I would like to thank all the people who attended the Residential Masonry Contractors Association national meeting and stopped by our booth to chat during the World of Masonry in Las Vegas. The event proved that residential contractors all have similar obstacles with only a slightly different flavor, depending on the part of the country in which they do business. All the challenges were there, from the lack of skilled labor and less than professional competitors, to proving our worth to the design community, to the lack of accountability in our industry.

Looking back at the experience, the residential masonry industry needs to work on four goals.

1) Continue to promote the use and understanding of masonry in residential construction.

Promote masonry to the design community, convincing them that our products are its best choice. Prove our worth and show that there are quality contractors able to perform residential projects in a professional manner.

2) Enhance the professionalism, skills, safety, and productivity of the masonry industry workforce.

If there is a training program established, make sure it includes the proper background needed to perform work on residential projects. If not, start a training program. Whether you begin with 5 students or 50, it doesn't matter – start somewhere. In 2005 we had a class of 14 students in the Seattle area. In 2006 we had 30 students, and in 2007 we will have an open shop, state certified apprenticeship program in Washington State.

3) Provide member companies with the tools to work smarter, more efficiently, and more productively.

Train ourselves as professionals in the industry. We want to work for contractors that are professionals. They are the ones that have the type of work we want, a user-friendly jobsite, and pay their bills on time. They want to work with subs that are professionals as well, and not just with a trowel. (It doesn't matter what another contractor can do the work for, what can you do it for?) Finally, don't just work in your business, but work on your business. Change from spending all your time doing the day-to-day work of the jobsite to spending as much or as little time as you wish.

4) Foster the development of strong and mutually-rewarding working relationships between masonry contractors and industry suppliers.

Residential masonry represents approximately 80% of the industry, with thousands of small contractors acting independently in negotiations with suppliers. It is pretty clear who makes the rules but in the suppliers' defense, somebody has to. With a unified voice, we can join together as contractors and suppliers to create better working relationships, develop a professional image of the industry, and foster an opportunity for better marketing, and higher margins, for everyone.

I know, all this is easier said than done. What it takes is for someone to step up and form a chapter in the local area. The individual would need to:

  • Move forward with the established goals of the RMCA, paying specific attention to local needs.
  • Gain mason contractor support and work together locally and nationally for the betterment of the industry in your area.
  • Establish quality standards through worker training (RMCA will supply the template).
  • Establish mason contractor standards through certification classes (RMCA will provide minimum standards).
  • Build relationships with distributors and manufacturers for networking and financial support.

These efforts will provide you with a united voice nationally, with national support locally.

The bottom line is that for our industry to get better, someone has to step up. As an old colleague of mine once said, “I don't want to hear complaining, I want to see results.” I believe that with your involvement in the RMCA, we will not only achieve these results locally, but nationally as well.

Mark VanWell is president of RMCA and owner/CEO of VanWell Masonry, Edmonds, Wash. Contact him atmark@residential masonrycontractors.comfor membership information, or visit the association's Web site:www.residentialmasonrycontractors.com