I recently had the opportunity to go out on a rather unique project inspection, with some totally unexpected scenario conditions that I just had to share with everyone. Hopefully, for the majority of our readers, this has not happened to you, but I’m sure that a few of my fellow fabricators will shake your heads in agreement.
Rest assured that this is a real situation, with real people and real feelings, but out of my deepest respect for the contractor, I’m not going to identify the state where the project is located, nor the fabricator, nor the stone, nor the builder or the homeowner.
OK, with all of that out of the way, here’s the background “intel” on the project.
Let’s start with a tract home developer that’s building cookie cutter-style homes for a sale price of about three-quarters of a million dollars each. There’s natural stone on all of the floors, rich wood cabinets, and of course, granite countertops. The homes are beautiful, and all of the stone is installed exquisitely, actually making each cookie cutter-style home unique.
Next, we’ll look at the fabricator: they have been in business for over 30 years without a single complaint or violation of anything. Their installation in this particular application is flawless, with one very small item that is at the core of this article - a small “natural” spot in the granite that does not match any of the surrounding slab.
One of my credos over the years has been: “God made the stone; all we do as fabricators is embellish it.” In the case of this project, this credo is right on the money. With this in mind, all fabricators need to have some kind of disclaimer in their contracts that says something similar to:
“Stone is a product of nature, and therefore, we as stone industry professionals have absolutely no control over the amount of color variation, shading, pits, fissures, spots, veins, color concentrations, inclusions, and any other thing that God, in his infinite sense of humor, decided to put into the stone when he made it, just so he could confound us as fabricators and/or suppliers, and have a good laugh at our expense.”
OK, you should probably leave out the “God and his sense of humor” part, but seriously, if you don’t have some kind of disclaimer language in your contracts, you’re just a big target with a Bull’s Eye stuck on your back.
Anyway, the specific issue is that a small “natural” spot in the granite - in a color that is perceived by many of us to be a “neutral” material and which is used all over North America and Europe. The installed stone is being rejected by the homeowner because they say, “The spot does not belong in the stone; it’s ugly, and we want the entire countertop replaced.” In this case, the “entire” piece in question is the finished size of almost an entire full slab - with an undermount sink opening to boot. That’s quite a bit of work to replace.
I looked at the documentation on this project, and the contractor showed me more than three separate documents that were signed and dated by the homeowners, attesting to and acknowledging that natural stone is a product of nature and has qualities beyond our control - shade variation, veins, spots, pits, fissures, etc.
So basically, the customers (in this case, the homeowners) were informed and made aware that the stone slabs that they saw - and approved - for this project, could have spots in them, along with any other natural occurrence that God saw fit to include. Yet now they were saying that all of that education by the stone supplier and the fabricator does not mean anything. At this point in the meeting, the fabricator leans over to me and says, “When is enough - ENOUGH?”
Let me make sure we’re all straight on this so far:
1. The homeowner inspects the stone - each slab individually - signs off on all of them, and agrees that “Natural stone is natural.”
2. The fabricator, having the necessary disclaimer forms signed by the homeowner, fabricates and installs the stone tops in good faith.
3. A natural spot is noticed by the homeowner on the day of installation.
4. The homeowner totally freaks out over a spot in the granite (the size of a U.S. 25-cent piece).
5. The homeowner calls a meeting with heads of the builder and local building authorities, and totally throws the fabricator under the bus in front of everyone.
6. The fabricator - in an incredible show of character and professionalism - assures the homeowner that they want to make the homeowner’s satisfaction their most important priority.
7. To complicate matters, the state in which the project is located has a set of recognized “trade standards” that do not address anything remotely close to a “spot.” Yet the state’s representative has decided that even though there is no established industry standard in this state, he is going to make a “judgment call” in favor of the homeowner.
Now, here is where I come in, having been asked to participate in the job meeting that has turned into a public crucifixion of the fabricator. I am asked my opinion in front of the homeowner. As a “trained professional,” I know that I am “packing heat” - technical heat that is. I’m packing my MIA Design Manual 2007 edition. With a straight face, and showing no signs of impending terror, I say, “Well, technically, there were documents signed by the homeowners that addressed the issue of natural qualities of the stone, and this spot, however objectionable, is a natural quality. This fabricator did not put it there because he wanted to make the homeowner angry. This is simply how the project laid out when it was fabricated.” At this, the homeowner glaringly looked at me and asked in a shrill voice, “So, YOU would accept this in YOUR home???” My reply to him was, “Well, yes. In my last home that had granite, I had quite a few of these kinds of spots throughout my stone. Remember, we’re dealing with a natural product here.” A dead silence fell over the room as I’m waiting for a knife, hatchet or some other blunt instrument to be thrown in my general direction, but I am temporarily spared from any blunt force trauma.
As I am questioning the total insanity of this entire dilemma, I find myself leaving the job meeting with the sad expectation that the fabricator has probably lost the case, judging by the mediator’s body language and lack of responsive questions that are raised to examine that paper trail that was built by the slab supplier and the fabricator.
Moreover, I am wondering when the day is coming when we really know how many back-flips we have to do in order to make sure that customers with “selective” memories will have no way of getting out of the responsibility they have entered into as the end user. How can we develop a process where the customer selects and approves a stone, we fabricate and install it, collect the check, and then we go on to the next job?
Yet to my surprise, a few days after the meeting/ambush, I receive a call from the fabricator, and he informs me that the ruling was made in his favor - because he went through the trouble of having EVERY slab on the project documented, signed off and approved for fabrication by the customer. By using the “disclaimer” documentation and keeping records that showed that the customer reviewed the slabs in their entirety (and was afforded the opportunity to reject the slabs at that time), the fabricator was spared the grief of replacing an entirely beautiful piece of stone.
So the moral of this story is: “Sometimes, enough IS enough!”
Based in Arizona, Kevin Padden has decades of industry experience, and he has worked in every aspect of natural stone fabrication, production, sales, estimating, education, operations and overall general management. He has been instrumental in directing the establishment of multiple fabrication shops in the Phoenix area. Kevin’s passion for education led him to be a regularly featured seminar presenter at StonExpo & Coverings, and he has been a contributing writer for publications serving the industry. He is also a featured speaker at the Stone World Stone Fabrication Workshops (pictured). He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
July 1, 2007