Monthly Archives: August 2008

Countertop/Radon Segment to appear on Tuesday’s “Today Show “

The issue concerning granite safety and radon gas/radiation will get another airing Tuesday on NBC’s “The Today Show.”
A report on the matter will be broadcast during a segment of the four-hour morning news/talk show, unless breaking news (such as the impending landfall of Hurricane Gustav) pre-empts regular programming.
Producers of the “Today” segment have been in regular contact with Marble Institute of America (MIA) representatives during the research and assembly of the report.

A link to the “Today” coverage will be provided Tuesday at Stone Business Online as soon as it’s available.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sundry: New York Times, Cosentino & the SFA, Pakistan

Wrapping up some loose ends:

• The interest in that New York Times article – “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop” – received plenty of short-term attention from online readers. However, it doesn’t appear that it sustained much traffic after a few days of interest.

The article led off the 30-day most-emailed list of articles in the Times after its print publication on July 24. It stayed at the top of the list, sometimes moving around in the top three spots, for weeks after its publication. (See the blog entry of “What’s Lurking in Your Internet?”)

The article kept its top status on the email-referral list late last week, as it passed the 30-day mark after its print debut. Then it started moving down. Way down, to number 23 on Monday. Yesterday (August 26) it disappeared.

I’ll keep checking the list to see if the article reappears, but it looks like the pass-around time for the article appeared to be short-lived. The long-term effect on consumer interest in granite countertops, however, isn’t likely to dissipate as quickly.

• After more than three decades of working for pay in the journalism trade, I don’t get surprised very often. But I never thought I’d write something even close to the headline I wrote for Stone Business Online yesterday: “Cosentino Cuts BuildClean ties; allies with SFA.”

The backstory, as I’ve learned, isn’t all that surprising after all, considering the Stone Fabricators Alliance. Until recently, the mood on the group’s http://www.stoneadvice.comWebsite went beyond surly with quartz producers on the radon/granite issue; even the idea of drawing-and-quartering seemed kind.

That passion for direct action took another form in the past few weeks; to get some tangible movement on the issue, SFA representatives decided to head to Texas and talk directly to executives at Cosentino® North America. After hours of, as they say in the diplomatic trade, frank discussion, the two sides found plenty of common ground in directing efforts toward consumer safety without whacking away at granite’s reputation.

That led to Cosentino pulling the plug on their support of the BuildClean™ effort, and aligning with the SFA on developing solutions for the mutual benefit of the stone trade and consumers. How this will play with the Marble Institute of America – which also had earlier discussions with Cosentino NA chief Roberto Contreras that came to naught – remains to be seen.

• The mid-July article in the New York Times on the Taliban essentially running a protection racket at a Pakistani marble quarry (“Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay Alive”) likely didn’t help efforts to boost the country’s stone trade. Getting quarrying and processing into high gear continues to be a big topic, especially for the Pakistan Stone Development Co.

The group’s chairman, Ihsanullah Khan, sees a big future, with a capability of producing enough marble, granite and other dimensional stone to rival a export giant like Brazil. He’s also promoting modern extraction methods to reduce waste.

However, in a June 30 interview in the online Pakistan Daily, Khan also answered a question about a remote demonstration quarry in Khuzdar that, in light of the Times article, might need some rethinking:

Q: But isn’t Khuzdar in a tribal area, where there is a law-and-order situation problem? How do you get to work there?

IK: No, we don’t have kind of this problem. The tribes, who are all locals, they don’t bother us. We are creating job opportunities for the local people who would get benefit from our projects.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

Monument to Misdirection

“Report on Alternative Measures to Address Cracks in the Monument at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia” isn’t an arresting headline. However, it offers an important lesson in how to use the Internet to create public opinion.

Readers of Stone Business know plenty about this topic, from the publications of various news items to a particularly vitriolic column I wrote earlier this year. I claim no impartiality here, but I’ll relay the bare bones:

• Those aforementioned cracks, after 45 years of study and repair, are getting larger. Five years ago, the Department of the Army (which oversees Arlington) started a process to likely replace the cracked monument with an exact duplicate.

• Operators at the Colorado Yule Quarry in Marble, Colo., the source of the original monument’s stone – without a government contract, mind you – found and cut a block that would match the current monument. John Haines, a Glenwood Springs, Colo., car dealer, stepped forward to donate the stone to the federal government, and even cover the shipping back to the East Coast .

However, the idea of replacement didn’t set well with the southern field officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (NTHP), who wrote a letter to Arlington officials in June 2007. A few months later, the NTHP (which, to be clear, isn’t part of the federal government) stepped up their effort to stop the replacement process.

What ensued was a crafty effort that landed the “save the Tomb” story in preservationist- and veterans-themed blogs, USA Today, National Public Radio and other media outlets. The implication was that the Army was hell-bent on doing something (replacement) without public input, which was a sham argument. The Army probably didn’t offer engraved invitations, but it’d been covered in various publications, and there’d been a link for years (which now leads to the congressional report) concerning the process on the cemetery’s home page.

What happened? Two senators inserted legislation calling for a report on monument replacement vs. repair into the 2008 authorization act to fund the Defense Department, with a staff member for one of them (Daniel Akaka) remarking that he’d never heard about the process before the fomented public outcry. (Somebody’s gotta work on better circulation for the Washington Post.)

The subsequent report – mostly a restatement of the Army’s process, reviewed by a panel of experts — noted that repairs would cost $65,000 and replacement would be $2 million or so (minus the donated stone, which was ignored in the report). The argument from the blogosphere will likely be to take the cheaper route.

Of course, this obscures the entire debate of whether the monument (which houses no remains) is more of a historic structure in and of itself, or a symbol of a nation’s devotion. A structure can be repaired and renewed, but do you want to do a patch job on a symbol?

The NTHP, meanwhile, is milking the controversy with a picture of the monument sporting a “Donate Now” link for the group. It also offers the threat level for the monument as destruction, a term never used in the Army’s process. (The report to Congress notes the current monument, upon replacement, would be preserved.)

As if there’s not enough shame to go around, consider a recent Denver Post article, where Thurman Higganbotham, deputy superintendent at Arlington, noted Haines’ donation as thus:

“It’s not doable. A citizen can’t just give us any piece of marble and say, ‘This is what we’ll use to replace the tomb.’”

Yeah. Just any old multi-ton, crack-free piece cut from the same quarry.

This blog doesn’t have a Gallery of Ignominy it in yet, but it’s already lining up some charter members.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

What’s Lurking on Your Internet?

Friday, or possibly Saturday, may be a minor holiday for some people in the stone industry. Unless there’s a last-minute rush on the New York Times Website, “What’s Lurking in Your Countertop?” should fall off the top of the list of most e-mailed articles for the newspaper.
It’s been a prestigious run, hitting first place since its July 24 publication. In one way, it shows the impact of the Internet. However, the long-term effects may turn out differently than initial expectations (or fears).

The Times doesn’t release actual counts, but it’s likely the e-mail distribution for “Lurking” ranks in the thousands (if not tens of thousands). For groups like the Marble Institute of America, trying to answer the piece is frustrating, since there’s no way to determine where all those e-mails went.

The movement of “Lurking” on the 30-day distribution list next week, however, may show if the mailing ended up as more of a spike – the bulk of the e-mail requests in the space of a day or two after publication – or a gradual build-up. If the evidence points to a spike, that means there was a quick rush to get the article out, and then interest subsided.

It’s also worth noting that one user on the Times site can email up to 20 different other addresses at a time (21 if the sender also requests a copy). A concentrated effort to break up larger lists into 20-address segments, along with four or five people spending an hour or two at the computer, could have several thousand copies sailing around the ‘Net in an hour.

What’s also interesting from the Times is the lack of support for the “Lurking” article in other online areas. It didn’t have staying power on the top 25 lists (the Times notes traffic for the past day, seven days and 30 days) for mentions on other sites’ blogs or links back to the article.

And, on the “most-requested searches” of the Times site, the terms “granite” and “countertop” disappeared from the Top 50 list in a day or two after print publication of “Lurking.” “Radon” didn’t make the cut.

Was the distribution of “Lurking” a person-to-person thing signifying the start of grass-roots concern about radon and countertops? Or was it a mass-mailing ploy to manufacture more media buzz? Keep an eye on the numbers.

• One more note on trade shows: The official notice of the “Granite & Radon – An Industry Update” presentation at StonExpo Marmomacc Americas on Oct. 16 also stated the Stone World Fabricator of the Year award would revert back to the magazine’s show booth (its standard location for the past decade) at 5 p.m. While it may be odd to list a competitor, it’s also worth noting that SW annually celebrates the event with a free beer for attendees. And if I’m talking about trade-show value, it doesn’t get much better than a free cold one at the end of the day, no matter who’s tapping the keg. (Just don’t tell them I sent you.)

 – Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

Maurizio Bertoli killed in Philly auto accident

The 64-year-old Bertoli, a noted figure in stone restortion, died yesterday south of downtown Philadelphia after a wayward semi-trailer tire hit his van on Interstate 95. Bertoli was widely known for his advice on stone care in the industry and on the Internet. A full obituary is now at Stone Business Online.

Wanna Get Away? Try a Trade Show

Plan on attending a trade show in the next few months – specifically, either Marmomacc in Verona, Italy, or StoneExpo Marmomacc Americas in Las Vegas? No?

Think again. This may be the best time yet to go.

OK, so business is more than a little slow in the stone trade. You think you’re alone in the boat? It’s certainly not hats-and-horns time either for suppliers, distributors and everyone else you buy from to operate your business.

They’re hungry, too, and they don’t get a better shot to sell and create new accounts than at the face-to-face venue of a trade show. You’ll find yourself in a sea of vendors who’ll want – no, crave – your business.

You’ll also find yourself in less-crowded exhibit halls. Frankly, it would take a miracle to see major expansions in attendance at business-to-business trade events, and the obvious sugarcoating of reporting “almost” or “in the ballpark” from show organizers recently when citing turnout numbers is just plain embarrassing. The PCBC® construction show in San Francisco came clean and cited a real attendance number of 19,925 for its June show, down 25 percent from 2007 (and a big slide from the 33,000+ of 2006).

The numbers game for trade shows are one thing, but the events are successful for buyers and sellers only if, to be painfully redundant, they buy and sell. Fewer people on the floor means more face time, more ability to look over the goods and an eagerness to sell goods. It’s an ideal buyer’s market, and you’re the buyer.

Sure, it costs more to get to a show … if all your guidance comes from the talking sock puppets and increasingly vacuous sources on cable-TV news. Start looking at the Internet travel sites and airline online ticketing, and you’ll see that the aviation industry succeeded in cutting capacity and increasing fares … to a point.

Their biggest victory was to chase customers away, so now they need to fill empty seats with lower fares; you won’t find anything close to $100 round trips anymore, but you may get less sticker shock than you’d expect.

And that’s not just for fares to Las Vegas. The recent fares (as of last week) I found for traveling to Verona are 10-percent less than what I paid as a cautious early-bird some five months ago. (Now, I’m out $115, plus the cost of drywall compound to fix the wall I cracked with my head last week.)

Housing may be tight in Verona for a last-minute booking, but there’s plenty of room in Las Vegas, where the shrinking U.S. consumer economy and the credit crunch are hitting hard. Even at two months out from StonExpo, the official housing Website shows rooms available for all but the big-shot suites – and, the Luxor actually cut rates by $40 for midweek nights.

Going to a fall trade show for the stone industry may not fit in the bargain category, but there’s an incredible amount of value on the table. Make your play.

• An added note for Las Vegas: The Marble Institute of America (MIA) will present “Granite and Radon – An Industry Update” at StonExpo on Oct. 16 at 4:15 p.m. The new session, featuring speakers from the MIA, will be on the show floor at the StonExchange area, and is offered at no charge to all attendees.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

 

The OTHER Article in the New York Times

 

With all the consternation over the July 24 “What Lurking in Your Countertop?” piece, another big story last month concerning stone in the New York Times drifted away … but don’t think it’s gone. 

 

“Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay Alive” on July 14 offered nearly 2,000 words on the fundamentalist insurgents found a steady cash flow by taking over a marble quarry in Ziarat, Pakistan. The group charged a large fee for someone to operate the quarry, and also imposed a “tax” (known in the United States as “protection money” or “shakedown”) on all trucks hauling the stone.

Since reopening the quarry in April, the Taliban managed to make “tens of thousands of dollars,” according to the Times report. It’s estimated the quarry fees netted $45,000 at the start, and the truck payoffs average $500 per day.

The article concentrates on the Taliban, but it exposes one of the darker corners of the international stone trade. The Pakistani marble quarried to fund the Taliban probably won’t make it to the United States, but plenty of stone with less-than-desirable provenance circulates through the world.

For one thing, there’s Iran, which – as of last year – ranked fourth worldwide in dimensional-stone production. It’s mostly marble and travertine, and both belong to the list of goods that aren’t to be traded to the United States. So is Iranian stone selling here? It’s impossible to get anyone on the record, but there’s likely some for sale in every U.S. metropolitan area.

International tariff agreements identify the origin of goods by the amount of finishing done in any one place. In stone’s case, it’s the cutting and polishing that matters, so a block can be quarried in one country, but be noted as an export product from another country where the major finishing work takes place. (It’s why Italy is a top granite exporter to the United States, even though very little granite is actually quarried in Italia.)

So, stone from Iran or, say, Zimbabwe doesn’t necessarily get tagged with the source-country’s name. If it goes to China, Turkey, Italy, India or wherever there’s a factory to finish it, that stone is then legally imported from that country. It’s up to the processor to acknowledge the stone’s source (which is why Baltic Brown is almost always imported as a granite from Finland – the quarried home – even though most of it is finished in other places, including a large amount in China).

Legally, that’s all that the customers, fabricators, distributors and importers might know about a stone’s origin. With concerns about terrorist ties and labor exploitation, however, there may be more of a movement to ID the stone by its source country – and you may be able to, in part, thank the Times for that.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”