Monthly Archives: September 2009

Hasta Las Vegas, Baby

As I’m working through phone calls and emails these days, I’m getting one question a couple of times a day: See you at StonExpo in Las Vegas?

The answer is yes, and thanks for asking. And you?

As anyone who’s read my work through the years for Stone Business, I’m a believer in trade shows. I’ll argue about the location, or the time of year, or the length or whether there should be free coffee at the door, but I’ll make the case for having the events.

And, of course, you’ll find me there. For one thing, it’s part of my job. Given a choice of staying in the office or heading out for some convention hall somewhere in the world, I’d still opt for pinning on a badge and wandering the miles of carpeted aisles.

It’s no different with this year’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas (the rather long-winded but official handle) in Las Vegas on Oct. 21-24. The calendar’s marked and the room booked long ago, and my cat Denny has a reservation at a tony two-room suite at his veterinarian’s office.

This year’s event is admittedly a hard sell for a lot of people in the industry. The country may be climbing out of a recession, but times remain tough for most fabricators. It’s worse for sellers of large machines, as saws, edgers, CNCs and other pieces of equipment keep popping up weekly on auction Websites, signifying that yet another shop won’t make it to 2010.

I won’t lie to you, either; this year’s lineup of exhibitors is smaller than last year’s. Some familiar names aren’t going to be there, as vendors keep a tight hold on expenses. A couple of them are dead and gone, victims of the economic downturn. There’ll be a few new names, but no real surprises.

You’re certainly not expanding your shop, and it hasn’t been a stellar year on the bottom line. Why go?

For one thing, the travel odds are in your favor. It takes an hour or two of searching on the Internet, but cut-rate airfares are still available – Southwest Airlines makes sure of that – and Vegas hotels are still offering deals on general travel Websites and direct booking online.

More importantly, going to StonExpo this year is really to your benefit. The best business relationships with vendors aren’t struck in the high times, but when times are a bit rough both buyer and seller appreciate each other’s value. Maybe you won’t see as much Big Iron on the floor with huge machinery, but you’ll still see plenty of products you use regularly, and shopping for good prices and service will pay off tomorrow and next year.

There’s also the educational side of the show, where workshops and seminars address the need for new markets and business strategies. Every show likes to say that it’s offering courses relevant to your needs, but this year’s lineup reflects the state of the market to help you survive and grow. (I should also divulge that I served on the educational advisory committee for StonExpo this year, and there’s a lot of collective industry brainpower behind the 2009 schedule.)

StoneLive! also continues to grow with the free, on-the-floor exhibition coordinated by the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance. The SFA always offers on-the-mark ideas and tips that could easily save or gain you $5 a day in your shop’s operation. Add that up, and you’ve paid for the seminars, the travel and a bit of Vegas action of your choice. Anything else you gain is gravy.

There’s also the intangible return you get by being with thousands of other people just like you – fabricators, installers, restorers, business owners. It’s the best opportunity all year for a bit of give-and-take. Call it the study hall of the School of Hard Knocks, but learning from the experience of others – and offering some of your own – can result in some invaluable ideas.

You can get a lot out of a trade show, and this year’s StonExpo is a nice jackpot waiting to pay off. It’s there for you, but you have to do one thing to collect. You have to go.

See you in Las Vegas?

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.

There’s a Story, Part II

Last month, I noted how initial data on a study of possible radiation exposure when dry-cutting granite generated an information distribution of a summary, two analyses disputing the initial study and a war of wordage … but something just short of a story. At least, that’s how I felt.

Add a government spokesperson and some statistics, though, and apparently it’s all right for one of the nation’s newspaper chains.

Under the headline of “Granite countertop cutters at risk of deadly radiation exposure,” Scripps Howard News Service writer Isaac Wolf went over the same ground with most of the same sources (with the exception of the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors).

One new addition, though, is a comment from Diana Petterson, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Labor. Petterson noted that not much research had been done on the subject, “but,with the increasing residential use of granite countertops, more studies are underway.”

It’s probably a bit too cynical to note that the federal government seems to be taking notice of a market boom some two years after it stopped growing. Still, it’s good to hear from the Department of Labor on issues of stone fabrication and safety. Stone Business has tried, on several occasions in the past three years, to learn more about this, especially with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and we’re still waiting for a call back.

OSHA also figured in the Scripps Howard report. After a Marble Institute of America (MIA) spokesperson noted – well, contended, since that verb was used twice in dealing with the MIA – that stone shops were working to keep their air clean, Mr. Wolf wrote the following:

Federal figures tell a different story. Inspecting 133 of the nation’s 64,000 stone cutting facilities from October 2007 to September 2008, authorities from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – part of the U.S. Department of Labor – issued 185 citations for respiratory violations and 54 citations for air contaminants, according to OSHA data.

Frankly, using figures from October 2007 to September 2008 seemed a bit odd, until you find that it’s an annual government fiscal-year 2008 summary report. What Mr. Wolf didn’t note was that, with those 133 inspections, 72 shops (or 54 percent of the total) were cited for respiratory violations, and 28 (or 21 percent) got a write-up for air contaminants. That’s still way too many, but multiple violations at one shop can drive up the annual totals.

However, let’s move the bar a little closer, and take a detailed look at more-recent data – from September 1, 2008 to the end of this August. By the way, you can do this too by going here and entering the Standard Industrial Code (SIC) 3281 for “Cut Stone and Stone Products,” just in case you want to snoop on what OSHA finds at other shops.

Of the 199 OSHA visits to stone facilities, it found problems with respiratory protection 59 times, or 29.6 percent of all inspections. It wrote up 134 citations, of which 73 involved fines. OSHA found air-contamination problems during 15 inspections (7.5 percent of all visits), with 38 written citations and 10 fineable incidents. (And, only six of the inspections cited silica dust – the direct by-product of fabrication – as the air contaminant.)

The numbers from the last 12 months, from a safety standpoint, still need improvement. But all of them are far better than the conditions OSHA found in its fiscal 2008 year-end report.

And I didn’t miss that figure of the “64,000 stone-cutting facilities” … it’s a number that baffles me, too.

— Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.