Stone Column

Stone Column:
Getting in touch with homeowners

May 5, 2004
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Now that the Internet is firmly in place as a primary source of finding information on stone, the Stone World staff is receiving more calls than ever from natural stone consumers. By “consumers,” I don't mean stone importers, fabricators, distributors or even retailers. I'm talking about the homeowners; about Mrs. Robinson, who is remodeling her kitchen in the suburbs of Dallas, and she is trying to decide what type of stone to use. So she goes on “Yahoo.com” and searches for sites that deal with natural stone design, and this ultimately leads her to our homepage at www.stoneworld.com.

And since I sit in the editor's chair here, the call I typically receive goes something like this: “Hello? Stone World? I am researching granite on the Internet, and I just saw the prettiest stone countertop on your Web site. It was yellow, with black spots. What's the name of that stone, and how much does it cost?”

I know I am not alone in fielding these types of calls. As an industry, many of us are receiving numerous inquiries from homeowners asking for very basic information on stone. And while these calls can often be termed “invasive” at best and “annoying” at worst, they point to a very prevalent trend in the field. Natural stone is drawing more interest than ever among homeowners, and they are eager for information. While stone use among homeowners has been growing a great deal over the past few years, stone is still not a commodity item, and people have fundamental questions that they need answered. They can't understand why their neighbor's kitchen has “Stephanie Red granite” countertops, but they can't find a kitchen/bath dealer, distributor or retailer who has ever heard of such a stone. They can't tell the difference between “tumbled” stone and “antiqued” stone, and some of proprietary terms for stone finishes and patterns confuse them to the point of distraction.

The muddled terminology seems simple enough for those in the industry to solve, but without clear answers to these very basic questions, a homeowner might be inclined to use a homogenous product like Corian, which will look exactly the same whether it is purchased in Dallas or San Francisco or New Jersey.

Obviously, no one wants this to happen, but stone industry professionals don't always have time to field calls and answer questions from the general public. Fortunately, though, there are very credible sources for basic information that homeowners need to discover. The management for the Marble Institute of America (MIA) -- which has continually impressed me since they came on board in 2002 -- maintains a related Web site at www.usenaturalstone.com. This site includes information on stone terminology, stone maintenance, how to choose stone, how to find a contractor and more. In essence, it is a site specifically geared towards consumers and their questions, and it is an excellent place to send people who call your firm looking for information. The Natural Stone Council is also working along with MIA to disseminate generic information on natural stone, and they have developed a DVD/CD-ROM specifically for this purpose.

Looking beyond specification, the next step is addressing technical issues that arise after a homeowner purchases stone. Who do homeowners call when their countertop develops a haze on the surface, or if the seams appear to be widening? What if there is some sort of dispute over what industry norms exist?

This recently came up when a homeowner e-mailed our magazine after getting into a dispute with their stone contractor. Not wanting to get in the middle of this dispute (and since we're not actually practicing contractors), we found out that MIA actually provides a service where its Technical Director will speak directly with homeowners about industry issues. The cost is a very nominal $30 per call, and they provide information and research to homeowners.

I think that these initiatives are a great step for stone trade in the U.S. I know first-hand that dealing with homeowners can be a long and tiring process, and it is helpful to know that these resources exist to better the industry as a whole.

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