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How to trade successfully with natural stone in the USA and Canada: a foreign supplier must work hand in hand with installers „to build a team“

Podium discussion at the Marble Trade Fair in Izmir: (f.l.t.r) David Castellucci (Kenneth Castellucci & Associates, USA), Herwig Callewier (Beltrami Natural Stone, Belgium), James Hogan (Carrara Marble Company of America, USA), Ali Abdel Kader (Egy-Mar, Egypt), Bruce Knaphus (Kepco+, USA) and Can Öztürk (CSI Code Impex LLC, USA-Turkey).

Experts of the Natural Stone Institute speaking at the Marble Trade Fair in Izmir explained how North America’s markets function

Openness, clear communication and trust are the keys to success in North America’s markets. This was the subject of a podium discussion at the Marble Trade Fair in Izmir (March 28th to 31st 2018). The natural Stone institute (formerly: MIA) had sent members who were already successful in the natural stone business in the USA and Canada. They addressed some 40 interested listeners explaining how best to deal with users and architects.

After all, the USA, what with an annual turn-over of some 3 billion dollars, is the worldwide largest market for natural stone.

Openness and clear communication are called for because natural stone is a natural product. E.g., „right from the start when sample of stone material are discussed, suppliers must inform architects that colors may vary within one lot“.

The same holds true for veins on slabs of marble. „What is and isn’t possible must be clearly stated (e.g. in interior design)“ is another requirement.

Commitment was another keyword which cropped up a number of times. It’s all about customer satisfaction – not half-heartedly or just enough to get by, but rather 150% or you will risk having a lawyer come calling and there will certainly never be a follow-up order. „Supplier and installer must work together as a team“.

Here, too, communication is of the essence: „From the quarry to the installer and beyond.“

Trust also means that the supplier must come forward with problems of his own accord and point out any possible hurdles even if the architect or fitter does not – perhaps because they did not have the needed expertise.

Next to the human factor which decides whether a deal is crowned with success, playing by the technical rules is also decisive. And the rules and legal requirements are stringent indeed, i.e. regarding tolerance and frost-resistance, which, depending on the climatic zone, can vary considerably from state to state.

One of these regulations stipulates that the material must be tested for import. The Natural Stone Institute has recently set up a laboratory especially equipped to carry out the necessary tests for the North American market.

Podium discussion at the Marble Trade Fair in Izmir, 2018.

That may sound complicated and confusing. But, in fact, it is not.

The Institute has compiled the rules in two volumes of reference which can be down-loaded even by non-members.

One is the „Dimension Stone Manual“, which gives detailed information to the more technical questions. Since its first edition 75 years ago it was reviewed and updated many times and now comprises some 500 pages of official forms as how-to-fill-in examples. Tongue-in-cheek it is referred to as the bible of the stone branch.

The other manual is the „Supplier-to-Buyer-Manual“: it gives detailed instructions on how suppliers and fitters/architects interact successfully and avoid conflict situations.
After the discussion, one question from the floor was why would representatives on the podium, all of the businessmen themselves, give advice on pursuing business in North America successfully.

The answer shows that members of the Natural Stone Institute stand above selfish motivation: „Our best shot at expanding the natural stone market is by constantly improving the quality of our products.“

Let us add an anecdote often attributed to Henry Ford: In the early days of the automobile there was much discussion among automobile producers as to whether or not they should contribute to building asphalt roads. After the various parties were at loggerheads, Henry Ford was called in. He merely commented: What is good for the automobile is also good for the Ford Motor Company.

Moderator of the discussion were David Castellucci (Kenneth Castellucci & Associates, USA). Podium speakers: Herwig Callewier (Beltrami Natural Stone, Belgium), James Hogan (Carrara Marble Company of America, USA), Ali Abdel Kader (Egy-Mar, Egypt), Bruce Knaphus (Kepco+, USA) and Can Öztürk (CSI Code Impex LLC, USA-Turkey).

Natural Stone Institute

Marble, Izmir (March 27 – 30, 2019)

Photos: IZFAŞ

(25.06.2018, USA: 06.15.2018)