Stone Column

Don’t ever stop learning

June 3, 2013
In addition to visiting the many stone events on the “Spring Trade Show Circuit” so far this year — Las Vegas, Brazil, Atlanta, etc. — I took some time last month to travel to Salt Lake City, UT, for the Utah Stone Summit, which is an edition of the Marble Institute of America/Stone World Industry Education Series. I hadn’t attended one of these since last fall, so it was time to see what was new. The answer was simple: everything. These events are not simply a matter of sitting through a presentation, but rather, they are an interactive series where fabricators of all sizes and experience levels network and learn from one another. As such, each event offers a completely new experience for attendees.

The Utah event drew an audience of around 30 fabricators from the Salt Lake City region and beyond, and clearly, many of these attendees were competitors with one another. In fact, it was also apparent that a number of these competing stoneworking professionals had worked with each other at some time in the past.

This, however, did not affect the spirit of sharing and open communication that, frankly, sets the stone industry apart from other trades. The day-long event featured a morning session on pricing and understanding costs, while the afternoon was comprised of an open Fabricator Forum in a “Town Hall” format, where attendees could present issues to a panel of industry veterans for discussion.

In my view, the participants in last month’s forum were extremely forthright in sharing their thoughts and ideas. Many of the topics that were discussed in Utah dealt with running a stone fabrication business — maximizing profits, sales techniques, customer contracts, finding and retaining employees, jobsite safety, etc. As I watched the various discussions taking place, I was once again impressed by the level of honesty being expressed in the room. The panelists assembled by the MIA were outstanding, but a lot of the ideas and insight also came from the audience members. Pretty much everyone present was candid in sharing not only their solutions, but experiences that were not so successful.

I think that the level of collaboration was due to the fact that everyone present at the Utah Stone Summit (and the industry at large) is dealing with a common enemy — low-cost, low-quality competitors. Generally speaking, the professionals who take the time to attend an event like this clearly care about the quality of their work, so the need for dialogue to maintain quality while competing with low-ballers is a common thread among the attendees.

The Utah event was moderated by Tony Malisani, an industry veteran and an accomplished speaker at events such as StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas and Coverings for quite a few years. One message that
Malisani emphasized repeatedly throughout the day was, “Don’t ever stop learning.”

“The one thing I know is that no matter how long you have been in this business, you never stop learning,” Malisani said. “I guarantee that everyone in this room has learned something new today.”

I probably attend a dozen educational events for stone fabricators each year, and he is absolutely right. Whether it is at the trade shows, or regional sessions like the Utah Stone Summit, there are always nuggets of information that I have never heard before — and usually, it is more than just a nugget. In fact, my write-up of the topics discussed at last month’s event stretches from pages 42 to 49 of this issue of Stone World, and I guarantee you it includes information that I have not covered before.

Inspired by what took place in Utah, I am already making plans to attend the next session in the MIA/Stone World Industry Education Series in Boston, MA, on June 11. If you are reading this column before that date and can make it to Boston, I would highly encourage you to do so.

If not, you still have plenty of chances available:

June 25 - Columbus, OH (new date)

July 18 - Seattle, WA

September 19 - Dallas, TX

October 17 - Atlanta, GA

November 7 - Pompano Beach, FL

For more information on these events, visit www.stoneindustryeducation.com, or if you want a first-hand account, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at michael@stoneworld.com. I will give you the inside scoop on what they are all about.

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