ICS Magazine

Natural Stone - From Pitfall to Profit

October 11, 2006


Natural stone surfaces like marble, granite, Saturina and the like are the fastest growing floor applications in the country. These high-end floors are no longer reserved for mansions; they can be found almost anywhere - from the smallest medical office to the biggest shopping mall. Your jobs are undeniably tied to the appearance and longevity of these floors. A mistake often places the costs of repair on your shoulders. With repair prices ranging from $1.50 to $10 per square foot, not to mention a ruined relationship with your client, these mistakes are simply out of any company's budget.

These guidelines are not theory; as a BSC-turned-restoration-expert I have both made and repaired the mistakes I'll be helping you to avoid. By reviewing and following the guidelines below, a BSC can turn natural stone from a liability into a world of opportunity.

Taking Inventory

One of the first steps you should take is to review your current customer base and make a list of who has natural stone flooring. Your clients need to know that you're watching the condition of the stone as closely as they are. Visit your clients with stone and take inventory of its condition. You should be looking for wear patterns, scratches, and damaged tiles. Bring a camera with you and take pictures of problem areas. Create a brief report, including those pictures.

Keep a copy of this report and review this information with your client. This meeting isn't just to reduce your liability; it's a chance to up-sell products that will slow down wear and damage. A client who isn't familiar with the restoration procedures needed to keep the stone looking its best will assume a loss of shine is your fault. Make these reports a part of your quality control procedures and review your report with the client on a quarterly (or more frequent) basis.

Make An Expert Your Ally

Your field of expertise probably isn't the care or restoration of natural stone, so make sure you know, or get to know, an expert in the field. Whether your expert is on another coast or in your backyard, it pays to know someone who can field the hard questions. By offering this individual as a resource to your clientele, you will strengthen your relationship with your customers and make yourself more difficult to replace. When you pick an expert, be sure he or she is certified in natural stone restoration. Ask to see some work in pictures and in person. True experts will be able to show you a variety of types of stones they have worked with and the services they have provided. Each stone floor has its own unique chemistry, minerals, and geology that went into its creation, and a certified expert will be able to guide you or your client in the right direction should a problem arise.

Use this expert to find a reputable restoration company with whom you can be comfortable referring your client. Stick with your field of expertise and let this professional take on the liability of any kind of restoration procedure such as polishing, grinding, or sealing. Your client will appreciate the referral to a reputable company and will thank you for the results that professional is able to deliver.

Neutral Chemicals or Better

Using the right chemicals on the stone is the easiest way to make sure any damage or wear on the stone doesn't fall on your shoulders. The right chemicals are often not any more costly than the wrong ones. The general rule of thumb for chemicals is neutral, in other words, having a pH of 7.0, just like water. Even a splash of an acid-based cleaner can etch the surface of the stone. Alkaline-based cleaners will leave a residue on the floor and reduce the floor's slip coefficient, i.e. make it slippery.

Neutral chemicals aren't just for the floor itself, but should be used on any surface that adjoins natural stone. For example, using a toilet-bowl acid in a restroom with stone floors. Our company has been called in countless times to restore the ring created by the bottles containing acid-based cleaners. Janitorial service providers aren't the only BSC this applies to - any service provider working around the stone needs to take the same precautions

The Right Tools for the Job

The tools of the janitorial trade can help or hurt natural stone. Dust mopping is an effective way to remove particulate soil from stone flooring. All dust mop heads should be laundered frequently to prevent sand or dirt from being dragged across the floor, causing scratches and a loss of shine. Wet mop heads, like dust mop heads, should be laundered or replaced frequently. Vacuuming is also an option for removing particulate soil prior to damp/wet mopping, but be wary of damaging beater bars or plastic caster wheels. Use of either one can cause damage that will point swiftly in your direction.

The right tools also include those tools that protect the stone while other work is being done. Thick canvas should be placed atop any area where work is being done around stone. The legs of ladders should be wrapped with cloth and barriers should be placed between a work area and an adjacent area with natural stone flooring.

The Opportunity For Profit

Natural stone requires special tools, chemicals, and restoration procedures. The right tools are an easy sell to a client. Adhesive mats at every entrance will keep the floor cleaner and make the natural stone's shine last as long as possible.

The use of neutral chemicals can be a great way to up-sell a client with natural stone. While you should always use a neutral cleaner, there are upgraded versions of these chemicals that contain stone protectants and/or conditioners that enhance the appearance of the stone and increase the longevity of the stone's finish. These chemicals can help your client extend the length of time between polishing services and save them money in the long run. Up-selling a conditioning or protecting neutral cleaner is truly a win-win proposal: the service provider increases sales to the client, and the client saves money on restoration needs. If your client insists on chemicals that are not neutral, have them sign a waiver releasing you from the liability of damage caused by non-neutral chemicals. Check with an expert before using any new chemicals, and always test in an inconspicuous area before using the chemical on a grand scale.

Since the restoration of worn or damaged areas is so specialized, refer this work to the professionals in that field. A restoration company may also offer a finder's fee or incentive for referring clients in their direction.