Sharon Koehler

Stone Industry Consultant

Coming Soon to a Summit Near YouThe NSI (Natural Stone Institute) is the backbone of this industry. They help us with education, advice, knowledge, and so many other things. If you have a problem, they have experts to help. If you want to learn more about certain aspects of this industry, they have classes. If you need stone information, they have a data base. They give virtual quarry tours, virtual informational webinars, and Women in Stone has regular virtual meetings as well. 

To that end, what you may or may not know is that the NSI holds town hall meetings around the country throughout the year. This year they visited seven states, from coast to coast, Virginia to California, Illinois to New Mexico. These meetings are open to various aspects of our industry: vendors, suppliers, fabricators, shop owners, and other industry personnel. The NSI posts these events on their website calendar, along with all their other events.

Registration in advance is the best way to go: .

Recently, NSI held a Town Hall Summit at MS International in Sterling, Virginia. There was a varied lineup of topics. The first topic up for discussion was “Coming Trends.” We all know that gray or gray and white has been the décor of choice for quite some time. That trend seems to be giving way to using warmer brown and gold tones, like Calcutta Gold. However, it was also mentioned that white porcelain is on the uptick and quartzites seem to be becoming more popular. NSI is going to try and put out some porcelain classes next year to help fabricators become more knowledgeable and comfortable with it.

 There was also a huge discussion on making or obtaining half slabs of quartz or porcelain slabs to make vanity projects more budget friendly. The end result to that was some suppliers have them and some don’t, so you just need to become familiar with your suppliers’ inventory, and don’t hesitate to ask your supplier if he has any broken pieces that might fit your project. 

Another trend that was discussed was the growing number of non-countertop projects fabricators were being asked to do. Fabricators are being asked to do more showers, walls, floors, and fireplaces. Fabricators also mentioned that the simpler edges like eased, or pencil were more the norm now, and the fancier edges such as ogee or triple pencil were just an every once in a while edge choice. Another thing that fabricators seem to dread, but seems to be a topic of discussion with customers, is when the project is 3cm material, but the customer wants a 2cm backsplash. 

After the topic of trends came a discussion on supply chain issues. Everyone seems to be having them to some degree. Customers seem to be aware that there are issues but the best thing to do is to just be upfront with your supply issues and let them know what you can do for them. On the backside, diversify your supply chain. Add suppliers to your  chain that can fortify your shop’s offerings. If you are having sink issues, look at new suppliers. The same goes for stone, quartz, faucets, tile, and anything else you may offer. This may mean working with suppliers that you never worked with before, but it also may ease or solve your supply chain problem. 

Shortages were not the only supply chain issue discussed. Port delays, skyrocketing prices, and secondary billing were also discussed with honestly. There was no resolution forthcoming, just plenty of voiced frustration from the gallery.

The biggest topic of the summit was OSHA Compliance. Should you bring OSHA into your shop on a voluntary basis for an OSHA consultation? NSI made several comments on this topic:

The largest category of OSHA compliant tickets seems to be in the areas of paperwork and training (i.e. – SDS sheets, safety documents, training sheets and information).

  • A voluntary OSHA consultation is free to everyone in every state.

  •  It is a complete and comprehensive safety audit of your company.

  • You must agree to fix any serious risks found during the inspection.

  • You usually have up to 90 days to fix issues unless the violation is extremely life- threatening.

  • OSHA also has Industrial Hygienists who can monitor shop noise, and conduct hearing and silica checks on the shop crew.

Signing up does prevent you from getting any tickets or fines from any OSHA representative that drops into your shop after you sign up for a consultation. You show that you are in consultation, even if they haven’t been there yet, and the OSHA representative that walked through your door unannounced will not continue inspection.

Signing up is as simple as going to .

During lunch there were tours of the MSI warehouse and plenty of time for networking with other suppliers, sponsors, fabricators, and vendors that were there. 

The afternoon session was just as informative as the morning session. The discussions revolved around where to find employees, plus how to train and retain them. The most popular method to find employees was through current employee referrals. There was a large discussion on how to train and retain employees. One gentleman gave tips on that as he has several employees who have been with him over a decade. There was also a discussion on employee appreciation as this helps with and pertains to retention.

A representative from Woman in Stone was also there and addressed the audience. She was explaining about the mentorship program which matches the skills the mentee is looking for with the skills a mentor has. It is not limited to the United States, this is a worldwide program. The mentor does have to qualify with at least 10 years of experience in the stone business.  

Toward the end, an NSI representative talked about the classes that the NSI offers. They encouraged everyone to check out the courses and gave several examples of how multiple employees can take the same class, also mentioning that these are accredited courses for anyone in the stone industry. 

There was a lot of activity and discussion at this regional event. Awards were given out. Vendors and sponsors spoke to the audience and manned information tables in the lobby. Many more topics were discussed other than the ones I’ve mentioned, there just isn’t enough room to mention everything. 

The point is: these meetings are informative, enlightening, and helpful for anyone in the industry. If you have never gone to one, check their calendar. Make the decision to go. As the meeting was breaking up, one fabricator stood up and said that he was leaving a better fabricator than when he came in. Isn’t that what we all want? To be better at what we do.

Please send your thoughts and comments on this article to Sharon Koehler at