Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

Steve Bussell from Braxton-Bragg demos and answers questions about the new Stone Pro Seam Machine at the recent MIA+BSI Town Hall meeting.

Steve Bussell from Braxton-Bragg demos and answers questions about the new Stone Pro Seam Machine at the recent MIA+BSI Town Hall meeting.

Somehow, ideas and advice are more credible when they come from someone who walks in your shoes and does what you do.

Somehow, ideas and advice are more credible when they come from someone who walks in your shoes and does what you do. 

It takes a village to raise a child.” A lot of people think Hillary Clinton coined that phrase, but it’s actually an old African proverb that came out of Nigeria. No matter its origins, as anyone with children well knows – it’s TRUE! You need family, friends, teachers, babysitters, counselors and so many other people to help raise a child. Raising children is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart. What about a business? Does it take a village to raise a successful business? ABSOLUTELY!

Recently, on a balmy winter day in February, a group of strangers got together in Charlotte, North Carolina and discussed the stone business. It was called “A Town Hall Meeting for Fabricators.” This meeting had a very specific agenda that had been sent out in advance to everyone who registered. A very nice gentleman from the Natural Stone Institute was on hand to orchestrate everything and keep it moving. Martin Gould was the main speaker (If you ever get a chance to hear him, you should go). There were lots of industry vendors, demonstrations, and some awesome giveaways and takeaways, for that matter. 

The early morning portion of the seminar was devoted to networking (and eating some breakfast).

Strangers, all in the stone business, got to meet and talk to each other. Plus, there was the opportunity to talk to vendors and get some up-close-and-personal product demonstrations. Steve Bussell from Braxton-Bragg was demonstrating the new Stone Pro Seam Machine. Now, I am no industry expert on seam setters, but this tool is amazing. But unless you climb out from behind your CNC and look around at the world, how would you know about it?

The morning topic of discussion was “Marketing Your Company in Today’s Business Environment.” Since I do marketing for my company, I am always looking for clarification and help. I can only assume that everyone else is too.

Martin Gould gave a very informative presentation on the topic and made some very interesting points and observations. He has an idea about “target marketing” that is really fascinating and worth some consideration. He has a whole strategy on how to pinpoint your demographic and create a marketing (mobile ads, e-mails, etc.) to fit your demographic group. In theory, it sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually quite complex. 

He handed out some copies of his book, The Customer Shop, which I will read and review in an upcoming column. Even though I haven’t read it yet, anybody that ends their presentation with a clip of George Carlin is OK in my book! There was some interesting back and forth as Gould answered audience questions. But again, if you never come out from behind your desk, how would you know?

After lunch, there was a “Fabricator Forum” which was awesome and incredibly informative! This is where our homework came into play. Prior to arriving, we had all been asked to “make a list of five important issues affecting your company.” These questions would then be submitted to a panel of stone industry experts. The five issues I arrived with were:

#1 – What are the new “go to” social media sites for advertising?

Martin Gould actually answered that one for me, during his presentation. The buzz is that Facebook and Twitter are losing traction. Pinterest is BIG, and Snapchat and Instagram are gaining ground 

#2 – What is the best way to find and hire knowledgeable, competent employees?

It seems this is a common problem; solutions to this were a mixed bag.

Some shops are using temp agencies. Some used an ad forum like CraigsList and others relied on referrals and references from their employees (The Slippery Rock Online Classifieds are a great free resource when looking for qualified candidates).

#3 – Is there a way to identify trends in the market before they arrive so you can be prepared when they get here? 

In January there was an article in an industry magazine that predicted the new trends in the industry were going to be white marble in the kitchen, larger islands, Dekton and Neolith, waterfall edges and mitered seams. That information was great, but my company was already seeing those trends, and I was hoping to get some insight into something less readily apparent that may be coming in the near future. 

#4 – Besides reading magazines or going to shows like Surfaces or Coverings, what is the best way for the average fabricator to stay up to date on new products and technology? 

Not surprisingly, these smaller Town Hall meetings are a great way to do just that. All different kinds of vendors were in attendance. Not only did they get to put on demonstrations, but as the day went by, each vendor was given the opportunity to speak to us for a few minutes about his or her product. Blanco, Braxton-Bragg, Integra Adhesives  and Laser Products were there, just to name a few, and so many others. as well.

#5 - How do you deal with customers who do not pay their invoice balances?

Here again, there were a variety of answers. What I found most intriguing was that I didn’t hear anyone say that they used a collection agency. Very interesting! 

To be fair, I didn’t get answers to all my questions. Lots of people had questions (which is good). There was quite a long discussion about OSHA and the voluntary protection plan. There was also a long conversation about some new tax laws concerning taxable labor and labor vs. product. We touched on deposits for jobs vs. getting the whole payment up front like the big box stores do. There were lots of good ideas and great info flying around the room, and what made it so strong was the fact that everyone in the room was in the same business. Somehow, ideas and advice are more credible when they comes from someone who walks in your shoes and does what you do. 

Admittedly, Charlotte, North Carolina may not be convenient for everyone, but they hold these meetings all over the country. It may be different times or days in different places. It may even be different topics but the one thing for sure is that you learn something new. 

So, leave your comfort zone. Get out from behind your desk or your CNC machine. Put down your polishers and grinders (at least for a little while) and become part of the village. We need you!

Sharon Koehler is a 10- year veteran of the stone industry and currently head of marketing for Artistic Stone Design in Richmond, Va. She has been a regular contributor to various trade magazines for several years. Please send your thoughts on this or any other article to