefully we will see you there!

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