In 2011, the Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) began taking a delegation of its members to various regions of Italy to learn more about all aspects of stone production. The annual trip, which welcomed 18 fabricators from all over the U.S. and Canada (and myself) this year, took place from May 3 to 11. During that time, we traveled throughout the northern regions of Italy -- from capital cities of Venice and Florence to hidden gems like Zogno and Massa -- where we were afforded opportunities to visit more than one dozen different machinery/tool manufacturers and stone distributors, view the operations of a renowned marble quarry and observe the impact of the Italian stone industry.
The SFA is a completely volunteer-based organization, which has thousands of members and is currently led by a board of nine members. Executive director, Mike Dean of The Top Shop in London, Ontario, Canada, and director, Eric Rolseth of Astonia Co. in Rogers, MN, successfully led this year’s tour.
“As a leader on the tour, it's a lot of fun watching people experience it,” said Rolseth. “Everyone is moved and affected on some level, and most say it's one of the most enjoyable and informative things they've ever done in the stone industry. That's great because it's supposed to be. Encapsulating what the tour is about in words has proven nearly impossible. We simply haven't found a way to express what it means and what it is. The relationships, the knowledge, the scenery, the food, the whole thing -- it's so much.”
The tour, which was founded by Tenax and former SFA executive director Ron Hannah, is also made possible by each and every one of the companies that are visited each year. “Last year, we had 14 stops,” said Rolseth. “It has become a fantastic way to unite users and providers, many of whom would have never heard about each other and very few would have become familiar with each other on the level the tour provides. Some of the companies sponsor and host dinner, and that's an exceptional time for sponsors to connect with tour attendees on a one-to-one basis.
“We have worked in partnership [with Tenax] and cooperation with each other to provide the best tour,” he went on to say. “Tenax is an incredible help utilizing their connections in the industry to coordinate the details of the trip inside Italy.”
The following article takes a look at each of the stops on this year’s SFA Italy Tour.
Breton and Lapitec
Our first stop of the trip was Breton, a manufacturer of machinery for natural stone, metals and ceramics, as well as engineered stone processing plants. Headquartered in Castello di Godego, Veneto, the company currently employees more than 900 people. It was founded more than 50 years ago in 1963 by Marcello Toncelli under the name Brevetti Toncelli, which was later shortened to Bre-Ton and finally Breton, for which it is known today.
With 51,000 square feet of production space at its 2 million-square-foot headquarters in Italy, the company also operates a U.S. counterpart, Breton USA, more than 5,000 miles west in Sarasota, FL, which was founded in 2004.
“We are not focusing on building the best machines; we would like to focus on building a high level of performance,” said Stefano Costa, export sales manager for Breton S.p.A. “Every single customer is important.”
Breton has also developed virtual reality (VR) software for customers wishing to build a stone processing plant or add more machinery to their existing plants known as Visual Components. They’re able to recommend different types of machinery based on the customer’s needs, production and shop size -- and the customer is also able to see exactly what their new shop would look like with the additions in real time, a new and beneficial concept. “We always relied on drawings, but now we can show our customers via VR,” said Costa. “People want to try things, test things and see them before they buy anything. It’s hard to see your solution on paper; it’s a solution, not your solution. The VR software takes it to a new level. This is your plant. This is what you’re going to buy.”
“The Breton factory was really amazing to see where our CNC router and CNC saw was built and seeing the same machines being built while we toured the factory,” added Mark Magers, owner of MaxStone Marble & Granite in Great Falls, MT. “It was an amazing and very clean factory. After seeing the factory, I understand and see why people in our trade want Breton equipment.”
While Breton continues to focus on the production of machinery and tooling, in 2011, it established Lapitec, a sintered stone that features the mechanical and physical properties of porcelain, which is made of 100% minerals without resins or petroleum derivatives. Fire-, frost-, UV-, water-, stain-, mold- and bacteria-resistant, Lapitec is suited for both outdoor and indoor installations. Available in 18 different colors and 9 finishes, sizes span as large as 5 x 11 feet.
Lapitec’s processing plant, which sits on 1 million square feet of land and is located not too far away from Breton’s facility in Vedelago, was constructed entirely using Lapitec products. The plant also utilizes all Breton machinery, including the Smartcut and Combicut, as well as Fila and Tenax products for cleaning and sealing.
“Sintered stone is its own category,” said Francesco Giannini, area manager at Lapitec S.p.A. “We don’t like to be compared to ceramics or porcelain.”
We concluded the first day at Margraf S.p.A. in Chiampo, about 50 miles west of Vedelago, which processes all types of natural stone and tile, including marble, granite, quartzite, limestone, travertine, quartz and porcelain. Its glass-clad headquarters features art pieces crafted from both tile and stone, which was visually pleasing. Upon entering the facility, your eyes are immediately drawn to the floors, which are adorned with uniquely designed waterjet patterns cut from white and black marble. The intricate patterns carry onto the walls and staircases throughout the lobby -- a really neat addition -- complemented by various other free-standing tile mosaics and three-dimensional stone sculptures, which evoked a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from the group. A two-story water wall constructed of stacked stone, which cascaded down the walls behind the reception desk, was also a favorite.
Margraf began as a small family operated business with only four people, which has now grown to incorporate 250 employees. Currently, the company operates 14 quarries throughout Italy, with one in Rome dedicated solely to travertine production and one in Sicily solely dedicated to quartz production. We were lucky enough to tour their headquarters and production facility, which showcased some impressive marble sculptures that sell for as much as 28,000 € each, as well as their 1,475,000-square-foot logistics hub in Gambellara. Located about 12 miles south, the logistics hub features a one-of-a-kind, experimental parabolic marble arch outside of the facility along Autostrada A4, which was designed by Raffaello Galiotto. The 50-foot-tall arch, known as Arcolitico, is covered in Fior di Pesco marble.
The facility was purchased almost three years ago to hold already purchased slabs. “This is the largest warehouse in Italy for natural stone, ceramic, quartz, cement and composite stone,” said sales manager, Luca Borchia, of the expansive facility that houses a selection of 50,000 stone slabs.
The Filter Project
To kick off the second day, the group headed east to visit The Filter Project in San Bonifacio, Veneto, which welcomed us with open arms as if we were part of the family. The smaller family owned business, which has been operating for more than 20 years, manufactures water treatment and water filtration systems, as well as dust collection systems.
“We can customize any product to your needs,” said export manager, Loredana Prioli, of their OSHA-certified equipment.
The Filter Project offers two main systems, with one that utilizes a filter press and another that uses filter bags. “It depends on how much you produce and how much water you use as to which system you should utilize,” said Prioli, who explained how the company can create any water system for your needs or take an existing water system that is in place and customize it part-by-part.
The family also gave us detailed demonstrations of every one of their dust collection systems, highlighting the benefits of each model, which gave fabricators more of an inside look at how these products differ from one another and which is best to utilize for their type of business.
“Their customer service is always top-notch,” said Brian Gambrell, project manager of Tenax USA and managing partner of Weha USA. “Customer service means more than what you’re getting.”
From The Filter Project, we traveled about 30 miles northeast to Domegliara, Veneto, to visit Donatoni’s new establishment, which was built in 2017. Founded 60 years ago, Donatoni is one of the leading producers of machinery for marble, granite and natural stone, which is located in the “district of marble,” according to marketing manager, Andrea Corradini. The company’s mission is to create “reliable, easy-to-use and versatile” machines. “You need to have the right machine for your needs, not the biggest machine,” said Corradini.
Less than five years ago in 2014, Donatoni partnered with Intermac, which has allowed the company to expand globally into a handful of continents, including Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Oceania. The company also has a partnership with Montresor, a company specialized in the manufacturing of edge polishing machines, which has also advanced their operations.
During our visit, Corradini explained how the company is currently building another production facility about 100 meters from the showroom and offices we visited, where they will only produce two of their CNC machines, SX-3 and SX-5.
After an all-inclusive tour, we took a 10-minute ride to Rivoli Veronese to see the capabilities of Donatoni machines at Citco, which utilizes Donatoni machines for their creations. The almost 30-year-old company, which was named after Iraqi-born owner Camiran Rasool (“Camiran International Trading Company”), is best known for artistically reshaping blocks of marble into an assortment of flooring, furniture and accessories.
Outside of the showroom’s entrance, a life-size, three-dimensional rhino stands -- one of the feature pieces replicated in Donatoni’s showroom, which was created specifically for Citco -- setting the tone for the entire experience. Walking inside is like walking into a secret museum. At first, it seems like a normal office building, but advancing further, you’re greeted by a circular staircase crafted from blocks of pure white marble, which stands more than three stories tall. And we thought this was the coolest feature.
Shortly after a brief company history, we were carefully guided down the jaw-dropping staircase, which led us to some of the most exclusive artwork created with dimensional stone. Citco, which regularly collaborates with acclaimed international architects and designers thanks to Rasool’s longstanding relationships, creates highly customizable, show-stopping pieces that are ideal for hotels, commercial spaces and high-end homes. Surreal and breathtaking, to say the very least. “This is the coolest place I’ve ever been in my life,” said Jason Cancro of Stone Resources, LLC in Danbury, CT. A comment all of us in the group wouldn’t argue.
The jam-packed day ended with a stop at Santamargherita S.p.A., located not too far away in Volargne, Dolcè. Founded more than 50 years ago, with deep roots in Valpolicella, the company specializes in the manufacturing and importation of quartz from Germany, Turkey and Brazil.
We visited the quartz factory at the company’s headquarters, which was an eye-opening experience, since most attendees hadn’t seen one before, especially overseas. Different processes, in terms of tooling and manufacturing, are required to produce the manmade material, and it was nice to see the production variations between that and natural stone. Having visited several porcelain and ceramic tile manufacturing facilities, the production process looked quite similar, from what I observed.
With between 35% and 40% of its products exported to the U.S., Santamargherita is also a private label for Arizona Tile, among many other tile companies. “We try to keep a balance between private label and our own branded products,” said Michele Caneva, sales manager at Santamargherita.
The quartz facility, which utilizes all Breton machinery, produces around 1,000 slabs each day and sells between 12,000 and 13,000 slabs each month to more than 70 countries around the world. “The U.S. is our largest export market next to Italy and the European Union,” said Caneva.
On the third day, we headed back to Volargne to visit Tenax’s Italian headquarters. Founded in 1956, Tenax specializes in the production of surface treatments, sealers, epoxies, abrasives, mastics, glues, blades, as well as other products and tools for the stone and tile industries.
With more than 160 employees, the Tenax complex features a range of buildings, including the showroom and offices (known as “Casa Tenax”), laboratories, research and development facilities, and production facilities. The company also operates a U.S. counterpart, Tenax USA, which is based in Charlotte, NC.
Last year at its headquarters in Italy, Tenax had Italian stone machinery manufacturer, Pedrini, produce a smaller version of an edge polishing machine for them to test new formulas on natural stone to ensure their accuracy. “We can now do everything in-house so the products that go out are true and tested,” said Filippo Emanuel, CEO of Tenax USA, LLC.
Emanuel, who gave us a detailed tour of the entire compound, explained how the name of the company derived more than 50 years ago. “The highest grade in Italy is 10 and our product in Italy is ‘extra’ so they thought ‘10-X’ would be a good name,” he said. “From there, it became Tenax.”
In Tenax’s testing lab, which was created three years ago, the reverse engineering machinery allows them to see what’s happening inside of the formulas they create, some of the newest technology on the market. “In chemistry, there are no secrets,” said Emanuel. “The machines can tell you exactly how the products were made.”
The lab also features machinery that stimulates outdoor conditions -- UV exposure, rain, and freeze-and-thaw cycles -- to see how their products react and withstand different environments over different time periods, which was really interesting.
From Tenax, we headed about five miles west to Antolini, which was a marvel. Aside from the company’s stature in the industry, the headquarters in Cavaion Veronese is beyond impressive. Spanning almost 5.5 million square feet, the sheer size of the complex stretches further than the eye can see, incorporating handfuls of buildings for the production and storage of various types of natural stone. Antolini, which was founded in 1956, began all of its operations in one of the buildings onsite and has grown into what it is today.
The company is known for its exclusivity, which is seen in the unfathomable range of stones offered. With more than 1,000 different options, there are buildings onsite dedicated solely to housing white marble, onyx and even precious stones -- and that is only a glimpse at what the company has to offer.
Each slab produced is trademarked using the Antolini Vacuum Process, an embedded mesh backing that cannot be removed, which is a patented process that was created to make brittle products strong enough to hold up to any installation. “The idea is to let you take advantage of beautiful materials that have special characteristics,” said Tiziana Bellantuoni, sales area manager at Antolini. “Our focus is to try and sell a concept -- to allow designers and professionals to envision uses of stone that are outside of the traditional bathrooms and kitchens. We want you to be more adventurous.”
Another thing that stood out was the company’s innovative “Wow” Factory, the first fully automated factory in Italy, which was designed using customized machinery from Breton. The quality control for the slabs produced here are also only inspected by women, since “they have a better eye for detail and can spot defects better,” according to Bellantuoni. Four women are onsite at all times, which change shifts every couple of hours to ensure accuracy.
The third day began with a trip to CMS, located in the mountainous commune of Zogno, Lombardy, about 50 miles from the border of Switzerland -- a tucked away gem that many people may not know about. Arriving at the facility, we were greeted by 360-degree mountain views, as representatives from the company and its U.S. counterpart, CMS North America, Inc., explained the company history. Founded in 1969, CMS produces machinery for plastic, advanced materials/composites, wood, stone and glass. The new facility we visited in Zogno was built last year because they needed more space for production. “We like to show the customer not only the machines, but the process,” said Ivan Ponti, product area manager for stone at CMS SpA. “All parts are made in-house.”
The name CMS stems from “construzionale macchina specialize,” which translates to “special construction of machines” in Italian. “We are very true to our name,” said Ponti.
With almost 4,000 employees worldwide, CMS has grown substantially since its inception. In 1985, the company created its first CNC machine for stone production. “Our machines are made to service the stone industry,” said Saba Vasanthan, divisional market manager of stone and glass at CMS North America, Inc. in Caledonia, MI. “Our forte is making customized machines.”
CMS sells the same machinery in the U.S. as they do in Italy, according to Vasanthan. “The U.S. market for CMS is very important,” he said.
The day ended delightfully with a stop at Comandulli in Castelleone, Cremona, located about 45 miles south. We were greeted by company owner, Ernesto Comandulli, and his daughter, Mara, who is training to soon take his place. They gave us a detailed company history in the 194,000-square-foot facility, which also showcases unparalleled mountainous views.
Founded in 1972, Comandulli specializes in the production of edge polishing machines and bridge saws. Alike many of the companies on our tour, the company makes all of its parts in-house.
With almost 100 employees, the company launched a U.S. branch in 2013 to expand its operations, which has proved successful, according to Comandulli. “Perfection is obtained by always discussing it,” he said of the company philosophy and one of the many mantras he repeats to his employees.
Later that night, Comandulli took our group to a quaint historical restaurant in Crema, Ristorante Il Rodottino. A picturesque town out of a movie, Crema features cobblestone streets, Gothic-style cathedrals from the 1300s and narrow alleyways turned into streets that can barely fit cars. The walk to the dinner was a blast from the past, with centuries of history packed into the memorable riverside city.
The following day was one for the books. A long-awaited trip to Henraux’s Cervaiole quarry in the Apuan Alps to see Carrara marble in its natural habitat was a bit surreal, if I’m being completely honest. You always read about things like this in books or see photos online, but nothing can compare to actually seeing it with your own eyes. The quarry, accessible only by a steep and winding, 7-foot-wide hill with no guardrails, had some of the finest Carrara marble I’ve ever seen. Skyscraper-sized mountains exposing tons of the raw material were right in front of our eyes, where we were also able to observe firsthand how laborious (and quite dangerous) the quarrying process actually is.
With a seemingly endless supply of white marble, this area is Italy’s most marble-rich region for a reason. Although the quarriers pointed out the major differences in the mountain’s landscape compared to that of 20 years ago, they predict about another two lifetimes of quarrying before operations are forced to stop due to environmental impacts.
From the quarry, we headed to Henraux’s processing facility and headquarters in Quercerta, Tuscany, where we got an inside look at the company’s operations. Henraux, which was founded almost 200 years ago in 1821, only quarries marble, but imports other stones such as granite from countries all over the world, including Brazil, India and Spain.
With 140 employees, the company currently operates seven quarries throughout Italy and cuts around 200 blocks every month to maintain production, according to Valter Bonuccelli, commercial sales manager of the Middle East and South America at Henraux. “We started working with granite in 1970, and before that, we primarily worked with marble,” he said.
Bonuccelli took us through Henraux’s production facility, showing us how the company creates three-dimensional sculptures and other statement pieces, which are used to decorate everything from walls to floors. We also toured their new showroom, where stone used to construct almost everything inside -- from the bookshelves to stairs and even the handrails -- showcasing all of the capabilities of their stone designs.
After the unparalleled experience at Henraux, we traveled west in Tuscany to Massa to visit Nicolai Diamant. Founded in 1980, the company specializes in the production of diamond tooling for the cutting, polishing and finishing of stone, ceramic and engineered stone. Starting with innovative technology in the stone industry, Nicolai Diamant has expanded its technological horizons to the artificial stone, ceramic and glass industries. With two production buildings and an intricately involved process to create tools, the company is also at the forefront of innovation.
“Nicolai’s research and development team works for the innovative and optimized solutions for our customer’s needs,” said Steve Martin of Nicolai North America in Grand Rapids, MI. “These technological solutions derived by Nicolai are always compatible with various machines of different manufacturers.”
With three locations -- Nicolai Diamant’s headquarters in Massa, Italy; a small facility in Moscow, Russia; and Nicolai North America’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, MI -- the company currently employs a total of 50 people. In Italy, the company produces profiling and polishing wheels, as well as 5-axis tooling for CNC machines and robots; in the U.S., production is focused mainly on ProGlo and Giotto polishing pads, and all other American abrasive polishing pads.
“Since we are not producing profiling wheels and CNC machining solutions in the U.S., we keep $2 million worth of those tools at our headquarters in Michigan,” said Martin. “Both Italy and the U.S. have diamond redressing services that clients can take advantage of if they ship their profiling wheels in for us to prolong the life of their tools.”
After the interactive tour of Nicolai’s factory -- where we even got an inside look at how intricate the process is to make these types of tools and how much time is involved in perfecting the techniques -- representatives took us on an exclusive tour of the Studi d’Arte Cave Michelangelo in Carrara, which is located only five miles away, where highly skilled sculptors create monumental works of art and internal features for contemporary artists.
The stature of the sculptures we saw in the 16,000-square-foot studio were beyond impressive -- with several imitations of Michelangelo’s David standing more than 10 feet tall, as well as a plethora of other unique creations such as human-sized hands and mythological creatures. To get an inside look at something like that was an honor.
We then headed back to Massa for a quick visit a renowned local museum to see an exclusive collection of three-dimensional marble sculptures created by local artists over the years. Some sculptures dated back as far as the 1970s, before the times of CNC machines and hand polishers, when everything was crafted by hand. It was nice to see the connection of history and stonework.
Shortly afterwards, we ended the night with a sunset dinner at Palmo Mare along the Ligurian Sea, something most people won’t ever have the privilege of doing in their lifetime and which I will forever cherish. Aside from the plethora of good food, the room was full of conversation and bustling discussions of the journey. A little family had formed, another goal that was fulfilled.
Early the next morning, we ended the trip with a bang. Nicolai graciously hosted private helicopter rides overlooking the quarry we had seen the day before, as well as various others, which was something out of a dream, especially for someone like me who had never taken a helicopter ride. The 15-minute journey, which seemed to fly by, showcased the marble-rich region of Italy in all its glory -- from the miles of currently quarried mountains to the quaint towns that are nestled in between.
Later on that night, the group headed to downtown Florence for a farewell dinner at one of the best tucked away secrets in the city, La Fettuna. Over Steak Florentine, the members all told me what they took away from this trip and how beneficial the SFA has been in the development of each and every one of their businesses. We left our mark on the hundred-year-old walls of the highly rated establishment, which features countless placemat drawings from visitors from all over the world. The SFA logo stands strong on that wall, along with the names of all of the participants in this year’s trip, in case you ever happen to visit.
More importantly, if you are a member of the SFA and looking to learn more about all aspects of the stone industry, applying to this once-in-a-lifetime trip is something that should be at the top of your list. There are countless things to learn and unparalleled memories to be made.
To apply for next year’s trip, all you need to do is complete the application through the SFA. Up-to-date announcements can be seen on the SFA’s website, www.stonefabricatorsalliance.com, or on the Facebook group page, StoneFabricatorsAlliance.com.
The 2019 SFA Italy Tour group
We asked this year’s group what the most beneficial thing they took away from this
year’s trip and how the SFA has affected their business, and this is what they had to say.
Ryan Brandt, vice president at Pyramid Marble & Granite in Effingham, IL
To copy Geoffrey Gran, “We can’t even make little flat rectangle countertops right.” Not totally true, but we do see a lot of challenges every day. It was eye-opening to see some of the amazing work that is being done in stone. I looked at a lot of things that were happening thinking in my head that I could do that. The next thought was, “Why are we not doing that?” The most important thing I took home was a new perspective. We consider our company to be an industry leader and in our field we definitely are. There is just so much more we can be doing and so much more value we can provide our clients.
I would think on this question you will get a lot of the same answers. The number one thing the SFA provides in my mind is an environment for networking. I learn the most by listening to what others have to say (mostly with a grain of salt, because it’s half true) and take away small pieces of value. The bit of good information you can drag out of these conversations is the knowledge you can use to make your business better. That creates immeasurable value. Just since the trip, I have visited some of the shops that I met the owners of on the Italy trip. I have talked to multiple others on the phone.
Ray Bianchi, owner of RB Design and Fabrication Inc. in San Carlos, CA
The most beneficial take-away from the trip for me would be the inspirational part. It has motivated me to fine-tune our business from finishing our office and making it look great (even though it is not a showroom) to putting refined systems in place to take us to another level. This came from visiting unbelievable material manufacturers’ facilities/showrooms to interfacing with those on the trip with me. What we saw and experienced will be forever etched in my mind.
The SFA has been instrumental in the development of our stone division from what equipment to buy to how we manage the business. It is the “go to” resource for any advice we may need relating to business in general.
Dwayne Brown, owner of Accent Granite Interiors in Elberton, GA
The most beneficial thing was hanging with fellow fabricators, talking and discussing different business strategies and techniques. The most innovative thing I saw were the robots at Antolini and the coolest thing was at Citco with their marble circular staircase.
The SFA has affected my business by being more knowledgeable about how the product is manufactured from the quarry. Also, when I need help with something or have a problem, I get flooded with information from other fabricators.
Jason Cancro, sales manager at Stone Resources of Connecticut, LLC in Danbury, CT
I would say the most beneficial thing I took away was realizing what is really possible to do in this industry by thinking outside of the box just a little bit. Seeing some of the amazing things that these companies were actually doing gave me a lot of inspiration and desire to do more.
Being a member of the SFA has introduced me to opportunities and experiences that I never thought were possible. I have met amazing people from the industry and they have opened my eyes to the fact that there are always other people out there that can still teach you something new about your business and yourself.
Chris Connelly, partner at Buffalo Cabinetry and Bath Creations in Buffalo, NY
To say that was the trip of a lifetime would be a gross understatement. The memories of that trip bring me a smile daily. It was the combination of the sights, food, experiences, and mostly the people. I feel very fortunate to be in the class of 2019. The directors were looking for “extraordinary” people and they certainly got them.
Geoffrey Gran, owner of The Countertop Factory Midwest in Addison, IL
For 14 years, my company has been fabricating mostly countertops (lots of rectangles and squares). This past May, I was invited to visit Italy with the SFA. We travelled the Italian countryside, visiting equipment manufacturers, quarries and tool producers. We were invited to meet with companies that manufactured amazing, beautiful artwork from stone. Monumental works of artistry from blocks of marble. But, I did not see any countertop manufacturing during our visit. I feel like I had been living in a countertop-only world with blinders on and the SFA Italy trip opened my eyes to all of the amazing byproducts that are created in our industry. I realized that our industry is so much greater than countertops and that we have so much more to offer our customers. And to make the trip even more memorable, the group of men and women that I was lucky enough to travel with were best-in-class. We all came from different cities, backgrounds, educational and experience levels, but our cohesiveness was undeniable. We all shared the love (and sometimes frustrations) of our industry and we were all there to learn. Learn how to be better business owners, fabricators and continue forward progress to improve our industry.
If one continues on the same path, without changes, he will never know if there is a better way. The SFA is a large group of fabrication companies (and they vary in many ways) that is committed to the continuous improvement of our industry. The SFA has been an amazing outlet for me to share some of the success we have had over the years. It has allowed my company to dive into the rich resources that the SFA provides to find answers to challenges that we were facing. The SFA has been an undeniable outlet for my company and we are better because of the SFA and its members.
Randy Hunn, owner of Euro Stone Craft in Herndon, VA
Perhaps my imagination was opened by the magnificent stone installations. I would not have thought creations such as those possible had I not seen and touched them. Carved and textured wall cladding that seemed to flow like water, or fly into the clouds. Walls that change color and pattern as we walked past. I have gained a new way of thinking about how to use natural stone within a building. Or maybe the most beneficial thing was getting to know the people behind the products. The individuals that founded the factories, their engineers and technical sales teams. The chemists, plant operators and support personnel. The machinists, programmers, assemblers and quality control workers. The family, mom, dad and grown children building dust collectors and water treatment plants just for stone fabricators. Suddenly, the tool catalogues look different. When I look at a tool, I now see the owner’s son and his workers mixing the metal dust and diamonds then packing the powder into molds. Melting the mixture to form the sections then welding them one by one on to the core. I see them engraving their name on the tool and carefully boxing them one by one.
I think that most would agree that the biggest benefits of the trip was meeting other SFA members. Tapping their knowledge and experience. Two generations of fabrication and business experience on one bus. The group ranged from a very large shop to the smallest operation. Some people were quiet and reserved, others unfiltered. Each with a unique set of customers, problems and ambitions. We discussed subjects as varied as thermal forming quartz, setting up an installation truck, marketing, sales technique, pricing strategies and setting up the general ledger. We talked about the pros and cons of using a line machine, sawjet or 5-axis saw vs. hand fabrication and polishing. We discussed going digital and how to enter the digital world. Each happy to share their successes and failures, experience and technique. All of this mixed with humor and good fellowship. And the knowledge that I can always reach out to them for help and advice.
Mark Magers, owner of MaxStone Marble & Granite in Great Falls, MT
The most beneficial thing I got from the trip was the relationships that were formed. The relationships with both the other fabricators, as well as the businesses sponsoring the trip. At this point, I feel like I can call about any of the companies we visited to make inquiries or purchases. I also know I can contact any of the other fabricators in the U.S. or Canada that I traveled with to help me with a question/problem or just to visit. Of course, the quarries were unbelievable, but additionally I was blown away by Santa Margherita’s tour of actually watching a quartz slab being made, which was so informative and not what I was expecting.
There are so many things I could say about SFA, but the bottom line is it saves me time and money. My wife might disagree with the time part as I am scrolling through the site on my tablet every night at home. I can’t even put a value on the expertise that is shared. The members have so much experience and their willingness to share with each other is the true value of belonging. It is the best $100/year I could possibly spend.I would recommend the membership to anyone.
Ian Morris, production manager at SSC Countertops in Burnaby, Canada
The most beneficial thing I took away from the trip was the knowledge that the future of our industry is in good hands. From the old school men working in the marble quarries and carving shops to the younger, more tech savvy generation working in the factories developing new saws, CNC machines, software, materials, adhesives, etc. to increase quality throughout our industry. You can instantly feel their passion for their work as soon as you meet them.
Being a member of the SFA has affected our business in a very positive way. It’s great being a part of an organization where every single member has a common goal: to always produce the best possible work we can, regardless of the size of your shop, amount of machines you have, number of staff you employ or market in which you compete. Maybe your bridge saw has decided it doesn’t want to work one day, you are having an issue removing a stain from an extremely porous quartzite or you are just looking for a friend to talk to; the SFA is the place to go.
Bobbi Price, owner of Carved in Stone in Jefferson City, MO and Rolla, MO
The most beneficial thing I took from this trip was the people I was able to connect with at the many places we visited. These contacts will be invaluable as we continue to grow our business. Also, the amazing art created from stone was genuinely inspiring. It showed that there are truly no boundaries when it comes to natural stone.
The SFA is an awesome organization that has allowed for our staff to have an open mind about how the end product is achieved. Everyone in business may think their way is the best way until you get in a group like the SFA and you start questioning other members about how do you do this or how do you do that. The sharing of ideas and experiences with other fabricators/business owners is invaluable. Our business has flourished because the members (now friends) have been open and honest about the way they run their business. They are not afraid to share their achievements or their failures; we all learn from both.
Andy Proctor, owner of Proctor Marble & Granite in Nashville, TN
The most beneficial thing I took away from the trip was the connections that I made. I have only been a member for a short period of time, however, it has had an effect on the way that I approach the management of my shop.
Gilbert Rivera, owner of Legacy Granite & Marble Co. Inc. in Houston, TX
I have to say that the most mind-blowing aspect of the trip was the up-to-date information provided concerning the marble, granite and stone industry, as well as the diversity of materials now available. Advanced technology has created state-of-the-art machines that have reached possibilities far beyond what was possible just a few years ago. This trip was truly an eye-opening, educational and fulfilling experience, to say the least.
Through SFA, I can undoubtedly say that I have grown in my knowledge of the marble, granite and stone industry as a whole. Through valuable and informative insight obtained from SFA, I have learned volumes on expanding my business. The SFA trips allow me to disconnect from the norm so that I can focus on the granite, marble and stone industry, and see, first hand, how it is evolving worldwide. By networking with other members and having the privilege of working with them in many of the workshops provided through SFA, I can definitely attest to the fact that my business has experienced exponential growth. Our exposure to the advanced technology available to our companies through the digital world, as it relates to stone, is priceless. The directors in charge have done an amazing job. I am grateful to be a member of the SFA.
Jordan Schenn, owner of BellaRocha Countertops in Saskatoon, Canada
I’d have to say that of all the factories, quarries, shops and warehouses we went to (and they were all great), it was the bus where I found myself learning the most. Being in that bus with 20 other business owners from the same industry, sometimes for hours and hours at a time, we were always sharing our problems, solutions, procedures, triumphs and failures, and what was learned from them. What I took away from this, that I now understand, is that it’s not about hiding your ideas or “stealing” someone else’s, but sharing and perfecting these ideas to help our industry get stronger.
The SFA has had an invaluable effect on my business. It’s a community safety net, which I can rely on whenever I find myself in need of one. Whenever we need advice, I throw a question or picture on the website and usually within minutes someone has a solution or a contact to someone that has the answer I’m looking for. What more could a granite shop owner ask for.
Rob Smeton, owner of Artisan Granite & Tile LLC in Nine Mile Falls, WA
The most beneficial take-away is the great contacts made for raw and finished materials. The ability to have a firsthand walk through with multiple machine manufactures. On this trip, I was in the market for a new bridge saw and I found what I was looking for.
Being a SFA member has been incredibly useful to converse with other members on problems from glues to fabrication technology. It has been awesome, and to top it off with this unimaginable gift given by the directors to share this part of our industry is humbling to see the brotherhood of our trade through this organization.
Fred Walker, owner of Maryville Top Shop Inc. in Maryville, TN
Travelling to the Antolini site was the most informative part of the trip for me. Being able to learn about all of the “WOW” processes that set them apart in the industry was an eye-opening experience.
Having the opportunity to be a part of the trips, such as this Italy tour, and gain new and innovative ideas, practices and standards with other fabricators from all over the nation helps to maintain reasonable practices and standards.
Terry Wick, owner of A&T Stoneworks in Palmdale, CA
The Italy 2019 trip opened my eyes to great possibilities for my business. Talking to manufacturers about importing slabs, which is something I had not considered. Seeing advances in the machinery and how they might benefit my business. Checking out firsthand how diamond tooling is made and the quality of Nicolai products. The incredible advances in ancillary products like sealers, stains and epoxies by Tenax. The best part was being able to discuss fabrication, installation and business practices with some of the best fabricators in North America. I have been in business since 1984 and this was the single most impactful program I have participated in.
Tim Zeng, owner of Zeng Granite Inc. in Lincoln, NE
I never realized the scope of statuary stone until seeing it in Italy. All of the sculptures that we saw were just amazing and it shows just how different the stone world is in Italy versus the U.S. There is a different “art” of stone in Italy. In the U.S., yes it is nice to have a kitchen or fireplace clad in stone, but over there it seems to be a different mindset about stone. We like the “look” of the stone here and they like the “beauty” of the stone there. I will also never forget this trip and the people I was with during our nine-day adventure. We are all a little family now in our own special way.
I can’t explain what the SFA has done to my business. There is just too much to say. I have reduced my learning curve by probably 5 to 10 years, I have saved thousands and thousands of dollars by the equipment purchases I have made through the SFA, I have gone to Italy (not once, but will be two times here shortly), I have learned valuable information at each and every workshop, and maybe one of the most important things is that I have made friends in an industry that I have a vested interest in. Meaning, I have never seen another industry that has an organization that is there to help me be successful. I have never seen an organization that has members that are so willing to give me advice about any aspect of the business.