Discussing the future of fabrication: ISFA Roundtable Recap in Portland, OR

Sep 24, 2019 | Business

My first ISFA Roundtable was a great experience. Spending quality time in person with ya’ll is probably my favorite part of this job. So first of all, thank you for always letting me ask you a couple million questions and being so open to sharing your successes and struggles as a fabricator. It helps companies like ours understand the process and what we can improve on to help ease some of those pain points.

That being said, I always enjoy being at the Precision Countertops facility and hearing about their amazing workflows. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a sea of computers with Moraware on the screens. That feels pretty okay.

Our group consisted of fabricators coming from as far as North Carolina, some Porcelain vendors, and a few outliers like me. Together we discussed the industry’s future with topics like the opportunity fabricators face with the porcelain trend, the use of technology in a countertop shop, and creative solutions to the dismal labor shortage. I’ve gathered a few of my favorite key points below for those who couldn’t make it.

Hello porcelain, you dainty thing

Some of you may remember the quartz resistance. Some of you, OK most of you, wish we could only install the ever-forgiving granite. Now, fabricators are facing a new trend – porcelain. Are you ready to adapt?

Just like when fabricators had to adapt to the rise of quartz, it’s time to evolve with the industry and stop resisting. That was clear. And on top of that, fabricators need to keep up with the different generations of porcelain and it’s capabilities. The questions on everyone’s mind seemed to be, “How do we educate ourselves as fabricators and reduce the risk we face with cutting an unforgiving surface?” Great questions, gang!

So, educating yourself on new surfaces and the best way to handle production… Is this up to the surface companies to do trainings? Is it on the fabricator’s plate to learn this through practice? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer in the industry, yet. But, either way your staff needs to be retrained on the material and the correct process for the new surfaces to avoid costly mistakes and higher risk.

The major takeaway I gleamed from this discussion was that when dealing with these ultra-compact, fragile surfaces – you have to set customer expectations. There are certain selling points that may lead the customer to choosing porcelain over quartz or granite, but they need to know all the differences. This includes the risk of repair and an imperfect countertop post-installation.

Ugh, hiring for a countertop shop

Hiring and retaining quality employees is the hottest topic these days. There are two parts to this and they go together beautifully.

The first problem being that it seems impossible to find applicants. Not even great applicants. Just applicants, period. What makes this even harder is that you don’t want just any applicant, you want those quality applicants. “Quality” in this case means an employee with a good attitude, is teachable, and long-term. So, in a labor shortage like the one the stone industry is experiencing…where do you go out in search for these unicorns? Really, we’re asking. We’d like to know what approaches you’ve found that have worked for you!

During this discussion, I heard a lot of creative approaches and even some honest confessions of considering poaching from other fabricators. Obviously, that isn’t a good strategy but some of the other ones were good starts. One of these included programs or outreach with local High School sports teams, shop classes, etc. Some established referral programs for their employees, encouraging their good employees to recommend more good employees. 

So, with hard work and maybe a little luck, you’ve found a few really great new employees. Now, you’ve got to keep them. It’s not just a good paycheck anymore. You’ve got to make sure they’re happy. A good and happy employee isn’t looking for new opportunities. They don’t want to be poached. And, even better, they’ll spread the good word about your work environment to other potential employees. Whether this is providing excellent pay and benefits, performance incentives, or bagel Fridays – you’ve got to figure out how to establish the right management and programs for your shop. We’ve got plenty of ideas if you’d like to hear more about this!

I’ll leave you with this amazing quote from the group about retaining (only) great employees: “Hire slow, Make sure its a fit, Fire fast.”

Keeping up with technology in the stone industry

I love this topic. And yes, it is because I work at a software company. But to a greater degree, it’s that I’m witnessing an industry rapidly expand their digital and technological services. I find it hard to believe you haven’t at least considered a countertop job scheduling tool like Systemize in this industry. Not to be biased, but we think it’s really awesome. So do our customers.

But, maybe you didn’t even know or think to use a non-industry-specific software like sweetprocess.com to document your shop’s processes. Don’t be scared to use a variety of software to make your shop run better. There’s most likely a solution for every problem you have in your shop’s business. And anything that promises to be good at everything, probably isn’t.

Precision is a fantastic example of this. From their use of industry staples like SlabSmith, Moraware, SpeedLabel, etc to using software for tracking their vans and phone call analytics, Precision has a beautiful process where these applications work together from consult to install. And, just like our industry, it is ever-evolving.

Thank you, ISFA!

These events are so beneficial to our industry. Every fabricator who attends a Roundtable walks away with at least one new idea to take back to their shop. And more than that, you’ll find value in being around your fellow industry folks who know the highs and lows of fabrication just like you. More likely than not, someone in the group has experienced – at one time or another – exactly what you’re dealing with in your own shop. Here’s to finding solutions together more often!

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