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Passionate about Natural Stone

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“There is a lot to learn about. When you are just buying and selling a product that has been shipped to you; to me that is kind of boring. Natural stone is unique and when you work with it more and more, you become passionate about it.”

These are the words of Matt Bartels, General Manager of Select Stone Supply, an Ontario based company that provides natural stone solutions to building, landscaping and design professionals. The company prides itself on innovative and personalized solutions for custom homes and landscaping projects but, what is evident from speaking with Matt and company president Tony Schenkel, is that this is a company that views its products as much more than mere building supplies. With a rich history going back twenty-five years, Select Stone Supply has grown and developed through cultivating a deep passion for their material. What is even more impressive than this, however, is how the company has managed to remain viable and innovative after a quarter of a century in business; no easy thing. This longevity is testament to the reliability and nature of the products the company provides. Tony explains how, for him, natural stone has a certain quality that is unrivalled. “When you are talking about anything that is manufactured, whether it is phones or computers or concrete products, there tends to be a built in obsolescence, there is a life span. We don’t see that with natural stone. There is an ageless, timeless beauty.”

Select Stone Supply workers in shop

While precast concrete companies may be currently claiming much of the construction market, those at Select Stone Supply believe that what they offer is a genuine difference. Furthermore, it is a product that requires a more gradual learning curve. To this end, the company has been around long enough to build an enormous skill and knowledge base which, in the case of natural stone, is very much a prerequisite for success. This, according to Matt, is one of the main differences between the two sectors and evidently, it is not something that can be picked up overnight. “It is definitely a more difficult product to get up to speed on. If you are selling off the shelf stuff, you are just selling a SKU number and a color. The thing about natural stone is that you need to understand the properties of different types of stone, what regions or quarries it has come from, if it is local or imported stone, North American or European; there is so much more to it. It just takes time. For instance, when a quarry has to go deeper into the ground, the colour and the quality of stone changes. You have to know what you are talking about.”

A dedication to perfecting their craft gradually over time is a quality that is evident throughout the company. One key factor in maintaining steady and stable growth over such a period of time is the continuity that comes from a settled and established team working behind the scenes. With a staff that Tony refers to as “phenomenal”, it is clear that there are many more on the team that share Matt and Tony’s passion for their line of work. “One of our staff came over from England at eighteen years old. He has been hand-chiseling stone from a very young age. For twenty-five years now he has been hand crafting and carving stone for both housing projects and commercial buildings. He leaves every day covered in dust but he is creating a beautiful piece of stone and that is a skill that develops over time.” This is just one of many workers that have helped expand the skill base within the company. Furthermore, as anyone working within the construction world will know, it is not easy to attract and retain a high-quality staff. It is important, therefore, to recognize that at Select Stone Supply, there is a deeply rooted and dedicated workforce. “A core group of our workforce has been here for over ten years. Obviously we have had some people that come and go but our core group, the ones that the business has grown around has been here for quite a long time.”

“With a staff that Tony refers to as “phenomenal”, it is clear that there are many more on the team that share Matt and Tony’s passion for their line of work.”

Matt and Tony are quite rightly proud of the fact that its staff choose to remain with the company as “finding good talent is always a challenge,” but other, more significant challenges remain. Tony circles back to the need for stability and dedication in his line of work when discussing the omnipresent need for a high level of suppliers. Indeed, given the energy that goes into finding and accessing natural stone, it is no surprise that this is a perpetual concern. “One of our most significant challenges has always been the ability to find quality materials to work with. It is natural stone. It is not manufactured. It may be fabricated but there is a lot of effort involved in extracting it from the ground. It takes time and effort. We’ve been fortunate enough to develop strong relationships with suppliers, both domestic and international, who are as passionate about stone as we are.”

While the ripples of the pandemic are still being felt around the world, it seems as though those at Select Stone Supply have been fortunate to work in an industry that has gained momentum during the pandemic. The need for people to remain at home, coupled with the inability to spend money in any other meaningful way, had the unexpected benefit of assisting the landscape industry. This, according to Matt, has echoes of the 2008 financial disaster when the construction industry in Canada had again been predicted to fail. “Going into these challenges, there is always a level of uncertainty. The fear right away is that landscape work, regarded by some as a luxury, would be the first thing to go in times of economic uncertainty. During the 2008 crash, people kept saying it would hit us in six months time. It never really hit the construction industry in southern Ontario in the way that was predicted. People kept building homes and putting in landscapes and it was the same last year. Everyone worried nobody would want to spend money but again, it was the complete opposite. People were spending time at home so they invested in their homes. We were blessed that we could keep working and meet this demand.”

Having managed to excel and grow through the difficulty of the recent past, it is easy to see how the company has managed to develop and maintain a high level of service over such a long period of time. However, this success, like everything else at this remarkable company, is simply part of the long term process. As is the case with the product they specialize in, these things take time. The company is committed to a steady and gradual evolution and, by sticking to a plan that has served them well thus far, Tony sees no reason to deviate from this. “I don’t think we have ever put our aspirations in terms of market share. On one hand, we certainly want to be recognized as leaders in our field but we like what we are doing. We want to grow within our means and not just for the sake of growth.”

Which brings us to the future. Where does a company go when it is already recognized as being an industry leader with an enviable track record. According to Matt, they innovate once more by bringing yet more options to their customers. “We are nearing completion on construction of a new fabrication shop. This is our next step. We do not want to stay static. This new facility will allow us to create stone to spec on a larger scale, giving us greater control over product quality and lead times to meet the demands of our customers.” While it is evident from speaking to Matt and Tony that they believe wholeheartedly in their product, a passion for stone will not suffice in the ever-changing world of business. However, what is different is the knowledge that when this belief in the product is coupled with both the highest level of skill and a new purpose-built facility, it seems that Select Stone Supply may have all the ingredients needed to develop and grow long into the future. 

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