Last month, a little more than 60 stone industry members gathered at Pacific Shore Stones’ showroom in Ceres, CA to participate in the Stone Summit that is part of the Stone Industry Education series facilitated by the Natural Stone Institute and Stone World. The day-long event included 32 fabricators from 22 companies, as well as sponsoring companies.

While the morning segment was a presentation given by Tony Malisani of Malisani Inc. in Great Falls, MT, who runs a family owned fabrication business, the afternoon session consisted of breakout groups where participants had the opportunity to talk about specific issues they are facing when it comes to business management, sales/marketing and technical issues in the shop.

Malisani started the morning by telling attendees, “Most of all, today is about you.” He then polled the audience to see how many of them have a mission statement for their company. “Sit down with your wife, family member or trusted employee,” he said. “Ask what is it that we are trying to do? Just writing it down helps a lot.”

Another question Malisani raised was if the fabricators in the room did an interview when a new employee starts to ask them their expectations. “You can help and guide them a little bit,” he said. “The point being if you can help them set those goals, you are doing more than maybe they would do to help themselves.”

Malisani also encouraged the group of fabricators to make an effort to know your customer. “Do you define and track who you are actually doing work for?” he asked “What are the demographics of your customer base? Age? Gender? Their reason for purchasing from you?”

He also stressed that it is important to leave a lasting impression in the community. “Give a backpack out at a school event,” he suggested. “How many times will those parents see your name?”

The subject of where to find employees also came up. “Listings online or references from current employees is a good start,” Malisani said. “It’s definitely a different place in time to finding employees. And I think retaining them is even more difficult.

“Success brings success,” Malisani went on to say. “It’s part and parcel about how you move forward. Have you asked your employee to take on more responsibility? A successful employee will make you a successful company. Job reviews for each employee should include personal goals, as well as the review. They appreciate when you talk to them one on one. People like to be engaged. If you want them to engage with you, you have to be engaged with them. The vendors in here are supporting industry education. To me, that says a lot about them. That is similar to the relationship with your employees.”

One participant explained that he has a tiered program for the pay level of installers. “It’s laid out for them,” he said. “If they want to make more money, they know what they have to do to get there.”

Malisani told the fabricators to be situationally aware of what is going on. “If you don’t like the solution, change the problem,” he said. “Being open to new solutions is a big part of a company going forward.”

Incentive programs are a great way to encourage employee loyalty and efficiently. “Who are your ‘rock stars’?” Malisani asked. “Who are those people and how are you rewarding them? Who’s the guy standing around chitchatting and not being productive?”

Talk about employees continued into the breakout groups. One participant asked how can he get installers on the same level to all work efficiently? Another person in the group suggested to have the crews work together on a big project so people can watch each other. Another said that if you want to move up then you need to teach your skillset to those below you so they can replace you. “The top-tier guys turn into project managers,” he said. “It incentivizes them to teach each other. It doesn’t work in every single case, but the ones that want to move up do it.”

David Carnevale of Carnevale & Lohr, Inc. in Bell Gardens, CA, last year’s president of the Natural Stone Institute, told his group to pretend you are running a sports team. “You need 11 players,” he said. “See who your starters are and reward the others to give them incentive to move up. Always have an eye out to better your roster.”

Mark Meriaux, the Natural Stone Institute’s accreditation and technical manager, brought up the point to understand your employees’ needs. “Knowing your employees and learning what their wants and needs are is important,” he said. “Money isn’t always the most important thing to them. Maybe one wants to leave at 4 p.m. to get home to a baby. Have team meetings.”

Topics discussed among the other groups included:

  • Employee attendance and evaluations
  • Employee training
  • Building a company culture
  • Manage rework


Participants agreed that hands-on experience is more effective than learning through webinars. But they brought up the point that the younger generation these days doesn’t want to socialize.

When it comes to rework, one participant said that his staff wants to find the problem before it leaves the shop. “It’s a group thing to try to find a way to eliminate it,” said Malisani. “When you put that human factor in it, it’s impossible. I play to their empathy. You can make people aware of it. If you can’t get accurate measurements, maybe you do need a digital templating system.”

“Quality control comes down to if you have a process in place,” Malisani continued. “A mistake made at the end of the process can usually be managed onsite, but one made at the very beginning -- like measurement -- is a bigger problem.”

In addition to the discussions, the Stone Summit offered a chance for participants and sponsors to talk about products. Pacific Shore Stones also led a tour of its slab warehouse, and there was breakfast, lunch and a cocktail reception at the end. Moreover, a new addition to this event was a raffle held at the end of the day. Participants who spoke with at least 10 sponsors and received their signature were eligible to enter a raffle that included a variety of prizes that were donated by the sponsors.

“I was very impressed with the staff from Natural Stone Institute, all of who were very friendly and knowledgeable in their respective areas, and super organized in running the event,” said Greg Wolfe, general manager of Pacific Shore Stones. “Aaron [Danke, education manager of the Natural Stone Institute,] from my first contact kept me informed and what to expect and have ready as the Summit day approached. He also shared throughout the day of the Summit what was next so I could be prepared.

“Tony was a complete professional in presenting his knowledge in all aspects of our industry and relating it to the attendees,” Wolfe continued. “He was approachable and did a fantastic job with his break out discussion group. Mark was a great complement to Tony throughout Summit day, handling questions or adding to remarks to better explain certain issues that were brought up. He also headed a discussion group that helped answer many questions or concerns from his group.

Finally, Pacific Shore Stones was honored to host this year’s Stone Summit and hopefully more to come. One of many goals that the ownership partners of Pacific Shore Stones strive for is raising the bar of professionalism in the stone industry and that begins with education. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from many of the fabricators and other attendees about many of the ideas and concepts they learned are already being implemented into their businesses. Many are looking forward to next year’s Summit and plan on sharing much of what they learned with others in the industry. One final thank you to Jennifer and Steve from Stone World Magazine for their support and coverage of the Stone Summit meetings.”