We recently found this while teaching one of our stone restoration classes and wanted to share it. The stone industry owes a lot to Maurizio, and we miss him everyday! Enjoy 🙂
Since I was 15 I’ve always been a hands-on guy. It’s funny that by formal education I am an accountant and I also earned a degree in Marketing and Business Administration back in my native Italy. The fact is that I seldom practiced those formal skills, and when I did it was only for me, my own company. And I, my own company, am a hands-on guy – a contractor. Oh, yes, I also privately studied some petrology and chemistry applied to minerals, but that was to improve my understanding of my own trade, so that I could be a better … contractor.
Not only am I a contractor, but I am also one of those contractors who can’t manage other people to work for me. I have to be on the job all the time! Indeed, I am my worst customer!
Now I gave up the contracting activity to devote myself to passing onto others what I’ve learned in all the years I’ve been working in the field. In other words, now I am a teacher; I am a “chemist”, too (teaching alone wouldn’t make me enough money, that’s for sure!) … but I’m still a contractor at heart!
This story is about how I became a “chemist”. I can tell your right off the bat that it was certainly not some sort of call-from-the-wild, although during my high-school years I was always fascinated by chemistry. I became a “chemist” out of … frustration; out of what I felt was a necessity.
As a contractor, I always strived to create – and deliver – a thorough professional image of myself. And the way I see it, being professional implies – besides the necessary skills to practice the trade – having all the answers customers will come up with in relation to what one does, and the trade one operates within. My contracting activity was to treat stone. I consider myself a “the stone MD”, because I can treat and repair stone. As an MD for stone I feel compelled to have all the answers to any question. If I try to deliver the message to my prospective customers that I am the stone MD (so that I can charge more money!) I must assume that they expect me to have all the answers that they never had before.
The majority of end-users of stone who were dialing my phone number weren’t even aware that the trade of stone refinishing even existed – let alone that someday they would need it! But the fact was that the stone they bought didn’t live up to their expectations, and now, after in-depth research, they found out that they needed a professional contractor they didn’t even suspect they ever would!
Hence the realization that those who sold the stone to them and those who installed it in their dwellings did not give them all the information they needed at the time of the purchase and the install. That’s why they now have a problem, and that’s ultimately why they’re now talking to me. However, now it’s time to get the ignorance out of the picture enough of that! In other words, at this stage, I am the only one left they can rely on to have the intelligence they need to enjoy their investment.
Considering the way, I am, I simply could not afford to disappoint them! The question that I could bank on all the time was, with no estimate, something like, “But if I have to spend all this money to have my stone restored, what I am supposed to do to keep it good?”
This in the vast majority of cases was the very same question they had asked to the merchants who sold the stone to them and the contractors who installed it in their homes or offices, while getting answers that turned out to be insufficient – when not outright wrong – thus putting them into a certainly not flattering perspective. Now, just because those trade people before me didn’t care to be judged like monumental jack-asses later on, it didn’t necessarily mean that I had to be yet another jack-ass to be added to the list, did it?
I had to have the answers.
And the answers to stone maintenance don’t only come in the form of information; they also come in the form of specialty products formulated to deal with the “moody” character of natural stone.
In order to complete my professional image of MD of stone, I felt that I had to be able to “prescribe” to my customers the right products to use to maintain their stone after getting professionally restored by me.
And so, I decided to look into the specialty product lines available back then (I’m talking about circa 1988) and, possibly, become a little distributor. The little extra-money that I could have made by selling a couple of bottles at the end of a job was hardly a motivation, considering the aggravations attached to the necessity of having to carry a small inventory, keep it updated and have the products stored in a place that wouldn’t freeze during the winter. The only motivation was, once again, the completion of my professional image: I had to have all the answers!
Without naming names, there were four or five product lines available at the time and I sent out for literature to each and every one of their manufacturers. One of those companies was very candid at letting me know that they did not have end-user’s products – only professional products (which as a professional I never liked one bit, anyway!) Fine, no problem. The other three or four sent me their literature.
Now, the problem that I have when reading a brochure or any other promotional literature, is that I don’t read it from without; I’d rather read it from within. In other words, I have to di-sect it and understand what they’re really trying to say and to sell. I never buy it at face value, because I feel that I’m qualified enough to do that.
What I found out was incredible! Just plain dismaying!
Did those marketers have even the slightest idea of what stone is all about? Did they have even the slightest idea of what an activity that’s generally perceived menial like cleaning is all about?
Judging by their own literature, the answer to both questions was an amazing, NO! And, mind you, I’m not talking about some little out-the-kitchen-table company, here: I’m talking about multi-million $ domestic and international companies!
Let me explain: Each and every one of those companies had a whole bunch of impregnating sealers, I was puzzled by the idea that such types of products were so prominent in their priority list, considering that a sealer for stone only solves a small problem, but … so far so good. (Little did I know that I was witnessing the dawn of a “new religion”: “The Sealing Cult”!!)
I skipped all the sealers and started looking into the real important stuff: the cleaner. In fact, it is much more important to learn what to do and what to use on a daily basis, rather than getting overly concerned about something that has to be done once every few years – assuming that it has to be done at all to begin with!
What did I find?
A few bottles with “marble cleaner”, or “stone cleaner”, or stone soap”, or other nonsense like that printed on them.
What’s a “marble cleaner” anyways??…
We’re all brain washed by the advertisement bombarding us a few thousand times a day! Let’s take a so-called “glass cleaner”, for instance. Does that mean that the product is formulated to clean glass? Not in the least! A cleaning product – any cleaning product – is not formulated t clean the surface of a specific material, but it’s rather formulated to remove certain specific types of soil off the surface of any material. In fact, if you use a “glass cleaner” to clean finger marks and other light soiling from say, a Formica surface, the “glass cleaner” will work just fine, even if the material that soil is sitting on is not glass. On the other hand, if you have an accumulation of soap scum and mineral deposits on the glass door of a shower stall, you can try to use your “glass cleaner” until you drop, but you’ll never be able to clean that glass door! Why? Because the “glass cleaner” was not designed to clean that kind of soil, period!
By the same token that the definition of “glass cleaner” makes no sense, the definition of “marble cleaner” makes no sense, either!
By looking a little deeper than skin-level into those fancy brochures, I discovered that all those “marble cleaners”, “stone cleaners”, etc. were nothing but floor cleaners. But guess what: since the most popular approach was to use a “stone soap” (opposed to a detergent), they turned out to be the wrong products for the shiny American reality! In fact, stone soap was mainly used (and only up to generations ago – now there are better products) to clean unpolished stones after being neglected for years, not certainly to clean a highly- polished marble floor! I mean would you clean a mirror with soap?? And besides, how about the other stone installations different from a floor, such as a countertop, a shower stall … The typical soil that gets to sit on those surfaces is going to be different from the one typical of a floor. Nothing! Not one single product to take care of installations different from a floor!
I was literally flabbergasted! What on earth was going on?! Was that all the industry had to offer to frustrate end-users of stone??
Could I sell that stuff to my customers? Of course, I could! They trusted me and would buy anything I would tell them to buy! But the real question was: “Will they be happy with the performance of those products?” I already knew the answer to that question!
I made a few telephone calls to the customer department of those companies trying to find out why there was such an incomplete situation on the matter of specialty stone cleaners. Whomever I was talking to didn’t even understand the spirit of my questions! But basically, the answer came in with an unanimous: “People don’t ask for anything else!…” In other words, end-users of stone were asking the silly question in the form of, “Do you have something to clean my marble?” And they were given a … silly answer! A whole bunch of bottles with “marble cleaner”, etc. printed on them! Easy sale, no education required! Well, I may be rather radical here, but to me the consumers have the right to be specifically ignorant and ask silly questions. What I do not condone is that the people of the trade just give them silly answers instead of trying to understand the real problem behind the silly questions.
It was then that I decided to do something about it and became a …”chemist”!
I was very lucky to find a top-notch (real) chemist that formulated most of my products – a real genius! But the reason why he was able to come up with a complete line of “stone cleaners” (not just a stupid precious one) was thanks to my input. I knew exactly what problems there were out there, and, through my invaluable chemist, I gave the market the intelligent answers to the silly questions.
I have a whole bunch of “stone cleaners”, not just one (and wrong to boot)! So, what’s a “stone cleaner”? In layman language, it’s a cleaning agent that will remove whatever soil it was formulated to remove while leaving the stone alone. Generic cleaning products would clean the soil from the stone surface, all right; but they will also “clean” some of the stone off by chemically interacting with it!
Believe it or not (but all you have to do to believe it is look around you) after 17 long years no other product line out there is as complete and specifically to the point like mine. They copied my idea of a spray cleaner (nobody had that); they tried to copy my idea of the soap scum remover (without succeeding); but that’s just about it. The only actual “change” is that in the past 17 years the “sealing cult” really took off!!
At that time, I wasn’t even thinking of making a business out of my “chemical adventure”. I was only trying to have the right answers for my all too important customers. In consideration of the investment I had to come up with both for the R & D of the products and their minimum inventory requirements – not to mention that I could certainly not store them in my house – I had to change my mindset really quick, however! I needed help to move the products and I started slowly but surely to set up a little distribution network.
But … I never became a full-time marketer! Deep inside me I was and always will be a hands-on guy. Yes, eventually I quit the field, but only when I decided to make teaching to people like you an important part of my trade. That would give me the opportunity to still “get dirty” while promoting what’s arguably the best product line both for professionals and consumers on the market today.
You’ve seen my professional products in action. You understood the real spirit behind my consumer line products. I rest my case: I’ll let you be the judge now.