As I write this, I am touring Italy with a group of fabricators from the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA). Although members of this group come from various parts of the U.S. and Canada, and have different size shops, it is apparent they share a common interest -- to educate themselves more on everything to do with stone fabrication.

For many of them, it is the first time they are in Italy -- or Europe for that matter. Not only are they excited to experience all this country has to offer, but they are equally eager to make the most out of each visit we make to the facilities of stone producers, as well as manufacturers of machines, tooling, and installation and maintenance products. At every stop they are inquisitive -- asking many thoughtful questions.

And their education doesn't stop with our visits. During the time spent on the bus or at meals, they are talking shop -- covering a diverse range of topics. One fabricator even said to me that he knows they have been talking about business a great deal, but each time it is a fresh conversation. They are grateful to each other for being open about business practices.

Where one might be more knowledgeable on one subject, another has more experience on a different topic. The time the fabricators spend together talking is invaluable. It is obvious the relationships they are making won't end after the trip. They are building a network to share ideas and advice. They all agree that networking and forming bonds such as these are definitely a key component to the success of their businesses.

And the fabricators aren't the only ones who are learning. I am also taking a great amount of new knowledge away from this trip. In addition to the technical information I obtained at our various stops, I also learned the importance of networking opportunities such as this. As our trip winds down, one fabricator shared he was inspired by talking with members of the group. He is looking forward to getting back to work and applying all he has learned from his trip in Italy. For me, I am eager to get back to my post at Stone World. In an upcoming issue, I will share a full report of the trip. I have also made new friends who can be a source of information for various articles I work on in the future.