Rick Yelton
Rick Yelton

On New Year's Day, I vowed to eat at only one fast food restaurant per week. Part of my reasoning is to reduce the intake of trans fats. But in reality, I'm just plain tired of being sucked into places just because they're readily available, relatively fast, and seem cheap. I want to slow down life and enjoy my dining experiences.

My son, the liberal college professor, offered another more compelling reason. He believes fast food giants have been the cause for the financial failure of many great family restaurants. “Consumers have been conditioned through massive advertising to accept a quality standard of a good meal served in a professional manner being measured by whether the bag is clean, and it contains the right order,” he said.

But the food service industry isn't the only place where customers have been conditioned to accept less than traditional standards. Homebuilders have used the recent boom to encourage desperate buyers to accept low cost work. One of their main menu items was a seemingly unending supply of mason contractors who were forced to deliver work at less than industry standards. Like the fast food giants, homebuilders often seem happy to supply a finished product delivered quickly and without concern for long-term quality.

Mason contractors have something else in common with the fast food industry. While it's hard to locate a definitive number, it's safe to say that this year there are about the same number of mason contractors trying to serve the residential marketplace as there are McDonalds' restaurants. Some industry experts suggest that at least 25,000 contractor firms work in masonry, pointing, and/or repair. But unlike the McDonalds' ever-growing empire of stores, which is reportedly increasing annually at about a 6% rate, the number of mason contractors seems stagnated. The U.S. Department of Labor's best guess has changed little in the last four years.

There are some good reasons for this stagnation. Some would suggest that there are fewer start-ups due to an aging, diminishing workforce of available skilled labor. Others say that projects are less profitable due to engineering, safety, and insurance challenges. And still others want to place blame on the high masonry material prices that force consumers to accept other less expensive building systems.

All problems, but I maintain the blame is in our industry's lack of a unified national voice. There are few coordinated support tools to help new contractors learn how to profitably grow. Currently less than 4% of all mason contracting firms belong to any national organization. This suggests that 96% of these contractors (often the smallest) feel disassociated.

Fortunately for these folks, Hanley Wood has made a continuing commitment to help independent contractors grow. Our magazine's sponsors are delivering practical knowledge to key local decision makers. Our editorial staff provides these future leaders with the masonry industry's only independent source of news and technical information. We actively participate in industry activities that promote, educate, and train our readers. And we are the exclusive sponsoring magazine for the World of Masonry.

This year we have worked closely with the show's seminar staff to offer more programs, certification classes, and live training activities focused on your industry than can be found at any other venue. We will have more exhibitors displaying masonry products than at any event in the world. And we will provide a topnotch showcase to demonstrate the skills of a mason unparalleled in comparison through our masonry competitions.

Each attendee will benefit from this year's show. It's more than a stop at a fast food restaurant. It's an opportunity to experience a quality experience at a fair price.

And speaking about a fair price, there's a special deal I think you 96%-ers should know about. If you register through the Residential Masonry Contractors Association web site at www.rmca.org, you get into the show free.

If you come to the show, stop by the Hanley Wood corporate booth and say “hello.” Let me know what you think. I need your input to help make next year's show even better. After all, this is your industry show.