At the most recent edition of Coverings in Orlando, FL, last March, I hosted the show's “Fabricators Forum” for the third time. And even though our humble gathering was tucked into a little-used section of the exhibition center, nearly 100 fabricators were resourceful enough to find me. Now, I'm not self-centered enough to think that they took time away from the show floor because they were engrossed with what I would have to say. Rather, they remain interested in meeting with their peers and learning more about our industry.

The Fabricators Forum at Coverings (featured on page 106 of this issue) had a mix of representatives from older stone shops as well as from new ventures. There were also some stone industry veterans who worked in the trade for some time, and are now opening their own facilities.

As in the past, stone fabricators have been commendably generous in sharing information with each other, and it appears that there aren't many “trade secrets” out there that folks are keeping to themselves. But I already knew this. The thing that has impressed me in doing these forums has been the level of sophistication within the industry. I'm not talking about the level of machinery in the shops (although that is also at a high level). What I am referring to is the business savvy of the fabricators that I have met.

When I started working at Stone World over a decade ago, the stone fabricators were often referred to as a bunch of “good old boys” for some reason. Truthfully, I think that had more to do with the fabricators' affable personalities than their actual business knowledge, but it was not necessarily a flattering label.

In any case, the vast majority of fabricators that I am meeting in the field and at trade shows are as sophisticated as any other businessmen that I come across in my professional and personal experiences. They are not just good stone fabricators; they are also smart businessmen, employers and even retailers.

The stone fabricators present in Orlando discussed sophisticated bonus plans for their employees that maximized the level of production in their shops, but also made sure that the quality and efficiency of work would not be compromised. Fabricators are also providing their employees with 401k plans, extensive medical and dental benefits and other forms of profit-sharing plans.

They are also gaining knowledge to keep up with developments outside of their sector of the industry. For example, fabricators present at the forum discussed their experiences working with resin-treated slabs as well as quartz surfacing, both of which are becoming more prevalent in the industry and require some special consideration within the fabrication shop. Using specific incidents to illustrate their points, they provided useful information on these products and how to avoid issues when working with these materials in the future.

In terms of technology, the U.S. stone industry is becoming more comfortable with Computer Numerically Controlled machinery, and they are also using electronic templating and estimating systems. Perhaps more importantly, they're sharing their knowledge of these systems with their peers. At the close of the Fabricators Forum, the participants didn't rush for the doors, as one might expect after a 90-minute session. Rather, they began individual discussions with one another, elaborating on issues that were raised at the forum, asking questions about specific pieces of machinery and even inviting each other to their respective shops. This is a good thing, especially at a time when our industry is hosting more newcomers than perhaps ever before. Let's keep it up.