On April 8, 2014 MS International, Inc. (MSI) hosted the New Jersey Stone Summit, an event that’s part of theStone World/MIA education series, which was held at MSI’s showroom and distribution center in Edison, NJ. The daylong seminar, which offered guidance and advice on how to handle some of the current issues in today’s industry, was attended by a total of 59 industry professionals, including 38 fabricators from 27 fabrication companies. Sponsors included: Blanco, Integra Adhesives, Prodim, Moraware, Park Industries, ETemplate (ELaser), Laser Products, Northwood, Stone Fabricator’s Alliance and GranQuartz. Local sponsors of the event were Schechner Lifson Corp. and Stone Boss. In addition to a main presentation, the event featured networking opportunities, product demonstrations, a warehouse tour and a Fabricator Forum.

Tony Malisani of Malisani, Inc. in Great Falls, MT, and current president of the MIA, gave an in-depth presentation about “How to Set a Cost and Sell a Project’s Value,” and led the overall discussion amongst attendees, detailing topics such as pricing strategies, marketing techniques, different selling methods and how to better understand/measure your overall business. “Education is important, so make yourself the expert,” he told the audience. “Take that opportunity. The information is there — it’s available to everybody.”

Marco Duran of Atlas Marble and Granite in Springfield, NJ, confirmed this point from a fabricator’s point of view. “Things differ in every state,” he said, referring to the prices of materials which vary based on location. “What may apply for you doesn’t for me.”

During the discussion of businesses’ finances, various topics arose, including the types of costs (direct and indirect); bidding, pricing and estimating; production metrics; and actual costs and how to track them (via software, time sheets, job cost sheets and job reports). Malisani also explained how to follow up on these results, and in turn, measure the effectiveness and success of your business — whether it’s reviewing all profits, comparing results or making changes.

To stand out from other companies and remain competitive in today’s market, Malisani lent some helpful tips on what companies should be focusing on, such as appearance and branding. “If you dress more professional, you come off more professional and are more respected,” he said. “Also focus on the cleanliness of your facility and showroom. It’s all about perception.” He also relayed three main tips on “how to be more successful” — adapting to current industry trends and demands, broadening your customer base and product offerings and creating a five- to 10-year success and planning model.

Fabricator Forum

The Fabricator Forum was led by two industry veterans — Buddy Ontra of Ontra Stone Concepts in Monroe, CT, and Jonathan Mitnick of CCS Stone Inc. in Moonachie, NJ. The discussion included a variety of topics.

How are you expanding your business?

To this question, Mitnick explained that you need to focus on what you want to expand on. “I realized the value of sandblasting when I had to have someone else do it for me,” he said. “We saw an immediate value in that, and then we invested in machinery for it. It was a slow process because we didn’t want to jump right in. In my business, people come in asking if the stone is slip resistant or do we have material with texture. I don’t ask our supplier to bring in every different material, so we now offer that service.”

Ontra explained to the group that he is now focusing more on a social media platform for his business. “Most of my motto was directly to the trade,” he said. “In the last year or so, I attended seminars on digital and social media. I have opened myself up in recent years because I have seen it work.”

Ontra went on to say that he has an administrator guide and it is good to discuss the descriptions of stone. He also is working on getting reviews from designers.

One audience member said that his company is trying to expand its customer base. “I do get a lot of interest from my website,” he said.

What’s a good benchmark for business?

“The first couple of years, I did very well,” said Ontra. “Then the economy hit, and I went down. Now I am going up again. If I can do a little better than last year, that’s my benchmark.”

Mitnick explained that percentage is his benchmark. “At certain times, we have work coming to us that takes time to evaluate how to do something that someone else couldn’t do,” he said. “I put a value on that.”

How do you handle risk factors?

The panel and audience members agreed that dealing with expensive material is one of the biggest risk factors facing their fabrication business. “When I get an expensive material, I make sure that I am covered,” said Ontra. “I’ll take more risks with builders.”

Mitnick also stressed that you have to make sure you cover yourself. “When people pick out exotics, you have to gauge the quote,” he said. “You can’t charge the same rate for material that is a fifth of the cost.”

What are you doing for marketing?

When the subject of marketing was brought up, one audience member said he was doing direct mail to existing customers as well as getting more involved with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and CEU credits. “I found that just marketing to the general public isn’t as good as marketing to the designer that can bring you 10 jobs over the years,” he said.

Ontra said that he recently joined the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Over the past couple of months, I have gone to monthly meetings and started networking,” he said. “Now they recognize me. I am also looking into ASID. Gaining knowledge is important. Join the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) or ASID because there are very few of us doing it.”

“This is a sample-driven business,” said Mitnick. “I am pretty liberal with that. [Also], it is good to be known for something — even if it doesn’t generate revenue. I became known for Portuguese stone. Stay focused and work at it, and keep a quality image. I tend to think about things when I am slow. I thought about [MIA] accreditation. I don’t use it all the time, but I can say that I am the only accredited [fabricator] in New Jersey.”

The facility

After a lunch break, attendees had the chance to tour the company’s adjoining 20,000-square-foot slab selection showroom to get a firsthand look at the hundreds of types of stone slabs within its inventory, while also getting a better idea of the processes they use for distribution.

The slab showroom displays over 400 colors of granite, marble, quartz and other natural stone slabs — all of which the customer can come in and view. MSI in Edison, one of the largest granite and granite countertop suppliers in the area, features over 300,000 square feet, approximately 1,600 truckloads of inventory, and more than 26,200 slabs of granite countertops. There is also an additional 4,000-sqaure-foot outdoor hardscaping showroom.

The New Jersey Stone Summit is one of eight educational seminars Stone World and the MIA present each year. Future events include:

  • June 19 – Dulles, VA
  • September 18 – Waite Park, MN
  • November 6 – Tempe, AZ
  • November 13 – Anaheim, CA

For more information regarding these seminars, visit www.stoneindustryeducation.com.