Stone Column

Emphasizing the Positives

January 23, 2009
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In the “Forum” section of this issue (page 106), I had the unfortunate task of recapping the distressing events surrounding the closure of Rock Tops, a Michigan firm with multiple operations in several states. Although it is bad news to hear of any event that leaves stoneworking professionals out of a job, the closure of Rock Tops is at once a “worst case scenario” and a cautionary tale.

Without re-counting all of the depressing details, it appears that Rock Tops’ employees, vendors and customers have all taken a severe financial hit, and as of press time for this issue, no one has been able to make contact with the owners. Moreover, the mainstream media - including newspapers as well as multiple television outlets - has picked up on the story.

At a time when overall finances make it hard enough to sell granite countertops to the general public, stories like this can breed a distrust for stone fabricators in general. As one fabricator simply put it, the Rock Tops story is a “black eye” for the industry.

And while it is a painful necessity for Stone World and other industry outlets to publish stories like this, the sad fact is that the mainstream loves negative stories like this. They thrive on the opportunity to report the very worst details on a single, isolated situation, stare poignantly into the camera and declare, “Remember this, homeowners: you have to BEWARE when you’re buying granite countertops.” We all dealt with this same nonsense when it came to the “Great Radon Scare of 2008.” It’s pathetic, really.

As one fabricator said to me, “We need to get the word out that most of the stone industry is not only working on keeping their business, but also continuing to try and make their products and services better. During these times it would be easy to cut corners, do a little less, make a little more. The ‘real’ fabricators are making less and doing more and are focused on the stonework.”

So what can the industry do to portray itself in a more positive light? There is no easy answer to this question, but it starts with communicating with the customer. A lot of fabricators out there do a terrific job of explaining the process for purchasing and installing a kitchen countertop. They make sure that the homeowner knows exactly what to expect in terms of material variations, seams, installation details and the countless other details that go along with a given project. This needs to continue.

By making the customer part of the process (even when the customer is a bit of a pain), you are sharing in the project together. I remember visiting one particularly interactive showroom where the credo was, “We’re not designing your kitchen; you are.” By using this philosophy, the fabricator reported that customers took a certain level of pride - and responsibility - for the finished project.

Moreover, the personal craftsmanship of natural stone might be something that can be further emphasized to homeowners. When a customer is building their dream kitchen, the countertops are one of the only elements where they get to see the raw materials turn into a finished product, and they often have a chance to see and understand the craftsmanship of the stoneworking process. This isn’t true of the Sub-Zero refrigerator, the gourmet stove or even the custom-made cabinets.

I’ve said many times in this column that the stone fabricator should never be classified as “just another subcontractor,” and this remains true even as stories like Rock Tops are making headlines. The vast majority of stone fabricators out there are skilled craftsmen working with the premier building material in the world, and we need to continue to emphasize this to the homeowners - now more than ever.

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