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A Few Words from a Fabricator

by Joey Marcella

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I’ve fabricated many brands of quartz over a long career, and the product currently accounts for at least 60% or more of the square footage that goes out of my sizable shop on a daily basis. Of all the brands that our shop has fabricated, there are no clear winners, but there are definitely losers, and all need at least some improvement. I’m not alone in my opinions. After years of meeting and working with fellow fabricators, I know that I speak for a frustrated community across the nation. Let me take a few minutes to talk to quartz manufacturers at large. Let’s start with how the product has changed … but some of your production and your marketing hasn’t. Some 20 years ago, the “historical colors” containing big quartz aggregate provided surface performance that matched your marketing efforts. You remember the pitch: Scratch resistant! Stain resistant! Doesn’t need sealing! Better than granite! We had to watch out for shade variation and the occasional color pooling, but we could basically fabricate and not look back. The product performed well. This worked for us. Not anymore. These modern, solid colors, and the quest for the whitest of white have forced that once chunky aggregate into a fine powder, resulting in a surface that, for us fabricators, is more-delicate than marble. Now, in the shop, we’re dealing with surfaces easily damaged if cleaned even slightly too vigorously. Or surfaces that stain. Or etch. Overall, we’re getting different types of surfaces that no longer reflects what the consumer has been conditioned to believe from years of home-improvement cable TV shows, celebrity endorsements and a tsunami of marketing. I can’t think of a manufacturer that’s made any real effort to adjust the expectation parameters to this new breed of quartz. Don’t any of you have a problem with this? It’s not like fabricators can easily fix the surface of this product, if at all. There are some restoration products available now having some success, but I’ve yet to see anything that is 100% effective 100% of the time on 100% of the colors. Even so, these methods are very labor-intensive, and require a level of craftsmanship that’s tough to replicate in the average shop. And tell me again why I should attempt to fix a spot on a slab that I just paid $40 a foot for? When a client has a problem with the product (the product, not the fabrication) they often don’t call you. They call the fabricator. Usually quite hostile, I might add, with “I thought this wasn’t supposed to stain?” In fairness, we can get a rep involved (sometimes), but, also in fairness, reps can be none-too-helpful and only escalate the complaint with customers insinuating we, the fabricators, are giving them the run-around. With so many quartz colors available these days, special order is the norm, not the exception, and when a slab is pulled from production due to quality issues (an everyday occurrence for us), builders and clients schedules suffer as a result. You would think that they would be appreciative that we have their best interest at heart. “Thanks for looking out for us” right? Wrong.

If we continuously raise the red flag and apply the brakes, the builder doesn’t see a quartz-manufacturer issue. They see a fabricator issue, and “that problem fabricator holding up the schedule” gets replaced. This puts credible fabricators in quite a little predicament. Do we make waves with builders by standing for quality, risking losing the business on account of being seen as alarmists, or do we push the job through, hoping the client doesn’t notice the strange, unexplainable little mark in their island? Do we attempt to fix the problem, and with the good chance of being unsuccessful, are now liable for the slab anyways and still have disrupted the schedule? All are losing propositions for the fabricator.

Fabricators are not your quality-control department. If you thought a slab was good enough to leave your factory, then it’s good enough for the end user. That’s what customers expect after all the marketing. Your name is on it. (And, by the way, can you make sure the labels aren’t so tough to remove and possibly damage the surface?) This leads me to the heart of every fabricator’s frustration: the never-ending push to shift product liability onto the fabricator by creating unrealistic hoops to jump through before a slab is cut. As fabricators, we’re willing to check batch variation and obvious surface defects viewed in a reasonable amount of time under reasonable lighting conditions. That should be enough. We are fabricators. We fabricate. For what we’re paying, we should get slabs that are reliable. Ever read some of the pre-check requirements you expect fabricators to follow? It’s a group of lawyers assembled in a room to conjure documents that are so utterly ridiculous that you can always catch the fabricator on some technicality. “Well, you shouldn’t have cut the slab…” Well, if you’re going to talk about quality control, maybe you shouldn’t have sold us the slab. Obvious things, like scratches and pits are easy to find and avoid. It’s those little anomalies in the surface that are the bane of our existence. They’re everywhere now; discoverable only under certain lighting conditions and angles, they are very hard to see and easy to miss. Or the subtle, sub-surface suction-cup marks fresh from the factory that every rep will tell you they have a remedy for. Until they don’t. It only takes one of these anomalies to be overlooked to give Mrs. Jones a disappointing experience, with remade countertops usually accompanied by a scathing Google review for the inconvenience. And the warranty? That’s a whole discussion for a different time. I can go on, but I’ll stop here. By now, if a manufacturer is thinking, “Who does this idiot think he is?” I’m sorry to be wasting the time to explain fabricator problems. You won’t see them, just like you don’t see what’s wrong with your slabs in the first place. But if you’re thinking “Wow, do fabricators really feel this way?” -- yes we do, and even though the big marketing dollars are typically directed at designers and end-users, those same people will eventually need a fabricator. When those people come into my shop, they are given an honest dose of quartz education. Our contracts firmly shift the liability back where it belongs, on you, often resulting in a switch to natural stone. Other fabricators are following suit. So what’s to be done? Here’s my advice. First, raise your quality control standards significantly. Then provide realistic literature to the end user that separates your products' attributes, performance, and expectations from fabrication. You simply cannot continue to hold fabricators almost totally responsible for the performance and quality of your product. Do this and you will be embraced by the fabrication community. If we can concentrate on fabrication, and not worry about being liable for the surface quality and performance of your product (of which we have no control over), that’s the brand that will get pushed by our staff and your sales will surge. If we continue dealing with manufacturing problems, your quartz tower will continue to gather dust in our showroom on an eventual path to the dumpster as we educate clients towards brands that are more sensitive to the symbiotic relationship between manufacturer, fabricator, and end user. All must benefit to be successful. And, second, please reach out to fabricators. There’s a community of us willing to make the process better for all of the industry.

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