Webinar of the Natural Stone Institute (NSI): “How the Stone Industry is reacting to Covid-19”

Screenshot from the webinar. On the right is the chatroom, where participants can ask questions. Above, 3rd from left: Jim Hieb as moderator.

Three heads of large companies in the US reported on their strategies and how they use internal and external communication, for example

Could it be that in the long run that more home office due to the Covid-19 crisis means fewer office buildings and, therefore, less turnover for the stone industry?

Brett Rugo raised the question during a webinar at the Natural Stone Institute (NSI). The online event had as its theme “How the Stone Industry is reacting to Covid-19” and attracted almost 140 participants. In addition to Brett Rugo (Rugo Stone), Katie Jensen (Triton Stone Group) and Scott Byers (Majestic Kitchen) were interviewed by moderator Jim Hieb (CEO of the Natural Stone Institute) about their business strategies.

One of the results of the discussion: Communication, both internal and external, plays a central role in navigating a company through the crisis. All 3 heads of larger companies have established regular video chats with their employees or even a daily memorandum. “It’s important to have everyone connected,” said Katie Jensen.

Another purpose of communication is to give employees security – “Transparency” is the keyword, and this also applies to job security.

Of course, in a crisis, helmsmen and helmswomen are expected to show a lot of flexibility, spontaneity, and improvisation. This starts with reorganizing processes, for example, when disinfection is suddenly an issue and continues with finding the means to do so.

Sometimes unexpected resources suddenly appear in the company: one of Brett Rugo’s employees had special knowledge of chemistry, as it turned out, and now the company mixes its own disinfectants and has also constructed equipment for hand disinfection.

Breathing masks are also a sensitive issue, not only in procurement. Scott Byers came across someone in his company who had experience in singing – the employee used this for a video about what masks are used for and how to use them.

Katie Jensen described another aspect of the flexibility mentioned: the fact that her employees had less to do than usual at the moment made her gain something positive. “It gives us a chance to do new projects that we didn’t normally have time to do.”

Overall, and it was a US-American webinar: fun at work should not be lost, was another key idea of the debate.

However, when the stone goods are delivered, for example, but only one driver is allowed in the truck because of social distancing, the art of flexibility is required again.

As far as external communication was concerned, Katie Jensen even discovered a new tool. Her company normally receives 4,000 customers per month in the showrooms – when they were temporarily closed to walking traffic, she introduced new functions on the company’s website to compensate for this: there is now the possibility of live chat, where materials can also be presented, and also an appointment system with the customer.

“It is something we will continue in the future,” she said about the time after Corona.

As far as home office is concerned, Scott Byers believes that he will handle it flexibly.

Finally, safety again. Brett Rugo and Scott Byers, who both have a lot to do on construction sites, gained an additional aspect from the topic: “Security should not only be a topic for us in times of Corona,” both said. “Speed and price are important but safety has to be paramount.”

Brett Rugo raised a question: Could the Corona experiences, which are essentially about protection for oneself and thus also protection for others, lead to more social responsibility?

When asked by moderator Jim Hieb about their assessments for the coming months, the three were “optimistic”, even if they expect a difficult second half of 2020.

However, the situation could develop very differently depending on the region in the US and the circumstances there.

The entire webinar of 60 minutes can be viewed on Youtube.

In the coming weeks, every Thursday, the Natural Stone Institute will offer further webinars on the topic:

* May 07 (1:00 PM — 2:00 PM, EST) Fabricator and Installer Roundtable Discussion: Covid-19
* May 14 (11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, EST) Stone Distributor Roundtable Discussion: Covid-19
* May 14 (1:00 PM — 2:00 PM, EST) Restoration and Maintenance Roundtable Discussion: Covid-19
* May 21 (11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, EST) Supplier to the Stone Industry Roundtable Discussion: Covid-19
* May 21 (1:00 PM — 2:00 PM, (EST) Quarriers and Producers Roundtable Discussion: Covid-19

Excerpt from the survey among NSI members on the impact of Covid-19. The study will be published shortly.

(03.05.2020, USA: 05.03.2020)