Concerned over the aggressive marketing of imitation “stone” products and persistent consumer misperceptions about the value of real stone, natural stone businesses and organizations large and small, from across the entire stone industry, are coming forward to lend their support to the new Natural Stone Council (NSC). The NSC was formed last year under the leadership of Mark Fernandes of Luck Stone Corporation to unite diverse industry groups into one powerful promotional voice for the entire industry.

In just a few short months, the NSC has already raised nearly $300,000, with the largest single donation so far being a generous grant of $100,000 from the StonExpo Foundation, derived from the revenues generated by the StonExpo trade show. Additional funding has come from members of the Marble Institute of America, Allied Stone Industries, Indiana Limestone Institute, National Building Granite Quarries Association, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, and American Monument Association. Our initial fundraising success points to the growing recognition among natural stone professionals in all parts of the industry is that the time has come to join forces and work together.

We want to get the whole industry involved, including companies that are not members of the Council's founding organizations listed above. In fact, the first donor check received was from a company that is not a member of any of the NSC's supporting organizations, but who read about the NSC initiative in Stone World.

NSC funds have been earmarked for a number of exciting stone-promotion initiatives that begin launching in June at the annual American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention and Exposition in Chicago.

Combating a real and growing threat

NSC has developed a clearly defined strategy to promote the interests of the collective stone industry and counter the very real threats posed by competitors.

Companies manufacturing imitation stone products have enormous budgets for marketing campaigns that blur the differences between natural stone and man-made composites. These campaigns target building professionals - architects, designers, and commercial developers - and consumers, leaving them with the perception that manufactured products are equal to if not superior to natural stone, that there is little difference between their appearance and function, and that natural stone is far more expensive and difficult to maintain.

NSC cannot come close to competing dollar for dollar with the financial resources of these companies. Instead, it intends to maximize contributions by crafting a clear, compelling message about the superior qualities of natural stone and initially communicating that message directly to the audience with the greatest potential influence on our industry - architects and building professionals.

A critical audience: 20,000 architects at AIA Convention

When thousands of architects gather in Chicago in June for the American Institute of Architects 2004 Exposition and Conference, NSC will be there in full force. Exhibiting in one of the show's largest booths, NSC will be presenting many varieties and applications of natural stone with information on their properties, use, cost, installation and recommended care.

Stone industry experts will be on hand to answer questions and offer suggestions for residential, commercial, institutional and landscape applications. They'll also clarify for these professionals how natural stone's qualities compare with man-made products.

For the first time, these leading architects, who represent an industry that selects or recommends close to 95% of the materials used in construction projects, will find at their premier convention an energetic, authoritative and convincing presentation on the unparalleled beauty and value of natural stone.

The stone industry traditionally relied on the discernment of architects, designers and building contractors to recognize the value that natural stone products contribute to their projects. Until just recently, there was less urgency to speak and act collectively, but with growing competition from man-made products, the NSC is taking the offensive by correcting misperceptions and re-educating this highly influential group.

Visitors to the NSC exhibit will also receive a CD/DVD that presents the story of natural stone from quarry to installation; details sources for additional technical information on natural stones and their applications; and provides contact information on the stone companies and organizations that are supporting NSC. The CD/DVD also will be available on request from NSC following the convention.

Next on the NSC agenda: the development of a branding campaign for natural stone targeted toward consumers, including a seal to identify whether a material is authentic natural stone.

Now is the time to give your support

The Marble Institute of America (MIA), the leading trade association for the natural stone industry, is proud to be among the original supporters of the NSC, and we are committed to working with NSC to increase awareness and education about natural stone.

Whatever your company's line of business, if you're in stone, your success depends on the success of the stone industry. That's why now is the time to pledge your support to the NSC. The full 100% of your contribution goes toward funding the myriad initiatives being planned to build demand for natural stone among the commercial and residential marketplaces.

In any discussion of natural stone versus a man-made product, whenever qualities of aesthetics, variety, permanence or value are considered, there is simply no contest. Natural stone - real stone - is unbeatable. That's a message worth investing in, for everyone with a stake in the future of our industry.