The ISFA was formed in 1996 through an agreement made by five fabrication shop owners and the publisher of SolidSurface magazine. The consortium formed the Solid Surface Advisory Board. This group set out to explore the possibility of forming an industry association. That group would go on to form the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association. It wasn’t until 2008 that association changed its name to the International Surface Fabricator’s Association.
Nearly 10 years later, the ISFA has placed its main focus on facilitating education and networking among the fabricator and surfacing industry. “We want to make good fabricators better businessmen,” says Bryan Stannard, executive director of the ISFA. That work proved a daunting task following the recession when a number of fabricator and surfacing companies went out of business. However, the industry has made a healthy comeback, and Stannard believes companies have learned from the past.
“What happened in 2009 and after was you saw a lot of fabricators go out of business. You saw a lot of fabricators who only did one product start doing multiple products. It was almost like the herd was culled,” says Stannard. “A lot of huge jobs disappeared around that time. However, as the economy began to recover fabricators saw their outlook improve.”
Stannard noted that the surviving fabricators tended to be stronger, but fewer companies now exist in the industry. He added, “The market is pretty good right now. People are busy. Of course it varies from area to area, but there are a lot of big commercial projects out there that are helping companies prosper.”
With a more positive outlook fabricators are also seeing new trends emerge. Stannard says the solid surface and quartz commercial business is very popular and active now. But also people are looking for the new and trendy “it” item. Traditional products like granite, now widely available, are being overlooked.
“People are looking to step outside of the norm. So you’re definitely seeing interest in products that aren’t a commodity product like granite is,” notes Stannard. “Sintered stone products in particular are growing in popularity among consumers, however, it is still relatively new and it will take time for the market to warm to them.”
Still, product alone does not make a fabricator or surfacing company successful. According to Stannard, the successful companies do have certain attributes. While these can vary based on the business, most successful fabricators have incorporated technology into their business functions. Stannard says most successful fabricators have developed highly automated shops. The addition of automated technology has also allowed shops to become more flexible. Now, shop owners have the ability to focus on other tasks. Overall, automation has aided the industry greatly by helping produce quality products on a consistent basis.
Companies have also become more selective about the business they choose to take on. In the past, fabricators would take on just about any job that came their way, even if it was not necessarily good for business. Now, however, fabricators are closely examining the work they accept and if they can benefit from the job.
“They’re not just giving product away. There is enough work right now where they can say “I don’t want a job that doesn’t make money.” If I can’t make money on this job I don’t want to do it,” says Stannard. Prior to the recession when there were more companies in the sector this approach to business was rare. A crowded field of competitors made every job, big or small, worth fighting for.
Distributors have also played a role in the growth of the fabrication industry. Healthy partnerships between the two industries ensure success for both. According to Stannard, the best distribution partners get to know the fabricator business intimately and build a relationship from there. “Similar to what the ISFA does, a good distributor will help make a fabrication company a better business. When the fabricator is a better business the distributor will also reap the rewards like timely payments and more orders,” he says.
For distributors servicing the fabricator industry a strong knowledge of their market and how that fabricator fits into that market is vital in order to cultivate a healthy partnership. Stannard notes that the relationship between fabricators and distributors is mostly about service. “The more you know about your fabricator the better you can anticipate their needs,” he adds.
As executive director of the ISFA Stannard believes a partnership with the North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA) can also go a long way in assisting members of the ISFA. In fact, he says one of the ISFA’s main goals right now is creating a partnership with the NBMDA. Their first such partnership will be with Web-Don in October.
“We want to help NBMDA’s customers become the better business distributors that I previously mentioned. It would help them and it would help my members. That’s a big focus for us. We want to work with NBMDA to help grow better business people. It really is a win for both organizations,” says Stannard.
The success of NBMDA customers is also directly in sync with ISFA’s own members. Stannard says NBMDA’s customers are ISFA members. The bulk of ISFA fabricators also happen to use an NBMDA distributor. He says this alignment of interests is perfect for both associations, which makes the creation of the partnership so beneficial.
Stannard says, “I’d really like to grow this partnership. We’re doing these regional meetings across the country multiple times a year. I believe we have a lot to offer the NBMDA including services like on-demand training and ISFA’s CEU Program. The partnership would be a good syncing of training and technical assistance for a distributor.”