We would like to touch an issue that may confuse a client who comes to visit for the first time his granite or marble supplier and the natural stone factory, giving him the bad feeling to be, somehow, cheated.
Visiting one of the thousand companies working in natural stone field to check material during his working process, we may be accompanied in several small workshops where we can see our material being finished. It might even happen that two different natural stone suppliers introduce us in the same workshop — and then we are completely mixed up.
So we start wondering if we ordered in the right natural stone company, and why instead of preparing our material in his factory (if a factory at all exists!) he send it to somebody else. To whom the material belongs? Are we paying a higher price, as our supplier buys somewhere else our goods? Who checks the quality?
The Massa Carrara world of Natural Stone
Actually, we just entered the absolutely normal process of “make or buy”, specially common in the area of Massa Carrara where the size of the companies is extremely small and the field is organized in micro working cells.
To survive today, it is a must to be competitive. Therefore, in a field that leaves small room for profiting, the producers of natural stone have been looking for being extremely specialized, creating then larger synergies that allow to keep the costs as low as possible.
That is why — beside a very high number of “trading companies” for natural stone — a countless quantity of small workshops operate in an extremely specific segment given by the mix of machineries they have installed.
Today for instance, the cost of a CNC shaping machine (the ones who allows to shape natural stone virtually in any forms, round or elliptic they can be, profiling the edges in any design or make very complicate massive pieces for any architectural need) is over € 250.000,00.
Logically it requires a continuous job to amortize its investment.
A single natural stone company who takes different jobs hardly will have constantly new projects that requires the use of this machine.
The same idea applies to the diamond wire saw, irreplaceable for round cladding or columns of natural stone: it is an expensive machine but its technology allows to get curved “shells” from the block with a large saving of material and workmanship.
Again, some machines are good for marble but not for granite — others are good for granite but not for marble.
Highly specialized Natural Stone Manufacturers
Some natural stone workshops, extremely good in processing the most difficult marble, masters in finishing each single piece of marble, gluing, hand polishing and doing whatever needed to get a perfect element, are not able to get half of this result having granite in their hand, material more “industrial” that needs a more chain-process.
The natural stone market imposes the need to be perfect in single products or group of products till getting the best result at the lowest cost.
Consequently it is reached, in this way, the optimum path: the chain that brings the goods from the quarry to our home:
One natural stone company, sometimes only trading, cares promotion and marketing getting in contact with the consumer who is looking for marble or granite.
After getting the order they buy the raw material depending on the specific requirements. At this very point uses the cooperation of other companies for the working process, selecting each time the correct ones as type of machinery to transform the raw natural stone blocks in the finished items wanted by the consumer.
They take care directly of checking of the natural stone and of all its financial aspects.
Obviously there exist big natural stone groups with a very good capacity to produce in their own factories the finished granite and marble products, and several hybrid companies, with a partial capacity of processing; all of them anyway uses external aid in a certain percentage.
So How Can I Choose The Right Natural Stone Supplier?
From the above text we understood that it has no relevance the single production capacity of a natural stone supplier, as he himself, with his knowledge, will be able to find the right knot of the processing chain to bring us at the right cost the result we ask for.
Sure we can always step in one of the many bad supplier: being our material fated to last long and often expensive, it is a risk we should avoid.
The first suggestion is to ask for the price to more than one natural stone supplier, always specifying clearly material, quantity and finishing of the stone.
Obviously we will discard the highest one but we should pay attention as well to the ones too low. The difference should never be over 5-10%. If a single offer is lower in an higher percentage it is a must to discard it or at least to look carefully its reasons: maybe the supplier did not understand well our requirements or we are going to get a second class natural stone.
Once the proper offers have been selected we can proceed at the second phase: natural stone samples.
Do not be surprised if some companies will ask you to pay fully or partially the samples: it is not a bad sign: on the contrary it is a common use that allows the supplier to protect himself about people abusing of samples.
To make granite or marble samples has a cost, furthermore being the natural stone quite heavy compared to its volume, the shipping fee can be very high. Therefore, to avoid that people not seriously interested in buying the product, keep asking useless samples, it is a privilege of the supplier to decide to ask for a reimburse. We may demand to get this amount discounted once we confirm the order.
Natural stone samples give an average idea of the granite or marble of course: we are speaking of a natural product that can have variations even remarkable. Actually they are as less significant as longer is the gap of time between the sample and the supply itself: just in a few months, for instance, the natural stone quarry can change the place they extract the blocks from, obtaining therefore a different nuance.
Mock up for Large Natural Stone Orders
For larger natural stone order, it is a good habit to have a mock up prepared: a range of samples that can include the maximum variation the natural stone has. So we should expect, and appreciate, to receive even “border samples”, means the extreme ugly ones among the range itself, very important to fix the maximum you can accept as veins, spots, colour spreading and so on of the natural stone.
When the border samples will be clear, we should not expect any longer bad surprises and not longer heard the song “it is a natural material, you must accept its variations” sang in front of unacceptable material.
Finally we will sign together with the natural stone supplier the samples: one set remains with us for a later comparison with the actual goods we receive, one set will stay with the supplier.
Last but not least: let’s not forget — specially for larger natural stone projects — to make yourself sure about the reliability of the supplier we are going to select: a serious producer or granite or marble will not have problems providing us with a list of natural stone projects he supplied and proper bank references.
Troubled suppliers may sometimes appeal us with interesting low prices but give a limited warranty they will end our project or they will be able to face unforeseen problems that might occur during delivering.
To complete a natural stone job can require months and an undesirable interruption of delivering may jeopardize the site, causing costs higher than the saving we had with the lower price.
At this very point, the supplier has been selected: we should only care to be clear with him: give all the details he needs, avoid costly variation during the ongoing process and keep constantly contact till the end of the task.