A better customer? Sounds like a harsh statement, doesn’t it? After all, isn’t it up to the company to try to be better for you?
Well yes, but why not give yourself some advantages that will ensure the most success with your natural stone project.
On websites and on the internet in general, you’ll find many lists about choosing the “right” fabricator. Most are self-serving, promoting one’s strengths and agenda. My list is not. This is sound advice that should be universal for selecting any fabricator, as well as your role not only as a customer, but a participant in the project.
So, here’s a few simple, but often overlooked, tips for finding and working with a natural stone professional:
There are no mind readers (as far as I know). State your expectations clearly, and if you’re unsure about a particular aspect of the stone or your project, say so, and persist until it’s clarified. There are no stupid questions, so don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns.
2.) Don’t trust the internet.
Yes, I know this is on the internet, but a lot of the information on the web regarding stone fabrication is incorrect, and some is downright ridiculous. By all means, use the internet for preliminary research, but take it with a grain of salt, then seek the guidance of a reputable fabricator.
3.) Compare apples to apples.
When comparing bids, make sure the comparison is the same. Different stones can vary greatly in price, even stones that may look similar. If a bid seems out of line, ask why. Most competent fabricators will be reasonably close in price, all things being equal.
4.) Hire only reputable fabricators.
Hiring unlicensed and non-insured fabricators makes you liable. If something goes wrong with your job, your legal recourse may be limited, and if the workmen in your home get injured, you may be responsible.
5.) Look at your stone. Really look.
When selecting stone, you must look beyond just the color. Look at the surface of the stone at various low angles, catching the reflection of the lights. This highlights the true characteristics of the stone, and what you may perceive as flaws. Your fabricator may be able to move the slab to better lighting if requested. In most cases, the natural characteristics and quality of the stone are what they are, and cannot be improved, it’s a rock after all. It is paramount that you understand this at the beginning, as opposed to the end of the project. And no, sealer isn’t going to fill those little pits that you may see. That’s not how it works.
6.) Understand that just because it costs more…
Just because one stone may cost more than another, doesn’t necessarily make it better. Some stones may be very strong, stable and make great countertops, yet still be inexpensive. Whereas, some stones are notoriously difficult to quarry or come from remote locations with difficult access. These stones cost more for that reason, not necessarily due to quality. Some of the most expensive stone available can frankly be some of the worst in regards to what you may perceive as “defective”, as pretty as it may be.
7.) Manage your expectations.
The beautiful kitchens seen in magazines are usually professionally designed and photographed. Just like fashion models, they have flaws. They just look perfect in the magazine thanks to Photoshop, expert lighting, and most importantly, distance. Don’t set unrealistic expectations to avoid disappointment, and understand that viewing natural stone up close is considerably different from a picture in a magazine.
8.) Look at the fabricators office and shop.
It should be organized and professional. Use their showroom displays to help convey your ideas and inspirations, not only for quality of work. For that, also insist on seeing work in progress in the shop, as this is the real everyday quality that goes out the door, not the fancy showroom displays.
9.) Understand not all salespeople really know stone.
Deep knowledge of stone and how it’s used comes with experience only decades in the industry can provide. Most salespeople are more than competent enough to guide you through your project without issue. But if you have more in-depth concerns, or don’t feel the sales person quite understands your needs, ask to speak with the shop or install manager, or the owner if available.
10.) Beware of the “Overly Agreeable Salesman”.
Salespeople who consistently agree with you and tell you exactly what you want to hear can be dangerous. This is the natural stone business, and sorry, not every stone is going to be “perfect” for your application. Trust fabricators who are willing to “tell it like it is” as they’re more likely giving you honest answers and not just trying to make a sale.
11.) Understand that things happen.
In the natural stone business and construction in general, things can and do happen. Chances are that your project will go smoothly, but you should allow for a window of error in case things arise unexpectedly. Scheduling your workmen in a tight and unforgiving timeline is a recipe for disaster. If you absolutely must adhere to a stringent schedule, refer to tip #1. (Communicate!)
12.) Give the installers some space.
We know you’re excited to get your new countertops installed. Understand they are heavy and fragile, so give the installers ample space to work. Understand too, that until those pieces are safely in their final position, the installers are under a lot of stress. There’s no polite way to say this, but “breathing down their neck” and having a video camera following them around all day doesn’t help. Don’t worry though, you should have ample time for inspection once things are in place.
13.) Don’t be shy.
Upon inspection, if you see something you don’t like, bring it to the installer’s attention while they are still there. Otherwise, you’ll need to schedule a call-back, which is an inconvenience to both you and the fabricator, when it could have been addressed on the spot. If you find something afterwards, that’s a different matter, then a callback is warranted.
14.) Don’t be afraid of your countertops. Use them!
Many people get worked up over the possibility of a small scratch or chip in their countertop. That fear doesn’t stop you from driving your significantly more expensive car, does it? No countertop material is bullet-proof, but in most cases, small issues can be repaired. Just like you, your countertop may get a few scars over the years, and that’s OK. There are more important things in life to worry about.
And now for the most important tip of all…
15.) Be Nice!
Many fabricators go above and beyond for their clients, and more so if they are pleasant. Some believe being a savvy customer means being mean and demanding so you don’t get taken advantage of. Don’t be mean, just follow tip #1. (Communicate!)