By Guest Author Bill Millholland, Case Design/Remodeling’s Executive Vice President
As a home design and remodeling company we value our suppliers and we’ve established some great working relationships. I thought it would be helpful if I offered some advice on how stone suppliers can help remodeling companies better serve their clients’ natural stone needs.
Natural stone supply companies sometimes sell directly to consumers, but more often there’s a middle man involved – a contractor, designer, or remodeling company who oversees building projects and helps their clients make important decisions. When it comes to choosing materials, homeowners are faced with hundreds of different decisions and literally thousands of choices for each single material they must pick.
Natural stone suppliers can help consumers by streamlining the decision-making process when it comes to stone slab and tile choices; giving consumers more options that allow them to better work within their budgets; and forming a relationship of trust with the contractors, designers, and remodelers who are working to fulfill a need for their clients.
Trends in natural stone in the home
Just 10 to 15 years ago, interior design and remodeling used to be a lot less complicated because most homeowners were trying to create a similar look. Natural stone was far too expensive for general use in homes and materials such as marble countertops were only seen in high-end projects.
The beauty of marble is unsurpassed, but many homeowners are choosing other natural stones as an alternative to marble in the kitchen. Interior design by Spinnaker Development.
Since then granite has become very popular in homes because it’s been marketed as a more affordable alternative to marble. Engineered quartz and quartzite have become increasingly popular over the last five to 10 years because of their durability and ability to mimic more expensive natural stone options very closely.
This Case Design kitchen remodel incorporated a durable stone into the room with quartz countertops.
In the home, natural stone is still mainly seen in kitchens and bathrooms and around fireplaces. Further:
• More homes are integrating natural stone floors into their main level floor plans.
• There’s not a lot of outdoor use of natural stone except in very high-end construction.
• There’s a steadily increasing demand for lighter and neutral colored stones.
Smaller tiles are out and larger tiles such as 12’x12’ or stone slabs are in, especially when it comes to countertops and floors. Many remodeling projects are small-scale home improvement projects in need of a smaller piece of stone cut from a larger slab that can be repurposed into a bathroom vanity countertop, backsplash, or kitchen desktop.
White granite countertops create a marbled look in this Case Design kitchen remodel.
How can marble/stone suppliers be better vendors?
Homeowners are faced with hundreds of aesthetic decisions, all of which are influenced by budget, in a single project like a kitchen remodel. With thousands of natural stone varieties, colors, patterns, finishes, and edges—and each detail with its own set of pros and cons¬—choosing a material becomes a daunting task.
Remodeling companies want to work with natural stone vendors to streamline the client’s decision-making process when it comes to materials.
Here’s how suppliers can help:
Find ways to help clients make good decisions and select materials. A complete showroom with lots of finished examples is a good start, so clients can browse and see what their choices will look like in application. The stone workers are the experts of their craft and materials, but the suppliers need more of these experts interacting with the homeowners who will ultimately purchase their products.
Nailing down the actual cost of a material helps homeowners make decisions. Big or small, high-end or low-brow, every remodeling decision is based on budget. Keeping within a client’s budget is part of the remodeler’s job, and this task is more streamlined when suppliers understand the client’s budget as well.
It can be difficult for suppliers to target the cost of a finished application, but doing so would help clients move forward with decisions. When they can’t be assured that the final cost of a material will work with their budget, most homeowners play it safe and move forward with an alternative that will.
Provide maintenance tips for materials. Many stone suppliers are concerned with selling their product, but not with how that product will be maintained once it’s in the home. Since natural stone is a higher-maintenance material, publishing a user-friendly guide that outlines cleaning, care, and maintenance tips helps clients purchase materials by showing them exactly what to expect and that the upkeep may be easier than they thought. It’s helpful when expensive products that require care come with instructions from the supplier, who’s the expert on the product.
Offer options for similar materials that cost less. Remodeling companies want to create the look their clients want within their budget, no matter what it takes. Stone suppliers will make more sales, and form better relationships with remodelers, by helping clients understand their options when it comes to choosing a more affordable natural stone material.
In many smaller remodeling projects, clients aren’t willing to pay for a whole slab when only a small piece is needed. Creating resources to help both suppliers and clients use scrap pieces would help fulfill a need that’s causing many homeowners to pick their second or third choice of material simply because their first choice was not an option.
Scrap pieces of stone can be repurposed into beautiful vanity countertops and shower molding, as they were in this bathroom design by Kirsten Anthony Kaplan.
Build a relationship of trust with the design company. Contractors, designers, and remodelers return to the suppliers that they can trust to get the job done. While they like suppliers that are knowledgeable and passionate about their craft, often the most important quality is finding a supplier who treats the designer’s clients as if they were their own. Contractors like to see representatives that work well with both natural stone and people too.
People who are making thousands of dollars worth of decisions need a vendor with the skills to match that process. Stone suppliers who give homeowners options, understand their budget, and help them better understand their choices will have remodeling companies bringing the business to them.
I hope that helps you see things from another perspective.
About the Author: Bill Millholland is executive vice president for Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Maryland. Their builders frequently install natural stone as part of the overall design, be it for kitchen counters, bathroom vanities, or showcased for stunning flooring or fireplace mantles in an open floor plan like those pictured here.