Stone Column

What if everyone took a “me-first” attitude?

August 1, 2012
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As our economy very slowly recovers from the recession, and our industry slowly gets back to normal (whatever “normal” means these days), I see the same old patterns falling into place. Specifically, it seems to me that the same old names are out there supporting our industry — financially and otherwise. Meanwhile, there are so many names out there that are in a position to help our industry, and they continue to decline that opportunity.

Take a look at the names of the speakers at events like StonExpo and Coverings; examine who is front and center representing organizations like the Marble Institute of America and the Stone Fabricators Alliance — sacrificing so much of their time to educate the trade. More importantly, look at who is sponsoring these educational events and who is giving back to the initiatives that are in place to help our industry. With only a few exceptions, it is the same collection of people and companies every single time.

The most common excuse I hear for this lack of support is, “I don’t know what I get out of it.” Imagine if all of the milk producers took that attitude when the famous “Got Milk?” campaign was being started. “Well, I just can’t tell whether or not I sold any milk based on the ads, so I’m not going to contribute.”

Can Coca-Cola tell you how many extra cans of soda they sold as a result of sponsoring the 2012 Olympics? Did someone buy an extra Big Mac because McDonald’s was a sponsor? Maybe not, but that’s what “institutional marketing” is all about. And that is the sort of thing we need to see more of in our industry.

In fact, generic promotion is not nearly as indirect when it comes to the stone industry. We are facing competitors with deep, deep marketing budgets, and when people tell me, “Check out my new Corian countertops. I have a brochure here that says they’re even BETTER than granite,” I realize we might be in a lot of trouble.

Sadly, we have some pretty good initiatives taking place out there that most people don’t know much about. The Natural Stone Council (NSC) was formed to generically promote natural stone. In one of the organization’s most noteworthy initiatives, it is working to establish an ANSI Dimensional Stone Standard for Sustainability.

When you look at the direction of the building trade today, it is undeniable that a standard like this is absolutely necessary for our industry. It is in place for so many other building products (ones with much larger promotional budgets), and if we don’t advance with the times, we will lose valuable market share to these other products. I have attended several sessions detailing the progress of this standard, and believe me, these folks have been thorough in their research and development.

Yet, when I look at who is supporting this initiative — financially or otherwise — it is the same people every single time. While some of the major leaders of our industry have taken time out of their busy schedules (and money out of their coffers) to support the Sustainability Standard, it seems that much of the industry is either indifferent to what is taking place, or they are unaware. Although we have given quite a bit of coverage to this project in Stone World — and there have been a number of educational sessions providing details at trade shows — some people may still be unaware. According to a press release from the NSC, when a draft document on the standard’s development was released, the results were disappointing. “Industry review of this document revealed an overwhelming lack of awareness from stone industry members as to what certification to a natural stone standard will mean and what its benefits are to industry members,” stated the NSC.

I encourage ALL members of the stone industry to learn more about the NSC’s green initiatives, so that they can better pass this information along to their customers. Take a tour of GenuineStone.org to find a wealth of information that will help.

I visit fabrication shops and stone suppliers on a continual basis, and I know first-hand that the owners and managers of these shops are stretched to the limit. But we have to start thinking about generic promotion of natural stone. Competition among stone fabrication shops is one thing, but we have to worry about losing market share to alternative products as well. All you have to do is turn on the television, and it seems that every building product out there is being promoted as green — with the certifications necessary to back it up.

We cannot continue to only look at our own bottom line if we want to ensure the long-term health of the stone industry. Rather, we have to sustain our trade as a whole. Most of the stone industry members that I know — the ones that read publications such as this one — are in it for the long haul. If we want that journey to be successful, the stone industry needs to get on board this train.

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