Founded in 1992, Jianming Stone Group has set out on a course to improve its processes for stone production, including becoming “green.” The company, located in Xiamen, China, has recently installed a new water filtration system at its plant to help improve operations and the environment. “I understand how important the environment is and how we must take care of it,” said Josh Zhang, general manager of Jianming Stone Group. “A lot of Chinese companies don’t care about the environment. The government used to not care, but they are slowly getting more serious about the environment. Secondly, we understand that most of our customers are from America and American companies like to be green. They want to work with companies that are green. We do it to help build those relationships with customers. I originally got the idea of going green from the MIA+BSI: [The Natural Stone Institute]. I think it is a good idea because we care about the environment and we invest in the facilities that care about the environment.”

The company’s new water filtration system not only reduces expense, but it proves beneficial in the stone production process. “In the past, if we used the old system to recycle, it took a lot of time for the water to come back clean and sometimes the water wouldn’t even be clean enough,” said Zhang. “Now we have more clean water and more consistently clean water. If you don’t have clean enough water, you would have to pay the government to remove the sludge in the water. So this process in the long run will also help us save money. We like to look toward the future and look for how we can save money in the future.”

Zhang is always planning ahead for the future of his company and trying to build relationships for the long term. He believes this is one of the defining characteristics that differentiates his company from others. “We care about quality, service and making sure that the customer is satisfied,” said Zhang. “These are very important things to us. If we end up losing a little money on a project or have to spend more time with a customer, that’s okay because we have gained that customer’s trust. We want to build those relationships and don’t want to just go for a quick sale. It’s something that we have learned from the Japanese market. We started our company 25 years ago. The Japanese market is very tough, very high end. They are known for quality, just like the Germans. We have three customers in the Japanese market that have been with us since the beginning. We grew with them. We started off as small company and have become a big one. They have done the same. So now no one can break that relationship we have with those companies and that’s how we like to approach our business. Because of what we do, and the quality we provide, we are very big in the Japanese market and now our customers are as well. A lot of companies in China can do very well for a year or two, and then they may disappear. This could happen for several different reasons but a lot of it is because they don’t have a vision. If you have that vision, you won’t disappear.”

For the past two years, Jianming Stone Group has hosted the MIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute, Stone World magazine and a delegate of fabricators to tour the facility and learn more about the company. This process has allowed American fabricators to learn more about the company and prove that not all Chinese companies are the same. “The most important thing for the Chinese stone industry is that we need to build up our reputation,” said Zhang. “We need to improve it. China has a lot of good companies and the MIA+BSI trip to the factories show that we have great facilities and very high-tech machines. A lot of people in America still have this idea that China has only cheap poor qualities of stone and that’s a problem. In the past five years, we have invited a lot of customers to visit our place who at the time hadn’t purchased Chinese stone. We showed them our processes and have proven our worth, now they buy from China. We show them our different managements and our factories and how we can provide a high-end quality. Once given the chance, we can build that relationship and trust with customers.

“A designer came to our factories who had a big project to do on Wall Street,” Zhang went on to say. “Honestly, in the beginning they didn’t trust us. They thought only the Italian companies can do what they wanted. But the Italian companies didn’t have the stone the designer needed. I was able to show them our facility and factory — explain to them how we do our processes. So I was able to convince them to work with us on the project. After it was done, they loved it. One of the things we learned from that was the effect of the country of origin is very important, so we need to change how people view China. Not only can we benefit from this, but every company in China can.”

Because of the perceptions of stone origin, Zhang has worked constantly with the MIA+BSI and is one of the biggest advocates to get other Chinese companies to join the association. “I want Chinese companies to learn more about the American market,” said Zhang. “I also want Americans to know more about China. If you can convince the Chinese favorites to join the MIA+BSI, the MIA has many members and they will teach the people what is right and wrong. The Chinese companies can change then. I try to help MIA+BSI to know more about China because I want people to change their minds about China. I want Chinese companies to learn. I learned a lot from the MIA+BSI. I benefited a lot. I want others to have the same benefit as me.”

The process to gain the trust of American companies has been a long one, but it’s one Zhang continues to strive to work toward. He also continuously tries to advocate Chinese companies to improve their standards and their processes. “It is hard to convince new customers that we are not like other Chinese companies,” said Zhang. “I have to earn their trust, and if they don’t come to China, that’s very hard to do. But we just need a chance. This is difficult for us, but we are working on it. I know a lot of companies just say, ‘I am the cheapest stone in the world and that’s why you should buy from me.’ But that’s not how we work. I show them our quality control. I show them the projects we have been part of. I show the steps we go through to provide good customer service and that’s what we will continue to do.”