Industry Insights

There's no substitute for craftsmanship

August 11, 2011
A couple of years ago, I generically referred to industry low-ballers as "hacks with rail saws." Understandably, quite a few fabricators who use rail saws contacted me to object with this blanket classification. Although I didn't mean to imply that all fabricators who cut slabs with a rail saw are "hacks," their protests resonated with me. Since that time, I have visited and reported on dozens of stone fabrication shops across the U.S. The operations have come in all shapes and sizes -- from three-man shops with a bare minimum of technology to companies with well more than 150 employees and the very latest in computer-controlled robotic equipment. No matter what level of technology you have in your shop, your workers will still need to take pride in the craft of stoneworking. Thinking about all of these different stoneworking shops, there is one common thread for all of them.

No matter what level of technology they have, it will all come down to taking pride in your work and placing an emphasis on craftsmanship. You can process your kitchen parts on the most advanced piece of CNC technology that money can buy. It can come off the machine looking great, fabricated with precision down to the last millimeter. But then the guy carrying the stone into the house nicks a corner off one piece and decides to install it anyway rather than tell his boss that he made a mistake. What's the final assessment of that job going to be in the eyes of a discerning client? I bring up this particular scenario because this is exactly what happened at a friend's house here in New Jersey. I was checking out the stonework, and there on the full-height backsplash is a 2-inch chip that had broken off one of the corners and was clumsily glued back on.

Even though my friend didn't seem to mind all that much (making him a rarity among homeowners that just shelled out $5,000 for countertops), I cannot go into that kitchen without my eyes going straight to the damaged piece. Most of the fabricators I know would be the exact same way. When I asked who fabricated and installed the job, they named a shop that is among the most technologically advanced in the entire region. I won't say who, but it blows me away that a shop that has invested millions in equipment does not emphasize better quality control to its installers. Of course, the opposite is true as well. I know of small shops using a small saw (maybe even a rail saw) and some hand tools, and they pride themselves on making sure that every job is completed with the highest level of quality. They might not be the cheapest guy around, and they might not do a very high volume, but they tend to develop a reputation for quality in their region. The same can be said for shops using state-of-the-art technology.

I have seen "microshops" using advanced CNC equipment to process between 200 and 500 feet of stone per week. (In fact, one of them even took home a Stone World "Fabricator of the Year" Award.) And I have also been to large-scale, high-volume shops that utilize the latest technology while also emphasizing to their employees that it all comes down to the "human touch" at the very end of the day. Ultimately, the size of the shop and the level of technology is not the difference between a high-quality shop and a hack. Rather, it is maintaining a workplace culture that stresses quality in the end product.

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