One of the industry's most pressing challenges is creating a proactive stance to position natural stone as the premier product in its category of quality construction materials. Imitation engineered products are being aggressively promoted with large advertising budgets by their manufacturers, production capacity is increasing, and national branding programs are building consumer awareness and demand for these products. While their product is not natural stone, they do have the ability to market it to the general public, creating a perception that it is superior or at least equal to natural stone.

The Natural Stone Council (NSC) was formed to design and implement solutions to this challenge, now and for the future. Made up of a diverse group of stone industry businesses and trade associations, the Council's mission is to raise the level of awareness and education of natural stone in the North American market. By pooling resources in the Natural Stone Council, the stone industry collectively can make a difference in promoting its products to consumers and decision-makers in the design community.

The Council's goal is to initiate a campaign to promote natural stone, beginning with a project to develop and host a major presence featuring natural stone at the 2004 American Institute of Architects Convention and Exposition at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. Along with the convention, the NSC is having a CD/DVD professionally produced for distribution at the event and as a follow-up to inquiries received from the design community afterwards. The CD/DVD will include a 12-to-15 minute "story" of natural stone from quarry to installation; directions on how to obtain more technical information about the product; and a directory of companies that have contributed to the Natural Stone Council's project, complete with contact information, a brief biography and Web links. The campaign financial goal is $500,000, and initial fund-raising efforts have resulted in over $200,000 in contributions from stone industry trade organizations, including The StonExpo Federation, Allied Stone Industries, Indiana Limestone Institute, National Building Granite Quarries Association, Marble Institute of America and Elberton Granite Association.

With a long-term vision to sustain the commitment of increased awareness and education, the council is developing a tag line and logo to essentially "brand" natural stone. This new marketing tool will be used by the industry to help end-user consumers, specifiers and builders identify "real stone" and differentiate it from imitation materials. Through its consistent use across the country, the tag line and logo will help distinguish natural stone as the preferred, quality building material in its category.

The Natural Stone Council is committed to working within the industry to coordinate the efforts of all those with a stake in the future. Your generous investment in this fund-raising effort signals your support of the Council's mission to significantly increase awareness and education of natural stone.

The Council has selected an exhibition for architects as its initial project because we believe it is most advantageous to educate and influence the professionals who are responsible for envisioning, designing and selecting products used in residential, commercial and institutional construction applications. Architects are the most influential group of design creators, responsible for selecting 95% of the products installed on an average project. They need industry experts to provide objective answers to questions and help them determine the right products for their design. Architects and design professionals need to understand the many varieties of natural stone and their properties, use, cost, installation and care. It is imperative that the stone industry provides design professionals with venues for education and resources for information.

By raising awareness of natural stone, educating decision-makers, and ultimately influencing this critical part of the channel, the stone industry can realize greater market share and financial gains. The designer and his/her client can rest assured that their use of natural stone (instead of one of the many imitation products on the market) will result in a low-maintenance project that will stand the test of time and serve present and future owners and generations to come. It is a "win-win-win" situation for design professionals, the natural stone industry and end-users.

The funds raised by the Natural Stone Council will be used to design and host a 2,500-square-foot exhibit at the American Institute of Architects Exposition and Convention in June 2004. This booth will be one of the largest at the trade show and it will feature natural stone applications in residential, commercial and landscape projects. The educational component of the exhibit will include a history of natural stone as a building material, examples of the technology used today to process and fabricate natural stone, and demonstrations comparing the qualities of natural stone with competing products. The overriding message will be to position natural stone as the premier product in its category with emphasis on the variety, value, durability and longevity of the product.

The Natural Stone Council views this initiative as a long-term investment in the industry. Long after the AIA trade show closes, the impact of the exhibit will carry through to the buying decisions of the design community. The materials developed to support the exhibit will continue to be used long after attendees return to their design practices.

Share our vision of tomorrow. Your generosity today will make that vision a reality.

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After 18 months of work, the Natural Stone Council is prepared to begin the fund raising phase of its first endeavor; a significant presence at the 2004 AIA Convention in Chicago. We will focus on sending a strong message to 20,000 architects that natural stone is the "premier product in its category." Equally as important will be the launch of a new nationwide initiative to brand our products and clearly distinguish and elevate them from any and all manmade alternatives.

The Natural Stone Council was formed based on the "strength in numbers" concept. We sincerely believe this same theory will hold true in the development of our natural stone brand. With the involvement of every industry association along with as many businesses that are willing and able to help, our products will continue to be ones that all other alternatives attempt to equal. Please help us begin this journey by making a donation to our initial effort and becoming part of our long-term mission to raise the level of awareness and education of natural stone in the North American marketplace.

-- The Natural Stone Council