Certifcation for solid surface

      What does it take to become certified to install by the manufacturer? July 9, 2003

Question
I have tried several times to get information from Dupont, and also from Pionite, on where and how I might obtain certification for installing solid surface counter tops. Someone from Dupont told me I would have to go to Mexico. I have heard zero from Pionite. Can someone point me in the right direction?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surfacing Forum)
From contributor K:
Dupont certification is handled by the local distributor; however, they will only certify the shop. Employees are not certified so that they can move from shop to shop and thereby give the new shop the opportunity of working with Corian. The distributor reserves the right to determine if a shop is suitable to produce solid surface tops and if there is a need to have another shop in the area where you are located. Unfortunately, just because you want to work with the material does not mean you will be able too. Certification is strict to protect the end user, the manufacturer, and the distributor, which requires the fabricator to have a sound established business.

As for Pionite, they only had a solid surface product (it was actually Corian) for a short period of time. I am not certain, but due to lack of marketing and other products already on the market, it just did not last.

Check into Wilsonart's Gibraltar or Hi-Macs. They are both considered acrylic materials similar to Corian. There are certification programs; however, they may be easier to get from the local distributor. The most important things to check into when selecting any product are: What is the warranty? Who pays for problems/claims? Do they have a phone number for the end user to call if a claim arises? Do they have a care kit available? How long have they been in the market and what is their market share?

If problems arise due to material or fabrication problems, the fabricator is ultimately responsible to fix the problem. One thing that I have encountered is that many fabricators can make a top, but few know how to fix it if mistakes are made or repairs are needed.



From contributor R:
The companies that deal with solid surfacing act like they have the holy grail. I've been at counters full time for 23 years, did my first job 28 years ago. Tried to get certification when the products first became popular. Forget it. A couple of associates of mine got certification through a millwork shop. They won't even touch the stuff anymore. It's absolutely the most filthy dusty dirty job fabricating that stuff. Plus the material is incredibly expensive. If your job needs an extra sheet to do a little bit more, you've bought the job. Most of the cabinet shops in my area won't use solid surfacing anymore. Too many call backs. It's mainly granite here, which is nearly the same price.

It's pretty low tech - just about any monkey can do it. The real reason they are strict about it is one, the stuff is prone to problems, stress cracks, doesn't like heat, etc. Limiting competition helps with their liability. Two, it's an attempt to keep prices high by restricting competition. Think about that line "the distributor reserves the right to determine if there's a need for another shop in your area." That's nasty. Forget about it - it's a dead horse, or will be soon.



From the original questioner:
Contributor R, I am in perfect agreement with you. The more I have checked into becoming certified, the more disgusted I have become. I agree that the material is easy to work, and extremely nasty, but just thought it might be of benefit to me to become certified. I have definitely changed my mind on that! I don't need the hassles these manufacturers want to put on you just to handle their materials... I will continue to enjoy my work, and leave the solid surface arena to others.


The previous 3 guys hit it right on. Theoretically you have to be certified to fabricate Corian, Gibraltor, Surrel (nasty to work), and Fountainhead. Reason for certification is the residential warranty. Typically sales staff at point of purchase will ask if the job is residential or commercial. Commercial work does not carry the same warranty as residential. If you play by the rules, i.e. fab manuals, you won't have any fabrication or installation problems.


From contributor D:
First off, the need for solid surface will never die. It is a good product and there are definitely some needs for it. For one, it does not hold bacteria like granite or marble. The manufacturers have a ten year guaranty for their products and they will make sure that the fabricators are truly qualified. Fountainhead was selling to just about anybody that would buy the product and then they got into a world of warranty problems, especially when the fabricators could no longer be found. I personally never had a seam separate that was properly fabricated.


From contributor J:
Contributor R, thanks for a breath of fresh air. Why would anyone want to get certified? Ten years ago when everyone was required to get certification, every Tom, Dick and Harry who didn't have an adequate fabrication shop was cut out. Now, granted, most of them probably didn't know a router bit from a hole saw, but there were a few of them that had a small shop and really good skills and just couldn't afford to get certified. What this has created are these mammoth fabrication shops who fling this stuff out their shop doors faster then their distributors can ship the materials in.

I know, I have been inspecting their work for the last 5 years and anyone wanting to get into this business better have deep pockets and plenty of patience. First of all, the distributors call the shots. Most of them have an aggressive builder department that uses one of these goliaths to fabricate for them. There's no conflict of interest there!

Now, with this good ole boy network in place, who's enforcing the product manuals that certification was supposed to do? Every manufacturer has warranty problems, not just Fountainhead. So, chances are that when there is a problem, the manufacturer sends out the very same fabricator that built the job to get an inspection report. He submits it as unknown cause or manufacturing defect and the manufacturer and distributor eat it and pay him/her to repair it.

And in the meantime, the honest Joe building everything to spec has to charge more and more for his product because he takes the time to do it right and can't buy as much material, therefore he is not getting the same price points as the big guns who are getting work funneled to them from the distributor. Needless to say, it's a very uneven playing field. There is no enforcement of the product manuals and some choose to build this stuff any way they see fit and until the manufacturers get a grip on their quality control, it will keep on this continuous cycle. Certification wasn't the answer they thought they'd have. They still have a big problem with fabrication. I know this is an extreme point of view, but I have fixed hundreds of solid surface counters and most of them weren't the manufacturer's problem to begin with. And the really sad thing is that the manufacturers are aware of this.



From contributor R:
The thing I hate is that it's set up so the fabricating shop calls all the shots. Skills are not really transferable. You can work for them if they like you, if you like working for what they pay, maybe they want you to work weekends or midnight shifts. If you don't like it, you're toast. There are not many options.

What if they told plumbers there is only going to be a fixed number of companies that can use American Standard fixtures, and all their employees need A.S. certification? The reason is they want to make sure that their product is installed right and that the market is not saturated by too many American Standard installers. Remember the company reserves the right to determine if the market can bear more plumbers! Every time the plumber has to work with a different manufacturer, he has to be certified by that company! Now remember, these plumbers cannot work for themselves because in essence, their license is owned by the company that employs them! If they want to work with toilets, they would have to find someone to work for. It would be illegal for the licensed plumber to acquire the fixtures on his own. If this were the case, plumbers pay would suck, there would be some really wealthy plumbing company owners, American Standard's owners would be richer than Bill Gates, and some senator would probably charge American Standard with some sort of antitrust suit. How else do you turn 50.00 into 500.00? If they changed the rules, the price of their solid surface would drop in half!

Contributor D, there will always be a need for some solid surface, but in British Columbia , Canada, the residential side of solid surfacing is pretty much dead. Most of the really high end cabinet shops have gone to granite. There are not as many call backs, and most people are not chopping up a moose with a hatchet in their 50,000 dollar designer kitchen. Bacteria might be a factor in Wendy's or Subway, but not in the average kitchen. Don't get me wrong - I like solid surface, but I find it scratches a little too easily. Granite is a lot nicer, more scratch-resistant, impervious to heat, etc. Obviously you are a fabricator, so you have a bias towards it. I'm not in the counter business anymore, so I don't care either way. Just telling it the way I see it.



From contributor D:
I was not going to jump into this discussion since contributor K did such a good job of explaining the situation. However, a little more information seems to be needed.

First: Corian has been available to the uncertified for 9 years. The sizes are limited to those necessary for furniture manufacture. But it is available. Though it costs less to make furniture out of Corian than wood, it has been slow to catch on.

Second: Certification was imposed on DuPont, not the other way around. Fabricators would not handle it until they had certain assurances from the manufacturer which certification gives. Don't believe me? What other product does DuPont sell that requires certification? Why were Avonite, Gibraltar, Swanstone, etc. not able to enter the market without it?

Third: I have run the numbers. If every lumber yard handled it, their inventory costs would be so high that they would need an enormous mark up to survive. If there were only one bad shop in a city, the cost of a Corian top would double and the value would be half.

Fourth: If you find it "dusty and filthy" it is because you don't use your tools properly. Corian produces a finer dust than wood when it is beaten to death by dull tools at a high feed rate. When using sharp tools at a reasonable feed rate, Corian comes off in shavings and does not dull tools any faster than wood. High feed rates heat cutting edges, causing them to break down. This is true of wood as well.



From contributor J:
Certification was imposed on DuPont? It was DuPont who implemented the "installed" warranty and it required all who built their product to sign a piece of paper stating that they would be responsible for following the product's specification manual or risk loosing their certification. I don't remember requesting them to do this. Wilsonart has a similar warranty. The others just have a material warranty. They don't have nearly the same size pockets as those two, so they can't offer it. They can't afford zero market share either, so they require certification to create the illusion to the consumer that their product is somehow as good as the others because it requires certification to handle. They couldn't sell their product if they didn't have a warranty and they only wish they could saturate the market with their material. It's just a marketing tactic and if you are DuPont and Wilsonart, it's a brilliant one.


From contributor R:
I've worked with that stuff and at the end of the day I looked like a frosted donut! My point is that I'm an excellent tradesman with 23 years experience who builds high-end millwork and cabinetry and I figured solid surface would be a nice supplement to my business. But this is not the way these companies do business, right or wrong. Anyone who is of an independent mind and who likes to work on his own should really think twice before putting much effort into becoming certified.


From contributor D:
You are right, anyone who wants to dabble in countertops should not look into Solid Service. Fabricators are sub-contractors to DuPont. DuPont sends them orders. They do not want to hear that you are too busy doing something else or that your shop is not big enough to do this job. They will certify a shop when the need is great enough that they can send them enough business that they have no need to do anything else.

I do know what it is to cut Corian. I cut several hundred feet a day. I thermoform it, polish it, glue it, resaw it and edge it. I love working with it.

There are two reasons why the price of countertops would increase if everybody did it. One is that some of the plants are nearing capacity in output. So you would have a supply/demand situation.

The second is that you would increase the layers of distribution by one. With every addition to the supply chain of any material, the increase in price is from 40% to 100%. So the price of the raw material would be about what the price of a countertop is now. The lumber yards, who by and large have refused to handle it in the past, would need specialized equipment to handle individual 12 foot sheets of it. So the increase would be near the 100% nark.

As for people rushing to get it if it were easily available at good prices... We have been making it available at good prices for some years now and thousands of people have received our information package but demand has been much slower than we expected.



From contributor R:
Who said anything about lumber yards? I'd like to buy it at my laminate distributor. They already stock Gibraltar. The reason there's not much demand is the inflated prices. With the average middle income earner it might be hard to figure out why the plastic counter is more money than the appliances and why the counter is nearly as expensive as the cabinets. You can get granite for the same price. Most people just can't afford it!


The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
As far as getting into the business, my gut reaction would be to say no, because I don't want more competition. My market has enough fabricators in it already, most of whom are excellent craftsmen, but who know nothing of business. But if you want to make the move, you are the one in control.

I appreciate the certification process. We are certified to fabricate all brands of solid surface including the big "C" brand. Some of these certifications are a total joke, though. My biggest wish on certification is that the manufacturers would hold the fabricators responsible to fabricate properly. We are a "warranty agent" for several brands of solid surface and it is extremely rare that we fix a top that was fabricated properly. We generally fix tops that were not fabricated properly. This is what drives me nuts, but hey - I can't run other people's business. If manufacturers would actually hold fabricators responsible to fabricate properly, there would be less problems with the product.

The other area problems come from is lack of consumer education. You must sell the product as what it is. Yes, it scratches easily and you do need to use caution with heat. Don't misrepresent the product or you are only creating future problems for yourself.

Manufacturers will probably never hold anyone accountable, though, as they are in the business of moving sheet goods. We have seen many a manufacturer say "I'm sorry, but since this countertop was not fabricated properly, the warranty does not apply." This irritates me as much as anything. But again, they are in the business of moving product.

Another tidbit about the manufacturers - you can never rely on them to do anything other than supply you the product. Most of their marketing programs, etc. are designed to benefit them and them alone. We have told many a manufacturer we will not participate in their "program" because it is not in our best interest. You must be the one in control of your business or you are dependent on someone else for your succuss, a position we never want to be in.

There are lots of good solid surface products out there with good manufacturers and distributors that would love to sell their product to you. But only rely on them to sell you sheet goods.

As far as some of the grumbling about price... remember that you choose what you sell and what you sell it for. If you let your competitors set your price, you are again dependent on someone else (who probably doesn't know what they are doing) for your future and success.

We are glad to be in the solid surface business, but like anything else, you need to understand what business you are in and how the game is played. It is business management and understanding of your business, not the ability to build a countertop that will make you sucessful. Yes, you do need to put a quality product out the door, but a quality product only will not keep you in business. Incidentally, we just got in the granite and the engineered stone game, and are just learning the new rules there.



Comment from contributor M:
It is interesting to see the various opinions regarding "C" and the other brands of solid surface. I have fabricators that attend the ISSFA Show in Vegas every year. The resounding comment I get back is how different we do things from other distributors.

People get upset when we do not let them into the "game" because they want to sell our product. It is much easier to sell a consumer what they want rather than a product that is "just as good". We limit our fabricators and our dealers. The reason for this is that we want to keep value in our product. If there is value in it for them, then they will be loyal to us. If we saturate the market, I win because I will sell the material no matter what, however, in the long term I lose. The one who will get the job in the end is the one who makes the least amount of money. That doesn't give them incentive to sell a product, does it? I want to do business with my clients for a long time. Taking value away from them is not a good means of solidifying your business relationships.

If you want to get into the game, we are the bad guys, but if you are in the game and are being treated fairly, then we aren't so bad after all. When my guys make money, so do I. My business is their business and vice versa. I can't speak for others, but the company I work for is more than fair.

As far as warranty goes, we do inspect the jobs, not the fabricator, and if they did it wrong, they fix it at their expense. If Mrs. Smith says she didn't put a hot pot on the top and it cracks, provided that there is not any visible evidence, I can't call her a liar. The same applies to the fabricator. This goes along with the business.

Also, when we spend money for advertising and programs, the hope is that we will eventually benefit from it. Isn't that what we are in business for, to make money? As a distributor, we do not advertise ourselves. We do advertise the product inclusive with our partners in the marketplace.

It is too bad that people do not understand why we do things as we do, but I guess if they did, it would be because they were on the our side of the fence. As far as solid surface being on its way out, don't hold your breath. There is too much innovation available. After all, there's only so much you can do with a piece of rock.



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