Part 2: An American in China

Richard Campbell is the Vice President of Operations for Yellow Mountain StoneWorks. During his tenure, Richard has grown our China-based team, strengthened our relationships with vendors, and honed our production processes to achieve greater efficiencies and scalability. We thought it would be interesting to share Richard’s perspective on doing business in China and his experiences helping us create a reliable supply chain. In part 1, Richard addressed the cultural aspects of running a production operation in China. In part 2, he speaks to quality control and meeting increased demand.

Ensuring quality control
There are many elements that go into consistently providing a unique, quality stone product, on time, on budget – and produced in China. But to summarize, I would have to say it comes down to proactive communication and standards and processes that are clearly understood by our clients, staff and production vendors. Much of the detail of a given project is worked through during the development stage – this is when Yellow Mountain StoneWorks collaborates with our clients and works out the specifications for the stone. Once everyone agrees to the plan and standards we move to execution – and established quality control processes. For example:

Before production starts, there is always a meeting with the vendor and his staff to review the project drawings – which control the dimensions, and the control samples and mockup – which provides a visual standard. With the help of our staff translators and interpreters, we take the time to answer questions and make sure that our expectations are understood. Often, we put the control sample right where the artisans can all see it while they work to reinforce what will be accepted or rejected.

To further ensure quality, one of our QC inspectors is assigned long term to each production vendor where they monitor the progress of all Yellow Mountain StoneWorks projects. They inspect every piece of stone against the specifications and have cameras, laptops and phones to provide our project managers with reports of anything amiss. Our project managers oversee concurrent projects at multiple production facilities from our Xiamen office. The PMs are responsible for working with the owner of the respective production facility to problem solve issues.

Any piece of stone that is rejected is a cost to the production vendor. Having long term relationships with our Chinese production vendors has enabled us to show how proactive communication and quick alterations to production early in the process makes our projects more profitable for their business. That’s why the standards, the inspectors, the project managers – all the communication we do is to minimize the amount of stone we need to reject. This also helps to keep projects on schedule.

Scalability and Confidence
A lot of companies build processes that work, but we made a conscious effort to build processes that work whether we have one project or a hundred projects. By having a standard operating procedure and clear quality expectations that everybody understands, we can focus on execution and scale production accordingly. This makes recruiting and training more efficient as well, because we simply integrate new hires into the existing process.

Being a company that operates in several locations, including on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, our processes also provide our management, staff and clients with the confidence that jobs are being done as expected. Whether I am in Xiamen or Seattle, or visiting a production facility, I know what the China team is doing on any given day because they’re following the standard operating procedure. I rely on them to do that, and they rely on me to do that. It keeps everything moving forward.

For a related articles, please read:
Part 1: An American in China
Before you give ANYONE Money for Custom Stone from China…

Part 1: An American in China

Richard Campbell is the Vice President of Operations for Yellow Mountain StoneWorks. During his tenure, Richard has grown our China-based team, strengthened our relationships with vendors, and honed our production processes to achieve greater efficiencies and scalability. We thought it would be interesting to share Richard’s perspective on doing business in China and his experiences helping us create a reliable supply chain. In part 1, Richard addresses the cultural aspects of running a production operation in China. In part 2, he speaks to quality control and meeting increased demand.

Forging a bridge between two cultures
I pursued a career in international business because I am fascinated by contrasting economic models and I wanted a challenging, non-traditional job that involved different cultures. Working in China for Yellow Mountain StoneWorks is a perfect fit. China presents a complex and arduous business environment; the norms and assumptions of Western businesses simply do not apply.

For example, when we began talking with production facilities, we expected what Americans would call ‘the straight scoop.’ However, with surprising regularity, what we were told was not necessarily true – it was not necessarily untrue, but the Chinese often speak in innuendo, deflection, and obfuscation. It can be a matter of saving face or miscommunication or simply of habit. If you’re Chinese, I think culturally you’re more aware that things are not the way they are said to be and you adjust to interpretation. But our business is based on exact specifications and deadlines – and we must have confidence that our vendors will meet our standards.

To deal with this difference in communication style, we chose to invest in a few factories, not monetarily, but invest our energy and process and to stick with them long enough to see if we could find common ground. And slowly but surely, these relationships improved. And because we keep returning with orders, the vendors understand that working with us, in the way we need them to, creates a mutually beneficial alliance.

“A human company”
Similar to finding the right production vendors, it has been important that our Chinese employees understand our approach, and see a value to themselves in meeting our rigorous standards and expectations. We talk a lot about only hiring the right people, good people. It has rightfully created a sense of pride among our employees and contributes to our company culture. When we need new hires, we often ask our existing project managers and quality control (QC) inspectors if they have recommendations, because they understand the kind of people we are looking for.

In fact, I was interviewing a good candidate for a QC inspector job and I told him, ‘We’re going to pay you fairly. We’re going to treat you fairly. We expect you to treat us fairly.’ The English translation of his response was, “I know, I know, they told me that. You’re a human company.” That was really good to hear because it is completely aligned with what we are going for. We value our team and want them to value the company because everyone plays an important part in our success.

For a related articles, please read:
Part 2: An American in China
Before you give ANYONE Money for Custom Stone from China…

Before You Give ANYONE Money for Custom Stone From China…


Over the course of the last ten years, as we have built our business, a recurring theme in the marketplace has been the vagaries of buying cut-to-fit stone form China. There always seems to be an ongoing parade of horribles in the marketplace, including mis-fabricated, unconscionably late, or just plain disappearing product. It is frightening to clients. And it is immensely frustrating to us, because it doesn’t have to be that way. We have certainly stubbed our toe from time to time, but at the end of the day, the formula for success is pretty much the same as it is elsewhere in the world market. You have to know the lay of the land and the conventions of the culture as it relates to the business you are doing. China is a rigorous place to do business. It is a market unforgiving of bad assumptions, poor research, or lax expectations. That said, it is the most exciting stone market in the world, with materials and craft skills simply not found anywhere else.

Here is how to protect yourself as a buyer.

  1. Do not buy stone from anyone who is not a legal business entity in China, properly licensed to do the business they are doing. You need to see two things for sure: the company’s tax registration certificate and its Chinese business license. Those two documents tell you three important things: that you are dealing with someone with legal standing in China; that they are committed to the market, not a day trader working on a quick turn of paper ownership; and that they can actually write enforceable contracts to buy the materials they are selling you.
  2. Do not buy from anyone until you understand the proposed supply chain and their value in that chain. In the general stone market, most entities selling material are brokers of inventory-based stock items. In this scenario, there are no nuances, no special details, and the modules are routine and common; the largest part of the process is the transfer of ownership. It is a disaster to get that supply chain to furnish cut-to-fit/custom stone fabrication. In the Yellow Mountain supply chain, we are the only entity between fabrication and our client. Unless you are going to become a licensed entity in-country, that is as short as the chain gets.
  3. Do not buy custom stone without a complete set of shop drawings detailing all of the particulars of your work. A supplier of material from China should be able to show them to you in Chinese if you ask.
  4. Do not buy custom stone without both a set of control samples and a mockup of the proposed modules and finishes. It verifies two things: the supplier can produce what is drawn on the shop drawings, and the real thing looks like what you said you wanted.
  5. Ask how the company communicates, both with their suppliers in China and with their clients. It can be nerve racking not knowing where your order is in the process or when you’re going to get it. Find out if you’ll be kept apprised or left in the dark.
  6. Get and check references. A really good smell test is to ask for a reference for a supply job that went badly and check how it was resolved. Stone is not an exact science; things can go wrong. The measure of a company is how they act when problems occur.

I strongly believe the Chinese stone market will only continue to expand. In fact, China is now going beyond their own vast resources and is sourcing stone from around the world for international markets. If you’re an architect, designer, or artist passionate about creating and innovating with stone, this is a market that must be understood, not feared. Take advantage of the insights we’ve gained as we’ve continued to work in China – our hope is that you unleash the creative potential of custom Chinese stone while actually enjoying the purchasing process.



Ancient Limestone Reclaimed

More than seven centuries ago, a stone bridge was built over a section of the Yangtze River near the fabled birthplace of one of the famous Four Beauties of ancient China. The story, which includes betrayal, sacrifice, and palace intrigue (and in some telling’s rivers of tears, dragons, and immortals), has been handed down through generations and retold in poetry, plays, dance, and movies. The ancient bridge brought pre-Ming Dynasty visitors to a museum created to pay homage to one of China’s great heroines. The museum still stands today, surviving the flood 650 years ago that caused the bridge to collapse and its stone to be buried.

In 2008, we discovered 400 cubic meters of the ancient, hand carved limestone blocks that had been used to build the bridge.  The stone blocks had been found in a tributary of the Yangtze River where, amazingly, they had lain buried in the riverbed until this past year.  The movement of the channel caused them to be exposed, and we immediately recognized its value as reclaimed material.

“Investing in bringing this reclaimed stone to the market is part of our company’s commitment to applying a global perspective to our business operations,” said John Williams, president of Yellow Mountain StoneWorks. “We strive to minimize not only our impact on the environment, but to seek ways to extend our natural resources.”

This gorgeous stone, which still bears the markings of ancient Chinese craftsmen, is now finding new expression in contemporary architecture and landscapes as Yellow Mountain StoneWorks’s Reclaimed Grand Tortoise Limestone™.

“Unlike a lot of the post-consumer product in the market right now, this stone was dressed very carefully on all six faces,” said Williams.  “This is simply the finest quality reclaimed antique stone we have ever seen.”

The age, quality, and features of this stone allow us to create a broad palate of colors and finishes.  The reclaimed stone features a rich chocolate color with some veining in a squarish, mottled pattern similar to the back of a tortoise shell, hence the name Grand Tortoise Limestone™.  This limestone also bears the mark of time with its build-up of colors including yellow, ochre, rust and brown visible across the stone’s craggy surface.

Most of the Reclaimed Grand Tortoise Limestone™ blocks were finished to about 30” x 18” x 10”.  At this size, we can fabricate the stone into multiple pieces of veneer, quoins, or pavers with multiple faces exhibiting the prized antique finishing.  Additionally, a unique characteristic of this stone is the prevalence of Belemnite fossils which occur in whole or as fragments throughout the material and can be diminished with hand finishes or highlighted with the Honed or more refined finishes.

The most interesting potential applications for Reclaimed Grand Tortoise Limestone® may be wall veneer and quoins, although it could be used as a focal point because of its antiquity. It is also ideally suited for use as monolithic treads and risers, as well as through-wall material.