A group of fabricators in the New Jersey/New York area came together on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 to participate in a Stone Industry Education seminar offered by Stone World and the Marble Institute of America & Building Stone Institute (MIA+BSI), and sponsored by M S International, Inc. (MSI) at its facility in Edison, NJ. Moderated by Eric Tryon of Premier Surfaces in Atlanta, GA, the “Town Hall” environment allowed attendees to participate in an open-forum session to address pertinent issues affecting their businesses today.

Tryon, who currently runs four locations, began by explaining to the crowd that dedication to the “process” of building a company will pay off in the long run. “I started in the industry in 2002, with just me,” he said. “I hired one employee. I was in Atlanta. Fast forward to where we are today. We have about 175 employees across four locations in the southeast. Business has evolved at a very controlled, but hectic pace of growth. If we didn’t take the blinders off and look at different ways of doing business, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

“I’m not going to say the way we do it is the best way,” Tryon went on to say. “It works for us. We are always looking for new ways to do things.”

Tryon stressed to participants the importance of finding their own niche. “I want you to spend a lot of time growing a business — growing a system,” he said. “Find what your passion is. It will resonate. Your employees will see it. Your customers will see it.”

The importance of benchmarking

A good part of the morning session was discussing the importance of benchmarking and analyzing shop performance. “What does it mean to you?,” Tryon asked attendees. Responses in the audience included setting standards and establishing goals.

“Payroll, labor and materials cost are the big things to consider,” said Tryon. “When I first got into this industry, I was astounded that no one knew their numbers. How do you establish sales price if you don’t know what your cost price is? People think if they have money in their bank account then they are successful. That’s probably not the best way to be successful.

“One of the proudest moments we had as an organization is that we grew through the downturn,” Tryon continued. “It wasn’t easy, but we did it.”

Tryon explained that benchmarking assists in establishing goals for employees, which motivate them. “People come to work wanting to do well,” he said. “As leaders and managers, you have to create an environment where they can do well.”

During the discussion, things to benchmark were outlined. “Production: How do you measure it?,” asked Tryon. “How do you know if someone is being efficient and productive each day? What are the most important things to make sure you are producing efficiently? Focus on the things that are going to have the biggest impact on your business. Is the data reliable and easily accessible? If you want to weed out a sales team member, start to put their results on the wall every day. They won’t want to be at the bottom of the list. There are a lot of different things to track and a lot of different ways to track it.”

According to Tryon, he has found the best metric for his business is finished square feet per labor hour. “Whoever is responsible for that number, you will see movement. Decide where you want to see the needle move the most.”

One participant asked other than monetary incentives, how can employees be rewarded for their success. “What do millennials value?,” asked Tryon. “Their time. A paid day off goes far. At the end of last year, we had a sales contest. Rather than giving a monetary value, the sales manager said whoever wins gets an extra vacation day around Christmas/New Year’s. You would have thought we gave away a million dollars.

“Benchmarking is huge,” Tryon went on to say. “People say to me all the time benchmarking is a lot of work and a lot of time, but I say, how do you know if you and your people are making profits? Most people want to be recognized and to be able to see they are making a difference. Stop looking at people as an expense, but look at people as an investment. That pay back to you will come back two-fold. I love the fact I pay my managers very well. I want to see them succeed in life. And because of that, they will protect me and go out of their way.”

Tryon told the group about two benchmarking exercises. “They are so remedial and easy anyone can do it,” he said. “Take one on the sales side and one on the operational side. Post data for 30 days where everyone can see it. If they start asking questions, that’s okay. Answer them. Track the square footage that goes out the door. Just pick one. Track it and post it with their names. When we started tracking polishing, the linear feet that our polishers polish, productivity went up 43% in three weeks.”

Servicing the direct consumer

While benchmarking was a large portion of the morning discussion, Tryon also touched on other topics such as servicing direct consumers. “We don’t advertise and 25% of our sales is the direct consumer,” he said. “We have a small showroom in Atlanta. My point being, if you take time to make things right for the customer, they will give you all the business you want. If we do 20 installations well in Atlanta today, it will be the best 20 sales reps we need.”

Tryon explained that education is a significant role in selling a job. “Our job is to educate our customers,” he said. “They don’t want to tell you they don’t know. They don’t want to feel stupid. They don’t know what a templater is. You need to explain it to them.”

Tryon also discussed the importance of communication across departmental lines. “It is crucial,” he said. “You have to be singing the same tune. If a sales person tells your customer one thing and then an installer says the opposite, your customer is going to run.”

Another topic Tryon believed was worth mentioning was commercial work. “If you aren’t doing commercial, there’s a big opportunity lost,” he said. Tryon reached out to audience members, asking those who do fabrication for commercial projects what some of the benefits are. The responses included:

• Repeat business

• Networking

• Larger jobs

• Volume

• Pay less for material because buying more

• Less customer headaches (if you manage the project right)

“Our biggest account fell into our lap,” said Tryon. “They give us shop drawings, and sign off on them. Our job is to cut the material and put it on an A-frame. They pick it up and deliver it. The average job is $7,000.

“Know who your customer is,” he continued. “When we got into the commercial world, we had defined what a good customer was. We would give terms, but they had to earn it. The ones who don’t pay, you want your competitor to have. Know what a contract is. If you don’t know it, hire a professional who does. You need to know what that is. You will be held to those terms in a contract. You can’t miss deadlines. A deadline is a deadline, and you get penalized for not hitting deadlines. You need to make sure you hit the scope of that contract. Go in with your eyes wide open, and you will be set up for success.”

The morning session of the Stone Industry Education seminar was followed by a lunch break and tour of MSI’s warehouse for those who were interested. Attendees also had the time to mingle and speak with the event sponsors, which included Baca Systems, Blanco, Bonstone, Braxton-Bragg, Integra Adhesives, Laser Products, Moraware, Park Industries, Prussiani USA, Stone Boss, Water Treatment Solutions and Wilson Art. Following the lunch break, an afternoon session included small breakout groups where attendees could talk on a more intimate level and then a panel discussion, which expanded on the breakout group discussions further.

To learn more about the MIA+BSI/Stone World Stone Industry Education Seminar program, as well as dates of upcoming events, visit: www.stoneindustryeducation.com.