Universal Granite & Marble (UGM) graciously opened their doors to 30 fabricators, in addition to other members of the stone industry, for the Wisconsin Stone Summit, which is organized by the Natural Stone Institute (NSI). The stone industry education event took place on Thursday, June 7, 2018 at UGM’s facility in Oak Creek, WI, and included a total of 54 participants.
The morning session was led by Tony Malisani of Malisani Inc. in Great Falls, MT. Malisani, who has many years of experience in running a stone fabrication business and was the 2014 president of the Marble Institute of America, which has since transitioned to the NSI, is among the regular lineup of speakers for the Stone Industry Education series that is held 10 times a year in various locations throughout North America.
During the morning session, Malisani addressed pertinent issues affecting today’s fabricators. In fact, at the start of the event, the participants were asked to write down topics they would like to discuss.
“What are you doing to develop your employees?” Malisani asked the audience. “They have aspirations. They would like to succeed. They would like to move forward. It can be done in a number of ways.” In response, employee incentive programs, among other ideas, were discussed.
Also pertaining to staffing issues, Malisani asked the group where they find reliable employees?
Word of mouth and headhunters, as well as Vo-Tech and high school programs were among the responses.
“People tend to be really passionate about stone,” he said. “Leverage that and use it to find people to work for you. Apprenticeship programs are becoming big, at least by me. Also, cash bonuses to employees for bringing new people on works.”
Malisani also inquired how many of the participants have a plan if their company fails. “Do you have a plan?” he asked. “Understand that is a possible outcome. More than 50% of businesses fail. Not necessarily in our industry, but overall. Understand the more you diversify, you have a greater chance to reduce your risks of failure.”
A participant asked if other fabricators are giving different prices to builders and contractors, as opposed to retail customers for installation and fabrication. The majority said they have different prices for wholesale and retail clients. “Retail is the highest price point and box stores is probably the lowest,” said Malisani. “That’s a standard situation that people would have different price points.”
During lunch, participants had the opportunity to tour UGM’s warehouse to see their extensive slab collection, as well as network with each other and talk to the event sponsors who shared their knowledge of valuable products that will assist them in the stone fabrication business. Sponsors of the Wisconsin Stone Summit included: Baca Systems, Bonstone, Braxton-Bragg, Breton, GranQuartz, Integra Adhesives, Laser Products Industries, Moraware, Park Industries, Prussiani and Water Treatment Solutions.
In the afternoon, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss technical issues, sales and marketing efforts and business management. Each group had a significant amount of people that openly shared experiences and ideas.
Bill Heuer of The Countertop Factory in Addison, IL, led the technical group. The topics the participants wished to discuss included:
- Improve process and flow
- Improve efficiency and productivity
- Quality Assurance (Reduce rework)
- Improve lead-time
- Reduce breakage
- New and emerging products
- Understand polishing techniques
- Material fabrication
- Material identification
“Machinery maintenance and upkeep, it’s a reality,” said Heuer.”It’s an ongoing challenge.” His group agreed with him, as one fabricator shared how he recently had a compressor go down. “We have backup, but it’s not the same,” said the participant.
Heuer inquired if anyone in the group had a good maintenance program in place. One fabricator said while most machines have reminders, keeping up with the shop workers doing it is another story. “The guys are usually good, but when they are busy they don’t get to it,” he said.
Tracking remakes is another topic that was discussed. A participant shared his system with the group. “Every job has a number,” he said. “Once a week, we get a remake report. We basically figure out whose issue it was and how we address it. We have a sign up showing how many days it has been from a remake, and I’ll be honest, if we hit 10 days that’s a record. If we cut a splash short, that is a remake.”
As a whole, the group agreed, remakes are something they often deal with. It seems many fabricators track the remakes, but admittedly, don’t do much with the information.
“Key leaders are important to a business,” said Heuer. “Start figuring it out from what a dollar standpoint it is. We call remakes a ‘silent killer.’” The group went on to discuss ways to improve ways to reduce the amount of remakes, as well as other systems and technology that will help in the overall efficiency of running a stone shop.
The sales and marketing group was led by Daniel Wood of Lurvey Landscape Supply with several locations, including Des Plaines, IL. Among the points the group discussed was communication with customers. “Don’t make it look like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” said Wood. The importance of educating customers was also emphasized. “You can’t do that enough,” said Wood. “Demonstrate your passion.”
The group also brought up that to stay competitive with different markets, you need to have a plan and process to get there. “You just can’t roll the dice because you think it is a good idea,” said Wood.
Social Media was also a hot topic of discussion. The group agreed platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Houzz are becoming important ways to promote business. Some participants said that they found giving out gift certificates to a customer for “liking” their page or sending a photo of a project has proven successful. It was also talked about how YouTube is a great way to promote the use of stone. “People like to see or experience something,” said Wood, adding that showing a visit to a quarry might be a good idea.
On the business management side, the group, which was led by Bill Halquist of Halquist Stone of Sussex, WI, shared personal business experiences and discussed issues affecting them and their staff such as the new silica regulations OSHA has put in place. They also talked about the differences between quartz, sintered stone and porcelain products, and where they see the future of these products going, as well as other issues related to stone fabrication.
Those in the Kansas City area can be a part of the next Stone Summit, which will be held at MSI’s facility in Lenexa, KS. Malisani will once again lead an interactive discussion on tips and important facts of running a stone fabrication business.