Fab Learning at Digital Expo in Seattle

Fab Learning at Digital Expo in Seattle

On October 2, I had the opportunity to visit another Park Industries Digital Expo. Park Industries makes high-end equipment for countertop fabricators – waterjet/saws, CNC routers, edge polishers, water clarification systems, etc. Three or four times each year, they hold educational sales events hosted at their Minnesota manufacturing facility or on location at fabricators who use their equipment.

This time it was hosted by Floform at their impressive Seattle facility. It was my third such event, and although it was a bit smaller than the others (somewhere between 50-75 people), the conversation and spirit of learning amongst the fabricators in attendance was probably the best I’ve experienced at any stone event. From both speakers and attendees, I sensed excitement for the improvements they’ve been making in their businesses and optimism for continuing to learn and get better.

Granite Seattle Skyline in Floform's lobby

Granite Seattle Skyline in Floform’s lobby

Several successful fabricators spoke at the day-long event, including Paul Menninger of Capitol Marble & Granite, Blake Wamstad of Hatton Granite, Alan Jorgensen of Bedrock Quartz, and Ted Sherritt of Floform.

Paul is one of my favorite thinkers in the stone industry (listen to my StoneTalk interview with him to see what I mean). He shared many details about his processes. One of my favorites from this talk was “Uba Tuba Tuesdays” – they lump together jobs with common materials on regular days. This practice lets them increase nesting ACROSS jobs and reduce their material cost significantly. Brilliant.

Paul also gave simple advice for anyone using or considering JobTracker – go visit another shop similar to yours in a different market and see how they use it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel … plagiarize!

Blake made a fascinating point about running high-end equipment in a smaller shop. He said he only runs his Fastback polisher 1 hour per day. Intuitively, you’d think that you couldn’t invest in a machine you only ran for an hour a day, but the labor savings from that machine allowed it to pay for itself surprisingly quickly. I recently heard another fabricator say something similar – that the edge polisher was the easiest ROI in his shop, because it took six times the labor hours to do the same work by hand.

Alan and Ted used terminology that I had not heard before: “bid for best use” … when you give a quote to someone who’s shopping around, go ahead and quote the lowest price you can, but clearly specify that the quote is based on a layout that makes best use of the material (with least waste). If you win the job, you can then go back to the customer as you’re actually doing the layout and offer options where the vein looks better and feel good about charging more for those options – as long as you were clear that the original quote was “for best use.” Simple, but sounds like a good practice.

These were just some of the interesting topics discussed at this event. I also gave an overview of JobTracker and CounterGo, because we’re part of the ecosystem of companies that help you take your business digital (Laser Products and SlabSmith typically present at these events as well).

About half of the attendees were already Moraware customers, which is another reason I love attending events like this. It’s great to talk with customers face-to-face and hear about their successes and challenges with our software as well as their overall business challenges.

One recurring theme I heard is that customers want end-to-end solutions. Right now, an accounting package is part of the solution. Templating software like Laser Products is part of the solution. SlabSmith is part of the solution. JobTracker and CounterGo are part of the solution. Park’s saw interface is part of the solution. People want all those pieces to work together better than they do.

As an industry, we don’t have a “self-serve” answer for making all these products work together, but an “ecosystem” of partners like VPN Systems is emerging to help. Product companies like Moraware, Laser Products, SlabSmith, and Park Industries expose the ability to connect our software to each other, but a programmer with knowledge of the various systems is required to connect the pieces together for each specific customer’s unique requirements – that’s what companies like VPN Systems do. I think the product companies in our industry could do more to support the solution companies who do the connecting. At a minimum, we can shine a light on companies like VPN, Fabricator’s Choice, Duda Consulting, and others, so expect to hear more about them from us in the near future.

Again, the main message I’d like to send is that these events are extremely valuable. Even if you already have all your saws and CNCs – or even if you never intend to go digital – it’s worth it to spend a day in a room with other smart fabricators who are working on the same problems that you are. The folks at Park Industries do an outstanding job making these events truly educational and not just about sales (of course, you’ll hear how Park’s equipment fits into the overall picture, but that’s a good thing). We’re going to try to do more to promote these events in the future, because they appear to be so useful for many of our customers. I hope to see you at the next one!

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