Leveraging Supplier Partnerships: Unleashing Best Practices

Words: Jeff Tew

Words and Photos: Jeff Tew, Director of Technical + Training, Westlake Royal Stone Solutions

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It’s tempting for any of us to think we need to have it all figured out, especially when the pressure is on and we are up against the clock to get a project completed on a tight timeline. And no matter how much preparation has gone into a project before showing up to do the work, unforeseen challenges, situations and complications can arise. It's important to remember, when the heat is on, that you have a few “phone a friend” options and other resources in the wings.

As Director of Technical and Training for Westlake Royal Stone Solutions, I’m happy to tell you that our team wants nothing more than to support you and help you succeed every time you’re on the wall. That means arming you with knowledge and skills training that will enhance your capabilities on every new project, as well as providing you with resources to help you make critical decisions in the field. It’s my passion, personally, and it’s something our team takes very seriously.

In fact, any supplier worth partnering with is going to be interested in more than just the sales. Look for those with a proven track record, a wide range of high-quality products to offer and a culture of open communication, mutual respect and trust. These will be your rock solid “go to” partners.

Best Practices: Readily Accessible Resources

As suppliers, we have a responsibility to share experience-based best practices that will help you with product selection, adherence to building codes, installation, care and maintenance, and more. While prepping for and even working on a project, you have access to a wealth of resources at your fingertips, including:

  • Source Books + Product Guides: These printed and/or digital resources will provide you with everything you need to assist customers with the product selection process, from inspiration to specification details.
  • Channel-Specific Brochures: Whether your focus is on commercial, multifamily or residential spaces, most suppliers will be able to provide you with quick access to resources that outline opportunities that are specific to your needs.
  • FAQs: Typically written for both consumer and pro audiences alike, an FAQ resource can provide details and information about everything from product composition and customization to basic installation, grout techniques, jobsite cleanup and ongoing care and maintenance. These could be included in your leave behind packet to help your customer care and clean their stone for years to come.
  • Continuing Education: Many suppliers invest in Continuing Education (CE) materials to help everyone from architects and designers to mason contractors and builders add to their existing knowledge base. Topics range from conceptual to tactical, and most official CE resources will also provide the option to pursue course credit through one or more professional associations.
  • Building Codes: Regardless of what material they are supplying, most manufacturers will provide clear guidance on what it takes to adhere to building code requirements. Our team, for example, provides ready access to the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) Installation Guide and Detailing Options for Compliance with ASTM C1780, as well as a supplemental MSV installation guide and a large format installation guide with additional best practices recommendations. You may find links to each of these resources at https://elevatewithstone.com/technical/
  • Videos: Although most suppliers will be able to share printed and/or digital written resources such as those listed above, many manufacturers will also be able to share video resources that cover a range of tips, topics and case studies. For example, our team has produced a “Technically Speaking” video series that breaks down individual installation-related topics into short segments that vary in length from one to six minutes.  These brief videos allow you to jump to the specific topic you have in mind, for quick and easy access.
  • Warranties: Along with providing clear information about the terms and conditions of a product warranty, including the length of the warranty and any limitations, most suppliers will include supplemental callouts within the legal documentation that reference key building code details and/or other legal precedents that may be worth studying to better hone your craft.

As our society has become more and more digitally focused, most suppliers have created their own content libraries for public use online. As long as you have a strong enough signal, you should be able to access and download a number of helpful assets such as those listed above. This puts the power in your hands and can help to minimize the amount of time you might otherwise spend looking for a direct contact or simply trying to make a series of educated guesses while working on a project.

Taking the time to review supplier resources can make you more effective on the job site.

Training Programs

In addition to supplying a set of written resources, many suppliers also organize regional training programs throughout the year to help educate contractors and other pros on proper installation techniques and best practices. Such programs cover topics such as wall prep, product application, mortar material recommendations and techniques, grout techniques and general maintenance.

Training programs are a great way for you to expand your knowledge, hone your skills and stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends. During a training session, you have direct access to members of the supplier’s technical team, so they’re a great place to share your own experience, insights and questions as well.

Attending a local training event can be a great way to connect with suppliers and further develop your skills.

Trade Shows + Workshops

Supplier-sponsored workshops and industry conferences, including trade shows, provide a great platform for contractors and builders to interact with product experts, exchange ideas, and learn about emerging trends in the industry. These events often also feature live demonstrations, product showcases, and networking opportunities. By engaging in discussions, asking questions and sharing experiences, you can tap into a collective knowledge pool, enhancing your skills and potentially improving your installation techniques.

World of Concrete, for example, provides an exceptional platform for masons to enhance their skills with hands-on demonstrations and skills tests that focus on various aspects such as proper surface preparation, mortar application techniques and achieving precise jointing. Shows like World of Concrete also provide valuable networking opportunities to connect with industry experts, including suppliers.

Trade shows and conferences also provide opportunities for manufacturers to showcase their latest innovations and product offerings, which in turn gives masons and other specifiers an excellent opportunity to explore different profiles, observe their unique characteristics and inquire about the recommended installation methods for each one. By engaging with suppliers at these exhibitions, you can gain valuable insights into product-specific best practices and techniques.

Shows like World of Concrete provide valuable skill-building and networking opportunities.

Third-Party Certification

One of the most recent developments within the Manufactured Stone Veneer industry is the establishment of a third-party certification program for installers. The MSV Certified Installer Program is offered through the Concrete Masonry & Hardscapes Association (CMHA), which is a partnership between the NCMA and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI). This two-day program is delivered by Westlake Royal Stone Solutions certified trainers and teaches the fundamentals of MSV installation and best practices.  The course is comprised of classroom training and involves both a 50-question classroom test and a performance test.

By the end of the program, all passing participants will receive an official certificate from the CMHA. The certification is good for three years and yields an added business incentive: all MSV Certified Installers are listed on the CMHA website, as well as on Westlake Royal Stone Solutions websites if taken through a WRSS session.

You can learn more about the Certified Installer Program, including course modules and upcoming sessions, at https://elevatewithstone.com/certification/.

Third-party certification lends credibility to your practice and keeps you connected for new opportunities.

Supplier Consultations

It never hurts to pick up the phone or send a quick text or email for additional support. Especially if you’re under significant time pressure to fix a problem or address a concern, you should never hesitate to seek guidance and support directly from your suppliers. Whether we’re consulting about specific installation challenges, providing advice on product selection or troubleshooting a specific issue, it’s our job to provide you with experience-based insights that will help you and your team achieve optimal results in the field.

We may not have the answer to every question on your list, particularly if there are some concerns surrounding other materials outside of stone, but we’ll work to give you our very best insights to help with the decisions that are in your hands.

You can visit https://elevatewithstone.com/technical/ and scroll down to the “Get to Know Our Team” section to identify a Field Service Representative for your area.

Ultimately, It’s Up to You

Of course, it’s up to you to take advantage of your suppliers’ support materials and other resources. We’re simply here as a resource and to reassure you that you’re not alone on any project. Like many suppliers out there, we are continually developing and sharing new materials to enhance the collaborative sharing of knowledge and ultimately ensure successful project outcomes.

By actively engaging with your suppliers and embracing those partnerships, you’ll be able to accelerate your own growth and progress in the field while also contributing to the overall advancement of the industry as a whole.

For access to a variety of educational resources targeted toward masons and other installers, visit https://www.eldoradostone.com/resources/education/.

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