In the 20 years that I have been covering the stone industry — in good times, bad (really bad) times, and everything in between — I have learned one irrefutable fact. No matter what sector of the industry you are in, there will always be some low-ball hack competing with you on the basis of price. This was, once again, a topic of discussion at the Massachusetts Stone Summit that I attended last month as part of the Marble Institute of America/Stone Worldindustry education series. During the session, a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Tom Kilfoyle of United Marble Fabricators, summed it up nicely. “The challenge is when people are seeing ads offering granite for $35 per square foot, and they’re asking you why you charge $85,” he said. “Then you have to sell yourself.” (See page 84 for a complete recap of the event.)

So how, exactly, do you convince people to pay a fair price for your work? In talking to fabricators across the country, the key is to remember that you’re not “selling stone.” You’re selling craftsmanship — a customized, quality installation that will stand for years to come. I know it sounds idealistic, but when you’re not chasing price and giving in when people are squeezing you for a few dollars off, the right customers will be willing to pay for that craftsmanship — especially now that the economy is rebounding.

This was indeed the sentiment among the fabricators taking part in our Massachusetts event. “When people come to me, it is because a designer or a builder told them to come to me,” Kilfoyle said. “They know our reputation, and we explain to them why things cost what they cost. We pick their slabs with them, and it becomes a collaborative process.”

Speaking on the commercial sector of the trade, this thought was echoed by David Castellucci of Kenneth Castellucci & Associates, Inc., a well-known stone contractor for large-scale projects. “There is a general fear among salespeople to ask for what they want,” he said. “You need to be willing to hold your number and walk away. You can’t win every job.”

If you thumb through this issue of Stone World, you will see what I am talking about in virtually every article. Our first “Fabricator Case Study” in this issue is Blume’s Solid Surface of Freeport, PA, a second-generation, family-run business (page 44). I drove out to see this shop first-hand, and there was an obvious culture of quality and customer service there. The shop and inventory are neat and well organized, and the company’s salespeople go out of their way to explain the geology and characteristics of the stone materials they sell. They even offer lessons for local science students. It is steps like this that allow a company to avoid selling solely on the basis of price and competing with the low-ballers.

Our second “Fabricator Case Study” focuses on Christie Cut Stone in Tennessee (page 54). Once again, we are looking at a multi-generational operation with an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. Using a combination of modern CNC technology and experienced, talented artisans, the company offers products that are simply too high end to be sold on the basis of price.

The projects featured in this issue are also examples of what makes stone a truly unique, premium building material.

On page 98, we focus on a private residence in Texas that uses stone inside and out — with one-of-a-kind elements like a hand-crafted fireplace. Even the interior vertical surfaces — such as those in the bathroom and kitchen — make use of decorative marble that was clearly not purchased because of a low price tag.

On page 112, we cover a Whole Foods location in Oklahoma City that was designed with Bluestone from the hills of New York State, a region that is known across the country for its heritage in stone production — not its discount, rock-bottom prices.

On page 122, we again report on the stonework of a private residence — this one in Portland, OR. Stone was used throughout the space, but my personal favorite was the tub in the master bath, where the veining of the stone continues from the surround to the facing. Again, I’m guessing that the client didn’t ask the stone fabricator, “Hey, can you do it for $200 less?”

Obviously, it is great when you get a client with deep pockets, and this doesn’t happen every day for most people in the stone industry. But when you have a chance to work on showcase projects like this, take full advantage of it. Take pictures and hang them in your showroom. Better yet, send photos of the job to Stone World, and get yourself published. Be proud of your work and your craftsmanship; and more importantly, share that pride with your customers. If they can’t appreciate craftsmanship and still want it done for $35 per square foot, remember the saying, “Sometimes the best customers are the ones you don’t have.”